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Awareness Magazine
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YOSEMITE

And the Surrounding Valley

Article and Photos By Ann Nelson

Close your eyes and imagine one of the most beautiful places in the world, complete with soaring granite cliffs, tumbling waterfalls, lots of trees, rushing rivers, pristine lakes and rolling meadows. Welcome to Yosemite National Park, spread across the western slope of the Sierra Nevada in central California.

There is so much open territory here, it is called “The Great Unfenced.” Nearly half of the county is unsettled. The National Forest, the Sierra Nevada and the Emigrant Wilderness occupy a major portion of the area. Close to 95 percent of the park’s 1,169 square miles is a wilderness area and includes 800 miles of trails that can be covered by horse, mule or on foot. There are 196 miles of paved roads and over 811 miles of rivers and streams.

Not only is this area spectacular in its beauty, it is rich with history. Native Americans lived here for several thousand years until the gold rush started in 1848. Soon afterwards, new towns sprang up wherever a piece of gold was found. By 1860, 16,000 people had moved here, all seeking to make their fortune.

Miners and merchants came from as far away as Chile, the Hawaiian Islands, Germany, England, Italy, France, Australia, China and Mexico. People from the east coast flocked here and many brought their slaves. The ethnic mix, coupled with greed and a loose lifestyle, brought tumultuous times, violence and lawlessness. I found it surprising that despite high expectations, only a few struck it rich. The majority of men came alone, planning to send for their families, but in most cases it never happened. Many miners spent or gambled most of what they made.

My good friend DJ and I had just finished breakfast on the front porch of a diner in one of the sleepy old mining towns surrounding the park. After learning about the history, we decided to pore over our guide books and plan our itinerary for the next few days. My dog Megan was traveling with us and several incredible places that welcomed her caught my eye. We wanted to mix it up a bit and made the decision to stay in an elegant, sophisticated resort as well as a charming cabin by the lake.

We chose The Pines Resort on Bass Lake for our cabin destination. Bass Lake, 17 miles from the southern gate of Yosemite is referred to as “One of the West’s 10 Best Lake Destinations” by Sunset Magazine. Our quaint and roomy cabin was equipped with a full kitchen and view balcony. The resort also offers spacious suites with unobstructed views of the lake and the surrounding forest.

Ducey’s on the Lake, the waterfront signature restaurant, was a one-minute walk from our cabin and the perfect place to watch to sun fade into the water. The menu selections are fabulous, ranging from Tenderloin Carpaccio to Sesame Seed Crusted Seared Ahi. Dinner is followed with a luscious assortment of desserts.

While staying at Ducey’s, we found it easy to fill our days with outdoor activities, including visits to Yosemite, hiking nearby trails and swimming in the lake. In the summertime, bands play live music on the lakefront deck.

After packing our bags in the morning, we traveled the short distance on a scenic mountain road to our second destination. As we approached the gates of Chateau De Sureau, a world-renowned, five-star rated resort, we were instantly transported into a quaint old-world with fairy-tale wonder. This authentic 19th-century-style French Chateau offers an old-style custom of hospitality that is rarely seen today.

The staff, dressed in crisp European-style attire, treated us with genuine warmth and sincerity from the moment we arrived. After settling in, there was a knock on the door. A beautifully-arranged tray of iced tea, fresh sandwiches & handpicked flowers were delivered to our luxurious room and set on a table next to the fireplace. A perfect afternoon was unfolding.

After a dip in the pool, we went off to explore the nine-acre refuge blanketed with hundreds of elderberry bushes. We were in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and twenty minutes from the South Gate of Yosemite. There are nature trails set within the trees, a swing-set, a life-size chess board, and a gazebo overlooking an expansive koi pond. A full-service spa is available to pamper you from head to toe. The owner, Erna KubinClanin, truly created a sanctuary for the soul when she designed this place. Every aspect of the entire estate is well thought out and simply astonishing! 

From the moment DJ and I walked into Erna’s Elderberry House for dinner, we were surrounded by the warmth of the fireplace, fine antiques and rich fabrics from Provence. Craig Claiborne, the renowned, long-time food editor and restaurant critic for The New York Times, truly helped put Erna’s on the map in the late 1980’s. Mr. Claiborne, possibly one of the most important restaurant critics of our time, had a reputation for being exacting and uncompromising. The locally sourced New French-California menu is exquisite and a well thought out prix fixe dinner selection changes almost daily.  

It is no wonder this small luxury mountain resort and spa is included in the Relais & Chateaux Collection of the 520 finest hotels and gourmet restaurants in the world. Yosemite National Park, the American landscape immortalized by the iconic photographer Ansel Adams, is a short drive away.

The effort to preserve our treasured parks is now more important than ever. Yosemite became a national park in 1890, after John Muir tirelessly advocated federal park status for the area. His direction and energy, as one of our country’s foremost naturalists and conservationists, should continue to serve as an inspiration and a footprint for all of us today.

 CONTACT INFORMATION

Visit: Yosemite National Park: (209) 372-0200, www.yosemite.org

The Pines Resort: (800) 350-7463, www.basslake.com

Chateau Du Sureau: (559) 683-6860, www.chateausureau.com

Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant:  (559) 683-6800, www.elderberryhouse.com


Ann Nelson is a freelance writer residing in San Diego.