Some experiences only register as adventures when you look back on them. Such is the case for the car trek on which I took two of my dearest friends this past week to a beautiful national park.
Less than a year ago, my visit to Chicago with my college friend, Kay, revealed that she had never looked up at sheer granite walls amidst towering redwood trees, never experienced the mist of a powerful spring waterfall on her face, and never, apparently, had a squirrel enter her living quarters. So before my time with her was over, we made a plan on her next visit to my side of the U.S. to see Yosemite National Park – one of America’s greatest natural wonders. We invited Cheryl, another dear friend from my childhood Kay had met on a previous trip, to join us and we were set to go. Kay and Cheryl arrived within a few days of our road trip, armed with snacks, emergency meds (Cheryl is a nurse practitioner), clothes to layer themselves for changeable spring weather and a good deal of enthusiasm.
Leaving early on a weekday morning, we arrive at the park entrance around 10:30 with the top down on my convertible, ready to take on the sights above us unobstructed. As Kay holds her smart phone up for photos, we pay the meager $10 for this bunch of “senior” ladies to enter the park and find our way to the valley floor, with its concessions, shops, tents, campgrounds, hotels and restaurants. Armed with a confirmation and what I thought was a photo of our lovely hotel, we begin looking for our overnight home away from home.
But first, a bit of recent history. The park’s services had been taken over by another company just months before our trip who, to the chagrin of those of us who have been visiting Yosemite our entire lives, changed the names of places within the park. The Ahwahnee Hotel was renamed the “Majestic Yosemite Hotel” and Curry Village was renamed “Half Dome Village” among other changes. All over the park, canvas tarps with the newly printed names covered the old signs that had been there for at least 50-60 years. We stop to ask a park employee where our magnificent hotel is and she acts puzzled. “There is no big hotel in what used to be Curry Village.” I show her our reservation – a fairly costly room with a full bath, a living area and a fireplace. She says she has never heard of it. I think it’s because of the name changes, but I am wrong; she has never heard of it because it doesn’t exist.
We finally find our way to the newly named Half Dome Village, where there is a registration desk surrounded by bus stops and tiny cabins. The front desk clerk studies our printout. “Wow. You got the best room in the park!” she says with delight. We look at one another and then ask, “Where is the big hotel?” She laughs and says the only big hotel in the park is located in Yosemite Village. Our room is a large log cabin – right there in Half Dome Village. To this day, I have no idea what photo I had pulled up on Google that convinced me we were staying at a resort-like lodge. And I feel in no uncertain terms that I had deluded two of my besties. We proceed to check in, but are told the cabin is being cleaned and we’ll have to re-park the car anyway.
When I find a “lucky” close-in parking space with a curb next to it, I happily display my parking pass on the windshield and eagerly begin to exit the car with my friends, ready to take our luggage to our unusual-sounding cabin. Little do I know that the parking curb beneath my feet is not flat. As I step out, the dome shape under my foot finds me taking a step, rolling my ankle to the outside and falling to the park asphalt. I hear a discernible crunch and the next thing I know (after the pain subsides), a park ranger in a golf cart pulls up, having witnessed my spill first hand.
My embarrassment is surpassed only by my anger over this klutzy move and what it portends for our entire stay at the park. After my friends register the appropriate amount of shock, awe and sympathy over the accident, Ranger Lucy compassionately tells me my fall was a graceful one – almost slow motion in nature. “Can you stand on it?” she asks as she helps me up. I can. “That’s a good sign,” she reassures me. “Let me radio ahead and let the emergency clinic know we’ll need a wheelchair to meet you.” A wheelchair. And I have been at Yosemite for all of 30 minutes. With that, we all pile onto her golf cart and get our first tour of the valley floor. My foot (in shock like the rest of me) rests on the golf cart dash.
After the paperwork and insurance card are exchanged at the clinic and everyone is assured my foot is not broken, we wait for our savior Lucy to reappear to take us back to Half Dome Village. By then my foot is tightly wrapped, I am supplied with an ice pack and my friends have had time to pick up a few snacks before their blood sugar drops precipitously. Lucy gives us a verbal history lesson as she putts along the park byways to our lodgings. As she graciously loads our bags into her cart, I stare at the dastardly rounded concrete strip that caused my calamity and whisper a four-letter word. Then I offer my goodbye to Lucy, but not before thanking profusely for her above-and-beyond level of service and goodwill.
The cabin is not what I would call luxurious, but it’s large, charming, homey and lovely. We dump our stuff all around it and proceed to take a breather after our 3.5 hour drive and my physical drama. Kay sinks into a huge armchair and soon begins having an imaginary conversation in her sleep. Ex-hippie Cheryl flings the cabin doors wide open and goes outside to see if her smart phone can attract enough wifi to communicate with her grown daughters. I lay down on the sofa with my foot higher than my head and soon begin passing out from exhaustion. As we slip into and out of sleep, I begin noticing a scratching sound. Being prone with my leg up, I can’t look around me very well and at first think Cheryl had come back in. I begin to see a small figure near the fireplace moving furtively. A tiny squirrel suddenly overturns a short, empty garbage can. I wake Kay up by announcing the critter visit. My expressive friend’s eyes grow wide and she begins to freak, as if a horror movie were being filmed before her very eyes.
I hobble to the open door and inform animal-lover Cheryl of our visitor. She quickly gets up and enters the cabin ready to watch the little guy in action. Seeing Kay’s reaction, however, she begins looking for it everywhere just to calm our friend down. Then Kay announces, “I’m going to the office to get a manager! We need someone who’ll know what to do!” And she is gone. We listen and look everywhere and can’t find a thing. By the time a clerk arrives, our tiny friend has taken flight. Kay is clearly not convinced the creature will not be atop her face with claws fully extended in the middle of the night, so she keeps pointing to places she thinks we had not checked. Finally, she is convinced the scene has ended.
We get ready to head to dinner fully intending to have a few stiff drinks before enjoying a gourmet meal at the hotel that reminds us of the one in the movie The Shining. I was the last to dress, trying on shoes that would no longer fit my fat foot. Outside I heard Kay and Cheryl identifying a squirrel frolicking near the cabin. “There he is!” says Kay, pointing to what she wants to think is the very critter who invaded our luxury accommodations. I stifle my laugh.
The rest of our stay there is, of course magnificent, despite the slowdown my bum foot causes and the crowded bus rides that get us places later than anticipated. Yosemite Falls cascades in its powerful glory and Kay is in tourist heaven. Cheryl and I reminisce over past visits to the park but are no less impressed with what we see. We are a motley crew — Cheryl layered in five different patterns of earth mother, Kay decked out in her sensible clothes and coiffed hair, and me with my REI duds and permanently placed baseball cap. A lady stares at the three of us curiously the day we leave, asking where we are all from and clearly expecting us to be aliens. We look at one another and burst out laughing after she walks away.
There is something special about hanging out with old friends – people who knew you in your much younger days. There are no judgments, no preconceived thoughts — just our unvarnished selves, ooohing and aaahing at what we see and loving every second of it. We marvel at nature and ourselves, ending our time together later that week as if we had spent a month in a foreign country. It’s a trip we won’t soon forget. And now that we are Yosemite veterans, we are already planning our next, more involved visit there — one we KNOW will include even more adventures and definitely more laughs.