Summer or winter? Not the season, the Olympics. Most of us have a favorite. Even though I have lived in the upper mid-west all my life, and have experienced plenty of ice, snow and freezing temperatures, I prefer the summer games.
As a teen, I ran track in the warm months and competed in most sports, so, I can relate to the summer games a bit better.
While wintertime was loads of fun, with the ice-skating and sledding, it wasn’t always a competition. Well, there was Johnnie-across, crack-the whip, and an occasional ice-hockey game, or snowball fight, but you didn’t get a medal for that, just bragging rights and a frigid walk home.
I must say, that I have seen some amazing accomplishments over the years. Not, just by American athletes but, buy all nations. Who can forget Nadia’s tens, the height of Plushinko’s triple axel, or the glory of Bruce Jenner taking his decathlon victory lap.
The one instance that stands out in my mind, above all others, is the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
The world watched in anticipation, for the lighting of the flame, as Muhammed Ali appeared. He was holding the last torch in his trembling hand, as his body quaked with Parkinson’s disease.
I’ll never forget the proud look on his face, and the deafening roar from the stadium crowd, as he reached out and touched his torch to the bottom of the tower and ignited the fireball that rose up to light the flame. That was my favorite Olympic moment.
So, ready or not, the winter games are just around the corner. It’s time to set your DVR’s for “the thrill of success, and the agony of defeat”. Or, if you’re not a fan, that’s okay too, no pressure here.
Binging a season of Doctor Who, walking the dog, curling up with a novel, or even tending to your blog, are also great choices.
In the meantime, relax while I take you on a short journey, in the next chapter of “My Retirement Trip”.
The Owls Nest
Dar and I said our goodbyes to Earl and Dianne right after breakfast. We had a wonderful visit, but needed to get back on the road.
The next stop on our retirement adventure was very exciting. We were headed for Yosemite National Park. The land of giant sequoias, Half-Dome, El Capitan, and Bridal Veil Falls; just to mention a few of the sites we hoped to see.
The park was only about a two-hour drive southwest of Lodi. We felt we could make it to Mariposa, our first stop, around lunch time.
Lillian Smith, the mother of all four Smith Brothers and their sister Mary, had run a lodge in the 1980’s in Fish Camp called the Owls Nest Lodge. Fish Camp is the first town after entering the south entrance to Yosemite. Dar and I had done our research and found that the lodge was still in operation, so we reserved our first night there.
The weather was perfect. Dar drove all the way, non-stop to Mariposa. Mariposa Grove is the largest grove of Giant Sequoias, located in the southernmost part of Yosemite National Park. There are several hundred mature trees there, some, among the largest in the world. If you aren’t a tree hugger, you will become one after viewing these majestic trees.
They really are inexplicable. We strolled through the pathways that guided us around the massive grove. Some of the enormous branches lay partially broken on the ground, and the younger folks climbed on them for a Kodak moment. Even those limbs were many times larger in diameter than any large oak tree trunk I’ve ever seen.
After a while we came upon “Grizzly Giant”, the oldest tree in the grove. It is estimated to be between 1900 and 2400 years old. We are talking B.C. folks. We were shown a picture of the “Wawona tunnel tree”. In 1881 a tunnel was cut through the tree, enlarging an existing fire scar. It was large enough for cars to drive through it. In 1969 it’s root system finally gave way and it was felled. CRASH!!
After a couple hours we found our way back to the parking lot. We had only seen a small part of the grove, but felt we should go on to Fish Camp to check-in to the Owls Nest Lodge. It was about a 40 mile drive, but took a bit over an hour to get there. The road was just two lanes and heavily traveled at this time of the year.
We arrived at the Owls Nest at around 4 P.M. We had been told of the old lodge by several members of the Smith family. I recall Lillian fondly telling stories of it while at a party at our place. It did not disappoint. Although, I must say, if it was not for the Smith family, it would not have been our first choice. I’m not sure how to describe it. Quaint, woodsy, rustic; all these words fit, but I must say it also looked a bit shabby.
The main check-in was a cabin that housed the proprietor. She was a middle-aged woman, and obviously had a love for cats. They were everywhere. We too love cats, but there are limitations. I think many of them were faro and just hung around for the scraps. Although we were right in the middle of the forest, so some of them may end up as dinner for the coyotes or wolves. Yep, I said wolves. There were also bears and perhaps mountain lions too. Oh boy.
Other than the main cabin, there was a cabin for two, a family cabin, and a line of about a dozen motel rooms facing the woods. There was no restaurant on the premises, but a grocery store and nice restaurant with a bar were just down the road.
We reserved the Tamarack Chalet. It was quite nice and cozy. There was one bedroom with a Queen -size bed and an adjoining bathroom with a shower. The front room had a sofa, chairs, tables and a wood burning fireplace. There was plenty of dry kindling just outside the door. It also had a full kitchen. The bonus was an upstairs porch with a barbecue, overlooking the tree line to the woods. Not too bad for $165 per night.
It was getting around supper time and we were starving, so I googled some nearby eateries and decided on the Jackalope Bar & Grill. It was just 10 minutes up hwy 41 at the Tenaya Lodge.
Well now, this would have been our first choice for lodging in Fish Camp. The hotel was a huge stone and wooden structure, with all the amenities one would expect at a 4-star resort.
Jackalopes gave a choice of dining inside or al fresco. We, of course, took an umbrellaed table for two out on the patio. The menu was quite extensive, with many starters, salads, unique sandwiches and entrees.
We started with the usual cocktail and added some of Jack’s buffalo wings with homemade ranch and blue cheese dressing. My entrée was the Chili Lime Salmon with black bean salad, cabbage slaw, and green beans. Dar ordered the Seared Pork Tenderloin with whipped sweet potatoes, butternut squash and cranberry relish maple mustard sauce. We shared a Myer Lemon Crème’ Brulee with an Almond Biscotti for desert.
There was still about an hour of daylight, so we drove north and took in some of the sites, just to get a feel for the area. The road was mostly tree lined, but we got an occasional glimpse of some rock formations through the breaks in the trees. It was too far to get to the Yosemite Valley before dark, so we decided to save that for tomorrow. We found the grocery store and picked up some snacks and turned back for the Owls Nest.
Our cabin faced west, so we climbed the stairs to our second-floor patio. I steeped a couple cups of chi tea with some macaroons. The setting sun over the pine trees was beautiful. We caught it just right, as we sat back in the Adirondack chairs and enjoyed the serenity of the passing day.
One of the resident cats decided to join us. The purry tabby was very friendly and jumped into Dar’s lap for some petting and chin scratches. Perfect.
We wanted to get an early start, so we donned our jammies, watch an hour of T.V. and went off to bed. I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow as usual, and Dar opened a book.
I awoke suddenly as Dar shook me.
“Woody, wake up. She whispered. I hear something.”
I sat up and listened intently. I also heard something coming from the kitchen.”
“It’s probably your furry friend from the patio.” I said.
“Well, my furry friend followed me to bed, and is lying at my feet, so try again Sherlock, and now I hear it in the living room.”
“You heard what the lady said, there are all kinds of animals up here, coyotes, wolves and bears for Christ sake. You better go check it out, but be careful.” She said.
“Sure, no problem, just let me get my shootin’ arm maw. Are you nuts? Can’t we call someone?” I protested.
Bang! There was a loud crash coming from the kitchen again and we heard something scurry along the floor. A scurry is not a clomp, like a mountain lion would make, so, I mustard up the courage to investigate.
All I had for a weapon was the small table lamp next to the bed. I unplugged it and crept into the Livingroom. It was very dark and quiet, so I switched on the lamp next to the fireplace.
“Holy crap!” I shouted.
Woody, what is it? Are you okay?” screamed Dar from the bedroom.
I’m fine, but the kitchen is in a shambles. The metal bowl from on top of the fridge is on the floor and the snacks are all over the kitchen.”
I was standing by the fireplace and could see to the back of the cabin. I started to walk toward the kitchen when I heard the rustling again. Then all hell broke loose.
A family of racoons came bounding right for me. I dove out of the way onto the sofa, as they ran to the fireplace hearth. One of them had orange paws and a bag of Cheetos in its mouth. I swear he stopped, cackled and flipped me the bird, just before he disappeared up the chimney with the rest of his gangsters.
“It’s all clear, honey” I said. It was just some bandits, but they’re gone. You can come out now.”
Dar crept out of the bedroom, and I explained all that had happened. We got a good laugh out of it as we cleaned up the kitchen and went off to bed.
Wawona and the Valley
We awoke around 7A.M. The bakery goods, bananas, and tin of café mocha we had left on top of the fridge in a metal bowl were history. Our intruders from last night had made off with all of it, so we cleaned up, packed the jeep and headed out for breakfast. The Kwiki Mart had all we needed to get our heads clear and continue to Wawona.
It was only a 20-minute drive to our destination. Wawona was a small, historic town located entirely within Yosemite National Park. It preceded the founding of the park as a national recreation area, and had approximately 160 year-round residents.
Our first stop was the historic Wawona Hotel, aka “Big Tree Lodge”. It was a classic Victorian resort, and was designated a national landmark in 1887. The main building was quite impressive with it’s two story wrap-around balconies.
The estate was a stunning display of unmanicured grass and period shrubs, set against the Yosemite forest. There was a pond with a fountain where guests could lounge in Adirondacks and take in the wonders of nature at its best.
The Lobby was locked in time. You could imagine bearded men and their not- to – pampered wives, sitting around the fireplace room in the fashions of the day, sipping their highballs and tasting canapés, as they waited to be escorted to the fine dining room.
The resort had tennis courts, and an outdoor pool. You could also take a horse drawn carriage ride around the grounds.
Big Trees golf course was adjacent to the hotel. It was carved out of the wilderness, and was by no means a championship course, but for a mere $20 one could chase that little white orb for a some exercise.
We stopped into the small pro-shop, where I picked up a souvenir golf ball with a logo of the hotel stamped on it. Then it was on to see more of whatever nature had in store for the day.
We were headed for the Yosemite Valley. The drive from Wawona was about 26 miles of windy two-lane roads, and took about an hour. The weather was quite warm and humid, and there were some showers and a possible pop-up thunder storm in the forecast, so we were hoping to take in the sites while the sun was still out. We entered the Yosemite tunnel right around noon.
If you don’t believe in a Creator, your first site of the valley, when you emerge from the tunnel, will change your mind forever. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and have gazed out from the tallest peaks in the Swiss Alps, but the way the Yosemite Valley presented itself was amazing.
Dar and I exited our car with our mouths agape, repeating “Oh my God” over, and over again.
The majesty that laid before us could not be described, and photos just showed a mere glimpse of the real thing. Did I say the Yosemite Valley impressed me?
Dar went back to the car as I claimed a spot on the rock wall over-look. She had bought some lunchmeat, bread, butter, mustard and a bag of chips from the Kwiki-mart, and we had a bottle of wine from our visit to Lodi. We spread out a blanket, and picnicked as we enjoyed the views.
The granite etifice of El Capitan was in the foreground to our left, and we could see Half-Dome further back to the right. The valley was about 8 miles long, but seemed to go on forever.
My heart seemed to relax as we hugged, and felt all anxiety leave us. It was, well, perfect.
After a while, some clouds began to form in the distance. We could feel the heat and humidity rise as the noon sun was high overhead. More, darker clouds loomed over Half-Dome, and we could see rain falling in the distance.
We heard a clap of thunder, then saw forks of lightning bolting wildly. The rain just barely reached us, as we held our position on the wall. I recall having a feeling of euphoria, as we watched the light show, and smelled the freshness of the storm.
We spent several hours in the park, driving the roads, and stopping when we saw something of interest. We made our way to Bridal Veil Falls. It also did not disappoint. There had been plenty of snow in the winter and they had a wet spring, so the water was flowing freely over the cliffs.
At about 4:00 we headed back toward the Owls Nest. We had decided to reserve one more night, as our next destination was San Francisco to visit Tom and Karen Smith.
The original plan was to see Jim Smith. Jim lived in San Jose, but we could not reach him. We left several voice-messages, but did not receive any call backs.
Jim was the oldest brother. We met him some years back at a family reunion in Green Bay. He was kind of a loner, and had driven his motor home to the reunion with his black lab, Scupper.
I recall having a conversation with him about how he liked to travel around the U.S., so we assumed he was off on one of his excursions.
Instead of eating out for dinner, we picked up some pork chops, and some veggies. We once again had our cocktails on our balcony and grilled out. Dessert was a cup of coffee and an eclair.
A light drizzle began to fall on the Owls Nest. We stayed for a while to take in the piney aroma, then, retired to the living room, and caught the news before going to bed.
I decided to build a small fire, just in case our bandits were planning another caper. It must have worked, as we slept undisturbed in our cabin in the woods.