Get Out of Town! - Wishing for a Winter Wonderland in Wawona
December, 2006 - Issue #26
The granite face above Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley.
The granite face above Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley.
Every few years my side of the family gets a yen to celebrate a white Christmas. Nana, Papa, Mom, Dad, April and I traditionally head for the north shore of Lake Tahoe and rent a house for a week.

Three years ago we decided we'd had enough of sunshine and 80-degree temps on Christmas morn and it was time to find a winter wonderland. But we had a small problem. My grandmother's cardiologist said she had to stay below 5,000 feet of elevation. Since Nana was lugging around an oxygen tank at the time, everyone felt it was best to heed her doctor's advice.

I was tasked with finding a location as close to 5,000 feet as possible that might have a chance of getting snow. Fortunately, April and I had visited Yosemite that summer. I remembered parts of the park being within our limitations, so I did some research to see what options we might have.

Turns out we had plenty, thanks to The Redwoods in Yosemite, a collection of more than 100 private vacation homes near Wawona, which is just six miles from the park's southern entrance and sits at 4,000 feet. The homes range from barebones basic to super-luxurious. We went with a three-bedroom, two-bath single level cabin with a huge stone fireplace and wrap-around deck that had a barbecue.

There was no snow to be found when we arrived but everyone remained optimistic. The air was crisp and the forecast called for a storm to arrive later in the week. We settled in to our comfortable abode and passed our time watching movies, reading books, stoking the fireplace, eating, napping, feeding deer and talking up Santa's impending arrival to then-18-month-old Laurel.

Yosemite is a noted bear hangout but you're much more likely to see deer. Especially if you stand out on the deck with a bag of carrot and celery sticks. My dad is one reason why park rangers post signs admonishing visitors against feeding the animals. But hey, we didn't see any signs in front of our cabin. By the end of the week, the deer would appear nearly on cue expecting their handouts. I'm not sure how they made it through the remainder of the winter after Dad's departure.

The fireplace became more than pleasant backdrop one morning when the power went out. And the barbecue on the deck suddenly went from a summertime weenie roaster to a December breakfast cooker. With a little ingenuity, you can whip up scrambled eggs on the grill, as Dad and I deftly proved.

The South Fork of the Merced River at Wawona.
The South Fork of the Merced River at Wawona.
We awoke Christmas morning to find low cloud cover hanging over Wawona. Dad donned a remarkably realistic Santa suit then climbed out a bedroom window and made his way around to the front door so he wouldn't be seen by Laurel. She was wide-eyed when he made his grand entrance. But Santa didn't stay long. He was soon sweating underneath the furry pants, coat and pillow, despite the chilly outside temperature.

After Dad's quick costume change, we sat down in front of the tree. According to tradition, Mom and Nana distributed stockings. Before we had a chance to see what Santa left us, someone looked out the wide living room windows and saw the first flakes of falling snow.

We all stopped and watched as the first lazy flakes gave way to a falling white curtain. The snow fell all day and through the evening. Dad, April and I went for a long walk in the afternoon, seeing what had been a familiar landscape take on an entirely different persona.

The next day, April and I drove to Yosemite Valley. We walked out to Mirror Lake and had the place largely to ourselves. The snow had stopped falling but it remained where it had fallen, undisturbed by wind, rain or sun.

I don't really remember what presents were under the tree that year, but the gift of a white Christmas is one I'll never forget.


Eric Harnish is a Newhall resident.

The Redwoods in Yosemite can be reached by calling 209-375-666 or visit
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