Today my mother would have been one hundred years old. I wish to celebrate her with a recollection of our journeys to Yosemite.
Mom and I had many adventures over the years, but one of our favorite places was Yosemite Valley and surrounding areas. It was a beautiful, two-hour drive from where Mom lived in Sonora, CA. We drove through the old mining towns of Jamestown, Chinese Camp, Groveland, and Buck Meadows until we reached the turnoff for Yosemite Valley and the Village. The well-kept highway went higher and higher in elevation and then went down and down the long winding narrow road of the northern route into Yosemite.
It was a drive that I enjoyed. I always feel better in the mountains. Maybe it’s their energy or perhaps it is the clear, pure air above the Central Valley of California. All I know is that the higher the elevation, the happier and more at home I feel. And I love the scent of the tall trees that bordered the road on both sides.
We went there in the spring for Mother’s Day and also in December for her birthday. It was lovely in the springtime with snowmelt adding to the flow of all the waterfalls that cascade down the mountain sides. The meadows covered with wildflowers created a patchwork of brilliant color. And of course, there were many tourists filling the roads with their vehicles, crowding the parking lots and filling the trails to the waterfalls, especially Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.
I don’t remember exactly when Mom and I began to go to Yosemite. I know that we went there for many years in a row because I went to see her every Mother’s Day weekend. Fifteen years is about the best I can figure. We both loved the valley and the Ahwahnee was always our first stop once we arrived there.
It was a special Mother’s Day treat to eat in the great dining hall and choose whatever we wanted from the menu. The food listed on the menu was so varied and delicious sounding it was difficult to decide which one to enjoy. Thinking back on those lunches, I can still see the hall with its impressive size, massive log walls and ceiling frame-work and well-suited décor. It is easy to imagine the first visitors dining in the hall, women in long, fancy dresses and the men in stylish coats and trousers. What a nice place to land after coming to the valley on rough-hewn roads, first in horse or mule drawn coaches and later on in some of the first touring cars.
The winter trips were my favorites. I have never lived where it snows, being a Central Coast of California girl. The roads were always clear and easy to drive on in spite of there being snow covering the ground on both sides. Down in the valley though, it was different. Any sunshine that reached the valley never lasted very long and there were always a few icy spots and some snow on the roads. My vehicle had full-on four-wheel drive so there was never any problem in navigating the narrow roads.
The flower-filled meadows of springtime were now transformed into vast expanses of pure white snow surrounded by trees decorated with patches of snow. The valley was quiet and brought to focus the absence of summertime tourists, which made me feel like we had the whole place to ourselves. It brought a peace to my being that filled me with joy and wonder and contentment. The valley will always be one of my happy places.
The Ahwahnee was always highly decorated for the holidays. There was even a red carpet running from the parking area to the front doors, probably to keep guests from slipping on the wood planking with wet shoes. Garland hung on the long wall to the entrance and was enhanced by glass ornaments and decorations. Once inside, everything was trimmed out in stylish wreathes, garlands and of course, Christmas trees. It was a magical place full of hope and promise for the holidays and the coming New Year.
The gift shop always had the most wonderful treasures, glassware, clothing, jewelry, books, gemstones, Native American items and so, so much more. We would wander slowly through the isles looking at everything and selecting a few items for Christmas gifts. Many of the items were a bit pricy but their uniqueness and quality were worth it. I could always find something exceptional for a special friend.
After the gift shop, we would go to the dining hall for lunch. One time, we were there the day after Christmas and had the same Christmas dinner served to the guests the night before at a reduced price. It was a delectable meal but when our server brought the dessert cart to our table, we had a really hard time trying to decide which decadent cake or sweet treat to try. Not being able to make a decision, we each selected two items. Mmmm, heaven on earth for foodies!
Mom and I were both interested in the Native American tribe that had lived in the valley. There were many tribes that came to live in the valley, but the Miwoks were there first. We would visit the museum dedicated to them with examples of hand-made baskets, clothing, bark teepees, jewelry and feather capes and headdresses.
Their handiwork on the baskets always inspired Mom. She had taken classes in basket weaving using 12-inch plus pine needles at the junior college in Columbia near Sonora. The quality of the baskets on display encouraged Mom to create her baskets with the same precision and excellence. I have many of the baskets she made and occasionally gift one to a friend who will appreciate them.
The Ansel Adams Gallery was an amazing place with pictures by the photographer who loved the valley as well as the surrounding mountains. He explored the area and documented his travels in books that well described what he experienced. The photographs were as close as Mom and I were ever going to get to the high country he documented so well.
After we had driven throughout the valley, taking in the majesty of it all, it was time to head home. We normally went home the way we had come in but one time we decided to go out the middle way, along the Merced River out through the canyon heading west. I had never been that way and the new scenery was spectacular to see. On the other side of the river, there were still remnants of the original road into the valley. A few old buildings from earlier times still stood in spite of their age. It felt like we drove back in time through the history of the valley.
I miss those times. I have been back to Yosemite since mom has passed away, but I miss her company. I always feel her presence and her joy of being in such an amazing natural area. And I treasure the memories of our adventures there.