#California, Part 4: Death Valley + Yosemite
Death Valley nearly didn't happen on our California trip. Early on in our planning, the BF made it clear that he did not want to drive. Thankfully - as you might have read in the previous post to this one - he changed his mind. We would have missed so much if he hadn't.
Let me just get this part out of the way; we didn't see the thing that I'd really wanted to see: the Devil's Golf Course, see it here for yourself. This made me sad, kinda mad, but what's the point of arguing when you and your man are sitting in a bar straight out of Sons of Anarchy and taking in the sun and general all-round good vibes? What's the point in getting seriously annoyed at the fact that the driver missed the destination completely, hmmm?
Anyway, the drive through Death Valley was still so worth doing. Honestly, I felt so grateful to be able to see such magical landscapes, like nothing else I'd ever seen in my life. Again, this is why I get it when people say/sing 'America, the beautiful'. Because it was magnificent. The colours and gradients of the rocks at Zabriskie Point, the tiny desert flowers (we missed the optimum flowering time by a few weeks apparently), the way the sun hits the sand dunes. Everything was as if time had stood still - a very long time ago. As with Joshua Tree, the toilet facilities aren't five star as they were created with water preservation in mind. The drive itself was about 140 miles along, with plenty of places to stop and take in the views on the way. The most popular route is the Badwater Road, but I'd advise that you do your research first and decide which locations you really want to see, before sticking to a hard and fast route, oh and use a map - a physical map. Not sure where to start? Check out Trip Advisor's Top 10.
This part of our trip was probably the most gruelling, mostly because it was backed up with another long drive, onwards to Yosemite. So that we had a good night's rest in between, we drove on to Bakersfield, with scenery that was like something straight out of The Hobbit, all rolling green, velvety fields and perfect trees. For me, this night was about getting a bit of food, taking a shower and going straight to bed; unfortunately for the BF, he got stuck playing pool with probably the most keen/overly friendly Airbnb host we've ever met. We wondered if the poor man had any friends, so the BF gallantly took one for the team while I slept in a clean, comfy bed.
Waking up early the next morning, we headed straight for Starbucks for some much needed brain fuel, and set out on the road to Yosemite, probably the most beautiful and scary drive I've ever been on. Throughout our entire California trip I have been forced to acknowledge that I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to heights. Don't get me wrong, the BF is an excellent driver, but it didn't help that I was always on the passenger's side, i.e. the side that, if we were to go crashing off a cliff or bridge at 5,000 feet above sea level, I would be the one to 'experience' that trauma first. The drive up Yosemite was packed full of moments where I would push myself to look.out.the.bloody.window.dammit.
The BF was enjoying the experience, following the curves of the winding roads and commenting on the landslide/possible rock fall/deer and bear warning signs. Meanwhile I would experience moments of awe at the nature around us, interspersed with, 'holy shit - how high up are we?' bouts of quiet panic. Without going into so much detail - and perhaps scaring you in the process - I'll just tell you about one such moment. We were approaching 4,000 feet above sea level, and banks of solid, deep snow were appearing on either side of us, which meant that, on my side, I couldn't even see if there were any barriers there to stop us from flying off. I decided the best thing to do would be to stay quiet, grip onto the side of the door, and wait for us to get to the top. As the moments passed in silence, the BF thought it would be a good idea to put some music on. He reached for the radio dial and I screeched, 'what ARE you DOING? Keep your hands on the WHEEL!' Bless, I think if anything my screeching could have caused an accident. In that moment I literally thought that the BF could not, must not take his hands off the wheel, or else I would end up as food for the bears - and I am not Timothy Treadwell.
Before we got to our hotel, we decided to do a bit of sightseeing, which is when we realised we probably should have booked a two night stay. The sheer size of Yosemite and its numerous waterfalls and places of interest is impossible to take in in one day. The main thing that I had wanted to see was the beautiful Mirror Lake, a lake that, at times, is so still it offers crystal clear reflections. After emptying our rental car of anything remotely resembling food (there are a lot of bear warnings around the park) we took one of the clearly signposted treks to the lake. If you don't feel like walking, you can jump on any number of shuttle buses going up and down the park. As it's a public park, we had to wait a while for people to move away from the edge of the lake, so we could take a human-free picture, but it wasn't a big deal as the surroundings were so peaceful.
We took a walk to the landmark Ahwahnee Hotel - a beautiful wooden building, dating back to 1927, packed full with Native American design motifs. Unfortunately it has been bought by a huge American hotel chain and the name is now the rather blah, and more 'American-sounding', Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Sigh. But still, go visit; the grounds are just stunning, especially when looking out from the large dining room. Great wedding venue FYI.
For some reason I thought that the next leg of our journey, to our hotel, was going to be a quick, five minute thing. But no, there was more to go, as where we were staying was at more than 5,000 feet above sea level... Once that tense - but admittedly stunning - drive was over, we arrived at the Tenaya Lodge, the second hotel that we would stay in during our five and a half week-long trip. We picked it because it had an air of The Shining about it, at least where the lobby was concerned, and honestly, it was a surprisingly pleasant stay. I say it was a surprise because we had assumed that, as we were on top of a mountain, that we probably wouldn't get the best options when it came to our room, service or the food, but it was great. The staff were lovely, the room was very cosy and there were three or four restaurants to eat dinner in. In the morning there was a huge choice available for breakfast, including bread and butter pudding (?!). After eating way more nachos than we would ever be served in the UK, we retired to our rooms full and happy. In the morning I headed up to the gym, but found the warnings about exercising at such heights a bit grim, so I just did thirty minutes cardio and went on to breakfast.
Once we were packed up, again, we were up for the penultimate long-ish drive, to San Francisco. Coming next!