Yosemite: October 26-31, 2011

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

We’ve learned a lot about RV Park websites. The best looking ones, even the ones with the best looking pictures, are frequently the least optimal. We try first to keep costs down, but we depend a lot on a website called RV Reviews. Of course, we don’t need lots of facilities: adequate site room, good utilities in good working order, proximity to what we want to see, really pet-friendly and ease of getting and out – along with the attitude of the owners/managers – are what we most look for. Our biggest gripe are the places who accept pets but apply tight restrictions that make it very uncomfortable. We wish they’d just say no.

We found a group of campgrounds in Northern California all owned by one company that sounded superb on screen, and offered a late fall “buy 2 get 1 free” program. The first one we booked put us in the middle of a redwood forest that was beautiful but very uncomfortable and nothing to write home about. Some facilities didn’t even exist anymore. We still booked a second, in Oakhurst, California, about 15 miles below the south entrance of Yosemite. Again, it was far more rustic than expected, but the critical elements were there and a brook ran by. The town of Oakhurst offered adequate local trade and the best Chinese restaurant we’ve visited in over a year – and a surprise local attraction.

First things first. We headed north on our first full day, went through the gate on our Golden Ager pass, and then trekked an equal distance into Yosemite. We passed through to the famous Tunnel View, allegedly one of the world’s photographed spots with its near views of both El Capitan and Half-Dome. The turnout had plenty of room, and there were many other gawkers, some oohing and aahing and others standing there in apparent reverence. Some were looking through binoculars trying to find evidence that someone was actually trying to climb one or the other, but there was no confirmation while we were there. Continuing on, we arrived at the Yosemite Valley Visitors’ Center, where we partook of some nourishment and visited several of the stores, one of which was Ansel Adams’ studio, filled with his works and books for sale. I found a book there that featured the works of both Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe, and I quickly put it on my Christmas list. Beyond the Center, we got a good view of Yosemite Falls, with its two stages. We’d earlier witnessed Bridal Veil Falls, but we didn’t get to visit Horsetail where my sister Ellen’s ashes were scattered in 2007.

The following day, we went just inside the southern entrance and turned right to the Mariposa Sequoia Grove. It’s here that the largest trees known to man are found, mixed in with pines and fir trees that they dwarf. The Sequoias, like their redwood cousins, grow for thousands of years and have trunks as thick as 25 feet. Among the treasures we saw were the Fallen Monarch, the Clothespin Tree, the California Tunnel Tree, the Faithful Couple, and the Galen Clark Tree. Galen Clark, a New Hampshire native, is reputed to be the first European American to witness the Mariposa Grove. Contracting tuberculosis at age 39, he moved to the Wawona area to get better or die. He worked tirelessly to preserve the Grove, appealing through a California senator, and Abraham Lincoln signed the protective grant that reserved the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias for “public use, resort, and recreation … to be left inalienable for all time.”Clark served as its intimate caretaker for 24 years.

Several miles south, outside of the park, lay the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. The narrow gauge railroad was once the property of the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company, whose loggers practiced clear cutting from there south to Oakhurst – though the thick growth today defies their efforts. They operated a sawmill just south the railroad depot, and they moved the rough sawn boards by rail to a giant flume that was 54 miles long (see next story). They operated for roughly the first thirty years of the 20th century, and tourist service was established with original equipment on a small portion of the original 140 miles of track, with original engines and cars, in 1961.

Two types of trains traveled on the narrow gauge tracks. For timber movement, the company employed Shay wood-burning locomotives to haul the masive loads. The cars have been refurbished with tree-trunk sides to carry tourists. For personnel movement and other utility trips, they employed trolly like Jenny Cars, powered by Ford Model A engines and automotive transmissions. We took the mini-ride on a Jenny. The giant cones pictured below are sugar pine cones. They’re almost the size of a football and weigh up to4 pounds apiece. Compare that to the giant Sequoia/Redwood cones, which are close in size to a walnut!

Finally, in Oakhurst, we discovered a treasure: Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park. With two stately old homes anchoring it, the little village includes a pair of jails and a pair of schools, one of which houses the Nathan Sweet Museum. Other exhibits include houses, stables, a wagon collection and a flume exhibit, providing a closer-up look to the 54 mile flume we heard about at the railroad.

There is an actual section of the original flume, and our guide was well-versed in its operation and rewards. The flume ran from the Sugar Pine Sawmill down to the Planing Mill and railroad in Madera. It was at ground level in some places and very high up on railroad-like trestles at others. There were 12 flume stations along the way, where workmen would assure that the blundles kept flowing and attach bundles together into “trains.” As much as 130,000 board feet of lumber could float down the length of the flume in a single day.

With many other exhibits, including a reproduced miner’s cart with his tools and supplies, this is an excellent look at the conditions of 19th century life in the Sierra Nevada, where the quest for gold and the timber industry was augmented by many who were seeking a comfortable, free life cultivating the land.

Plans to get back up to Tahoe and Reno were tabled for this year. Instead, we headed back to the Ocean!

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