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Yosemite National Park, Postponed
November, 2020 - Issue #194
courtesy of Shutterstock
courtesy of Shutterstock

This year was, of course, the one where vacations didn't go according to plan. That looked different for everyone, depending on how pandemic restrictions and closures affected your destination.
For us, it meant postponing our entry into Yosemite National Park by a day. We had permits to hike Half Dome on a Sunday, so we planned to arrive a day prior and relax in Yosemite Valley. But that extra day required a separate permit, which proved to be 2020's version of the Wonka Golden Ticket.
So, we did what we should have done years ago: slow down and explore the areas surrounding Yosemite, rather than accelerating past them in our quest to reach the valley.
I didn't come to that realization willingly, however. Even without permits, I still drove to the south gate on Highway 41 and tried to talk our way in. After the ranger gave us a polite but firm "no," we made a U-turn back toward Oakhurst and discussed, "Now what?"
Smokehouse 41 was the first stop in an afternoon of rambling and discovery made possible because things didn't go according to plan.
While barbecue is iffy given our family's culinary peculiarities, Smokehouse 41 pleased everyone. My aim was to sample as much as possible, so I ordered the Pit Master, a sandwich piled with brisket, pulled pork and sausage. Laurel went with the Dirty Frites - a heap of fries smothered in cheese sauce and topped with chipotle aioli and green onion. You can add meat, but she didn't. April opted for the 41 Baker, a smoked and salted sweet potato, topped with pulled pork, cheddar cheese, chipotle aioli and green onion.
After lunch, we headed to Yosemite Axe Throwing. Why? Because we were curious and we had time to explore. The indoor range was closed due to COVID, but the outdoor range was alive with the thump of flying steel embedding in wood.
Scoring is a lot like darts, with points awarded based on where the axe lands on the target, in this case a salvaged slab of Ponderosa pine or cedar with a bulls-eye colored in. It looks intimidating, but kids as young as 8 can throw. And, as the brochure says, "If you can throw a ball ... you can throw an axe."
From Oakhurst, we hit the road to our hotel in El Portal, near the park's western entrance. It was midafternoon and I was craving an iced coffee. As the highway wound through the tree-lined hills, a sign caught my eye - Mariposa Coffee Company.
"Across the highway, a placid stretch of the Merced River beckoned. We waded in from a sandy beach, and gingerly stepped across the rocky bottom to where it was deep enough to dunk under the COOL FLOW."
What I thought would be a quick stop turned into a leisurely conversation with owner Gerry Caputo, who says on his website, "Few things bring people closer together more simply and purely than a rich, aromatic cup of delicious coffee."
That was certainly true for us. While the store mostly sells beans, he took the time to make iced coffees for us brewed fresh from his Black Dragon blend. As we sat in the shade of the front porch, he told us his story of moving from the Bay Area after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, building his business and most recently, developing a tasty new ice cream mix.
We continued on down the road, arriving at Yosemite Cedar Lodge late in the afternoon, but with enough time to make one more discovery.
Across the highway, a placid stretch of the Merced River beckoned. We waded in from a sandy beach, and gingerly stepped across the rocky bottom to where it was deep enough to dunk under the cool flow.
It was the perfect refreshment after a long drive. And another reminder that even though the day didn't go according to plan, the journey really is the destination.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic.

Get Going!
Smokehouse 41 smokehouse41.com
Yosemite Axe Throwing yosemiteaxe.com
Mariposa Coffee Company mariposacoffeecompany.com
Yosemite Cedar Lodge stayyosemitecedarlodge.com
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