With over 4 million visitors per year and less than 200 miles from our new home, Yosemite National Park was closed due to massive amounts of snow and rain deposited from an atmospheric river. This magnitude of a storm (carrying more water than the Amazon, the longest river on earth) hits California once every 10-25 years. Snowfall was measured in feet (over 20 at higher elevations) and massive flooding was experienced in lower elevations outside Yosemite. Roads were closed due to avalanches, rock and mud slides. We had been living in California for almost a year and decided that the upcoming weekend would be the perfect time for our first visit to Yosemite.
The forecast showed a break in the nearly nonstop rain and snow for a couple of days leading up to the weekend. I was following weather reports and updates on Yosemite’s website to make an educated guess that the park would be open and we would be able to find enough open roads to get us to the park.
Yosemite has some of the tallest waterfalls in the world, including Yosemite Falls which drops over 2,400ft. Since this was our first visit, we wouldn’t have anything to compare the waterfall flow rates to in our own memories or pictures, but I was thinking it was a once in a generation opportunity to view the falls after being pummeled with so much snow and rain. I was also thinking the extreme weather and closures would keep some of the winter visitors at home.
I wanted to secure lodging before leaving our home because I knew we would be arriving late on Friday night since we would leave after school and work. There’s nothing I hate more on a trip than the stress of driving around in the dark hoping to find lodging for the night. I knew lodging in and near Yosemite was expensive and wanted to find a budget friendly place as close to the park as possible to limit the miles driven going back and forth. Since I knew we would just be sleeping and showering in the room, we didn’t need fancy, but I wanted it free from intruders- bugs, mice, etc. to keep the girls in my life happy.
I found a good looking campground, Indian Flat RV Park, that offered “tent” cabins and cottages less than 5 miles from the entrance to Yosemite. The prices seemed good, but then I realized the cabins shared campground style bathrooms. A deal breaker for this trip since Lisa would be joining us and the nighttime lows would be below freezing. I was about to click off the website when I saw they also offered one “townhouse” type guest room. It looked like a hotel room with a private bath. Not only was it available for the weekend, but it was only a 1/3 of the normal price. I guessed this was to attract guests back to the area. A few clicks later and we were booked.
When I got the confirmation email, I had an immediate concern. In the fine print, it stated that you needed to arrive by 9pm. The park was only 3 hours away if we didn’t hit delays along the way (a huge assumption with legendary California traffic to navigate not to mention the flooded and closed roads across the state) and we were planning to leave at 5pm. This did not allow any room for error and would be a source of unneeded stress for our drive to the park.
I was secretly hoping to back out of the driveway at 4:30, but was happy to be leaving around 5:15. The on ramp to I80 was backed up like it does during the worst part of morning rush hours. I was tempted to try taking back roads, but ultimately decided to live and die with the interstate traffic. The first 30 miles was stop and go followed by mostly go for the next 100 or so miles. Since this was our first trip to Yosemite, we had no idea if and where we would be able to find food and gas. My plan was to fill up on gas and grab a quick drive thru dinner when we exited I5. Surprisingly, the exit to Yosemite didn’t have any places to get a quick dinner. I decided to continue our drive towards the park while thinking, “there has to be something for the 4 million visitors every year and locals”.
I was wrong, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After a short drive through an urban area, the road passed through a rural section before entering a curvy mountainous approach to the Yosemite area. The driving was extra slow due to the water and ice on the road. I had to assume that every wet spot was ice and around every blind corner would be more ice. Then the dense fog appeared as we rose in elevation.
I ate a large package of juicy dried apricots with a little help from Lisa while I handed granola bars to the girls. Soon, sleep had over taken the hunger in the back seat for Laurel. Even though it was past Kellisa’s bedtime, she stayed awake, probably from all the excitement of a road trip adventure.
Lisa and I stopped talking. I was quiet because I was very worried about missing our check-in time and didn’t have a plan b. Driving back home was not an option. Lisa was quiet because she gets motion sickness on mountainous roads.
I was afraid to take my eyes off the road to check the miles left on the GPS to compare to the clock. I knew we had a chance to make it when my phone announced only 10 more miles and felt even better at the 5 mile announcement. I let my eyes glance at the clock when we were 2 miles away. It was 8:56.
I pulled in the parking lot with 1 minute to spare. I ran from the car with my wallet in hand to find the door still unlocked. A man appeared from a back room as I caught my breath, “You must be Kain”.
The last arrival for the day and after a few initials and a signature, I had our room key. The attendant was kind enough to let me know that the Cedar Lodge Restaurant next door was still open for dinner. For some reason the name sounded familiar, but Cedar Lodge is a fairly generic name.
Our room was on the side of the office building with a nice private parking area a few feet from the door. I could see a light was left on in our room and was very pleased to see the room was large and clean after opening the door. The room even had a small table with two chairs. This was perfect for our needs.
I went back and carried Kellisa inside to set her down in one of the chairs at the table while I carry our ton of belongings into the room. I was hoping that the cool mountain air would wake up Laurel and if not, my constant back and forth trips would. I was wrong and ended up having to wake Laurel up and help her stumble into the room. Our room was cold from having the door open for several minutes and Laurel was more than happy to crawl straight into bed under the blankets.
After I got Kellisa’s medicine pulled up to start dissolving, I made sandwiches for everyone with the salami, turkey, cheese, and potato rolls I had packed for our lunches. Our meal was complete with a few crackers and juice pouches. It was too late and we were too tired to walk down the darkened highway to the restaurant. I gave Kellisa her medicine and formula while we ate our simple dinner.
Peaceful and deep sleep came quickly for everyone.