Friday, July 13, 2012



  I am going to take you to an often overlooked section of Yosemite National Park, the Pioneer History Center in Wawona.  Wawona is usually accessed upon entering the park from the South entrance, but can be reached from the valley as well.  This site is where the people instrumental in building the park are honored.  While their stories are not well known their efforts, experiences, and issues faced during the establishment of the national park need to be recognized.

     The PYNC is NOT a village, but a gathering of eight historic structures representing different eras in Yosemite's history.  These buildings were moved here over 40 years ago from other parts of the park where they were constructed over 100 years ago in an effort to protect them.  Each structure represents a different chapter in the Yosemite story.

      Why Wawona you ask? The covered bridge over the river is the only one in any of the national parks.  It was built in 1857 by Galen Clark who opened the first stop for visitors in Wawona.  Later, it was bought and covered by the Washburns.  In the late 1800's Wawona was the largest stage stop in Yosemite with all traffic having to stop here. 
     Once manned by costumed volunteers interpreting Yosemite's history on a daily basis, today visitors can take a self guided walk using the interpretive plaques in front of each of the buildings or join a guided history tour with a ranger.  Otherwise, the buildings are opened  annually on the Fourth of July.  So let's travel back in time to the days of the park's pioneers and learn some of Yosemite's history.

                              THE ARTISTS' STUDIO

     As early as the 1850's explorers, writers,tourists, and artists visited Yosemite and extolled its spectacular beauty far and wide.  It was they who brought to the public's attention the 30 foot wide trees and 1,000 foot waterfalls.  One such artist was Norwegian Chrstian Jorgenson who came to Yosemite in 1898 and built a l room residence/studio in 1900 on the banks of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley which he and other artists used until 1935.  Some of his work is displayed in the Yosemite Museum in the valley.  Can you imagine a better place to paint?

                                GEORGE ANDERSON'S CABIN

     George Anderson, a Scottish sailor turned gold seeker, built a floorless, primitive house in the 1870's in Foresta where he resided in the winter.  Summers were spent in Yosemite Valley where he worked as a blacksmith.  When Half Dome was declared to be one of the only prominent points in Yosemite that would probably never be trodden by human foot In 1871 master trail builder John Conway and his sons were some of the first who took up the challenge.  Barefoot (can you imagine-you've seen Half Dome!!) they went up the east slope and drove spikes into fissures in the rock, tying rope around each pin for 200 feet.  Above this the had had no fissures unless they drilled so they quit.  Along came George who finished the trail by drilling his way all the way to the top inserting bolts 5-6 feet apart and fastening his rope to each.  He finished on October 12, 1875 then since everyone wanted to climb it he hired out as a guide.

                               THE HOMESTEAD CABIN

     Most of us know about the Homestead Act of 1862 which allowed any citizen to settle on land that belonged to the National government by claiming a plot of 160 acres or multiples thereof.  It required you to build on it, clear portions of it, and farm it.  After five years it would belong to you.  Without the homesteader Yosemite National Park would still be the domain of the sheepherder, cattleman, hunter, miner and trapper.  You would have only been able to see the valley by horse or mule back for many more years.  The homesteader built the first primitive trails, roads, took in guests, acted as guides, and spread the word of Yosemite's wonders.

     Our homesteader Jeremiah and Mary Kay Hodgdon came to California by covered wagon on the Oregon Trail in 1850. With he help of his son, Tom, they bought up failing homesteads accumulating over 160 acres at Hodgdon Meadows and 200 acres in Aspen Valley to be used for cattle grazing. In 1879 Tom built a two story log cabin and added a lean to kitchen in 1885.  But by this time John Muir was trying to convince Congress to establish Yosemite as a national park.  When that happened concerns over damage caused by cattle and sheep grazing in the high country to watershed and waterfalls prompted expanding the boundaries of the national park in 1890. Legal battles between residents and the government resulted in the end of the Hodgdon cattle business.  This cabin represents those disputes. The vacant cabin was used by soldiers as living quarters from 1891-1920.     

                                   THE BLACKSMITH

     Without the blacksmith all metal work wouldn't get done.  Most people think he only shoed horses but a blacksmith does it all including forging hooks or hinges for doors and gates, spits for fireplaces, wagon rims, or lid lifters for your stoves.  By 1900 many people made the trip here on horseback or horse drawn stage taking eight hours to go 25 miles from Wawona to Yosemite Valley.  A four horse stage changed horses four times in one trip-that's 16 horses-get the picture?  This man was VERY important.

                                 THE  CAVALRY OFFICE

     For 23 years from 1891-1914 U.S. Cavalry troops maintained and protected Yosemite.  They used soldiers because no extra money had to be appropriated.  In 1891 after a 250 mile road from the Presidio in San Francisco, Abram Epperson Wood and 150 soldiers set up headquarters along the South fork of the Merced River, now the Wawona Campground.  Problems they dealt with included miners who trespassed, hunters who depleted the game, campers who started fires, and ranchers who illegally grazed their stock.  The cavalry decided this was a plum assignment-wouldn't you?  They helped convince the public that preserving the park was in their best interest.  When earlier problems ended they built roads and trails, searched for lost tourists, fought forest fires, stocked fish, acted as guides, and kept the high country from being ruined


      During 1914 Civilian rangers who became part of the National Park Service when it was created two years later replaced the Army in managing and protecting the park.  Can you imagine the work load of 15 men (5 full time and 10 part time)most of whom were former Army scouts,replacing 150 Cavalry officers?  Their duties were made even more difficult by the fact that automobiles were now allowed to enter the park.  Buildings were built by the Cavalry for $150.98 in supplies and $685.36 for labor and were turned over to the park when they left.   They served three purposes: a checkpoint and patrol base for an important are of the park, a ranger may need one as a refuge when on long patrol (some were gone over 30 days), and as a refuge for tourists caught in a storm, falling ill on a trail, injured or lost.  It would be unlocked with a supply of firewood and a small supply of food staples all of which were to be replaced.  This particular cabin was located in Crane Flat , just south of the Tioga Road and Big Oak Flat Road junction, about 15 miles from the valley.  All cars were required to stop here for their tick of passage  $5. .  Rangers were paid $100 a month in salary, but they had a great outdoor life albeit primitive


  This is my favorite building because I portray Bridget Degnan who came to

 Yosemite from Ireland with her husband, John, and their baby in 1884.  John was a laborer and caretaker for the state administrators of the Yosemite Grant.  Their first Yosemite home was in one end of an abandoned barn in the valley where she took in an occasional border in an empty horse stall and sold an occasional loaf of Irish soda bread made in a Dutch oven placed under the coals of the fire which was her stove and kitchen.  Visitors in the park at that time had no where to stay or find food, so they would knock on her door.  After moving into a home she acquired a portable wood burning stove that enabled her to bake 50 loaves of bread at a time which she sold 2 for 25 cents.  Since both her business and her family were growing John built them a two story home in 1898 near where the chapel is today. in the valley.  This building in the center is the bakery that was attached to the rear of the house.

She turned her dining room into a restaurant to keep up with the increasing visitors and their demands.  In 1900 she commissioned an oven builder in San Francisco to make a fuel powered masonry and brick oven capable of baking 100 loaves at a time. The oven you see in the picture is that oven and measures 13'X13'X17 1/2".  She made 300-400 loaves of bread a day along with other baked goods.  Bridget was the first independent concessionaire in Yosemite and the family kept this concession until 1975 when the park demanded that they leave National Park land..


With news of Yosemite's beauty spreading, visitors needed transportation.  The stage coach connected the railroads which did not go beyond Raymond.  Yosemite Stage & Turnpike Co. owned by the Washburn brothers who also operated the Wawona Hotel was the only way to ride into the park from the south.  The Washburns built and owned many of the major roads.  They began running stages from Mariposa and Raymond in 1874, a 74 mile trip with 9 stops.  The first stage into the valley was in 1875.  20-40 drivers were employed earning $60 a month plus room and board and drove about 40 coaches sometimes 10-11 a day.  Passengers would stay on in Wawona and rest for the next 26 miles of their trip to the valley.  A stage from San Francisco to Yosemite would take 4 days and cost $80 without food.  Freight was hauled in heavy wagons with 20 mules pulling loaded with up to 5 tons.
    The Washburns obtained a Wells Fargo & Co. franchise in 1883.  This 24 sq ft building was built in 1910and included living quarters for the manager.  A telegraph was in use, a safe provided limited banking facilities and a telephone came in 1907.  The agent could buy, sell, store and ship gold.  Reservations for the hotel in the valley could be made here as well as travel arrangements.  In 1930 stagecoaches were replaced by motorbuses, but autos could only go as far as Wawona.

                     POWDERHOUSE AND JAIL

     The black powder and dynamite used in the routine state work in Yosemite Valley was kept in this stone building originally located in the old Upper Village in Yosemite Valley.  It was built by John Degnan and had 6" of sand in the ceiling for protection from fire.  Later the powder house was converted into a jail, but a very poor one.  In 1915 two young car thieves escaped by digging away the mortar between the rocks with a leg the twisted off the cot.  After that they embedded horseshoes in the floor for a chain base.  Sometimes this building also served as a morgue. 

     Our annual FOURTH OF JULY festivities are free (except for stage coach rides). .  The schedule is as follows:
         10-12 a.m.   All historical buildings are open for viewing.  Stage coach rides are available.

          12-2:00 p.m.  Closed for lunch

         2--2:30        Welcome in front of the Grey Barn, viewing of the stagecoach arrival, patriotic speeches
                             and patriotic songs are sung by the audience

         2:30-4:00 p.m.  Buckshot invites all to join in for the games: sac race, 3 legged race, egg toss, tug of

                              war and nail pounding.  These are grouped by ages icluding adults.

        4:00 p.m.    PYHC closed

        5-7:00 p.m.  Barbecue (fee) sponsored by the Wawona Hotel on the lawn in front of the hotel

        8-10:00 p.m.  Barn Dance in the grey barn (free) all ages welcome. Live band and caller.  Beginners
                           welcome-caller teaches the dances as you go with the help of volunteers. 

STAGECOACH RIDES  -Experience horse drawn travel with a 10 minute stage ride driven by a two horse team and "Buckshot". Tickets can be purchased in the Wells Fargo Stage office in the PYHC , $4 adults, $3 for children 3-12 ongoing Th,F,Sat, and Sundays 10-12:00  and 2-4:00 p.m.. All summer long.

Have I convinced you to stop by the Pioneer Yosemite History Center on your next visit to the park?  I hope so..... see you next Fourth!!!


Saturday, April 14, 2012


Sorry, this blog is way late in posting but the special I am writing about just came up again at 4/13/12. If you aren't subscribers to this website I wholeheartedly advise you to sign up ASAP. You will receive free weekly newsletters containing lots of great deals for getaways. BUT if you snooze you lose. Once the allotted quantity is sold, the deal is off.Check it out. Anyway, this is about the special that I took advantage of back in December.
Most of you know how much I LOVE Christmas and finding trips to put me in the holiday spirit. So this particular deal was for two nights for 2 at the Cambria Pines Lodge, , 800/966-6490. It included 2 dinner entrees and a bottle of house wine at Cambria Pines Lodge Restaurant, 2 daily breakfasts (an extensive buffet), wine tasting passes for 2 at 6 different wineries or tasting rooms, shopping discount coupons. Sunday-Thursday arrivals were $189 plus $14 tax. Weekends slightly higher at $229.
How does it work? Purchase your deal on line, get your confirmation number, and call the hotel with your date. We had no problem with availability, but we are retired so midweek is an option for us.

For those of you who don't know, Cambria's location is 240 miles north of Los Angeles via Hwy 101 to San Louis Obispo. Turn off there to Hwy 1. Amtrak does run to SLO where you could rent a car and continue on if you didn't want to the drive the whole distance. Additionally, it is 6 miles south of Hearst Castle, 33 miles sw of SLO, 13 miles from the Paso Robles wine country to the east, 15 miles north of Morro Bay, and 15 miles south of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse which overlooks a rare breeding ground for massive Elephant Seals seen from the bluffs. Cambria was originally built as a shipping center for lumber (think pine trees and ocean views), whaling, and mining. Today it is filled with specialty shops (no big chain stores here), art galleries, and restaurants. Right up my alley (the shopping and food part). Because of its location there are lots of activities close by like sea kayaking, hiking, beachcombing, wine tasting, etc. all of which would keep you busy if you didn't want to just veg out.
My road trip buddy, Kathy, and I loaded up the car and took off Sunday, December 11. While we resisted a stop at the Camarillo outlets along the way (waved to Chico's) we did opt for a breakfast stop in Solvang at my favorite eatery, Arnies-gotta love those abelskivers topped with powdered sugar and their fab raspberry jam! Can't beat $3.55 for 3 and you can watch them being made right in the window.
Each store along the streets of the town had decorated their own living Christmas tree outside its door and twinkle lights were everywhere-so Christmasy. Solvang wasn't crowded at all so even better. We did a little Christmas shopping , and then we were on the road again arriving in Cambria too early to check in.

Shopping is part of any girlfriend getaway and we are no exception. Cambria is divided into two parts-East Village and West Village. We meandered through some of Cambria's dozen art galleries, specialty shops, garden nurseries and antique shops over our two days, but today we began in West Village on Main Street. To name some our favorites we especially liked Mermaids admiring everything from an Italian chef sculpture to a polymer collage that Kathy had to have. We were impressed with Half Moon's great clothing selections and reasonable prices as well as its sister store down the street. Not to be missed ever is the fabulous Home Arts, 727 Main Street. Soooo cool for gifting items and home decor. When light showers started falling we headed to the hotel to check in.

The Cambria Pines Inn was built in 1927 by an eccentric European baroness who wanted her own personal resort near Hearst Castle. It included a large Main Lodge building surrounded by smaller "guest" facilities for visits from her European friends. After receiving an ultimatum from her husband calling for her return to Europe or live without him forever, she sold her Lodge to the Cambria Development Co. who used it as their HQ and added 31 log cabins. During the Great Depression it was the fashionable destination and a stop for Mr. Hearst's guests. Our room was a spacious junior suite in the Woodfern Building that included a fireplace and tv in the living room, a sitting area between the bedroom and living room, a side view of the Christmas trees that were part of the decorated grounds and in the rear a view of the herb garden. Bear in mind that the rooms are dated especially the bathroom and soundproofing was not optimum (ask for an upstairs room) , but very comfortable.
There are several especially good dining options in Cambria, so we chose my favorite,
Robin's in the East Village on Burton Drive. It is in a converted home surrounded by a well tended garden and on this particular rainy night very cozy with its blazing fireplace and decor. Their sister restaurant is in downtown SLO. Both are famous for their awesome salmon bisque soup with chunks of salmon, potatoes and other vegetables,, 805-927o-5007. The food is eclectic-pastas, Thair Curries etc. I chose the flat iron steak with Szechuan seasonings and veggies. Super yum. I also enjoy Wild Ginger, 2380 Main St, for Asian/Pacific Rim cuisine.,

After a leisurely breakfast the next morning we explored East village, especially Burton Street, about 2 blocks of unique shops. Our recommendations there include Sweet Offerings,, 4070 Burton Dr (enough candy and chocolates to satisfy any sweet tooth);

Olivers Twist, 4039 Burton Drive(fabulous serving pieces,gift items, Christmas/holiday decor at reasonable prices); Heart's East Herb Shop&Garden , another converted house with dried flowers, garden books and supplies and gift items. Just behind Robin's off of Burton Drive we fell in love with

GOWA (The Gallery of Wearable Art) at The Porte House (can't miss its brightly colored exterior)
and its sister store, Creative Arts, 4009 West Street, We got carried away with scarfs, button necklaces, ponchos, etc. The owner was making us some excellent deals. One really unique store was Cinnabar Rock Train at 4121 Burton Drive with its folk art and furnishings from exotic locales.
We also really loved the gallery, Moonstones, also on Burton.
There are over 30 wineries within an hour's drive from Cambria and coupons for some of these were included in our package.
Wanting to take advantage of at least one (we are such lightweights) we stopped at Fermentations, 4056 Burton Drive,, a small store featuring some lovely boutique wines, gourmet foods and unique gifts. We both found some choices that we probably would have overlooked. Had weather been permitting we would have continued on to Sculpterra, a winery and sculpture garden in Paso Robles, but there are only so many hours in a day.
We chose the second night for our hotel dinner. From prior experience I knew the restaurant would be good and our prime rib dinners with the included bottle of wine did not disappoint. After dinner we roamed the grounds with its beautiful Tunnel of Trees and garden areas all adorned with theme holiday lighting.
Many people come to Cambria for the Elephant Seal viewing . Birth and breeding season is at its peak inJanuary and February. For more information call 924-1628. Whale watching from Morro Bay begins in late December. Many options exist during your stay.
After you have explored the town head for Moonstone Beach, just west of Highway 1. There are many hotels lining the eastern edge of Moonstone Edge Drive. I have stayed at The Beach House Bed & Breakfast with their full ocean views and easy access to the boardwalk along the beach across the street and The Best Western Fireside Inn. The beachderives its name from the beautiful white, translucent stones found there (also called white agates). They are formed in the earth by the dripping of water through the ages, swept down the streams into the ocean to be tumbled and polished by the surf. The ancient Greeks believed the stone to arouse the most tender of passions and that it foretold the future, guiding the person making his decisions (if you are lucky enough to find one).
Sunset Magazine's recommended itinerary (May 2006 ) is as follows: Day 1-Stroll the beach, shop for art, eat some great olallieberry pie at Linn's Farmstore. Day 2-Take a hike, meet an elephant seal, shop for your garden. Day 3-Tour Hearst Castle and the Nitt Witt Ridge folk art castle (made of abalone shells and driftwood), dine, and savor a sunset. I personally find it takes two days just to shop and dine and explore the town alone.
If you go during the holiday season don't miss the Holiday Extravaganza at The Great American Melodrama, 1863 Front St, Oceano, 805-489-2499. It is a 3 part evening of their one of a kind Dickens'classic "A Christmas Carol" , a fractured fairy tale opera, and the music of the unique Holiday Vaudeville Revue. Check it out! Of course there are regular live performances there during the rest of the year also.
Our trip concluded after breakfast the next morning, but we know we'll be back!