Next morning we cut breakfast – in fact most days we seemed to have either breakfast or lunch but rarely both – and set off across the Bay Bridge skirting the huge sprawl of Oakland and out along the I-580. With a few snarled up stretches it moved pretty well and when we exited in Tracy we found ourselves conveniently near a Black Bear Diner. They are a modest chain with 63 diners in 8 states but serve breakfast all day – thus making me a liar for my earlier comment – we just had a late breakfast.
There are bear sculptures everywhere reminding us of Hokkaido, the walls are covered with bear murals and the portions would suit a bear. Uniquely they have a section of the historical newspaper themed menu called ‘A little less’ aimed at ‘seniors or guests who prefer smaller portions of our great comfort food’. Wow! Finally!
The next stretch on Route 5 must be a contender for dullest road in California enlivened by a row of mailboxes for which their were no houses to be seen. Eventually when we turned off onto the 140 at Merced the scenery did improve with a few golden coloured rolling slopes and a generally rural and agricultural feel. As we neared Mariposa the terrain became much hillier with big pines and occasional sightings of big birds which might have been kestrels, hawks and turkey vultures but were usually too high to identify.
Having been warned about the lack of gas stations in rural California we filled up in Mariposa. We soon discovered from looking at competing gas station signs that Chevron was always more expensive so we learned to fill up elsewhere. Petrol prices are still extremely low compared with Europe as the Americans’ love of the car shows little sign of diminishing. Just across from the gas station was a Yosemite National Park Office where we purchased our park permit sticker which allows the car to enter the park area. Again, friendly volunteer rangers told us what the best spots were to visit at this time of year. Not much waterfall activity in a hot July.
We’d booked the Cedar Lodge at El Portal which proved to be a strung out motel with a shop and a restaurant. We were too early to check in, of course, so went for a beer and a light snack until the room was ready. The room was a little old fashioned but did have our towels folded as swans across the end of the bed – often seen in the movies but never before in real life. We dumped our luggage and headed off to the park.
The next stretch of the 140 into Yosemite Valley was fantastic, winding along beside the Merced River, sometimes crossing it back and forth and affording great views of El Capitan and the Half Dome which were familiar from Ansel Adams but still looked magnificent on first encounter – and of course they were in colour.
The Half Dome Mike! El Capitan's behind you!
We parked in one of the copious car parks and queued for the shuttle bus – we had been told that touring the valley on bicycles was a good way of seeing it but decided that for us the bus was the better option. Just as we were about to alight and walk to one of the waterfalls still with flow, it started to rain. So we abandoned that idea and continued with the bus to complete the circuit and then rejoin our car for a further explore after the shuttle bus orientation. The valley floor is a bit of a disappointment. In order to maximize revenue and preserve the magnificent landscapes of Yosemite the Park Service has crammed in campsites, cabins, glamping yurts and all manner of places to overnight in the park itself. And of course there are special areas for the ubiquitous RVs.
We did find a waterfall with a bit of a trickle, sauntered across the surprising flat meadows that suddenly open up and found the whole place completely enchanting. We also had a glimpse of a brown bear which signs at regular intervals told us not to feed or approach. It was a great afternoon and we made our way back to El Portal for a beer on the porch of our room before dinner.