So I thought driving into Las Vegas was strange, coming out of Death Valley was even more strange. We were in the desert one second, at minus feet below sea level and then we ascended and you’d see random trees poking out of the sand in the middle of nowhere with lots of little bushes, and then within half an hour we were driving through forests. We stopped for lunch in Bishop, which was the first large town since Death Valley, having passed Mount Whitney and the start of the Sierra mountains (which are stunning). We ended up eating in a roadhouse, which was pretty good food, listening to the people behind us talking about whether their mate was going to get charged with ‘single or multiple possession’. Possession of what we never found out, but the restaurant was next to a gun shop, so we decided that could be a safe bet. I tried Ice-Tea here but found it quite bitter. You’re given sugar with it, but, if you’ve watched me drink tea, I put about 3 teaspoons in for a 250ml mug. The ice-tea I was drinking here was 600ml- that would be a lot of sugar!
Photo: Starting the Tioga Pass
Photo: Close to Lee Vining
We carried on and eventually came to the edge of Lake Mono, before starting to climb again on our way into Yosemite. To get into the national park, there’s the all year round route, which goes via Fresno and takes longer (and isn’t as pretty), or there’s the Tioga Pass, which, at its highest point is 9950 feet. We went in via Tioga, and on the way in saw brilliant views of lakes, the Tuolumne Meadows, a burned area where lightning had struck and had caused fires which rangers were controlling, and pretty much the backdrop for every Apple desktop device which exists, the one with the giant rock. Make sure you check the pass is open before driving towards it- the weather at the top of Yosemite and the weather at the bottom of the pass can be drastically different, and the pass regularly closes for snow and heavy rain. There’s only one road as part of the pass, and it takes a good couple of hours to drive, so it would take hours to turn around and drive back via the Fresno route, and you would have to double-back on yourself quite considerably. From Death Valley to Yosemite via Tioga, it took us about 6 hours, but Death Valley to Yosemite via Fresno is 8 hours minimum. You have to pay to enter Yosemite, and you also need to show the pass when you leave- it cost us $30. You pay at the top of the Tioga Pass. On the way into Yosemite, there’s a local shop/restaurant at the top of the pass (I think it was near Lee Vining) and not a lot in between. There are, however, porta-loos at frequent intervals and lots of picnic spots with stunning views. Be careful of bears!
Photo: Tuolumne Meadows
Photo: Tenya Lake
Photo: The ‘Apple’ Rock (don’t know its actual name!)
So in the space of a few hours, we’d gone from desert to forest to mountains, from negative sea level to 9900 feet to 4000 when we eventually arrived in Yosemite, 40 odd degrees to 20 and back up to 26 when we arrived, from desert dust to a lot of grasses and pollen. It’s crazy. Your eyes can’t quite comprehend the size of it. I mean, you know it looks big, but your brain can’t quite put it into perspective.
Photo: Tenya Lake
We got to our hotel, the Ahwahnee Hotel, which was an awesome hotel. It had massive windows so you could easily view the massive rock faces. It also had really traditional furniture and decoration. It was built after a person from the British Royalty made a comment that the hotels in Yosemite weren’t comfortable enough (typical). This was seconded by a scientist of nature who said that walking and hiking wasn’t worthwhile doing if tourists hadn’t had enough to eat or hadn’t been comfortable sleeping. So someone designed and built the hotel and shipped all of the construction materials and furniture in from outside the national park, which is crazy when you think how steep that road was. Our room had a spectacular view of the rock faces, and because of the long drive, it was about tea time, so we went down to the bar in the hotel to get some food. This was definitely a highlight of the trip and one we’d been looking forward to. We tried to make it so we had 2 nights in Yosemite, but it added about $400 to the price of our trip because the hotel was so expensive- we just crammed a lot into 24 hours instead!
Photo: Ahwahnee Hotel
Photo: Ahwahnee Hotel
California is in drought, although Nevada weirdly isn’t, so the law states you have to ask for water, the servers can’t offer it. Once we’d had that explained it was fine though. The other thing we’d had to do when we arrived was bear proof our car by taking out anything that remotely looked our smelled like food. Apparently the bears break in because they can see something that might have food in it, like a cooler or a carrier bag. We also had to sign a waiver to say that we were going to leave virus ridden mice alone and not antagonise bears. After tea, we went for a short walk to a bridge within the hotel grounds and saw a deer and its baby come across the river. We walked back across a meadow and watched the sun come down while having a drink on the patio.
The temperature was nice after Death Valley, somewhere between 23-25 degrees. When some sun loungers became available, we watched the stars come out for an hour. Strangely, the sky was very different from the Death Valley one, even though we worked out we were roughly facing the same way. I can’t explain it, it just looked different. My husband wanted to take star photos but was also scared of bears, which was quite funny, so we didn’t walk too far from the lights.
Photo: Yosemite at night
The hotel offered guided walks both at night time and in the day time, which were between $5 and $10 a person. For getting around Yosemite, if you’re staying a few days, it’s better to get the shuttle bus organised by the National Park rather than driving yourself- parking is tricky in Yosemite, and the bus can drop you in places where there isn’t any parking. Plus it’s better for the environment. In the village centre, there’s a medical centre and a large shop.
I wasn’t overly impressed with some of the other hotel guests, lots of them were sitting on their phones while eating dinner or kids had headphones on or were just badly behaved. People were just generally a lot more noisy than at Death Valley. It was the weekend when we stayed in Yosemite, so lots of people might have come down from the cities making it more busy, but, I’m ashamed to say it, it wasn’t the American families that were irritating, it was the British families. Sort it out guys!
The next morning, we got up and had breakfast in the Hogwarts style dining room. Someone finally paid attention to the honeymoon marker our travel agent had put on our travel itinerary (hooray!), so we were given the best table in the room to eat from, which had a great view. For evening meals, formal dress is required, but for breakfast it’s more relaxed. We decided on the breakfast buffet which was the best quality we’ve had so far and our server was really friendly, telling us about his son who had decided to emigrate to Swanage. Because the UK is so small in comparison to the States, lots of people think we know everywhere intimately and therefore know everyone. He asked us if we knew his son, and when we said we didn’t, he told us exactly where he lived.
Photo: The Ahwahnee Hotel Dining Room
After breakfast we headed straight out for our short walk to Mirror Lake. It was mostly along paved trails, but the map lied (or my husband read it wrong- you decide) and it turns out that it was 4 miles total not 2. Either way, it was a lot longer than we thought. It was a good walk though because for most of it we were pretty much by ourselves. Mirror Lake would have been very mirror like in Spring or Autumn, but because it was summer, and there’s the drought, lots of the water had dried up or hadn’t run into it. It was still very pretty though. As we were walking back, we felt the temperature go up. It must have been about 18 degrees when we left, because it wasn’t cold but it was comfortable, but by the time we got back it was 26 degrees. We shared the pathway with cyclists, runners and other walkers.
Photo: Mirror Lake
Photo: Bear Trap
We grabbed our bags and went to checkout and set off back up the valley to Lake Tahoe. This basically meant going 2.5 hours back up to the Yosemite check point which we came in via the Tioga Pass, which was a bit frustrating at first, but then we realised that you saw everything from a different perspective so there was still lots to look at. Plus it was quieter leaving than when we had come in so it wasn’t as heavy traffic wise. We got to the Tiago pass resort at about 1.30pm so we had our cheese toastie lunch at 9000 feet which was pretty cool, sitting at a bar. We should probably have made the most of the hotel’s picnic lunches they provide, but we didn’t think about that before we went out for our walk. Once we’d left the National Park, we drove further along Lake Mono than we had the day before, and realised how massive it was. And also very still. And also at about 7000 feet.
The landscape was still the Sierra Nevada mountains, but they were different. Yosemite was based around glacier movements, whereas this was shaped more because of rivers. The vast grass or meadows looked a bit like little house on the prairie, complete with farmland and cows (apologies for the stereotype!).
We crossed back into Nevada and were immediately greeted by a casino seemingly in the middle of nowhere. And also within seconds, the lower ground seemed more desert like again.