Yosemite 2003

Monday

Monday morning 44 seventh and eight graders
and 17 parents and teachers met at Orlando International for the start of
our Blazing a Trail trip to Yosemite California. After a fairly quick
check in we caught the flight to Dallas. The plane was nearly filled by
our excited group. The flight went quickly. A few students tried their
hand at an anagram contest. It’s hard to find long words in California.

There was time for a quick bite before
catching the flight to Fresno. The scenery on this flight was great. We
flew over Monument Valley and the Sierra Nevada mountains. I sat next to
Laura, our travel agent from Go Travel, who was incredibly on top of
things throughout the trip.

We arrived in
Fresno in the early afternoon and boarded two tour buses. I was in bus
two, and spent most of the trip with a group of ten 7th grade girls, so
most of my pictures are of this group.
Our bus driver — who chauffeured us
throughout the week — was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever
met. He is a naturalist who has lived on all seven continents doing
research. For example, he has summered in Antarctica twice, once doing
geology research and once marine biology. He takes jobs wherever he goes
to support himself. He’s also a pilot, fire fighter and a Teamster! There
seemed to be no subject he wasn’t knowledgeable about. Sixteen years ago
he came to Yosemite and got hooked, spending twelve years cataloging its
very complex ecosystem. If you’re ever lost in the wilderness, he’s the
guy to be with!

Our bus overheated on the first climb into
the mountains and we stopped to remove some baffles that keep it warm
during snow season. The rest of the trip was uneventful, and in two hours
we arrived at…

Tunnel view, the
first spectacular view of the valley as you emerge from the nearly
1-mile-long tunnel.
It’s nice to know
that in this age of computer simulation and virtual reality, twelve-year
olds can still be awed by this view.
We drove though
the valley, passing Bridal Veil falls and crossing the Merced river. At
Yosemite Lodge we were assigned most — but to the dismay of a few unlucky
guests, not all — of the Maple building. Our rooms had porches or
balconies opening onto the surrounding fir trees.
About five minutes after our arrival Billy got
his finger smashed in a door and ended up at the emergency room, but he
was a trooper, and was able to enjoy the rest of the trip.

Dinner was a buffet in the Garden Terrace.

Things were a bit exuberant that night, but
eventually the time change caught up with even the boys.

Tuesday

Breakfast was in the food court, which has
been considerably improved since Yosemite’s facility management passed
from the Curry Company to Yosemite Concession Services. We planned the
days activities in the lodge’s amphitheater. Mary Beth distributed some
homemade trail mix and we split into six groups led by different guides.

Our small group headed for Yosemite Falls.

The falls are
enthusiastic, burgeoning with the spring thaw. The weather was warm and
pleasant; by mid-morning it was in the sixties.
Our bus driver
called these “leverites”, because when you find one you “leave ‘er right”
there.
That water was
snow 60 minutes ago, and it’s COLD!
John Muir picked
a lovely spot for his cabin. Talk about a room with a view.
Some of this
group made it to the Yosemite Falls lookout point. After a token effort we
rejoined them on the way down.
Everyone met up for lunch at the amphitheater, then set out on our
afternoon activities. We learned about Yosemite’s complex geology which
ahs been shaped by rivers, glaciers and a moraine.
Then we watched
a rock climbing demonstration and learned about the equipment the climbers
use.
And, of course, tried it
ourselves.

Dinner was in the Lodge’s lovely Mountain
Room. After dinner it began to drizzle, and we had a rainy walk to the
elementary school for a presentation of John Muir Live. The students were
extremely attentive as an actor — a ringer for Muir — recounted many of
his adventures exploring the Sierras. Afterwards I think he was stunned by
the detailed questions the students asked, and the deep knowledge they
obviously had of the subject, right down to his OTHER dog’s name!

Imagine our surprise that night as we
stepped from the school’s auditorium and discovered — IT WAS SNOWING!
Dani was bouncing like a month-old puppy. We had expected a few flurries,
but it settled in and snowed all night.

Wednesday

After breakfast we headed for the Mariposa
Grove of sequoias, in the high country near the park exit. If it was
snowing at 4000 feet in the valley, what would it be like at 6000 feet? 

Snowy.
Our bus driver
stopped at tunnel view to put on chains.
It’s a two-mile
walk uphill to the Mariposa Grove. Needless to say, our little group
didn’t make it, although most did.
But we did have
fun along the way, making snow angels…
…snow balls…
…and snowmen.
We also got to
try snowshoes.
We had lunch at
the Wawona Hotel. In the afternoon we visited the Wawona fire station and
learned about fire fighting and prescribed burns. Some of the kids were
cold and wet, but you should have seen how they revived after we took them
up the mountain and handed them a can of burning petrol!
Wednesday
evening while most of the group gathered at the Lodge for songs and
stories (in lieu of the scheduled campfire) a few of us caught the shuttle
to the Ahwahnee for dinner in their beautiful dining room. At night the
dining room’s windows act like mirrors, reflecting the candlelight. We
pointed out to the kids how over time the enormous sheets of glass have
flowed, so that the windows are much thicker at the bottom than at the
top.

Thursday

And what a view greeted us the next
morning! After a night of snow, the clouds departed and we had bright blue
sky and warm sunshine.

No, that’s not a
painting behind Linda.
There was snow
everywhere!
We walked past
Yosemite Falls and saw that there was a slurry flowing down the river.
It’s a fairly rare occurrence, when the water is super cooled coming over
the falls, and freezes as it flows.
It was getting warmer, and the trees were having fun with us, dropping
unexpected clumps of slush as we passed underneath.
We learned the
history of the Ahwahnee Hotel, built in 1927. Our guide really brought the
period to life.
Linda described what
the fire fall looked like, as they pushed embers off the edge of 7000-foot
Glacier point. They were still doing it during her first visit to
Yosemite, in the 1960s.
Outside we
watched a coyote cross the meadow. We also saw many deer, squirrels and
woodpeckers.
We walked to Curry
Village for lunch, then caught a shuttle back to Yosemite Village for
shopping.
Behind the
visitor center is a really interesting recreation of a Miwok village. This
is an acorn granary. The acorns were a main staple of the Native
Americans, but it was a lot of effort to make them edible.
We took Dani’s
picture in this same hut when she was little.
In the afternoon
we caught a shuttle back to the Lodge. Hey! What happened to all the snow?
It’s hard to believe the difference a few hours of sunlight made.
Then it was back
to the Ahwahnee for a delicious farewell dinner in the Solarium.
The students performed their Ahwahneechee
legends on the balcony. Jake was a hilarious master of ceremonies.

Afterwards the students presented their
teachers with beautiful matted photos of the valley as a thank you, and
the teachers recognized each student with individualized mementos of the
trip.

We gathered for
a group shot of students…
…and parents,
before departing for a late night bus ride to Fresno.

Friday

I believe the four hours I slept at the
Courtyard Marriot near the Fresno airport sets a record for the shortest
time I’ve ever stayed at a motel. We were at the airport shortly after 5
AM, and after several thousand taxpayer dollars were spent to ascertain
that none of the seventh grade girls were carrying plastic explosives we
caught our flight to Dallas.

A nap on the plane helped, and lunch at the
airport further revived us. It was a remarkably chipper group that arrived
back in Orlando Friday evening.

What a magical trip it was, with amazing
weather, terrific adventures and great company.

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