Beauty Of Yosemite

I visited Yosemite just after my marriage in 2013 and the beauty of the place has captured my heart ever since. It could be that Yosemite felt so amazing because it was my honeymoon, but the fact remains that it is rich in bio-diversity with lakes, mountains, glaciers, granite cliffs, giant sequoia trees and several other scenic attractions. Yosemite National Park located in the central eastern part of California is one of the most picturesque spots of United States visited by millions of tourists and has been the world heritage site since 1984.

We stayed in America’s Best Value Inn near Yosemite south gate which is an affordable and convenient place to stay for tourists. We had our car, so we drove to the national park everyday to explore the various parts of it. The park is huge and has several spectacular views, so the three days were worth spending here.

Yosemite consists of a valley that extends up to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains whose terrain is majorly composed of granite. The granite gives the cliffs the bold look with the sharpness of its edges quite eye-catching. Among them El Capitan is one such cliff which has been quite popular among rock climbers. However I liked the Half Dome more which is a naturally formed granite dome around 5000 feet above the Yosemite valley floor because of its unique shape. I had visited several hill stations situated in the lap of the mighty Himalayas. The snow-covered peaks are of course the stunner but I had never seen such a remarkable shape among the peaks as that of the Half Dome. It looked similar to the face of a lady with a veil covering her head.

The other extraordinary feature of the Yosemite valley is the high density of water falls and clear water streams. Among them the Yosemite falls are the tallest falls in North America. I remember sitting on one of the rocks and watching the falls cut through the granite cliffs for hours together. The lush greenery and the rays of the sun penetrating through the leaves falling on the water and making it sparkle is a sight worth capturing. These wildly romantic views are one of the many reasons that photographers come flocking to Yosemite for creating their very own natural masterpiece.

There are two rivers that cross the valley, Toulumne and Merced. It is difficult to tell the color of the water. It’s a certain shade of blue mixed with the deep and light green colors of the shadows of the trees around the rivers. On the Merced, there is a beautiful perennial waterfall, the vernal falls which flows all through the year unlike its ephemeral companions. The vernal falls are quite clearly visible from the glacier point which gets its name from the abundance of glacial materials found here.

A strenuous but picturesque trail leads to the mesmerizing viewpoint which is closed during the winter months because of the slippery snow accumulation. There are many such beautiful trails which are not that strenuous and are great for observing wildlife and for breathing in the fresh air mingled with the sweet smell of pines.

Along with the natural beauty there is a museum which tells about the history of the American Indians who used to live in this area for thousands of years. The evidence about their life ways and culture majorly comes from the archeological evidences and oral histories passed down through generations. Earlier Yosemite valley was called Ahwahnee meaning ‘gaping mouth like place’ and the inhabitants came to be called as Ahwahnees. Behind the Yosemite museum is a reconstructed Indian village of Ahwahnee.

During the California gold rush in the mid-nineteenth century there was an influx of many non-Indian miners who settled in this region and caused the local population to deplete. The ruthless search for gold lead to the killing of thousands of native people of Yosemite.

One of the foreign settlers called Galen Clark discovered the Mariposa grove in Wawona, an Indian encampment in the now south-western part of the park. The giant sequoia trees in the Mariposa grove are surely a tourist’s delight. They are very tall around 60 meters in height and have a formidable structure. I had heard about these trees and throughout my visit to the park me and my husband made wild guesses as to which trees could be those giant ones. There were blue oaks and grey pines everywhere and some of them were also huge trees. But when I first saw the giant sequoia my mouth remained wide open with astonishment for a few minutes to say the least. Among them the most famous was the tunnel tree which had a carriage wide tunnel cut through it. It was 69 meters tall and 27 meters wide and very popular with the tourists. We were no different. Both of us clicked several photographs standing around and inside the tree. There were other giant sequoia that had interesting names like the ‘Grizzly Giant’.

The widespread coniferous forest of the park is also an important habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. We were lucky enough to spot quite a few like the golden-mantled ground squirrel and coyote. There are many more like the grizzly bear, Sierra Nevada red fox, bobcats and many species of birds and reptiles, some of which are rare sightings.

We had visited the park in the summers, so I cannot describe its beauty during the winters. However the bookstore in the Yosemite Valley visitor center had some beautiful picture postcards and books with amazing views of the snow-covered cliffs of Yosemite. While returning back I felt refreshed but at the same time a little sad to leave behind such magnificent surroundings. Even today sometimes when I close my eyes I imagine myself strolling in the beautiful green meadows of Yosemite.

Family Accommodation in Cuba – Casas Particulares

Senor Mezerene, the host of Hostal Villa Liba, welcomed us to his casa and said: We prepare the best meals in Cuba! And that was true. The host was a happy and funny person who spoke good English. There were framed science of economics diplomas hanging on the wall in his workroom; he had changed the white collar job for a more profitable quartering business, like many other of his fellow countrymen.

He worked in the house all day long, his wife mostly in the kitchen. Always when he passed by, he picked a white flower on the terrace, gave it to his wife along with a kiss, to his guests, and there was also a white flower on the breakfast tray every morning.

“Mariposa is the national flower of Cuba. Can you feel its fragile and elegant scent?” the host said. I saved mine between the pages of my trip book; it was probably the only time I opened the book on that trip. Now that yellowish, fragile flower, like silk paper, is a nice souvenir.

The best options when you choose your accommodation are the bed & breakfast- style houses, the casas particulares, which are run by families. There is a lot to choose from; we stayed in common villas, marvelous historical blockhouses, in towns and small villages. But business has been restricted; a family is only allowed to keep two double rooms for rent. In some of the rooms there is a spare bed for a child.

The room price is 15-30 CUC depending on area and season. Most casas also have a food making license. The families earn well, but they pay 100-250 CUC tax/month per room and in addition to that for the parking area and food making licenses. The tax is enormous considering that a physician earns only 20-30 CUC / month.

All the casas are different but one thing is for sure; the hosts help you with your problems, even in gesture language, if needed. They are helpful with everything, they supply information, are your guides, get you clothes washed. The help is sometimes irreplaceable, especially during high season. They have their own network and can arrange the next accommodation for you. Your own cell phone is of almost useless in Cuba as the reception is often poor and the area code system very complicated- area codes are different when calling from one city or an other one to a third one.

Also the meals served at the casas are far better than in average restaurants. You can locate the casas by a green triangle or a blue arrow sign.

We had to spend some nights at hotels because we longed to be near the ocean. We had to do that because it is forbidden to arrange private accommodation close to the big hotel areas, i.e. the best areas at the shore. The hotels are at least 51% state owned. The nice ones are too expensive for a budget traveler and the more affordable ones are not very nice at all!

We wanted to be close to the ocean and ended up in Playas del Este, a popular place with people from Havana, though the travel agency agent recommended Varadero as the best option.

When we arrived at Hotel las Terrazas of the Islazul hotel chain it was raining and people sitting in the lobby looked like it had rained all their holiday long. The main clients of this state-owned hotel chain are Cuban “work heroes”. The Islazul hotels are open to them; otherwise Cubans are not allowed to stay at hotels.

Our hotel apartment seemed marvelous with its American kitchen and renewed room, the price was 36 CUC+ + safe 2 CUC per night and breakfast 5 CUC/person.

When we returned later in the evening soaking wet from our trip to the food market with the intention to prepare the evening meal, we noticed that there was no stove, dishes or cooking equipment. I emptied my shopping bag, the supplies at the currency shop had not been varied, we only had canned meat and vegetables, cream crackers, mayo, olives and juice. – There was no way to prepare a delightful meal out of that, I thought, so we opened a bottle of rum. There was no warm water in the shower and we went to bed feeling cold. It rained and the windows had no glass, only adjustable wooden drapes.

The breakfast was poor and the service likewise. The overweight middle-aged waitresses were more interested in talking to each other behind the desk than taking care of serving or billing. But there was, however, something to cheer us up. The Cuban baseball champions Industriales happened to be staying at this miserable Islazul-hotel. Even the dry breakfast tasted good while following the morning routines of the athletes.

An empty swimming pool in the central sun bathing area during high season time – Cannot be true! The swimming pool had not been in use for some time, we noticed by all sorts of rubbish on the bottom and nor will it be in a long time; the unfinished plan, swaying scaffolding and torn cover told us that.

The wind had driven the rain clouds away, but it was impossible to go swimming due to the big waves. So we decided to return to Havana to continue our trip, where to, that had to be seen later. One thing we had decided was to stay only at the casas in the future!

Yosemite in Winter – Bracebridge, Skiing and More

When you travel to Yosemite in the winter, you enter into a special wonderland. Winter has its own magic in Yosemite and there is still plenty to do. The high country is mostly closed. The roads over Tioga Pass and up to Glacier Point will close when the snows fall and won’t reopen until probably sometime in May. But other places are open and when the snow falls they can be wonderful places to visit.

Wawona and the nearby Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias are a wonderland in the winter. The rustic Wawona Hotel provides a quiet and simple place to relax and imagine a simpler time. It is open during the holiday season and then closes for the winter. It is usually full during that time of year because it houses people who are going to the famous Bracebridge dinner at the Ahwahnee Hotel Dining Room.

Bracebridge has been staged at the Ahwahnee Hotel Dining Room since it opened in 1927. It is based on a Washington Irving’s Sketch Book, which describe the times and customs of a 17th century English squire. The dinner and the performance last 4 hours and is filled with entertainment and carols. Soon after it started the famed photographer Ansel Adams became the producer of the event and designed the show in pretty much the form it has today. The Bracebridge dinner goes on for about two weeks starting in mid-December. If you want to go make your plans well in advance, it is usually sold out almost a year in advance.

There are more than just special events to keep you coming to Yosemite in the winter. If you like to ice skate, then try the rink that is set up are Curry Village. There is lodging available at Curry Village as well as at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and Ahwahnee.

The snow piles up in the high country around Yosemite Valley but the valley itself is often quite clear of snow, being only about 4,000 elevation. But you don’t need to go far to find snow and lots of it.

Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are available in the park during the winter. There are many trails including ones in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

But the king of winter sport in Yosemite national Park is the Badger Pass Ski Area. It is located part way up the Glacier Point Road. You can downhill ski and snowboard at Badger Pass. Both day passes and season passes are available. One of the coolest things you can do is cross country ski up to Glacier Point. It’s 21 miles round trip. You can even arrange to stay overnight at Glacier Point. What a way to spend a winter night in Yosemite.

That’s just some of the things you can do in the winter in Yosemite National Park. So don’t worry about the snow – enjoy it.