Yosemite and Hwy 49 - short getaway


Mar 20th, 2010, 09:22 PM
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Yosemite and Hwy 49 - short getaway

A short trip report for a short trip. I had the chance to get away last weekend for 4 days and decided to hit some of the southern Hwy 49 towns w/ an overnight in Sonora and then 3 days/2 nights in Yosemite.

Sunday Mar. 14: Left Sacramento Sunday morning around 9:30 and headed down the Jackson highway to Hwy 49. First stop in Amador City - it was surprisingly active for a Sunday morning. For those who haven't been, Amador City is a really tiny place on a bend of the road. Just a handful of gold rush era buildings w/ wooden sidewalks. There were lots of folks wandering through all the shops and the couple of cafes I checked out. It was a glorious spring-like day. I bought a few things in a gallery and gift shop and headed south to Sutter Creek.

Sutter Creek is a larger place than Amador City w/ more shops and places to eat, but it has the same basic vibe. Gold rush houses and other buildings converted to shops, wine bars, and cafes. Both towns seem to be riding out the down economy pretty well. I was pleased to see lots of activity and few shuttered places.

Then I drove down to Columbia - arriving around 2 PM. Columbia State Historic Park is an intact gold rush town where the central district is car-less and maintained/preserved by the State Parks Department. There are buckboard and stage coach rides, street musicians, old buildings, a museum and shops/cafes. I had a late lunch of quiche/salad in a small cafe in a really cute Victorian cottage (can't remember the name of the place ). It's probably been 20 years since I've been to Columbia and it was good to see it is still in good nick. W/ the dire CA State budget problems, you never know what to expect.

After a couple of hours wandering around, watching the black smiths,etc I headed the short distance over to Sonoma and the Gunn House Hotel. Mine was one of the smaller budget rooms upstairs on the wrap around veranda. I took the cheapest option since I would be splurging a bit in Yosemite. The room was small but very clean and very well decorated. Lots of decorator pillows and even a teddy bear. The bathroom was as large as the bedroom was small. There are rocking chairs/tables on the veranda overlooking the main street. And they serve a large combo continental/cooked breakfast in a nice breakfast room. Lots of cold choices plus Belgian waffles cooked to order. It isn't the poshest place - but a bargain IMO at only $79 a night

Sunday was the last day of the annual Sonora Celtic Faire. There is a big Irish/Cornish/Scottish/Welsh influence all through the gold rush region and the Celtic fair draws pretty big crowds. I didn't get into town until nearly 5PM so I didn't go out to the fairgrounds -- but several folks garbed out in kilts and sporrans and skean dhu's were staying at the hotel and at the steak/BBQ place across the street.

Next installment: 3 days at Yosemite Lodge/Dinner at the Ahwahnee . . .
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Mar 20th, 2010, 10:26 PM
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I love the Gold Rush country. Had relatives in Mariposa so I used to spend a lot of time there. Spring is the best time; everything is startlingly green.
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Mar 21st, 2010, 10:25 AM
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Glad to hear the Gunn House is still an OK budget stop. I have fond memories of staying there with my 9-year-old daughter 16 yrs ago. She had such fun in that pool!
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Mar 21st, 2010, 02:48 PM
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" . . . the short distance over to Sonoma and the Gunn House Hotel" Oh crap -- Sonora (Not Sonoma) - and I thought I proofed it

Yes - March/April are the BEST time to visit the foothills. things are soooooo green! Like England/Ireland green.

I'll try to post the Yosemite bits later tonight . . . .
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Mar 21st, 2010, 08:44 PM
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Monday, March 15 - On to Yosemite: After a really nice continental breakfast, I loaded the car and since technically I couldn't check in at Yosemite Lodge until 5PM, decided to explore for a bit around Sonora/Hwy 108 for a couple of hours before heading south.

Black Oak Indian casino is maybe 6-7 miles outside of Sonora, so I went to check it out and came away 45 mins later about $50 to the good. That would at least pay for maybe a bottle of wine at the Ahwahnee. Then I drove up 108 to Twain Harte and had morning tea/pastries in a cute little cafe.

There was less in Twain Harte than I expected (not really sure WHAT I expected though) so was only there about an hour. Even if I couldn't check in til late, I could at least be in Yosemite - so I retraced my route back down 108 and then caught hwy 120 through Big Oak Flat/Groveland. This is a great road -- when there is no traffic, and there wasn't. I love winding mountain roads -- and this was fun! But it would be a pain in the busy summer season.

Got to the Valley floor around 2:00 and stopped a few places like the swinging bridge and the chapel. Got to the Lodge by 2:30 and was able to check in immediately.

When I booked my room - it was weird. It was cheaper to book full board + Badger Pass lift tickets, than just a room alone. I paid $163 a night (plus taxes) for 3 meals in the Food Court + lift tickets, while room-only would have been $172. DUH - even scrapping the lift tickets and some of the meals, I was ahead of the game. Then I learned that the dinner vouchers were worth $20 at the Ahwahnee. Okaaay, now I have my ill gotten $50 plus a $20 discount. The Ahwahnee is getting cheaper every minute

My room was very large w/ a king sized bed, very comfy lounge chair/ottoman, desk/chair, and large cabinet that held the TV a small fridge, rooms safe and drawers. The Bath was OK - nothing special. But the topper was the balcony w/ round table and two chairs w/ a straight on view of Yosemite Falls and a slightly obstructed view of Half Dome!

I got settled and looked through all the maps and info - discovered there would be a 'twilight' walk from the Ahwahnee at 4 PM. I phoned to make a dinner reservation at the Ahwahnee for 8:30 tomorrow night, changed shoes and hopped on the shuttle over just in time for the walk. Since this was the beginning of daylight savings time - the twilight walk was really a bright daylight walk. But never mind . . .

The walking group was pretty much what I experienced all 3 days -- our group of 16 consisted of three British, 2 Israelis, 7 from Hawaii (two different unrelated groups), 2 from Michigan, 1 Dane, and 1 (moi) from California. I ran into LOTS of international visitors.

Our had guide worked at Yellowstone, Acadia and a couple of other parks before quitting the Park Service and hiring on full time w/ the vendor in Yosemite and has since lived in Yosemite Village for 4 years. Tough gig

After about an hour's walk and lots of info about the early history of Yosemite and plans for new directions in the park's management, I went to the Village store and bought some Brie/crackers, split of wine and a few other things to have back at the room after dinner.

Headed back to the Lodge and had Penne/meat sauce and tossed green salad at the food court. Not gourmet - but sort of basic home cooking so not bad -- especially for free!

Then back to the room for wine on the balcony as the sun went down behind the Sierras . . .

Next installment: 4 hikes/walks and "THE" dinner . . . .
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Mar 21st, 2010, 09:33 PM
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Sounds really nice, more please I'm working on a similar trip and now even more excited!
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Mar 27th, 2010, 11:27 AM
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Back to finish --

4 hikes/walks and "THE" dinner . . . .

Today I was going to use the shuttle buses for everything. (Even to get to dinner at the Ahwahnee -- even though they quit running at 10 PM. More on that later)

Had breakfast in the Food Court - free w/ the voucher. There were even more choices than for dinner. If one isn't on a, inclusive meal plan, I think the food court breakfasts would still be the way to go. Something for every diet.

meant to mention before -- there are no coffee/tea/hot water pots in the rooms. But the front desk hands out unlimited coupons for free coffee/tea in the FC. Not as convenient as making your own - but a nice touch.

After breakfast, it started really warming up so I went back to the room to change into a lighter sweater/socks and then hopped on the shuttle to my first stop - Happy Isles. There is a huge sewer/water construction project in the Village that does impact the shuttles a bit but they have moved a couple of the stops so one can get around w/o too much disruption. Got to the Happy Isles stop about 9:45-ish.

Only five of us got off at Happy Isles, me and a family of 4 that was heading up to either Vernal or Nevada Falls. I had Happy Isles totally to myself - in the summer it would be a zoo!

I wandered around both islands - took a ton of photos and just basically enjoyed the beauty and solitude for about an hour. The only sounds I heard were birds, the tumbling water and my own foot steps. Then back on a shuttle and the next stop at Mirror Lake.

Mirror Lake is probably one of the 2 or 3 prettiest places in Yosemite Valley. They used to manage the 'lake' to be a year round feature. But it is really a couple of seasonal ponds, so if you visit at the end of a dry summer there would likely be little or no water. That definitely wasn't a problem in March In fact the lake was larger that I remember in the past.

I haven't uploaded my photos yet but googled and flound this image to give you an idea.

There were many more people here than at Happy Isles but it still wasn't crowded. Ended up staying at Mirror Lakes and exploring a bit of the area around there for about 2 hours.

Gotta go for a bit -- will try to finish later today . . .
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Mar 27th, 2010, 01:33 PM
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Great trip report - keep it coming!

Lee Ann
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Mar 27th, 2010, 03:12 PM
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"The snow is melting into music"...John Muir at Happy Isles. Yosemite is such a special place...I've had a lot of happy times there.
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Mar 27th, 2010, 09:35 PM
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March 16 cont.:

Walked back down to the shuttle stop and rode back through the Village to the Lower Yosemite Falls stop (essentially across the street from the Lodge even though there are two shuttle stops in between).

They have made getting to the lower Falls very easy - parts are even wheel chair accessible. So naturally this was the most crowded spot all day. It was very warm down by the shuttle stop - I'd guess nearly 80F - and I shed my sweater. But by the time you walk up into the mist of the Falls, the temps drop more than 20 degrees. I was really glad I had that sweater w/ me!

At this time of year the upper cascade really falls as 'snow'. Water flows over the edge but quickly freezes and looks like a pile of icing sugar at the bottom. But the lower Falls is a rushing torrent. I clambered over some of the rocks - but soon though better of it. I had on really good shoes -- but that is one heck a LOT of water crashing down

It was fun watching the reactions of some of the visitors when they caught their first view of the Falls up close. LOTS of squealing and pure joy.

Then I walked back to the Lodge - it was about 3:00 and I didn't want to spoil dinner by eating too much but was getting pretty famished about then. So I dropped by the Food court and just had fresh fruit plate and some tea.

Instead of heading back to the room - I decided to walk through the grounds and then along the Merced River and across the Swinging bridge (which really doesn't swing). Then up the road a bit to the Chapel and then back the same route to the Lodge.

I sat on my balcony for a while w/ some wine and a good book and chilled til it was time to get dressed for dinner.

Caught a shuttle about 7:30 and got to the Ahwahnee about 15 minutes later. Sat in front of a roaring fire in the Great Lounge which is an absolutely enormous room (but not as enormous as the dining room).

They called me to the dining room exactly at 8:30 -- and even on a tues. night in March, every table was full! Several starters sounded really scrumptious -- but since I decided on the loin of venison for my main, thought I'd skip a starter and have a champagne cocktail aperitif instead. Ordering the cocktail 'off menu' w/o prices, I assumed it would be pretty steep. But what the heck - I have that $20 credit

Then I ordered a glass of (I think) Syrah to go w/ my loin of venison, cranberry relish, braised red cabbage and spaetzle. That sounds like a really heavy meal -- but it was absolutely fabulous. I assumed it would be a fairly small presentation, but it was a huge serving. 7 slices of venison loin cooked perfectly and fork tender. The cranberry and cabbage gave it a slightly sweet tang. All of the desserts sounded amazing - but I was just too full. The waiter offered to comp a dish of ice cream or sherbet/cookies just to round off the meal so that is how I ended my dinner -- w/ a kiddie sized bowl of ice cream.

W/ my $20 credit my total bill came to just $44 plus tip. And the champagne cocktail ended up only $9 which was about $4 less than the glass of wine - heck, I should have had two

By then it was just after 10PM and the last shuttle leaves -- at 10PM! Spoke to the hotel front desk and they said 'no problem, we'll call a van for you. No charge . . . '

They said it would be about 10 or 15 minutes so I popped into the cocktail bar just off the lobby. Saw a bottle of Macallan 18 year old on the back bar and decided -- 'now THAT'S the way to end dinner'. Ordered a shot and then realized the van may come before I could finish it. The bartender was really a kick and offered to put the Macallan in a coffee cup so I could take it on the van. Terrif!

Now, I know this 18 yo single malt will be pricey - I figured maybe $20 or $25 -- but what's money - after all, I saved $20 off dinner and got free dessert! (I'll go broke 'saving' money like that). So - he pours that beautiful, smooth whisky into a paper cup and rings up the sale -- thirty-five freaking dollars!!! He laughed when I didn't flinch (I was flinching but hid it well ) W/ tip, my after dinner drink cost nearly as much as my whole dinner!

The van came just about then and she dropped me right in front of my bldg at the Lodge - and wouldn't take a tip. Bundled up and sat out on the balcony for about 1/2 an hour sipping (and giggling about) my $35 nightcap.

Next morning, had a big breakfast in the food court and then packed and checked out but left the car at the Lodge. Rode over to the village and explored the Visitor's Center, museum, Ansel Adams Gallery, and the Indian Village. Then back to the Lodge for lunch and headed out Northside Drive about 1:00. Stopped at every wide spot in the road to take more photos until I left the park and then took hwy 140 to 99 and north to Sacramento.

I was only away 3 nights, but it was so relaxing it felt like a week. Visiting Yosemite in the off season is sooooooo much nice than in the crowded summer season. . . . . .
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Mar 28th, 2010, 06:02 AM
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janisj: This sounds wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing.
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Mar 31st, 2010, 05:10 PM
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Thanks for the report.

I've been meaning to go to Yosemite but it never worked out trying to go with other people. I read your report and realized that I could go solo. Duh! So, following your example, I'll be visiting Yosemite in a couple weeks.
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Mar 31st, 2010, 05:37 PM
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You'll love it Shanti. In a couple of weeks there should be more wild flowers and maybe even more water (especially w/ the storms this week)

The shuttle buses make it really easy to get around w/ being dependent on your car every minute.
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Apr 11th, 2010, 07:14 PM
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What a great trip. You're so lucky to be able to take a weekend and explore this great place. We'll be in CA next week but we won't have enough time to explore Yosemite during this trip. Reading your report is a nice introduction to the area.
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May 11th, 2010, 08:36 AM
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Wonderful report, and inspires me to return to Yosemite!
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May 11th, 2010, 11:36 AM
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Great adventure! And knowing you, I must say: THIS IS SO YOU!!
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May 9th, 2011, 05:23 AM
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Wow - what an inspiring report. I'll be travelling solo too and loved reading about your time there. Not sure I'll be ordering the £35 whisky, but the Champagne cocktails sound like a MUST. Thanks a lot and I'm going to now start planning which walks to take on which days. In all, I have two half-days (perhaps) and one full-day in the Park. You do mention the "zoo" it'll be etc in the Summer...and those crowded windy roads. But what the heck, at least I'm forewarned so will be expecting it!
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Nov 5th, 2012, 07:06 PM
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What a great time you had and we will definately be going to Yosemite in May 2013. Thanks for linking me to your trip report.
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Mar 15th, 2016, 05:34 PM
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This was awesome! Thanks, Janis. We are leaving in two days so we will be there at just about the same time, albeit several years later. As far as I know, we are staying in a cabin close to the Lodge formerly known as the Ahwanhee.
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Mar 15th, 2016, 05:38 PM
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That was a shock seeing this back at the top

>>a cabin close to the Lodge formerly known as the Ahwanhee.<<

Still called the Ahwahnee to most of us (both Delaware North and the NPS can both jump in a lake )

It should be gorgeous with the snow we had the last few days.
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