Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Park (Part 2)

Part 2:
Among all of the grandeur that is Yosemite someone decided to plop a hotel smack dab in the middle. Really there are a few but there is one that is worth talking about The Alawanhe was created to be the high class destination for the movers and shakers of a time long past. If you ever have seen “The Shining” you can get an idea of what this place looks like. Giant halls with cathedral ceilings are seemingly placed about at random. Large fire basins are present inside to keep the guest cozy in the winter and stained glass is tossed about with near reckless abandon just because they can.

Getting a room at the Alawanhne requires reservations at least a year in advance for even the most basic room and some suites with a view can cost up to $1500 a night. And since I travel with reckless abandon and don't have $1500 to throw around I wish I could tell you that I got a room to sleep there. That didn’t stop me from trying however.

Needing a place to stay and felling like a lucky punk I decided to ask if there were any cancellations. The staff all wears tuxedos and treat even the average slug like me with politeness that doesn't come across as saccharine. The hotel receptionist seemed genuinely sad that I couldn't sleep there that night. What I did get out of this exchange is the list of all the properties in the park and the single phone number that you can call to book any one of them.

By some miracle of technology my AT&T got cell phone reception in the middle of the valley at Yosemite National Park where everyone else’s phones were reduced to fancy paperweights. In the parlance of sports this is like throwing a perfect game. It just isn't supposed to happen (suck on that Verizon!) Suddenly I was talking to Chad and making reservations. Wanting to keep the conversation quick lest my cell phone start paying attention to the laws of physics I kept things moving.

“Yes, any room will do... A lodge... south entrance... sure sounds cozy, they have TV right?... Great...Well since I saved $20 getting into the park today sure I'll take the scenic view for $20 more... yeah... I think $190 is reasonable... no I don't need cancellation insurance for my room I am checking into in 2 hours...Just book it!”

So with a 3 minute conversation we had a room. Only having a general idea where this place was I then put the car in drive, pointed it south, and hit the gas.

The Tanaya Lodge is just outside the south entrance to the park in the tiny town of Fish Head. Yes, “Fish Head”. The official population of this town is 200, which is roughly the size of an average college dormitory. Fish head still has a 'general store' and I am sure that if I looked hard enough would have a black smith and a livery tucked away someplace.

Being from the east I am used to the word 'Lodge' being preceded by the words “old” or “motor”. The Tanaya Lodge, however, was more resort then lodge. I had to be in the wrong place! This place made the Alawaneh look like someplace that charges by the hour and has a sheet deposit. As the valet took our car we could see racks of complimentary snow shoes that flanked the entrance. The main hall of the Tanaya was decorated like a hunting lodge, only enormous and comfortable. And there was no way that a staff at a place that costs this little could be this damn polite.

“Hello Mr. Spoto. Here are our three restaurants, they all have full bars but this one has the outdoor fire pit... here is our in house convenience store, and your room is just past the spa, pool, and hot tub... Would you care for a massage this evening?” Oh, I so don't belong here. But yeah... I could get used to this!

Waiting for the other shoe to drop we went up to see our room. The valet was kind enough to fetch our bags from the car and we followed him past the pool, past the fire pit, past the massage concierge, past the pool, hot tub, and sauna, and then up to our room. There were complimentary robes in the closet, the room was large enough for 5, and the place was impeccably clean. It was then that I finally met disappointment with the Tanaya Lodge. The TV wasn't HD. I mean how do these people call themselves a “resort lodge” without HD!? The nerve!

After freshening up in the room it was clear that we all needed to get some dinner. None of us had a full meal since breakfast and granola bars and trail mix only get you so far. Ready to go coyote on my own arm I finally got the girls moving towards food. Why you need to put on makeup to walk downstairs will likely always confuse me but I have learned in my time to not ask questions like this. We naturally decided to go to the restaurant with the outdoor fire pit!

Bellying up to the bar we ordered drinks and went out to the fire pit. The patio that enclosed the pit looked over the forest and mountain and gave a spectacular view of the spring sky. We had lucked into premium weather the whole trip but outside the park in the high Sierras things get cold at night in April. The air temp did it's best to slow the rapid intoxication that we were heading towards, but little in life can reverse the effects of gin on an empty stomach.

When we finally got our table we lucked into the best server that the Tanaya had to offer. Sabrina had served us our first round at the bar and had a lot going on. Aside from being a competitive snowboarder she owned her own bikini company and had enough personality to say all that while looking completely chill about being that impressive. She easily kept the banter with three thoroughly snockered individuals at her table.

There is, of course, only one way to finish the night at the Tanaya. The hot tub. Donning the complimentary robes that come with the room we trekked out to the spa. Ordinarily I would have felt weird wandering around a hotel in a robe, but this was a “lodge”, and everyone else was doing it! Let me tell you, if you are in place, that gives you robes to wear and hot tub spas to soak in, you are a fool for not going. (I’m looking your way Steph!)

As I soaked in the tub I ran through the checklist of things I didn’t expect to do just 24 hours previously. Road trip with friends: check. Explore a natural wonder of the world: check. Find a resort to stay at: check. Get loaded on gin: check. Talk to a bikini model/snowboarder: check. Soak in a hot tub: check.

Not bad for not having a plan.

The Park (Part 1)

So I am at dinner with my friend Steph and whatever David Berkowitz wanna be was hitting on her this week. Seriously, she attracts serial killers. David suddenly asks “So what are we doing this weekend?” Needing to save her from becoming his next victim I quickly said “Sorry Berkawitz, I think Steph and I are heading to Yosemite this weekend.” “My name is David.” “Yeah, that is what I said. Anyway, sorry!” So that is how I decided it is time to go visit Yosemite.

As most of you know I don't have a problem rolling without a plan. If I am heading to Europe or something I understand needing to do some planning. But for anything not requiring airfare I am just fine winging it. Keeping things spontaneous and without pretense can make your adventure either a fantastic accomplishment or a spectacular failure. Either way you get a great story. I think that this one turned out pretty well.

As Steph and I escaped certain death from young Gacey we quickly called her roommate, Gail, to give her the simple plan: Pack for an overnight, leave early, point the GPS towards Yosemite, find a room when we get there. Everything else will work its way out.

As any guy readers of this blog will know, men and women have vastly different ideas of packing light. I actually felt that I was packing heavy by having an extra pair of boxers and socks. Steph's toiletries bag was actually larger then her clothes bag. When I started to poke fun at her for it she told me “Hey, we only decided to go last night, so I just threw everything in bag.” and for the first time I can think of Steph had shut me up. Toiletries into the car and we are off!

After enough trips through California I have learned a few generalities that have held for every trip. The coast of California has some very interesting and beautiful sites. The eastern side of CA is interesting with some beautiful sites that are completely different then the coast. Everything in the middle: flat and boring. After two hours in the car the landscape finally started to change from orange groves and grape vines to nice rolling hills which soon break into the Sierra National Forest.

The Sierras are far different then The El Dorado Forest I passed through on the way to Reno. I just wish I could tell you why it is different. In the end they both have lots of trees set on steep faces of rock. Yet, somehow the Sierras are an entirely different set of trees and rock. The trees are a little smaller, but are just as majestic, and the mountains all have deep 'V' shaped valleys carved by ancient rivers. Traveling along these mountains is as fun as it is challenging. Just make sure you keep those that get motion sick in the front seat. I almost learned that the hard way.

The highways that lead to Yosemite are 'highways' in name only. It is all two lane roads with an occasional dotted yellow line to let regular traffic past the farm equipment. As we got into the high Sierra's there are many scenic vistas that are available just off the side of the road. Stopping at one along highway 120 as the road was climbing above 3000 feet I turned to see an RV pulling over into the vista point so that the tour bus could slowly crawl past it. Awe.... Crap.

At this point my choice was to follow slow and slower or to hit “detour” on the GPS. Undaunted by my request the GPS suggested a quick side rout that took me off the highway along the other side of the valley we were traveling around. Well, if the road I was on could be considered a highway I can't tell you what could describe the road I was detoured onto. ‘Old Priest Grade’ is technically a two lane road but there were plenty of spots where there was only space for one car. Locals later said to me “You went UP that?!” My answer is “Sure, I drive a rental car!” I could see the bus on the other side of the valley and the place where the roads meet together... I had my challenge and by hook or crook I would get ahead of that beast. Good thing I didn't care to much about my rental car.

As we arrived at the north entrance to the park the good fortune of our trip continued to grow. The weather was perfect, the traffic was minimal, and the $20 entrance to the park was free in honor of earth day. I almost felt bad that I wasn't supporting the preservation of the park. I got over that pretty quick, however.

For every person that even is tacitly familiar with me, the next statement that I will make may be the most shocking thing I have ever said. I lack the words to describe the sites of Yosemite. If natural wonder of the world is something that doesn't thrill you then you should probably never visit (and probably you need to talk to someone and get perspective on life). But if you have ever just sat back, even for a moment, and looked at the wonder of it all, then visiting Yosemite is simply awesome in the way that 'awesome' is supposed to be used. From this point on the word of the day was 'Wow!”

There are seven major waterfalls inside of Yosemite. It is simply the largest concentration of high falls on earth. That means that they didn't bother naming all the little ones that show up during the spring runoff which was in full effect. Every mile it seemed there is a scenic stopping point to view an ephemeral falls or just view the forest. At some point we had to stop visiting each vista because it is 40 miles from the edge of the park to the park basin.

The largest of the park's falls is the aptly named Yosemite falls, which is split into an upper and lower falls. The upper falls emerge from a deep channel that is the end of a hanging valley at the top of the main valley. The upper falls bursts from the top and collects together to feed the lower falls. Miles away you can hear the falls as a background rumble. At the base of the falls it simply like standing behind a jet engine.

Along the road to the main falls is the Bridevale Falls. Any other place on earth this falls would be a main attraction. The falls come over the mountain and then drift wider and wider as until the water simply turns into a mist. The effect makes it look much like a bridal veil (hence the name). The bottom of the falls is less forceful then the main falls, but that doesn't keep it from being powerful.

We spent the better part of the day hiking around and getting views of the falls and their surroundings. Giant sequoia trees dominate the landscape and even the locations scarred by recent wildfires are breathtaking. Enormousness slabs of granite lie where the glaciers deposited them a million years ago and rock slides are still a problem. However as the day waned on the next problem became where the hell are we sleeping! (End part 1)