My first paid vacation at my first real desk job found me packing my beloved Tercel with skis and snorkeling equipment for a two-week final destination unknown drive down to Yosemite and Death Valley. This happened over the Christmas holidays. Yosemite, with its grand lodge decorated for the holidays, busy days skiing, and long nights sitting in the lodge sipping manhattans, has always been a destination I wanted to experience again.
So thirteen years later, over the summer, I found myself booking a tent for Yosemite at Christmas. I also booked the most expensive meal we may likely ever have: The Bracebridge Dinner. This was one reason we were staying in a tent. Even in early summer, there were no rooms left in the old lodge. I couldn’t even begin to justify $2000 a night packages at the ’60s-style motel that makes up the other warm accommodation inside Yosemite Valley.
As for our other bits of vacation, well, that was completely up in the air, but definitely did include the strong possibility of going to Death Valley.
And then, of course, life has mysterious ways of changing up your plans. After five years without a car, we found ourselves with a desperate need for a car to help care for Victor’s family…and, perhaps shamefully, I begged, cajoled, and came up with an excellent reason why that car should be a VW Westphalia Camper Van. Now, we have a real ride to Yosemite!
In addition to our new ride, my parents moved from Texas to southern California in October. So when it came time to finalize our adventure, we skipped the tent cabin but kept the fancy dinner, packed our suits into the van, and decided we’d head down to see Joshua Tree and my parents.
So our Westy, BoiToi, got its first grand adventure but pulled over within thirty minutes of leaving Seattle. It turns out our license plate light didn’t work. Or the cops were looking for the recent band of Westy thieves or were hoping to catch some hippies smoking it out. A funny thing about the big road trip in the Westy, particularly in the winter, is that it is worth it to sometimes stay at a hotel, particularly with newbies who are over-packing for adventure. Too many bags to move around!
Oy vey! The Winter Wonderland Christmas holiday where my Jewish husband falls to his knees, begging for Santa and bacon, was ruined as there was NO SNOW. And to make the whole holiday more disappointing, I arrived after two days of driving, with a cold in Yosemite. So there we are crammed in the van (still learning how winter camping works in it), me sick, unable to sleep without my CPAP, and no snow. But Yosemite, even on the valley floor, has plenty to see for four days, and we moved around slowly so I could breathe.
Here are the recommendations:
1. Bracebridge Dinner. Everyone we know asked us, “Well, was it worth it?” Yes. Resoundingly. I would do it again. Not next year. Or the year after. But maybe in 15 years, sure! The Awahenne Hotel is beautiful at Christmas, even with no snow, the dining room is a perfect backdrop, the stage show delightful, bawdy, yet sweet. We enjoyed the food and the spectacle. If you even remotely enjoy Christmas, you would enjoy this.
2. Yosemite Valley is really ideal for a winter getaway, and the system of shuttles makes traveling between lodges (which is pretty much what you’re going to do if you’re not strolling) is easy. Each lodge has decent common areas to sit, stay warm and ready a book. And they each have their own charms.
3. Someday, I will stay at the Ahwahnee…and the El Tovar, and Crater Lake, and Timberline! I love the old lodges.
4. We really enjoyed our night at the Wawona on the southern side of Yosemite Park. The hotel there is highly recommended, but make sure to spend time in the small lounge and, if you’re lucky, Tom Bopp will be playing and explaining some of the history of the tin-pan alley he plays.
THE BIRTHDAY INTERLUDE
Not everyone gets a surprise trip to the Guitar Center in Fresno for their birthday! But there we were, just as it got dark, after a lovely day hiking among the Sequoias in the Mariposa Grove, having Victor pick out a guitar to start practicing on. The back story is that he’s often wondered where his guitars he had a child ended up at. We did not find them in Maryland. He got one set of chords memorized, and it’s a pleasure to hear them.
The next morning, Vic met my Hanford family for the first time. A swell time had by all, and so glad we got to see everyone in Hanford.
THE FAILED JOURNEY TO JOSHUA TREE
So then we went on to see my parents in their new home and to visit Joshua Tree. There’s not much to add to this, except we lost a Jaipur over and over, even though we introduced my mother to it. We also lost at another fun game, called iota, to my father, who rarely wins.
After a few days in the new trailer park, we headed over to Joshua Tree. Which we did not get to. THE LIFE OF THE VW VAN OWNER: the van overheated repeatedly, and where the van had issues going over 20 miles an hour on the grades. We limped into Joshua Tree (the village), we limped to Desert Hot Springs for a soak, we limped to Blodgett’s in San Bernadino.
..and then left for the next phase of the vacation>>> here.