Photography by Yuri Krasov
Majestic Yosemite with its sheer granite cliffs and roaring waterfalls is beautiful any time of year, even if the weather is not exactly cooperating. This year’s snowless winter deprived us of skiing, but yielded other benefits of the beloved national park – less crowded roads and easy access to evergreen groves and sleepy meadows with grazing deer and mouse-hunting coyote.
After a day spent at Yosemite’s Valley Floor Tour and Glacier Point, my husband and I arrived at Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite – AAA Four-Diamond hotel on 48 acres of wooded land bordering the Sierra National Forest.
Recently renovated and upgraded, Tenaya Lodge is a place where you’d want to vacation time and again. It has its own distinct character and decor: 297 guest rooms, Grand Ballroom, five restaurants, an amazing spa, and is well-equipped for all kinds of outdoor activities. In a usual snowy winter, the all-season resort provides its guests with immediate or easy access to cross-country skiing, sleigh rides, snowshoeing, sledding, ice-skating, and snowmobiling. In spring and summer, whitewater rafting, golf and tennis, horseback riding, guided nature hikes (some at night, with flashlights), mountain biking, rock climbing, fly fishing, and various water sports on Bass Lake are readily accessible. This time, we saw two racks with equipment for opposite seasons – one with mountain bikes, another with show shoes – in front of the hotel.
Eager to take advantage of at least some of the fun activities offered by Tenaya Lodge, we signed up for a one-hour Guided Nature Hike, which took us on a loop trail through the enchanted forest with hugging trees, icy Big Creek coming from Merced River, and beaver dams. Fresh mountain air, clear blue sky, and cushy forest floor provided a perfect classroom where we’ve learned that sugar pines grow to 300 feet, hold five needles in a cluster for five letters of the word s-u-g-a-r, and develop huge “widow maker” cones loved by squirrels for their sugary pine nuts. We also learned that black ravens use 19 different calls, mate for life, and have a special call for their mates (calling them by name?). We stopped to look at a tree trunk turned into an ant hotel by carpenter ants. Then we stopped to touch a carpet of bear clover. Bears like to roll in these plants to cover their hides with the natural oil which protects them from tics and lice. Then we marveled at a beaver’s miscalculation – the tree intended for a dam fell not across the stream, but in a different direction…
The forest was serene and quiet. A small plane cruising above was monitoring chips in endangered animals, like Pacific fisher weasel, and doing other environmental work. Upon our return, I attempted two physical activities I’ve never done before.
First, it was archery at Sierra Mountain Archery Range, steps from the hotel’s front entrance. Knowing that traditional recurve bows are easily handled by 5-year-olds, I was still as proud of my bull’s eye shot as a regular Amazon. Then, it was ice-skating at the open air 80×40-feet hotel rink. While I was making my wobbly way along the barrier with posted friendly reminders, “Skate at your own risk,” my skate-proficient husband was twirling in triple axels, oh well. Finally, I felt much more confident swimming at the spacious indoor pool, and completely at home at the Ascent Spa at Tenaya Lodge, decorated with natural stone, earthy-colored furnishings, and nature-inspired photography on the walls.
The spa seemed serene and inviting with its dry heat saunas, tiled steam rooms, dimly-lit massage rooms named after Sierra birds, trees, and flowers, and relaxation rooms where it was easy to lose any sense of time while sipping hot or cold herbal teas and dozing off to quiet soothing music. A skillful couple’s massage left us both fully restored, renewed and reenergized after a day of strenuous exercise. For a great finale of a perfect day, we sat down to dinner at Sierra Restaurant off the hotel lobby. With a fireplace at the dining room center, cozy booths are lined up along the walls, and comfy chairs surround elegant tables for four. The menu is California-comprehensive, and the wine list is California-great.
Sierra Restaurant uses plenty of locally-grown organic and sustainable products and locally produced wines and beer. I started with my favorite lemon drop cocktail, and it was perfectly balanced and absolutely delightful. Cheese beer soup made with Fiscalini cheddar and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was just what the doctor ordered for a chilly winter night.
I also thoroughly enjoyed my eggplant napoleon with layers of grilled tomato, red peppers, and goat cheese, and my husband’s Angus filet mignon with colored fingerling potatoes and cabernet sauce. When it seemed that we wouldn’t be able to eat another bite for a week, we retired to our luxurious suite for a good night sleep.
A hot tub in our suite opened up to the bedroom in brown and orange color scheme, and a splendid view of sugar pines and giant sequoias right outside our window. In the morning, before we headed back home to the San Francisco Bay Area, a hearty breakfast of All-American egg, ham and cheese sandwich and French toast at Sierra Restaurant set us off for the day. On our drive back, I was daydreaming about all the wonderful things I could do at Tenaya Lodge in summer and in real (snowy) winter. As if I needed a reason to plan another stay at the gem of Yosemite.
More information and reservations at: http://www.TenayaLodge.com