I have faithfully visited Yosemite in springtime when the falls and creeks are thunderingly full, but I am at heart a winter girl raised in the eastern Snowbelt. Now that we finally have a car capable enough to meet the challenge of Yosemite in winter (our trusty 2004 Subaru Forester), we hit the Yosemite highway in winters, too.
As we zip north along Highway 99, the agricultural backbone of the Golden State, we see the white-capped Sierra in the distance. "They're wearing snow hats," said Ava, my preteen.
Just outside the park's south entrance, we turn off to Tenaya LodgeSM. We check in and race into our snow armor. As I layer up, I marvel at the evolution of outdoor gear. I tell my kids about the old days when we kept our feet dry and from freezing by wrapping them in empty sandwich bread bags. They politely pretend to listen as they lace up their boots and zip into today's sleek miracle fabrics. We hike through grounds and surrounding woods and hit the sled hill.
Later, back at Tenaya, we shed our soggy outdoor gear and dine at one of the lodge's three restaurants. Afterward, we settle into one of the sofas in the lodge great room beside the immense fireplace and play Scrabble® until we are sleepy.
The next morning we're crushed to learn that Badger Pass has closed due to the blizzard. The Tenaya valet service digs out our Forester and clears the three feet of snow covering its roof. We head to the Yosemite Valley floor.
With dangerous road conditions, I heed the California Highway Patrol warning: I drive with care and travel in packs with fellow motorists – the Snow Buddy System, Ava calls it. Yosemite Falls has been there for centuries, and it's not going away.
In the valley we hike and cavort and then head to The Ahwahnee Hotel. The grand old building looms like a castle, crafted from centuries-old sugar pine logs and decorated in Native American-inspired splendor. We indulge in fabulously juicy burgers and frothy hot chocolate in the majestic dining room, under its sequoia high-beamed ceiling.
Afterward, my son relaxes by the bear-sized fireplace while my daughter races outside to build a snow dog. Ava throws back her head in the utter joy of the moment, opens wide, and awaits a refreshing snowflake. Patting our snowy dog, I join Ava in throwing back my own head and opening wide to the wonders of life.
The Ahwahnee Hotel
Photo: Kenny Karst | DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.