Great lattes, scones, and budget lodging at Yosemite gateway

Two hours from Yosemite Valley, Lee Vining provides seasonal alternatives for Yosemite lodging by Barbara L. Steinberg

P1230202I love, love, love El Mono Motel & Latte Da Coffee Cafe in Lee Vining, California.  Last year after meeting the owner, Kelly, I was determined to stay at this quintessential California motel. On a recent visit, I did just that!

The cafe is fabulous--cheerful, welcoming, and great place to hang out. Clearly, the garden courtyard, front porch with willow chairs and views of the Eastern Sierra sky keep guests coming back and happy!  Wish they'd spend less time online and more time taking in the ambiance. Some of the best coffee on the "East Side". Made with love, homemade baked goods ATDF! 

The motel is another on of those places I adore. If you want the Ritz....don't stay here. For me, this is as good as it gets when it comes to customer service, prices, location, and the garden is enough of a reason to stay. Just ask all the birds. I opted El Mono Motel Gardenfor a room with shared bath. The rates are great. The room with queen bed and sink was just perfect and included that spectacular garden view. Yes, there is some Hwy 395 noise, but I was content. This place is hugely popular with Europeans...especially Germans and most people heading to or from Yosemite and hikes in nearby high country wilderness. 

For me, this is as good as it gets. The Mono  Lake Committee bookstore and visitor center is literally across the street. The right turn up Highway 120/Tioga Pass to Yosemite (closed in the winter) is a mile south on Hwy 395. El Mono -- close to all of the splendor and great outdoors that is the Eastern Sierra -- just miles away from the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve and the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center.

 


Yosemite's winter hush

Winter magic snowshoeing to Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite National Park. Majestic sequoias are the largest living thing on earth. Credit www.YExplore.comIn winter, a hush and holy stillness settles over Yosemite National Park. It is, by any standards, a most magical and enchanting time to visit. On peaceful walks, you can easily imagine John Muir's first sighting of these granite domes and thundering waterfalls. In the chill of the day, under sapphire skies, the howls of coyotes drift across the Valley and mingle with mist floating above the meadows. 

During this season, Yosemite’s waterfalls come roaring back to life courtesy of winter snow and rain. Any visit should include a hike to Yosemite Falls. Stream-fed, the voice of Yosemite Falls is a constant this time of year. The reality that this is the highest waterfall in North America is drowned out by the crashing din, “it’s overwhelming – dizzying,” says one couple. “The word ‘awesome’ simply isn’t enough.” In the morning chill, early risers are treated to snow showers created by the fall’s spray.

During warmer months, visitors from around the world flock to Yosemite. Post-summer and autumn, the visitor tide ebbs, heralding an unhurried transition into a frosty hibernation. Following major holidays, Yosemite settles down for a winter nap. Less traffic in, out and around the Park is a bonus, not to mention that accommodations are more attainable.

Opened in 1927, the majestic lady of Yosemite is The Ahwahnee hotel. This celebrated Four-Diamond resort perches grandly amid the pines and by the granite Royal Arches. The Ahwahnee’s regal architectural details combine the best of the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts movements with a splash of Native American and Middle Eastern influences. Spacious common areas, 99 elegantly Chefs' Holidays Gala Dinner in The Ahwahnee Dining Room Courtesy of Delaware North at Yosemiteappointed rooms and 24 cottages offer exceptional romantic appeal and stunning views of Half Dome, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls – three of Yosemite’s most famous natural landmarks.

Sun-drenched days in the Valley can be warm, but anytime is optimal for snuggling in front of a roaring fire. The Ahwahnee’s massive stone fireplaces and comfortable lounges offer reprieves from the cold.  Guests Linda and Brad retreat to the Great Lounge to relax and read. “They wait on you hand and foot,” say Linda and Brad. Celebrating their anniversary, they both agree that, “If we could only go one place, it would be Yosemite.”

Yosemite Village is an easy walk or shuttle ride from The Ahwahnee and other Valley lodgings. Leave your vehicle parked during your stay and take advantage of environmentally-friendly transit. Snow doesn’t stay long on the Valley floor, so walks and hikes are always possible. You don’t have to be a rugged outdoors person to enjoy Yosemite. Walk outside and you’ll see things you won’t find anywhere else on earth – relish the peace and quiet. There’s plenty of that in winter.

Besides the usual seasonal pursuits, indulge in some retail therapy at the hotel gift shop and world-famous Ansel Adams Gallery. Interpretive displays at the Yosemite Museum depict the rich heritage of the Valley and its native people the Ahwahneechee. An exhibit of Native American basketry by Lucy and Julia Parker is renowned. 

Food, Glorious Food! Extraordinary celebrations are a given in Yosemite. The Ahwahnee dining room is a gourmet experience, with the heart of the menu steeped in California cuisine. Whenever possible, dishes feature both organic and sustainably-harvested, locally-grown ingredients. Heavenly combinations, just for starters, include an Artisan Cheese Board featuring California’s delectable Humboldt Fog, Fiscalini and Golden Valley cheeses and Membrillo, a luscious quince jelly. Or a new twist on an old favorite, El Capitan Deviled Eggs with pesto, arugula, and bourbon-cured bacon. Like days of old, this grand dame Vintners Gala Dinner-at the Ahwahnee Hotel Credit DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.requests dinner attire – fitting accompaniment beside so much grandeur.

The Vintner’s Holiday is the ultimate for couples visiting Yosemite early November and December. Wine enthusiasts can avail themselves of six sessions and multi-night packages at The Ahwahnee or Yosemite Lodge at the Falls.  Wine tasting seminars, private “Meet the Vintners” reception and a five-course gala dinner leave  devotees delightfully giddy.  Visitors are welcome, free of charge, at all Vintner’s Holiday seminars and panel discussions, and may also purchase gala dinner tickets.

A legendary gala, adapted from Washington Irving's "Sketch Book," Bracebridge Dinner marks its 89th year this winter. Trumpets announce the arrival of Squire Bracebridge and presentations of an elaborate seven-course feast are Chefs Holiday at the Ahwahnee Hotel plating beets Credit DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.made on cue by the sounding of chimes during the performance. The main dining room of The Ahwahnee is transformed into an Elizabethan Yuletide pageant. Elaborate props, costumed characters, and period entertainment bring this 17th-century fête to life. You will, quite literally, be left speechless by this most sensory of celebrations. The experience of a lifetime, the always coveted Bracebridge tickets – eight December performances – are available online.

January would be Yosemite’s quietest month of the year were it not for the influx of food-and wine-minded guests who visit specifically to attend Chefs’ Holidays, a gourmet treasure. Over the course of four weeks and eight sessions, acclaimed chefs from around the country come to The Ahwahnee to practice their culinary arts. Each session features a “Meet the Chefs” reception, cooking classes and demonstrations, and kitchen tours where you can visit The Ahwahnee’s pantry and see some of the original kitchen tools. The astonishing Chef’s Gala Dinner is certain to send you into a gastronomic coma as five courses, paired with complementing wines, are crafted and prepared by each session’s guest chef. Bejeweled by tapered candlelight, there couldn’t be a more exquisite setting then The Ahwahnee’s regal dining room.

Chef’s Holiday 2015 features chefs from California and as far away as New York.  The event features some of the country’s most innovative and acclaimed chefs including Elizabeth Falkner and Ryan Scott.

Wawona Hotel in Winter Credit Nancy Robbins, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, IncUltimate Escapes: Yearning to unwind and avoid the last vestiges of winter crowds in Yosemite Valley, but still want endless distractions? Head to the Wawona Hotel. It’s an escape to days of old: No TV. No phones. And limited Wi-Fi – what madness! Whether romance or family time is on the agenda, the Victorian-era Wawona Hotel provides the best of all possibilities. Located on the southern end of the Park, the oldest Yosemite accommodations (a National Historic Landmark) is reminiscent of a gentle southern belle, offering the epitome of hospitality. Known for its exceptional fare, the winter menu highlights local organic and seasonal foods, and breakfast is included with all rooms. Some rooms are European-style so, if you prefer, specify en-suite.

Outside Yosemite’s boundaries, elegant and historic lodging comes in many guises. Two miles from the Park’s southern entrance, the Four-Diamond rated Tenaya Lodge offers superb accommodations – nothing less than luxurious. Native American and western-style décor honors the hotel’s legendary namesake, Chief Tenaya, roaring fires, five seasonal restaurants, and heart-stopping scenery. In the midst of a multi-million dollar remodel, 240 of the main lodge’s rooms and suites will be completed by spring 2016. But wait, there is more!

Couple enjoys a quiet moment in  the Relaxation Room at Ascent Spa Credit Tenaya Lodge at YosemiteAfter a day exploring, hiking, or snowshoeing unwind and indulge at Ascent the Spa. Inquire about kid activities and personalized babysitting services. While you wine and dine or soak up some sun, off-spring can unwind at the expanded arcade or indoor heated pool. When the snow flies, an open-air ice-skating rink provides miles of chilly smiles. Incidentally, pet friendly, yes! Indulge your loving pooch with a Pampered Pet Package.

Evergreen Lodge, off historic Highway 120, offers couples and families a rare opportunity to enjoy the little visited and secluded northwest corner of Yosemite National Park. Down Evergreen Road, Hetch Hetchy Valley is waiting. In the early 1920s, damming of the Tuolumne River created the 8-mile-long Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. While surrounding landscapes may be winter white, Hetch Hetchy is frequently spring-like and otherworldly. You’ll delight in fern grottoes, sunlit granite, crashing waterfalls and tree-frog wetlands. The bonus is that you can hike for hours undisturbed by other day-trippers. 

Evergreen Lodge Cabin in winter. Fully furnished and all the amenities is perfect for groups, families, friends - Kim Carroll PhotographyBuilt in 1921, the main lodge houses a historic tavern and restaurant. After a day of hiking or skiing, a steaming bowl of apple and butternut squash soup with candied pecans or bacon-wrapped elk meatloaf with sweet potato puree, roasted Brussels sprouts and an oyster mushroom jus will fill that hunger void. Menus change seasonally to incorporate the finest local, organic and sustainable ingredients.  Retire to the Great Room for roaring fires, s’mores, and classic films. Honeymooners, Kahdijah and Alistair, enjoyed five nights at Evergreen, “It’s amazing,” says Kahdijah, “we love it! Evergreen has a faraway feeling and we can still spend time in the Park.” A variety of fully furnished cabins and cottages accommodate up to six guests.

Scenic Highway 120 passes through the Gold Rush-era town of Groveland and provides year-round Groveland Hotel Lyle's Roomaccess to the Park. If you choose to stay outside the Park, this small town offers big hospitality. Embrace the warm welcome of the Three-Diamond Groveland Hotel. Seventeen uniquely decorated rooms provide outstanding lodging for adventures both in and out of Yosemite. Greeting guests since 1849, the hotel’s Cellar Door is known for its extraordinary cuisine and wines and boasts a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

Opening June 2016, Rush Creek Lodge sits just half a mile from the Park’s Highway 120 west entrance, providing an ideal launching point for exploration into all parts of Yosemite. The opening coincides with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Family Ice Skating at Curry Village Ice Rink  Courtesy of Delaware NorthAs temperatures drop and snow flies, nothing is quite as special as ice skating at Curry Village beneath the splendor of Half Dome and Glacier Point, the warmth of an outdoor fire ring and scrumptious winter s’mores…is a winter dream. Yosemite Valley lodges provide shuttle service to Badger Pass Ski Area. If there’s significant snow at Wawona, people cross-country ski on the golf course across the road. Built in 1878, the 130-foot Wawona Covered Bridge crosses the south fork of the Merced River and leads to the 1880s Pioneer History Center. 

The road is closed to the Mariposa Grove, but you can still hike, cross-country ski or snowshoe to visit the giant sequoias – the largest living things on earth. YExplore Global Adventures offers Yosemite guided snowshoe treks to both the Mariposa and Tuolumne sequoia groves. Beginner or extended hikes to Dewey Point on the south rim of Yosemite Valley and photography workshops capture landscape views and the natural “firefall”, one of Yosemite’s most amazing spectacles.

Badger Pass Snowboarder_ Credit Chris Falkenstein - Delaware North at YosemiteGet Your Badger Pass On! Like an old friend, Badger Pass Ski Area is quaint and welcoming. Generations of parents and children have cut their skiing teeth at Badger Pass, California’s oldest downhill ski area. With more than 85 percent of the slopes devoted to beginner and intermediate levels, this is understandable. There’s no friendlier place for the little ones than the Badger Pups program that offers customized instruction, ages four to six. The sundeck at Badger Pass answers all your wintertime prayers. After time on the slopes or trails, you’ll be ready to enjoy lunch with a full view of downhill daredevils. After refueling and relaxing, embrace your sillier side with a little snow tubing. There are also daily ranger-led snowshoe walks.

Cross-country skiing, snowboarding and showshoeing experiences in and around Badger Pass are both scenic and serene. Miles of groomed trails and fresh powder are unsurpassed even for first-timers. For those with true gusto, the 10-plus mile trek to Glacier Point Ski Hut will reward you with stellar views of Yosemite Valley. Excursions to the rustic stone and log lodge include lodging, meals and layover activities. Experiencing Yosemite’s wintry-white back county and starlit skies? Simply priceless.

In snow season, access to Yosemite is via highways 140 (west) 41 (south), and 120 (north). These scenic byways pass by historic towns and untold scenic wonders. Enjoy the sights and an occasional stop along the way for sightseeing and shopping – antiques, art galleries, museums, state parks, trendy boutiques, and wineries – California’s past and present lives on in these Gold Rush-era gems. Iconic Tunnel View in Winter El Capitan Half Dome and Yosemite Falls Courtesy of Delaware North at YosemiteEven in sunny California, winter weather is unpredictable. It’s best to check ahead for road conditions and always travel with snow chains!

Millions throng to see the splendor of Yosemite’s granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, giant sequoias, and the magnificence made famous by the likes of John Muir and Ansel Adams. Retreat urban environs by way of traffic-laden highways. Soon, slow rolling valleys, wide-open spaces, neatly hemmed by fences, and carefully rowed orchards and vineyards lead to snow-capped peaks, the promise of winter, and Yosemite!

 

Food & Travel Magazine Winter 2015-16 - by Barbara L. Steinberg 

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OWAC Craft Award Best Outdoor Magazine Feature 2015
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Quail Lodge Lake Almanor year-round relaxation, recreation, repeat

Quail Lodge Lake Almanor Canyon Damn Credit Are You That WomanThis is not a romance review, but I'm in love with Quail Lodge Lake Almanor! In love with John & Debbie the new owners. And in love with Max -- official Max Official Greeter Quail Lodge Lake Almanor Credit Are You That Womangreeter and lodge dog! In love with the quiet, star-studded dark sky and the chill in the air. The no frill exterior hides a cozy and warm interior. Love the outdoorsy themed bedspreads and pine log beds. The tiny gas stoves are fabulous on a cold night. All the little touches that really translate into "attention to detail" were all there. All rooms have mini-fridge, microwave, coffeepot, flat-screen TVs, free WiFi,and  bathroom heaters. Nice towels which I have often pointed out is a big plus.

Great for families, couples, friends, romantic getaway -- whatever! Picnic tables, barbecue, easy access to Lake Almanor and all of the open space and outdoor recreation in Plumas County.

Quail Lodge Lake Almanor Queen Twin Credit Are You That WomanRooms are spotless! Double-queens, single queen, and queen with twin. Connecting rooms are an added benefit for larger groups and families. If you need a fishing guide...just ask. Love the lodge lobby with fireplace, over-stuffed sofas, larger flat-screen TV. John and Debbie are to please, serve and send you away smiling. BTW - yes to the dog-friendly question!

Known as the Lost Sierra, Plumas County is in the northern most reaches of the Sierra Nevada north of Lake Tahoe and approximately 170 miles northeast of Sacramento. If you want to discover California, loose yourself in Plumas County.

 

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Best bites include a 5-star gingersnap cookie in Quincy California

American Valley Baking in Quincy California hands down!

Gingersnap cookie at American Valley Baking in Quicny California Credit Barbara L Steinberg 2014tmThree different kinds of ginger are the secret according to the baker, Dale, who grew-up in the family business. The spiciness of cinnamon, cloves, and molasses shine through in this divine treat. Nice chewiness and bit of a snap -- my dream cookie. American Valley Baking makes a variety of desserts and breads, but I went right for the gingersnap.

That's all you need to know. American Valley Baking is very small and local. No Facebook. No website. The focus is on the baking. Thank you for that!

This cookie is worth a road trip to Plumas County which includes other incredible offerings in the great outdoors along lakes, rivers, valleys and under blue skies.

Address: 267 Main St, Quincy, California 95971
Phone:(530) 283-9234


California vacation cottages at Ada's Place are delightful

Adas Place West Wing Cottage porch Quincy California Credit Barbara L. Steinberg 2014tmLiving small never felt so delicious. At Ada's Place, small cottages are spacious and inviting. Lush gardens, porches and decks sooth your spirit. You'll be saying, "I could live here!"

A peaceful drive along two-lane scenic roads through Plumas County brings you to this rainbow's end. The cottages are darling. Yes, I would live here! Four cottages - each with its own personality. Wonderfully appointed with all the comforts of a home I would own. Quiet and cozy. The gardens are stunning; a perfect recipe to relax and renew. There are books to read -- if you forgot your own. TV -- who cares. Free WiFi if you feel you must. Walk to dining and shopping in Quincy. Plus museums and other "downtown" attractions. Plus an easy drive to all the beautiful outdoor spaces and places of Plumas County...also known as The Lost Sierra. This northeast corner of California is another of those "best kept secrets". Unless you're a golfer! Plumas County is well-known for it's world-class fairways and greens.

Adas Place West Wing Cottage porch Quincy California Credit Barbara L. Steinberg 2014tmEach cottage has its own kitchen, too. Nearby, Quincy Natural Foods provides all the essentials but there are plenty of local dining options if you're escaping from cooking -- Moon's and Sweet Lorriane's in downtown Quincy are both high on my list. Plumas County -- is an outdoor recreation wonderland. Quincy and Ada's Place are ideal for exploring all the mountain scenery and small town charms of the region.

Get there soon! And come back often.


Conserving the Sierra Nevada One Relationship at a Time

Reszie imageCalifornia’s natural landmarks are many. A coastline like no other – 1,200 miles long from San Diego’s welcoming surf to the rugged cold of northern California; sweltering deserts and fertile valleys of inspiring beauty and extremes; and every possible biome from wetlands to grasslands and rolling fields of wildflowers.

World-famous attractions, they share a symbiotic relationship with one of California’s most majestic and natural markers, the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The backbone and spine of California, the Sierra Nevada provides 60-65 percent of California’s water and comprises nearly 25 percent of the State’s land area, or 25 million acres. The Sierra is an economic engine for communities throughout California providing millions of visitors with recreational opportunities from skiing and hiking to wildlife, nature, and cultural heritage tourism to boating, fishing, hunting, camping and more.

The Sierra Nevada includes 212 communities with more than 600,000 residents. It sustains a growing tourism and recreation industry involving more than 50 million recreation visit days a year, and provides up to 50 percent of California's annual timber yield.

CADFWThe region is home to 60 percent of California’s animals (vertebrates) – about 572 distinct species. More than one-third of these animal species are listed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) as rare, threatened, or endangered species that are declining in California.

Preservation and conservation of the Sierra Nevada’s natural resources is critical to California’s quality of life and environmental health. Wisely, State legislators came to understand that safeguarding the Sierra Nevada and its connection to California’s lifeblood cannot be underestimated or taken for granted.

In an effort to support the health and assets of one of the most significant natural and biologically diverse regions in the world, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) was created. It was signed into law in 2004 by bi-partisan legislation with the understanding that the environmental, economic and social well-being of the Sierra Nevada and its communities are intimately linked and that the region and State of California would benefit. All or part of 22 counties make-up the six Sierra Nevada Conservancy regions – from Modoc County to the far north to Inyo County in the south and Gold Country and Central Valley territories in the heart of California.

The Conservancy’s symbiotic relationships stretch beyond their namesake mountain range. Bob Kingman, Mt. Lassen Area Manager, has bridged many of these relationships including with the DFW. “We are sister agencies under the Natural Resources Agency umbrella,” according to Bob, “From the outsider’s perspective it may seem like an unlikely partnership.” SNC works with local nonprofit partners to expand and promote the DFW’s mission of habitat and wildlife conservation.

Sometimes among agencies it takes an extra effort to create a win-win situation whe WW Road Sign Brownn the mission can be all-consuming. “Our plate is so full but we are always looking at new opportunities…there are great things that can happen when we work together. The California Watchable Wildlife (CAWW) photo contest is just one of those opportunities. We view this as a great opportunity to build more collaborative and leveraged relationships with overlapping missions.” The partnership with California Watchable Wildlife furthers the missions of both SNC and DFW.

In 2013 SNC added their sponsorship to the California Wildlife Photo of the Year Contest, launched by California Watchable Wildlife and Outdoor California in 2011.  

The bi-monthly contest attracts professional and amateur photographers from around the state. Hundreds of images of mammals, reptiles, insects and aquatic species in their native habit have been submitted, providing a much needed image library for all three sponsoring organizations. Winning photos are featured in Outdoor California, the DFW’s bi-monthly magazine.

The contest is another opportunity to increase awareness of the diversity of species in the Sierra Nevada, which provides resources not only for local fauna but that support the rest of the state’s wildlife. For example, water that supports critical Delta habitats starts as water in the upper watersheds.

The resources of SNC are addressing a much broader spectrum of seven legislatively mandated Program Areas: tourism and recreation, working landscapes, reducing risks of natural hazards such as wildfire, air and water quality, supporting local economies, and preserving the physical, cultural, archaeological, historical and living resources of the region– things they do to support the sweet spot of DFW is just one part of the relationship. Without the complete health of the communities and relationships – it all suffers.  It’s all interconnected and advancing the well-being of all is critical.

Ash Creek Wildlife Management Credit Todd SloatThat interconnectivity includes SNC’s support of other DFW projects including restoration of Ash Creek Wildlife Management Area – an official California Watchable Wildlife viewing site. Phase 1 of the project restored 1,232 acres of floodplain wetlands. Project planners anticipate that Phase 2 and 3 will restore an additional 1,200 acres of important wetland habitat.  “This was too big for any single partner,” said Project Manager Todd Sloat with Pit Resource Conservation District (PRDC). “We advocated to DFW to add partners to tackle this project.  SNC initially invested in the design phase, then later contributed a large portion of funds to  implement the plan.” 

“Furthermore,” Todd said, “SNC’s grant programs are unique in their focus on great stream and meadow projects. These are special to Resource Conservation Districts. SNC is often the primary funding source and those funds improve not only the environment, but also the local economy and quality of life.”

Most recently, the SNC has been heavily investing in addressing the declining health of the region’s forests, which are critical to the continued natural production of clean water for the state, and also provides millions of acres of wildlife habitat.

The legislation that created the conservancy mandated it to preserve biological resources of the region. Hunting and fishing, outdoor recreation and wildlife are a huge economic segment of the region’s economy. California is the epitome of a west that is rich in fauna and flora. Part of SNC’s mission is to insure that it remains that way for the present and future.  More about the SNC can be learned by visiting their website at www.SierraNevada.ca.gov.

Originally published in California Department of Fish & Wildlife Outdoor California magazine.


Yosemite's Bracebridge: A Once in a Lifetime


Bracebrige? Quite possibly the greatest show on Earth! by Barbara L. Steinberg

Bracebridge Banner Credit Barbara L. SteinbergI was always fond of visiting new scenes, and observing strange characters and manners. Even when as a mere child I began my travels, and made many tours of discovery into foreign parts and unknown regions of my native city, to the frequent alarm of my parents, and the emolument of the town crier. -Washington Irving

The highly-coveted Bracebridge Dinner tickets were once available by lottery only, but no more! In fact, tickets and packages for the eight performances are easily purchased online!

As a witness to this historic holiday extravaganza, in your dreams you will see, feel, and hear the merrymaking; awestruck as Bracebridge whirls around you. This dazzling spectacle is set in one of the most blessed places on earth, Yosemite National Park. It is the experience of a lifetime!

A legendary celebration, adapted from Washington Irving's "Sketch Book,"Bracebridge marks its 87th year this December. Trumpets announce the arrival of Squire Bracebridge and presentations of an elaborate seven-course fete -- are made on cue by the sounding of chimes during the performance.  The main dining room of The Ahwahnee Hotel is transformed into an Elizabethan Yuletide pageant. Elaborate props, costumed characters, and period entertainment bring this 17th-century fête to life along with a seven-course dinner.

Consider taking Amtrak to Merced and then YARTS (Yosemite Regional Transportation System) to Yosemite Lodge. Once in the Valley, you can ride shuttles; plus there's a special Bracebridge shuttle to and from The Ahwahnee Hotel, the backdrop for Bracebridge. Many people are reluctant to travel in the snow and with efforts to cut gas consumption using alternative transit is a real bonus. Guests booking a Bracebridge Dinner package for either Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or the Wawona Hotel, should ask about the shuttle service to and from The Ahwahnee for the dinner.

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California's Most Scenic Drive Tioga Pass

Road signs for Tioga Pass 2013Autumn. This is the perfect time of year to drive Tioga Pass. Fewer cars, stunning weather and fall color!  See it before the snow flies! Early winter storms can close the pass without notice.

Actually, colors in the alpine regions are just starting to show themselves. But it won't be long as colder temperatures settle in. Daytime temps are still great for shorts and t-shirts; come prepared with some warmer layers. Up high -- 9,000 feet plus over Tioga Pass and into the Lakes Basin -- skies are blue and that Sierra Nevada sun can be intense. Sunglasses, sun screen, hats, and plenty of water is the rule of thumb.
Olmsted Point
Lakeside strolls, fishing, and hiking couldn't be better. Check ahead about campsites. There were some available sites mid-week but weekends are always a different story. 

Coming from Lee Vining or Groveland, get an early start and enjoy the journey. Slow and steady is always a good mantra. With plenty of parking at favorite lookouts, you won't have any trouble. High County meadows are wearing their late autumn gold. And a little wading along the shorelines of Tioga or Tenaya lakes. While distances from one side to the other may seem minimal, this is the ulTioga Lake 2013timtate long and winding road. Speed limits are reduced with good reason. Lots of beautiful vistas also mean lots of drop offs.

Pack food since many services on Tioga Pass have already shut down for the season. Of course, use caution regarding bears and provisions.

  


The East Side of California Dreaming

Mono County and Mammoth Lakes Nourish the Soul by Barbara L. Steinberg

Mono County View from Conway Summit to Mono Lake Credit Barbara L SteinbergThe vista defies imagination as you round Conway Summit and gaze down the length of the Long Valley.  The caldera is framed on the west by the Glass Mountain Range and the Sierra Nevada to the east.  Ancient Mono Lake – sapphire gem – glitters up and reflects billowy clouds that often adorn an azure sky.  Her alien tufas – sentinels to the past.  Any sane person should be rocked at their very core. 

The spine of California, this view is like no other. No pretense here. Carved and uplifted, the granite mountains shoot from the ground.  None of those pesky forests to block your viewshed.  Impressive heights include some rabidly sought after “fourteeners,” but plentiful 10,000- to 13,000-foot peaks take your breath away and challenge seasoned climbers.  From sunrise to sunset and season to season, the colors and shadows are an ever-changing portrait where Ansel Adams’ “range of light” is clearly defined.

At the bottom of the summit, Highway 395 stretches before you with promises of sanctuary from traffic and crowds.  There are few manmade roadside distractions.  Just miles and miles of fluctuating topography from pine forests to wetland pastures! Defining features include the Mono Craters and views of the Minarets – the backside of Yosemite.  After the final descent of Deadman Summit’s 8,047 feet, a few milesP1230336 to the south, Obsidian Dome a mile-long, 300-foot-high mound of glass pays homage to the region’s volcanic spirit. Above it all, Mammoth Mountain emerges.

Exit the open spaces for the wilds of Mammoth Lakes. Huge. Immense. Epic. Vast. California’s biggest mountain for winter sports – all of the adjectives apply.  Mammoth also has colossal year-round recreation delights from mountain biking and hiking to canoeing and kayaking and world-renown fly-fishing. Not enough? Rock jocks around the world drool over the climbing and bouldering opportunities. 

The Westin 119 steps to the top of the hill from The Village Credit Barbara L SteinbergThe Westin Monache Resort, perched on a hill above the town, is an ideal location to enjoy all of Mammoth’s pastimes. Ski-in or ski-out. Shop. Dine. Relax poolside. Shuttles whisk guests and their bikes up to the Mammoth Gondola and the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Cowabunga dude – this is some downhill run. For those seeking less treacherous amusements, scenic gondola rides to the top of Mammoth Mountain will still leave you breathless. Did we mention the premier golf options, horseback riding, and day trips to Yosemite National Park? Too much fun and not enough time. You will visit again and again. Each time a new discovery.

Back on the open road, a pinch to make sure this wasn’t a dream.  The Eastern Sierra. The Long Valley. Mammoth Lakes. Keep dreaming.

More photos!
More East Side:

Great Lattes, Scones...
Eastern Sierra Lower Owens River




Supercali Frazil Ice in Yosemite is slush for the soul

Not to be confused with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious by Barbara L. Steinberg

Spending and yet another ho-hum getaway in beautiful Morro Bay at a conference. Yes, this is work! We were just entertained by a YouTube video presentation and the viral nature of things regarding Yosemite Nature Notes. The presentation by Yosemite Steve, was not only fascinating but full of humor. Kudos and reason enough for me to post this and see if the viral domino can start again.

It's all about Yosemite Nature Notes Episode 9 - Frazil Ice! Yosemite lover that I am, had somehow never heard of this phenomenon! I watched with chlidlike fascination as the frazil ice slushy pushed it's way through Yosemite Creek. Two years ago the video, shot for Yosemite Nature Notes, was sitting quietly until BoingBoing.com sent it into the viral universe.

Take it to the next planetary level.