We left the hotel a little before 8am and gassed up at the El Portal gas station. Its about a dollar more a gallon than normal prices. There are no gas stations in Yosemite Valley. From reading my travel books I heard about an awesome breakfast location in the park, so thats where we were headed when Raini pointed out a deer on the side of the road. I slowed down, as to not scare it off. Luckily there was a pull off about twenty feet away.
It was deer stalking time! I parked our car and slowly made our way to the deer, edging ever so closer, but not too close that they could charge us. We ended up getting too close eventually, but that was not our fault … really … I blame the deer. There were three deer, all males. I had never been this close to male deer before. I have gotten good shots of deer in the past, but they were always groups of females.
There was one male who had a large pair of antlers, who seemed to be the father of the two other younger deer. Raini anthropomorphizes practically every animal she comes into contact with, and this was no exception. She grew attached to the youngest of the deer, which she named “Little Rebel”. It seemed to be the most curious of the deer and it looked like it had been poked by antlers, probably from the father when he got out of line. If it was feasible and not illegal, we probably would have ended up taking Little Rebel back home. (Thank God it was not feasible or legal). The two younger deer stayed together while the father kept a watchful distance. We even saw the two young ones butting heads while playing.
When I parked the car I had not locked it from fear of scaring the deer with the “alarm set” chime. However as we stalked the deer farther away from the car, I became paranoid, went back and locked the car. When I came back I noticed Raini start to slowly walk back towards me, with the two younger deer following her curiously. They were a little too close for my comfort, but Raini didn’t seem to mind. We took pictures of them for half an hour or more by ourselves. The park was much less crowded and trafficky since today was a weekday. For a few minutes we felt alone in this natural wonder, probably a rare feeling in the uber popular Yosemite.
Eventually we were spotted by tourists and they pulled over as well to take pictures of the deer. There is nothing that screams tourist more than watching teenage girls taking a group selfie with deer as background. Within a few minutes, a large bus also saw what was happening, stopped near the deer and scared them off. It was fun while it lasted. We got into the car, back to Yosemite Village, still in search of breakfast.
We arrived at the Ahwahnee hotel. I saw several places that called themselves lodges at Yosemite, but the Ahwahnee was closest to one of those grand wilderness lodges with big fireplaces and vault-like ceilings. I don’t even want to know what it costs to stay a night there. They also have a large dining room, which has a dress code for dinner. For breakfast however, it is casual ware and reservations are not needed. They provide a $13 continental buffet (pastries and fruits) and a full breakfast buffet for $25. It was definitely a treat and I recommend doing it at least once during a Yosemite trip. The eggs benedict were really good. Nothing hits the spot like really good homemade OJ. We had a window view with a field of snow outside.
Afterwards I hit the restroom. Nothing memorable about the restroom … at least that I saw … We went through the back exit of the hotel, and got some nice shots of a lit up orange leafed tree. I was slightly impatient, waiting for a couple to get out of my shot so I could get a picture of the tree, fiddling with my camera settings. Raini on the other hand got a perfect shot of the couple holding hands next to the tree … figures.
As we got back in the car, she asked out of nowhere about the name of an actor, in a movie we saw titled “This Is The End”. “James Franco,” I replied, “what about him?” She says “You know when you went to the restroom, you had to go around someone … well that was him.” Incredulous that I missed him, I of course asked was she positive. She said she wasn’t sure at first. It looked like him, but then he spoke and she recognized his voice. He was even talking about a movie he was in, telling his two fiends what it really was about. Now Raini has her head on straight better than anyone I know, but still some small part of me doubted her, not much mind you. I admit to myself that my small doubt was mostly for my own benefit, so I didn’t have to believe I missed something like that. But of course, I was very wrong. A little googling later proved that: “James Franco to release the movie ‘Yosemite’ in 2014.”
We finally got down to the business of picture taking, stopping at points the ranger highlighted on the map from the day before. We hit a lot of bridges and streams that day, including Pohono Bridge and Sentinel Bridge. Sentinel Bridge is where Ansel Adams took one of his famous shots of Half Dome reflected in the Merced River. I got my own version of this shot. We then drove up to the Tunnel View Point, where one can see the entire valley, truly breath taking.
We had enough time to take two short hikes. One was to Bridalveil Falls, with the entire hike being less than half a mile for the full trip around. Raini being Raini, scrambled up some of the rocks near the falls. Since it was so dry, the falls looked like water from a garden hose, with most of the water misting before hitting the ground. We then went on the lower Yosemite Falls hike, approximately a mile round trip. Both trails were paved and had little elevation gain. We spotted a few more deer in the distance on the trail. The Lower Yosemite Falls trail provided a slightly better waterfall for photographing.
We ate dinner in Camp Curry where they had a pizza cafeteria. The prices for the custom pizzas seemed a little expensive but reasonable and certainly tasted great. The ride back to our hotel was mostly uneventful. We spotted a coyote, which was probably the largest and fullest one I had ever seen. (I lived in the desert for 25 years). Raini mentioned they must have grown thicker coats for the winter. We again had hot cocoa before it was off to dreamland.