And the Surrounding Valley
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
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.
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