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50 Year Golden Wedding Anniversary Celebrated in Yosemite National Park – Part V

By   /  May 10, 2024  /  No Comments

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Part V – Day 4 & 5 – Visiting the Wawona area, Bass Lake, The Madera Wine Trail and the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino

TR Robertson -We awakened after a restful night on comfortable beds at the Wawona Hotel. Carolyn and I enjoyed a small breakfast and met Eric and Lisa later that morning. They were going to drive to the parking lot of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and hike in, about 2 miles, to see some of the 500 Giant Sequoias. We were going to explore the Wawona area again. Eric and Lisa drove the 6.7 miles to the parking lot of Mariposa. During the summer months a shuttle runs visitors to get them closer to the Sequoias. Eric and Lisa hiked in and were able to see quite a few. Estimates of some of the trees indicate there are some of the Sequoias that may be over 3,000 years old, old but not as old as the Great Basin Bistlecone Pines that may be close to 5,000 years old. The Grizzly Giant is a popular tourist attraction, estimated to be 2,700 years old. Other popular Sequoias are General Grant, General Sheridan, Bachelor & Three Graces, Faithful Couple, the fallen Wawona Tunnel and Fallen Monarch. The last two are no longer standing.

  • Looking across the Wawona Road toward the Wawona Hotel

While Eric and Lisa were gone, we set out to wander around the Wawona Hotel to see some of the areas around the hotel we had not seen before and then we set out to visit the Pioneer Village that was made up of reconstructions of some of the first buildings to be built in this area about the time stagecoaches began to bring visitors to Wawona. The visitors would stay in this area and either hike into the Valley from here, take horse drawn wagons or ride trails on horseback.

Henry Washburn and John Bruce erected the first buildings for the Wawona Hotel in 1876. The spot the hotel was built was to accommodate the location the stage route that once stopped for the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company. Stages had been traveling to this area since 1875. Visitors to Yosemite would then transfer to open air wagons or horseback for the long dusty trip to either the Mariposa Grove or the Yosemite Valley. The first cars would travel to the Wawona area in 1913.

Our rooms were in the first complex of rooms built for the Wawona in 1876. The building is called the Clark Cottage, formerly referred to as the Long White. The name was changed to honor Yosemite Guardian Galen Clark, who started the Pioneer Inn for stagecoach passengers. Originally the complex was two stories, but it was remodeled in 1947 adding bathrooms and making the building a series of one-story rooms. There were no bathrooms in any of the rooms when the building was first built. The Clark Cottage has a long porch that runs on both sides of the building with chairs where guests can sit and enjoy the fresh mountain air. Our rooms looked out on the long grass entrance to the Wawona and to the swimming pool, empty this time of year. The rooms were reasonably priced, at just over $200 a night, fairly roomy (considering their age), small but adequate bathrooms.

The Main Lodge, where we ate and checked-in, has a series of shared bathrooms on the first and second floor that are still in use today. It also had comfortable sofas and chairs scattered throughout several rooms in the lobby area with a fireplace that is used when the weather is colder. There is also a Grand Piano that was used by pianist Tom Bopp when we last stayed at the Wawona, who played an amazing selection of songs, including traditional songs written about Yosemite. We were told he would be returning later this year. Sitting, having a cocktail and listening to him play was an enjoyable way to spend the evening. Bopp started playing at different times of the year at Wawona beginning in 1983.

Other complexes at Wawona, with rooms to rent, include the long two-story Annex consisting of 36 rooms and a Sunroom and Golf Shop; the Little White cottage is great for families; the two-story Washburn Cottage consists of 16 rooms; and the two-story Moore Cottage has nine rooms and would be great for a group of friends on vacation or a family reunion. There is a nine-hole golf course across the street, marked for eighteen holes. The golf course was used as a staging area for fire fighters during the different fires in Yosemite. There is also a long hiking trail around the golf course known as the Meadow Loop Trail.

Walking back to Wawona, we then hiked down to the Yosemite Stage & Turnpike Company, the original location of the stagecoach barns first built in Wawona. Visitors from the Fresno area would take stages to Wawona, stay here and then take horses or wagons to the Valley or Glacier Point. What now takes 45 minutes to get from Wawona to the Yosemite Valley would take over eight hours in the late 1800’s.  The stage companies once had 40 drivers with over 700 horses used for the trips from Fresno to Wawona and Wawona to the Valley. One of the wagons used to transport visitors to Yosemite Valley still remains in a covered barn next to the entrance. Next to the former barn area is what is called the Gray Barn, a barn built in 1913 as a repair shop for the cars of that time period to be repaired after the long trip from Fresno. Past the Gray Barn we walked to the oldest bridge in Yosemite, originally built in 1868 across the South Fork of the Merced River. It is still in the same location and the road across the bridge is the original Wawona Road. The bridge is a covered bridge built by Galen Clark, but originally uncovered. Clark was from the East Coast, and he wanted a bridge that reminded him of the East Coast, so he added the roof in 1878. The bridge has been repaired several times, almost destroyed by flooding in 1955. Walking across the covered bridge we entered the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. This exhibit has a number of homes and buildings that were built in the area. This is now a reconstruction of these homes to share in the history of Yosemite and is part of the National Park Mission 66 program to preserve Yosemite’s history. Some of the buildings we walked past were the Artist Studio of Chris Jorensen built in 1898, a cabin used by U.S. Soldiers assigned to Yosemite in 1891, the original Degnan Bakery cabin built in the 1880’s, the Yosemite Transportation Office built in 1910, and the first cabin of Yosemite’s Acting Superintendent built in 1891.

Eric and Lisa returned after about 2-3 hours, and we all got into the Highlander and decided to drive up several of the roads close to the hotel to see some of the homes/cabins that have been built in this area either as permanent homes or vacation homes. Driving up Chinuaina Falls Rd. it is amazing how many cabins are in this area. Because Wawona was not an original part of the National Park, people could purchase property here and build homes. We were told that as people sell their homes the National Park is trying to purchase the property. We saw one massive cabin that is supposedly on the market for over eight million dollars. We also drove up Forest Drive and found that there is a trail that can be hiked that will take you to the Wawona Swinging Bridge. Back at Wawona Hotel, we rested a bit and had another great dinner in the Dining Room. This time I tried the Chicken Alfredo Blackened Chicken dish, and it was very good.

Another restful night, we were up and driving out of the park after breakfast. Highway 41 is the road back toward Fresno, but we were going to stay at a casino just outside of Oakhurst. Eric took us on a short side trip toward Bass Lake. We have friends that come up here and rent a house during the summer months. Bass Lake is 4 ½ miles long and ½ mile wide. We stopped in Ducey’s on the Lake, a resort and great-looking restaurant and bar. Back on the road we headed back on Highway 41, also known as Buffalo Soldiers Memorial Highway. The Buffalo Soldiers were the 1st Rangers for Yosemite Park in 1899. They were an African American Regiment that helped police the park. Prior to checking into the casino resort, we were also going to visit a couple of wineries on the Madera Wine Trail.

The first winery we stopped at was the Birdstone Winery. We were there on a Friday and surprisingly a lot of the wineries were not open. Birdstone was. We enjoyed a selection of their wines, but some of the ones we wanted to try were not available. We didn’t stay at Birdstone very long. It was on to a vineyard Carolyn and I really wanted to experience, Ficklin Vineyards, the home of the oldest and most-awarded Port winery in the United States. This vineyard was open, and the samples were awesome. Ficklin Port is widely acclaimed as one of California’s finest Port wines created in the Portuguese tradition. We ordered and shipped several bottles home.

From Ficklin Vineyard we drove to our final stop on our 50th Anniversary Celebration trip, Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino. We had chosen the resort casino as it looked like a great place to end our trip and it was only 38.5 miles away from the Fresno International Airport. Chukchansi Gold is owned by the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukshansi Indians and is located in Coarsegold, California. It is a 56,000 sq. ft. resort casino. The rooms were large and extremely comfortable. Our final dinner for the trip was in the Nativos Italian Restaurant and the meal was delicious. The next day we had a late flight home and we had time for breakfast, so Carolyn and I ate at the Loggers Café in the casino and yes, I had my favorite, biscuits and gravy with crispy bacon on the side.

The trip was awesome, the weather perfect, the company was great and celebrating our 50th where Carolyn and I started our marriage journey was the perfect way to remember where we started and how far we have come. Thanks Eric and Lisa for helping us celebrate.

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  • Published: 1 month ago on May 10, 2024
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