Fresh from his 2 AM in-bed feast, The Bearded Man rose early. His 3 1/2 hour drive west on Route 180 and then north on Route 41 was non-stop. At 9:30 AM, he rolled up to the newly renamed Majestic Yosemite Hotel, formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel ("should have kept the name"), fresh as a daisy, but in need of a cup of coffee and an egg or three. After entrusting the van to yet another young valet - "Remember my face," TBM walked to the dining room and ordered breakfast. With towering 34-foot high ceilings, enormous pine trestles and granite pillars, he found it difficult to concentrate on his eggs. "Paddy's Diner it ain't."
Part of the fun of touring the National Parks are the various accommodations. You get to experience some of the best wilderness campgrounds in America, while also enjoying many of the countries finest lodges. Located in the majestic, jaw-dropping main valley inside Yosemite Park near the base of Half Dome and Glacier Point, the Majestic Yosemite Hotel is one of those places that you will remember fondly for the rest of your life. Built in 1927, it is a National Historical Landmark and one of the most distinctive resort hotels in North America. With it's striking granite facade, magnificent log-beamed ceilings, massive stone hearths, richly colored Native American artwork and finely appointed rooms, it is the finest lodging in Yosemite, or perhaps any of the National Parks. Editors Note to the casual: "For dinner, we require gentlemen to wear long pants and a shirt with a collar, and ask that women wear a dress, skirt, or long pants with a blouse. Please refrain from wearing shorts, T-shirts, tank tops, flip-flops, and baseball caps. Children over the age of four are asked to dress for the occasion as well. Breakfast, brunch, and lunch are always casual." Hey, starting at $420 a night, they don't get a lot of riff-raff in the place. As for The Bearded Man, he never travels without a blue blazer. "It's what real men do." I think that last comment was directed at me.
The Bearded Man has a busy day. There are so many spectacular sights to see in Yosemite, wasting time is not an option. His plan, after walking over to the visitor’s center to do a quick sanity check, is to use the ranger guided tour to see Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks/Spires, Three Brothers, North Dome, and Tunnel View. After a late lunch, hike Cook's Meadow Loop, take in an early dinner, before heading up to Glacier Point and finishing the day with a memorable sunset and stargazing. “Ambitious but doable.”
Yosemite is home to countless waterfalls. Bridalveil, Wapama, Sentinel, Horsetail, Ribbon, Nevada and Vernal just to name a few of the tallest. But Yosemite Falls, one of the world's tallest, is something you can't miss. Made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet), it cascades some 2,425 feet over a soaring rock wall. The Bearded Man had to get a bit closer and walked the one mile loop to the base of the falls, where he was bathed in a cool mist. "I wish I had known they had outdoor showers here. It would have saved me 15 minutes this morning." Considering most of his morning showers are at least thirty minutes, we began wondering which part of the shower would he eliminate? Then we caught ourselves and it made us kind of nauseous.
Over eons, rivers and glaciers somehow carved 3,000 feet into solid granite to create Yosemite Valley. The nuances of the Valley form spectacular rock formations, for which Yosemite Valley is famous. El Capitan, rises over 3,500 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley, and serves as a beacon for the best rock climbers from around the world. Half Dome is perhaps the most recognized symbol of Yosemite. Known for its sheer magnitude—a smooth granite wall rising nearly a mile above the valley, it is one of the most sought-out landmarks in Yosemite. In the mid 1860’s, it was deemed “inaccessible” and thought to be impossible to climb. But a decade later, mountaineer George Anderson had summited the peak. The Bearded Man stood silent the first time he saw Half Dome. He later said it was "one of the most intimidating pieces of nature," he has ever seen. "Even more than my mother at 9 AM on a Sunday morning." We didn't ask.
It is virtually impossible to visit Yosemite and not feel the influence of photographer Ansel Adams, who produced images of Yosemite that are all but ingrained in our national psyche. His 1927, startling image of a Yosemite landmark, shot in fading light with a red filter, "Monolith, the Face of Half Dome" yielded an image that was almost surreal. His influence on creating awareness of the park ran so deep that shortly after his death in 1984, the Minarets Wilderness south of Yosemite National Park was renamed the Ansel Adams Wilderness in his honor. The following year an 11,760-foot peak on the edge of Yosemite was named Mount Ansel Adams. But perhaps the most fitting honor was given by his friend, President Jimmy Carter, in 1980 when Adams received the Presidential Medal of Freedom: "Drawn to the beauty of nature's monuments, he is regarded by environmentalists as a monument himself, and by photographers as a national institution. It is through his foresight and fortitude that so much of America has been saved for future Americans." Just as the images of nature he captured, Ansel Adams was a giant among men.
The Cooks Meadow Loop is only about a mile hike, but offers stunning alternate views of many of the sights that The Bearded Man saw on the ranger guided tour. Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, and Royal Arches are all on display as he casually strolls through the large open meadow. There is another reason TBM has chosen to hike this loop however. The Western Azelea is a flowering shrub that produces some of Yosemite's most spectacular and aromatic wildflower displays. The flowers are large and plentiful, with a strong, sweet scent that few people - including our friend The Bearded Man - can resist. Plowing his nose into flower after flower, he looks like a crazed man-bee, trying in vain to pollinate. If a psychiatrist was watching, his trip may have been slightly redirected to the local, 'now, now, just relax and slip your arms into this lovely white jacket' facility. Fortunately the only two who observed his behavior were Billie and Bunny Bowers from Ampersand, New Mexico who found his behavior, "slightly disturbing to say the least," but did not report him to authorities. "Billie and I have no desire to interact with local law enforcement'" said Bunny, as she covered her face and walked quickly down the trail and out of site. Editors Note: The Bowers were arrested a few days later, attempting to rob an Amtrak train traveling between LA and Phoenix. They are currently awaiting trial on charges of armed robbery and boarding a train with deodorant.
Back at the hotel, The Bearded Man kicked off his boots, lay back on the bed and relaxed a bit before showering, tossing on his blue blazer and heading down for an early dinner. The inlaid wood beamed and chandelier draped dining room was only beginning to fill up when he arrived and began his meal of grilled Spanish octopus, followed by a Cesar Salad. Pausing to catch his breath and have a few sips of water (he was still dry from a long day) TBM asked his waiter to recommend an entree. "If you like salmon, our pan seared Verlasso salmon is the finest salmon dish you will ever taste. If you like meat, the braised Berkshire pork osso buco is to die for." Without blinking, "I'll have the salmon my good man. Dying for a piece of pork is a bit steep." The waiter walked away determined to never use that particular phrase again.
Glacier Point, an overlook with a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra is about 30 miles from Yosemite Valley. The drive, as with any drive in the valley, is mesmerizing. Mother Nature is on full display and she is unrelenting. When the road ends at Glacier Point, it's a short walk to the viewing area. Once everything comes into view, you understand why apparently, it isn't at all uncommon for someone to simply stand and gaze at the view, as if transfixed into place. As for The Bearded Man, he was there at this time of day to specifically watch the sunset. He had seen photos of a color-saturated sky behind Half Dome - Orange and pink flaying out across the valley, before turning to deep blue and purple shadows. But nothing prepared him for the intensity and movement of color. "It was like being in a Van Gogh oil. The richness of color was breathtaking - the way it slowly moved across the granite and valley floor." As with so many before, he was deeply touched by nature and forever enriched by simply observing her transition from day into night.
Before turning in for the night, The Bearded Man stopped by the visitor's center to take part in a ranger led star gazing walk. Looking at the stars in a National Park, in particular one as remote as Yosemite, is a visual treat. "I never get tired of a night sky. It's so much easier to see the stars when it's dark." (Sometimes stating the obvious can be liberating.) And with those pearls, TBM walked back to his $420 a night room and collapsed across the bad. It had been a long day and he needs to be up early and on his way in the morning. Six more National Parks in California, Oregon and Washington await his arrival, before turning eastward and starting the final leg of his glorious journey. He quickly fell asleep with images of Yosemite Valley and sassy Spanish octopi dancing in his head.