Saturday, February 11, 2017

Yosemite National Park - Part II (January 2017)

It was clear; my definition of an early start was completely different than Laurel’s interpretation. Leaving the room by 10am for a full day of winter fun in Yosemite seemed possible since everyone fell asleep at a decent hour. I hoped the crisp mountain air would further our restful night and lead to a productive Saturday. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Like most 7-year-olds, Laurel loves watching TV. I’m sure she thinks we are mean for limiting the hours she watches and thanks to parental controls on our TV; Laurel needs to ask one of her parents to enter a code for every show she wants to watch. She has figured out the code several times, but we always change it. Pure evil parents in the eyes of a child.

Laurel woke up at some unknown time and decided to watch the unprotected TV in our room. She was pretending to be asleep (hoping to avoid trouble) when Lisa woke up at 7 something. Lisa turned off the TV. As Lisa was in the bathroom, Laurel woke me up by asking if she could watch TV, tipping Lisa off that Laurel was faking sleep. Wanting more sleep, I answered, “OK” without knowing the firestorm it was about to create.

Lisa emerged and called Laurel out on pretending to be asleep while unapproved TV played in the room. Laurel held to her story and dug in for the long run. My sleep was over as soon as Laurel proclaimed, “Dad said I could watch TV”.

Trying to defuse the situation, Laurel was ordered back to bed for more rest, but she argued that she didn’t want to go back to bed. We didn’t know how long Laurel was up watching TV, but we could tell by the way she was acting that it had been awhile. We had my early start, but it was far from how I imagined.

Laurel kept fighting rest and wouldn’t lay still or quiet. We knew that she needed more sleep before we could head out for the day or she would struggle the entire time. Usually, she would sleep in the car, but since we were only a few miles from the park, a very short nap in the car would be worse than no rest at all.

Kellisa was up from all the commotion in our closed environment. Everyone was going through morning rituals except Laurel. We were adamant the she needed more rest. If we called it sleep at this point, she would have only dug deeper. We told her to just lie there still and quiet and then we would let her up knowing that if she did that, she would fall asleep and get the rest she desperately needed.

Laurel continued to resist and everyone was ready for the day. Lisa didn’t want the day ruined for everyone, so she volunteered to stay in the room with Laurel while I headed to Yosemite with Kellisa. Lisa was also thinking that Laurel would fall asleep easier if we weren’t in the room providing an easy distraction.

I didn’t want to visit Yosemite for the first time without Lisa and Laurel, so I took Kellisa out for a little walk. Although we were staying just off the mountainous highway leading to Yosemite, there was very little traffic for a Saturday morning. I decided to walk back west to observe the restaurant. The Merced River was raging just below the other side of the highway providing a peaceful soundscape for our little walk.

The restaurant was nothing special from the outside, but it sat in front of the Cedar Lodge, that name was still ringing the unknown bell inside my head. There was a little park area between the road and river directly across from the restaurant. We walked the path in the park past several bear sculptures made out of wood. We found refuge under a covered seating area just as a slight drizzle started. I made myself comfortable on a park bench next to Kellisa inside her Hippocampe mobility chair.

Next thing I knew, I was waking up with a stiff neck. Kellisa started to laugh as I slowly massaged my neck, hoping full range of movement would quickly return. Once fully awake and mobile, I pushed Kellisa back towards our room while fearing how long we were gone.

As I opened the door, I was surprised to see Laurel still in bed. She was just waking up from her nap and seeing our return hastened her awakening. I was glad Laurel rested and our return timing seemed to be perfect. I estimate that I napped for about 90 minutes in the pure mountain air next to the fast flowing Merced River. We were refreshed and ready for an afternoon in Yosemite after a quick lunch of sandwiches huddled around our little table.

The short drive to the park was picturesque as we followed the river between steeply rising mountains on both sides of the road with several waterfalls cascading down offering a preview of the bigger and more famous falls that we would see later in the day.

We were the third car at the Arch Rock Entrance Station and I had Kellisa’s ID and Golden Access Pass ready for the ranger. I like to have the back window down so the ranger can see Kellisa without having to ask about the owner of the pass that allows permanently disabled visitors and their family free entry to national parks.  

With our pass accepted, the ranger turned his attention to our Pilot; he asked if it had four wheel drive? I offered that it did, but it wasn’t your typical four wheeled drive SUV. Our Pilot was purchased in Florida where 4X4s off the new car lots are far and few between. I wanted a 4X4, but was unwilling to wait for one to be custom ordered and shipped to the state more known for its sunshine than hills. Our Pilot had a version that works up to 17MPH to help on the rare occasion that you need just a little four wheel drive support.

The ranger OK’d the Pilot to enter the park as we would not be able to go much faster than 17MPH due to the snow and ice that covered the park’s narrow, curvy, and steep roads. The Pilot was one month short of its 12th birthday and we had never had a need for the 4X4 option. I was worried that it wouldn’t work. Vehicles that didn’t have four wheel drive were required to have chains. We did not have chains.

The road beyond the entrance station passed through Arch Rock which we all enjoyed as our first taste of Yosemite. The road was clear and gave a false sense of hope that we wouldn’t need to engage all our wheels in driving. A large work van was parked in the first parking area with a sign offering chains for sales. The sign also offered chain installations for $40. There was another sign instructing drivers to “Chain Up” before continuing. I drove by thinking we were safe to progress through the park.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were now driving on the Merced Gorge Highway. Almost immediately after the chains area, we passed cascading falls to the left and another small parking area. Despite our breathtaking surroundings, I managed to keep my eyes on the road which quickly deteriorated after crossing the short bridge below the falls. The road turned to thick ice in the shadows of very tall trees. The highway narrowed due to deep snow covering both shoulders while creeping into the lanes of traffic. The Merced River was raging through the trees and below the highway on the right side. The road became dangerous and I started to worry about our capabilities. Lisa volunteered we’d be safer with chains. I agreed!

As soon as I could do a 3 point turn, I turned around and headed back to the van selling chains. We waited in line to purchase chains. We were surrounded by drivers installing their own chains in every open space. I was worried because I had never installed chains, so I figured the $40 to have them installed would be well spent. I also figured that I could watch and learn so I could take them off and on as needed. It didn’t take long for our turn and we were a little sticker shocked when the “best” chains for the Pilot cost $240. We knew we would need the chains for our couple of days in Yosemite, but living in California now less than an hour from the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, we hoped to have frequent needs for the chains and wanted the safest and easiest to install. We were hours from the nearest store that would sell chains and didn’t have Internet to research the cost of snow chains. We were at the mercy of the vendor and healthy profit margin. With a feeling of my stomach turning from the unexpected cost, we agreed to the price and labor.

The installation service was well worth the $40 as the man offered instruction and a few tips from installing thousands of chains over the years. It was a little shocking that the whole process lasted less than 3 minutes.

$280 poorer and 30 minutes later we were back on the Merced Gorge Highway with a new found confidence to finally experience Yosemite National Park for the first time.


  1. Wow, but things never go as planned. Maybe you should go into the chain business on the side, lol.

  2. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
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    Keep Posting:)


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