Yosemite park is one of those "must visit" points, and Google Maps showed it was just 170 miles away, so I hit the road.
I intended to follow the GMaps instructions, but my GPS tried pulling me in different directions. It also kept crashing ("uncaught Java exception" - whatever happened to exception handling?) and finally, I took a wrong turn somewhere and when it rebooted, it dragged me an extra 50 miles. And after it served me so well in Quebec...
I got to the Cedar Lodge at El Portal on CA-140, 8 miles outside of the western entrance to the park. The place is nice and clean. On the off season (before May) you could get a room for $79 a night. But since I decided a day in advance and it being a holiday weekend, it came up to $143 a night. I was upgraded to a room with a huge 4 poster bed and a jacuzzi. The building has an indoor pool. I recommend it highly, unless you can book any of the hotels inside the park.
While this time of year is considered off season, with some of the main roads and attractions closed due to snow and avalanches, I lucked into a wonderful clear weather that permitted clear views of the peaks, valleys and waterfalls.
The Drive from the lodge to the park is short and scenic. The Merced river snakes along the road, tall trees shade it, and above them the high cliffs of Yosemite make you feel insignificant. I managed to see Bridalveil fall (short walk from the road - 0.4 miles each way). You can get up close to the fall and get mystified (and by that I mean, get wet by the mist thrown off it).
From there I continued to Yosemite village. Here you can visit the visitors' center, shop at the store, eat a good sandwich at Deegnan's Deli (try the hot roast beef) and visit the Ansel Adams museum. At the Yosemite Lodge (10 minutes walk from the village center) you can register for several guided tours and activities. I registered for a valley floor tour and a snowshoe walk (missed the moonlight walk by 20 minutes - lucky me as I found out later) and returned to the lodge.
Couple of good-to-know facts:
- Dining options up the mountain are limited. The lodge has a restaurant (5 out of 10) and so does the neighboring lodge. Other options are in the park, or at the bottom of the mountain (20 miles drive which is not fun at night).
- There's no cell reception anywhere on the mountain (that also means that wireless cards don't work - so no internet for 3 days. Probably a good thing :)). The only place around with cell reception is in the village (for the benefit of the rangers who live there). If you get a flat tire, stand by the side of the road and hope someone pulls over.
- Something I read before but forgot and paid for - fuel on the mountain is extremely expensive. The difference between Mariposa and El Portal is $1-1.20 per gallon.
- Expect road delays of up to 30 minutes in some of the park roads. Some are caused by construction, carried out all over the park, and causing some road sections to be reduced to a single lane. Some are caused by traffic jams. And some by Bambi jams. These happen when someone spots a deer and everyone stop helter-skelter to take photos. The deer are very trusting and are used to humans and will allow you to step up and take your shot (which is very sad for the deer, 'cause come hunting season, you can just step up to it, put your gun to its head, and turn a Bambi jam into a Bambi bam).
Read about my second day at the park here. And a serious question: can someone please explain why I had no GPS reception anywhere on the mountain, yet my XM radio worked relatively well (some hiccups in certain areas). Don't both technologies use satellites?