Yosemite New Year: A Retrospective

You don’t expect to remember much about an 8-hour road trip when you’ve gone 3 days on about 3 hours of sleep. On New Year’s Day of 2017, I found myself navigating the twisted freeway system of Los Angeles, traffic so light you might have thought the apocalypse had occurred at midnight. My husband and 2 boys — enjoying the luxury of sleep that had evaded me the past few nights — were of no help in keeping me awake, my eyes fighting to stay open, only the adrenaline of driving the southern California roads keeping me alert. 

I had taken the wheel in San Juan Capistrano, after the hour from Coronado proved to be too much for my husband, who also had gotten very little sleep. Every time I’d look over at him, his eyes were closed. Not a good sign for someone who’s supposed to be driving the car. So we pulled off for coffee, and I insisted I drive for a bit so he could rest. I had no idea how I was going to do it either, and in hind sight, we probably should have stayed in bed a little longer that morning. But we had 8 hours ahead of us, and no one wants to navigate the roads to Yosemite in the dark. 

We had been in Coronado for my brother’s retirement as a Navy fighter pilot of nearly 25 years. It was an incredible few days with family not seen in years, late nights celebrating, and a whirlwind of activity. For some reason, we’d decided to stop in Yosemite on our way home to Southern Oregon, and why we chose to leave New Year’s Day, only a few hours after having rung it in, I can’t tell you. I guess we wanted to be in Yosemite on the first day of the year. But as I willed my body to focus on the road ahead of me, I had no idea why we thought it was a such a great idea.

In my mind I can still see the emptiness of the consistently congested interchange— where the 405 and the 210 converge, how the incline of the 5 seems to forget it’s in Los Angeles at all as it ascends toward the grapevine, which on this particular day was covered in snow. Snow in Southern California. I found myself alone in a car full of sleeping humans, in awe at the solitude I felt in what should have been one of the busiest cities in the world. 

We were fortunate to stay in a beautiful home rental outside Yosemite, and while we made it before dark, the lack of snow didn’t seem to make it nearly as warranted. But it afforded me a sleep that felt like 12 years, and the next day, we headed to the park entrance to view all its wintery splendor.

As we waited in line to get into the park, the snow was filling the roads faster than we were moving. By the time we had navigated our way through the mess of poor drivers sliding all over the place and gotten our own chains on, it was nearly lunch time. Yet all the frustration of delays seemed to melt as soon as we came through the tunnel to see the valley of Yosemite on the other side. 

It was a day spent seeing frozen waterfalls, throwing a football in snowy fields, capturing moments of snowfall over icy rivers, drinking $20 cocktails in the Lodge bar, witnessing the bright orange glow of sunset on El Capitan, and driving back to the warmth of our little cottage in the dark as my kids discovered just how satisfying a Round Table pizza could be, and how to play the game of shuffleboard.

On January 3, we didn’t expect the rest of the drive home to be anywhere near as eventful as the previous week had been. And perhaps had we gotten on the road an hour earlier, it may not have been. But the snow wasn’t done yet, and as we approached Redding we knew we were in for a long slow trip through the Siskiyou passes. The traffic of trucks trying to chain up and CalTrans forcing everyone into one lane turned a one hour stretch of travel into three. Eventually we had to get gas, so we pulled off through 3 feet of snow in Weed. Under normal circumstances, we were only 2 hours from home.

But this was far as we were going to get this night. Luckily we were able to get a suite big enough for the four of us at the Comfort Inn. We managed to make our way to the Hi-Lo Cafe for what felt like the most perfect dinner of comfort food we could have possibly imagined at that point. And the rest of the evening we spent playing Star Wars Trivial Pursuit in our room, sipping booze from plastic cups.

The Rogue Valley had gotten more snow than it had in years. After breakfast once more at our new favorite diner, the Hi-Lo Cafe, we crossed into Oregon the next morning, the skies clearest blue and bright from the snow reflecting the sunlight. The roads were cleared and we were home in no time. There was no better feeling at that moment than my bathtub and my own bed. But what a memorable New Year’s it had been.

Hygge & HavnJulie Kanta