Three Gals, Graceful Falls and Furry Friends
Some experiences only register as adventures when you look back on them. Such is the case for the car trek in which I took two of my dearest friends a year ago to a beautiful national park.
When I visited Chicago with my Midwest college friend, Kay, she revealed to me 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. 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 with in case the changeable spring weather required them and a good deal of enthusiasm.
Leaving early on a weekday morning, we arrived at the park entrance around 10:30 with the top down on my convertible, ready to take on the sights overhead unobstructed. As Kay held her smart phone up for photos, we paid the meager $10 for this carload of“senior” ladies to enter the park and found our way to the valley floor, with its concessions, campgrounds, hotels and restaurants. Armed with a confirmation and what I thought was a photo of our lovely hotel, we began 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 which, to the chagrin of those of us who have been visiting Yosemite our entire lives, changed the names of places within the park. The Awahnee 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. To Cheryl and I, who had never known any other names for these places, it felt like a travesty. We stopped to ask a park employee where our magnificent hotel was and she acted puzzled. “There is no big hotel (in what used to be) Curry Village.” I showed her our reservation – a fairly costly room with a full bath, a living area and a fireplace, where we would spend the night. She said she had never heard of it. I thought it was because of the name changes, but I was wrong; she had never heard of it because it didn’t exist. Adventure #1.
We finally found our way to the newly named Half Dome Village, where there was a registration desk surround by bus stops and tiny cabins. The front desk clerk studied our printout. “Oh! You got the best room in the park!” she said with delight. We looked at one another and then asked, “Where is the big hotel?” She laughed and said the only big hotel in the park was located in Yosemite Village. Our room was a large 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 felt in no uncertain terms that I had defrauded two of my besties. We proceeded to check in, but were told the cabin was being cleaned and we’d have to re-park the car anyway.
When I found a “lucky” close-in (nor door ding) parking space with a curb next to it, I promptly and happily displayed my parking placard and eagerly exited the car with my friends, ready to take our luggage to our unusual cabin. Little did I know that the parking curb beneath my feet was not flat as I stepped out, took a step, rolled my ankle to the outside and fell to the asphalt. I heard a distinctive crunch. And the next thing I knew (after the pain subsided), the three of us were scooped up by a park ranger in a golf cart, who had witnessed my mishap first hand.
My embarrassment was surpassed only by my anger over this klutzy move and what it portended for our entire stay at the park. After my friends registered the appropriate amount of shock, awe and sympathy over the accident, Ranger Lucy compassionately told me my fall was a graceful one – almost slow motion in nature. “Can you stand on it?” she asked as she helped me up. I could. “That’s a good sign,” she reassured me. “Let me radio ahead and let the emergency clinic know we’ll need a wheelchair to meet you.” And with that, we all piled onto her golf cart and got our first tour of the valley floor. My foot must have been in shock (like the rest of me) as it rested on the golf cart dash.
After the paperwork and insurance card were exchanged at the clinic and everyone was assured my foot was not broken, we waited for our savior Lucy to reappear to take us back to Half Dome Village. By then my foot had been tightly wrapped, I was supplied with an ice pack and my friends had had time to pick up a few snacks before their blood sugar dropped too precipitously. Lucy gave us a history lesson as she putted along the park byways to our lodgings and graciously loaded all our bags into her cart. I stared at the dastardly concrete strip that caused my calamity and whispered a four-letter word before offering my goodbye to Lucy, but not before we thanked her profusely for her above-and-beyond level of service and goodwill.
The cabin was large, homey and lovely. We dumped our stuff all around it and proceeded to take a breather – Kay sank into a huge armchair and soon began having an imaginary conversation in her sleep, co-dependent ex-hippie Cheryl flung the cabin doors wide open and went outside to see if her smart phone could get enough of awifi signal to communicate with her grown daughters. And I lay down on the sofa with my foot higher than my head and soon began to pass out from exhaustion. As we slipped into and out of sleep, I began noticing a scratching sound. Having to be fairly motionless with my leg up, I couldn’t look around me very well and at first thought Cheryl had come back in. I began to see a small figure near the fireplace moving furtively. A tiny squirrel finally overturned a short, empty garbage can. By then I had announced the critter visit to Kay, who began to freak, as if a horror movie were being filmed before her very eyes.
I got up and informed animal-lover Cheryl, who came in ready to watch the little guy in action. Seeing Kay’s reaction, however, she began looking for it everywhere just to calm her down. “I’m going to the office to get a manager! We need someone who’ll know what to do!” Kay announced. And she was gone. We listened and looked everywhere and couldn’t find a thing. By the time a clerk arrived, our tiny friend had taken flight. Kay was clearly not convinced the creature would not be perched atop her face with claws fully extended in the middle of the night, so she kept pointing to places she thought we had not checked. Finally, she was convinced the scene has ended.
We got ready to head to dinner fully intending to have a few stiff drinks before enjoying a gourmet meal at the hotel that reminded 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 single squirrel they spied 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 stifled my laugh. Must have been the crooked tail that tipped them off.
The rest of our stay there was, of course magnificent, despite the slowdown my bum foot caused and the crowded bus rides that got us places later than anticipated. Yosemite Falls cascaded in its powerful glory and Kay was in tourist heaven. Cheryl and I reminisced over past visits to the park but were no less impressed with what we saw. We were a motley crew, Cheryl layered in five different patterns of earth mother and lavender blue hair, Kay decked out in her sensible clothes, and me with my REI duds, makeup, and permanently placed baseball cap. A lady stared at the three of us curiously the day we left, asking where we were all from, clearly expecting us to be aliens. We looked at one another and burst out laughing after she walked away.
There is just 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 saw and loving every second of it. We marveled 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.