Thursday, July 20, 2017

Who Knew That You Could Kill a Day in Fresno?: A National Park Odyssey Day 22

Kings Canyon National Park to Yosemite National Park via Fresno, CA
From Kings Canyon, we drove to one of the most famous parks in the US, Yosemite.

We discovered our problem during breakfast on the porch at the John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon.  On a trip this long, we have a specific plan for which parks we’ll visit each day, and we have hotel reservations booked in advance for every night.  But beyond that, we don’t have clear plans nailed down until about three days out. So it wasn’t until breakfast that we began contemplating the route we’d be taking that day into Yosemite National Park. 

Josh was checking the hours for the Yosemite Visitors’ Center, looking at suggested hikes, and finalizing driving routes when he discovered an announcement from the National Park Service.  Because of the upcoming 4th of July holiday and especially heavy summer visitor numbers, guests should avoid entering the park between the hours of 11:00 am and 6:00 pm which, of course, was the time period we’d planned to arrive.  Yosemite was a 2 ½ hour drive away, and it was already 9:00 am.  What to do?

Sitting in a long line of cars to go through the entrance checkpoint didn’t sound like a fun way to spend a couple of hours, so we decided to take our time packing up, take advantage of the free wifi, and blow some time in Fresno on the way.  All of our Grand Canyon gear (cowboy boots, jeans, etc.) were taking up valuable space in the car plus we’d bought some souvenirs at Disneyland that could be shipped home, and we could do that in Fresno.  Additionally, we needed a few supplies, so a Target run would take up some time, too.
In-season, ripe peaches are my very favorite food in the whole world, so we had to make a stop to buy some!

On the way, we stopped at a peach stand to pick up some peaches – this happened right in the middle of recording a podcast – before arriving in Fresno.  We headed for the post office first where packaged up another box of stuff to send home.  And then I majorly geeked out over some stamps we bought there.  And people, if they’re still available, get yourself to the nearest US Post Office and get some of these.  Usually the only round stamps that the USPS makes are for international mail.  A few years ago, they made a round wreath one for Christmas, and we bought enough to send all of our cards to international friends using those for several years. But this summer they have made round, textured stamps featuring different types of balls – tennis balls, baseballs, volleyballs, and even kickballs!  I am no philatelist or anything, but those stamps are cool, people. 

And the other ones you must run out to get a sheet of are the ones commemorating the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21.  Now, I thought these stamps were cool when we picked up a sheet inside the post office because they showed the moon as a black circle with the sun’s rays streaking out from it on all sides.  But when we took them outside, they became even cooler – the moon appeared!  These stamps change in light!  Now tell me, isn’t that worth geeking out about? I realize almost nobody uses stamps anymore, but try to come up with a reason to send some snail mail using these things. They’re awesome.
Shipping home another box of stuff helped to clear out some space in the back of the Volvo.
Once I’d finished being a complete nerd at the post office, we commenced our almost-daily search for a place to eat.  Yelp! had been supremely unhelpful three days earlier when we were in Fresno, so we used the tried-and-true method of just driving around until we found something that looked promising.  That’s how we ended up at West Coast Fish N Chips, a tiny hole in the wall in a strip mall with an even tinier sign.  It may seems that fish and chips aren’t that hard to do, but these people do everything from scratch.  Just look at the sign they post explaining their philosophy.
Who makes their own sauces?  Almost nobody!
The sign you see here isn't even visible from the road.
We had to wait for about 20 minutes after we ordered for our food to arrive because everything is made when you order it.  It tasted just like the fish and chips we’ve eaten in England; all that was missing was the traditional mushy peas side dish (which is actually yummy in small amounts).
Fish and chips with a side of battered veggies - yummy!

After dinner, we made a Target run and then checked out the Gibson Farm Market which is a meat, dairy, and produce stand run by Fresno State University.  All of the agricultural products are grown and produced right on campus, and we picked up some fresh veggies and ice cream to munch on.  It was a surprisingly professional-looking enterprise, and it was packed with customers.  They are open every day, and it made me wish that Purdue’s Butcher Block concept would expand to dairy and produce.
Please open one of these, Purdue!

Since by then it was after 5:00, we could safely head to Yosemite without worrying about arriving during the heaviest tourist time.  We made a bee line for Glacier Point to marvel at the imposing vista including both Half Dome and a thundering Yosemite Falls.  This was a complete surprise to me, since I’d heard many friends tell about their summer trips to Yosemite and the way that the waterfalls were mere trickles in the summer months.  A winter of heavy snowfall meant that visitors this summer were rewarded with impressive amounts of falling water that echoed throughout the valley as it fell.
The light was PERFECT when we arrived!  Look at those reds and pinks!
We stood in awe at the edge of Glacier Point and began to understand why Yosemite is one of the nation’s most popular and iconic parks.  Of course hordes of people were there for the 4th of July holiday (and a whole heaping herd of them were perched there on the cliffs with us), but even that couldn’t detract from the stunning beauty in front of us. We stayed until well past sunset before beginning the hour-long drive down into the valley where we’d be staying for the next three nights.
Half Dome looms large in the background of our family picture.

Look at all that water plunging into the valley!

When we finally arrived at what used to be Curry Village but is now known as Half DomeVillage*, it was well after dark**.  We drove around and around looking for a place to park, and Kinley got the fright of her life when the face of a lady, who had apparently been sleeping in her car, popped up in the window next to us just as Kinley was getting out of our car.  Once she’d regained her composure, we all trooped through the dark to our cabin. 

Most of the area that wasn’t filled with parked cars was covered with what the park calls tent cabins.  These were canvas-walled tents with a raise wooden platform floor, a screen door, and cots for sleeping.  They had no electricity, and the occupants of the tents were required to keep all their food in bear-proof lockers outside each tent.  There were 403 of them in Half Dome Village.  Hence the parking issues.
This example of a tent cabin was less than 10 feet from our cabin.  You can see many others in the background.
We had booked the slightly nicer Cabins Without Bathrooms.  (That’s what they called them.  For real.  It sounds all noble like Doctors Without Borders or something, but it’s really just expensive and inconvenient.)  There were only 14 of those, and we only booked one because when we called a year ago to reserve a room, that’s the nicest thing that was left.  The Awahnee, the Wawona, and even the 46 Cabins With Private Baths (creative nomenclature, for sure) were all full.  A year in advance.
Knox stands in front of our Cabin Without Bathroom.
All of the cabins – tent, without bathrooms, and with private baths -- looked like no thought whatsoever had been given to their placement in the valley.  It looked as if each one had been a little Monopoly house in some designer’s hand who then took 463 of the little buggers, tossed them onto a map of the area, and then placed them at the campground, higgledy-piggledy, just as they fell.  Three bath houses were within spitting distance of each other a few steps away from our cabin, but that left dozens of other cabins without nearby bathrooms.  Why wouldn’t they have spread those three bath facilities out more? I guess the Monopoly pieces just fell that way.

Once we finally located our Cabin Without Bathroom, we hauled in all of our stuff.  These nicer-but-still-expensive-for-a-place-with-no-bathroom cabins had two double beds, electricity, a chest of drawers, a bedside table with a lamp, and a fan.  After we unloaded our substantial amount of luggage, we paraded to the bath house, armed with the keyless-entry password given only to paying guests.  Kinley and I needn’t have bothered.  The door wasn’t even latched.  We brushed our teeth and got ready for bed, hoping silently that neither of us would need to make a bathroom run in the middle of the night.

Poor Knox had been saying the whole trip that he thought he might want to really go camping – like, real tent camping – sometime.  I was beginning to feel guilty, like a bad mom who’s depriving her son of essential experiences.  I was beginning to consider caving in, borrowing some gear form friends, and taking the child on an overnight camp out.  That is, until Yosemite.  Nope.  Not doing it.  This was a rough as I ever care to deal with again.***

We all settled in for the night with the sounds of Yosemite Falls thundering off in the distance.  Even the thought of a late-night bathroom run didn’t take away the wonder of that sound.  I slept well.  All night long.

*The concessionaire for Yosemite used to be Delaware North Corporation (DNC).  Concessionaires work on a 15-year contract with the NPS, and the last time new bids were open at Yosemite, DNC lost the bid to operate the lodges and campgrounds inside Yosemite to Aramark.  Then things got interesting.  It turns out that during the last 15-year contract, DNC trademarked all the names of the historic lodges at Yosemite!  And, apparently, the NPS didn’t give them permission to trademark them.  So now, DNC is basically holding the names of the historic properties hostage!  Yosemite has had to come up with new names for all of these properties, places that are known world-wide by their iconic names thanks in part to the PBS documentary about America’s National Park lodges.  The Awahnee is now The Majestic Yosemite Hotel.  Curry Village is now Half Dome Village.  The Wawona is now Big Trees Lodge.  Until the courts decide whether or not a concessionaire can trademark the name of a facility they don’t actually own, significant expenses have been incurred to change maps, signage, websites, stationery, etc.  And there’s so much confusion!  Seasoned employees can’t break the habit of using the old names, and park guests like us who made reservations over a year ago to stay at one place now find that place no longer exists.  Personally, I hope the courts find in favor of the NPS, but I can’t imagine how they’ll have enough money to fight for the naming rights.
See the part of the sign that says Half Dome Village?  It's a vinyl banner that's hung over the historic wooden signing that reads Curry Village.  The NPS cannot use the Curry Village name anymore thanks to a trademark issue.

**Many of the parks we’ve visited this summer have been designated as International DarkSky Parks.  This means that the parks work hard to keep light pollution to a minimum, so there are no streetlights and few lit signs or paths at night.  While that makes for awesome stargazing and makes the habitat for nocturnal animals much more natural, it is a pain when you’re trying to navigate unfamiliar territory after dark.  Hauling luggage.  And a sleepy ten-year-old.

***If you have a hankering to take a very sweet but also sometimes clueless and possibly very sheltered ten-year-old on a real tent camping trip, let me know.


  1. Yosemite is my most visited childhood NP, I took the girls last summer, about this same time. We enjoyed a wander into the Meadow with an art studio in the village, and the girls got to do some fun watercolors of Half Dome and El Capitan. I'm eager to read your next installment. . .it seems you are stalled :) That happens during travel! Thanks for such a fun adventure so far. I'll be excited to read about your thoughts on Utah! Sorry that we missed you while you were here :(

    1. I haven't stalled; it's just that having unreliable wifi means that I can only upload pictures and post when we have a decent connection. Sadly, that's not often. Thanks so much for binge reading!