Photos and story by Lisa TE Sonne
Towering, sheltering redwoods that tickle the sky. Thunderous cascading waterfalls that mist you. Granite sculptures called Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan, Half Dome—bigger than human homes, yet making you feel welcome in a larger home.
If you are looking for some wow, awe, and aha in your next trip, a trinity of U.S. National Parks now being branded as “The Majestic Mountain Loop” (http://www.MajesticMountainLoop.com) is offering memories for families, friends, romantic couples, and solo journeys.
Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings National Parks in central California provide some of the world’s great and iconic natural beauty. You can look up at the tallest trees, tallest waterfall, and highest mountain in the continental U.S. and look down into North America’s deepest canyon. And everywhere you look around is protected wilderness.
The Yosemite Land Grant signed by Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago preceded the country’s great National Park system designed to conserve and share priceless natural resources. The Parks also provide remarkable and restorative destinations for travelers.
The Majestic Loop can offer fixes for your body, mind and soul. The body can thrive with hiking, biking, seasonal sports, horseback riding, skiing at Badger Pass, the Tenaya Lodge Spa, and some excellent restaurants. The mind can play with knowledge-sharing guides on hiking and driving ventures (day or night), in some charming museums, and through informative signs throughout the Parks. If you are lucky, you may even meet John Muir at one of the Living History Interpretive Presentations.
For the spirit, there are the raptures of beauty and time amidst the Sequoias – the largest living things on earth. Some of the Parks' trees that are still growing today were alive during the times of Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed as well as the Independence of the United States, human’s walk on the moon, and the arrival of the internet.
Last March, I drove to Yosemite to join some smiling travel writers who had already been enjoying part of the Majestic Loop — the Sequoia National Park (at the Wuksachi Lodge and Peak Restaurant inside the Park) and the Kings Canyon National Park (at the John Muir Lodge near the Grant Grove inside the Park.)
I felt like I was at a beautiful adult play camp for three days — enjoying archery, ice skating, cross-country skiing, and an informative day-hike on how to identify trees and determine what is edible in the forest. (Fortunately for those of us who feel we should try new foods when offered, the guide could not get the ants to appear in a log.)
The “Prowler night-hike” led by Kara Stella, head of Interpretive Services for the Park, was geared to improve our senses – sight, hearing and smell – as well as our sense of place in the natural world. After teaching us about some of the stars overhead, she said 80 percent of the animals are nocturnal, so we were prowling when they were awake.
The next day, we were entertained on a Yosemite bus tour led by artist-author-driver William Fontana, who shared history tidbits, related literary sources, and gave photo tips at the top stops. Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, pioneering conservationists, and President Theodore Roosevelt all waxed about the wonders we saw. Free shuttles also travel through the park for those who want to see the sites without hiking or driving.
Our eating experiences did not recall summer camp: the food was delicious. The loop proved that wilderness does not have to mean dehydrated or campfire food (Unless you want it). The lobster bisque at the Embers Restaurant of Tenaya Lodge was fantastic and I only heard praise for the range of entrees. We also enjoyed happy stomachs at the Mountain Room at Yosemite Lodge. Our farewell lunch was at the famous Ahwhanee Lodge in the heart of Yosemite. When I ordered the trout, the waiter said people had been ordering that dish since the restaurant opened decades ago. It didn’t disappoint, and neither did the blueberry pie.
And in the place where the food did not rise majestically above cafeteria standards, the view rose magnificently of the Yosemite Falls, making breakfast lovely.
UNDER THE STARS
Camping is available in both the back-country and by the road in the three parks of the Majestic Mountain Loop. The Delaware North Corporation, which operates facilities at the Kennedy Space Center, the Grand Canyon, and Niagara Falls, also runs park lodges in the Majestic Mountain Loop (the Wuksachi, John Muir, and Yosemite Lodges at the Falls) with a Greenpath initiative to protect the environment. I have enjoyed Wuksachi Lodge on previous travels, and staying at the Yosemite Lodge seemed to call out “location, location, location” — if you could hear it over the soothing sounds of the captivating Yosemite Falls.
It was dark when I checked in, and I enjoyed the moon and stars from my little back porch, replete with all that great organic aromatherapy of firs and pines. In the morning, I woke up, walked past the recycling baskets in the room, and went out the front door — where I was both startled and delighted to see before me one of the world’s five highest waterfalls pouring off the mountain.
Outside Yosemite, near the southern entrance, I enjoyed the comforts of the Tenaya Lodge. The new luxury suites of the Tenaya Lodge with fireplaces and artful furniture and design feel like a lovely bit of Architectural Digest in the woods. Some suites even offer big hydrotherapy tubs — great after a day of using muscles that lie dormant during desk life. And everything there — outdoor and indoor pools, room service, archery range, ice skating rink, fire pits (for S’mores), ground-floor shopping and restaurants, onsite concierge, and friendly staff — are all embraced within a circle of forest.
My visit to Yosemite also felt like a health retreat, with so many ways to enjoy exercise in delicious mountain air and so many places to meditate and relax. Tenaya offers the best Yosemite spa — The Ascent Spa, with steam, sauna, organic products and other healing pleasures all just an elevator ride in the Lodge. I relaxed to the treats of experts: Regina drew toxins out of my face and advised me on skin care, and Richard dug out knots in my deep tissue and answered questions about what exercises I should do to avoid future tightness. For an extra $15 an item, I could choose additional services from the a la carte menu, too. I opted to have my hair and scalp deeply nourished and my feet nurtured.
From head to toe I was moisturized and massaged. Like Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow, I felt a bit like I was being buffed and bettered to go see the Wizard of Oz, but really I was being improved for the wonders and awes – and, as in the storybook, it was all good for my heart, brains, and courage.
As majestic as Ansel Adams' photos of Yosemite and other National Parks are, being there is even better – to see the light shift; to breathe the wafting air of the mountains, firs, and pines; to hear the birds, waterfalls, and winds; and to feel first-hand the majesty all around, which combines to make you feel more majestic yourself for being immersed in the beauty.
WrightOn Communications organized the trip. The Majestic Mountain Loop site offers information on the three National Parks with links to accommodations inside the Park and to the towns and attractions between the National Parks. Fresno Airport is recommended as the easiest place to fly in for the Majestic Mountain Loop.
· Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, Yosemite National Park
· Ahwhanee Lodge Dining, Yosemite National Park
· The Greenpath Environmental Preservation plan of DNY
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