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.
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.
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.
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.
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.