Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Way Down Upon the Ahwahnee

For many years I have dreamed of staying at the Ahwahnee Hotel at Yosemite.  When MCA was my client and it owned Yosemite Park and Curry Company, the former concessionaire of the Ahwahnee,  I was frequently told that it was difficult, nay impossible, to get a reservation at the Hotel unless you had pull and money.  I had little of either at the time so I tucked the dream away for another day.

Last year, when we came to Yosemite in June 2010 after my chemotherapy ended, we wound up eating at the Ahwahnee Hotel for lunch a few times.  At that point we hatched our plot to bring our entire family to Yosemite the following June for a wilderness vacation.  I got onto the current concessionaire's, DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, website, to discover that my husband and I could stay at the Ahwahnee for an exorbitant price that we could afford (sort of) if I got a bonus this year and I did not want to plan to have any money in the future!

One year later I am sitting here as I type this entry on the Ahwahnee grounds in a cottage completed in 1927. From the cottage and the hotel we enjoy fabulous views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, the Merced River and Glacier Point.  Everything is wonderful -- except for the people.  Yosemite Valley has record water flow this year which has yielded record crowds.  Today, after raining last night and this morning,  hordes of campers from Curry Village and other campsites have poured in the Ahwahnee for shelter and food.  And the Merced flooded in Housekeeping Camp so people are displaced from their lodging.  Where are they going?  Apparently also to the Ahwahnee.  The valet parking was 50 cars deep at lunchtime as we waited for friends to meet us at the Ahwahnee Bar.

It is crowded all over Yosemite Valley with traffic jams reminiscent of the 405 at home.  The hybrid buses that you are encouraged to take to cut down on pollution in the park are crammed with people, some of whom have not showered for a while.  It makes the buses of cities at rush hour seem desirable.

At breakfast the other day, the person at the next table loudly exhorted people at his table, whom he apparently had just met, to have a wonderful time in Yosemite, which is a "piece of heaven on earth".  The man to whom he made this comment got angry and offended, replying that it was sacrilege to compare anything on earth to heaven.  My thought was to wonder whether there would be as many crowds in heaven.

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." John Muir
Today, John Muir, it would be tens of thousands, all piled in the small area of the Yosemite Valley.  But even with the crowds, this place is magical and eye opening, both for its natural beauty and its history.

You can read about the history of the Ahwahnee here and here.  The hotel opened in 1927 as a place of decorum for a certain type of traveler.  One of the people working here told us this morning, as we sat in the Mural Room off the Grand Lounge, that the original application to work for the Curry Company at the Ahwahnee told people if they could not smile for ten hours straight, no need to apply.  Another story I like about the Ahwahnee is the following report (whether it's true I do not know given that other parts of this source blog were challenged in the blog's comments):
Prior to the availability of condenser units, at the beginning of each winter, the hotel staff would go out to Mirror Lake (about 1.5 miles away) and cut 500 pound (225 kg) blocks of ice from the frozen lake. These blocks would be hauled back to the hotel and stored under straw and sawdust. When the refrigerators needed "refilling", the blocks were lifted by a winch and slid into these doorways situated above each chamber. Each of these doorways led to compartments big enough for ten 500-pound blocks of ice.
Ahwahnee Hotel in the past

Ahwahnee Hotel today

Grand Lobby is behind pillars

Another view of Ahwahnee

Cottage at Ahwahnee

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