Time travel in Tuolumne County
by Jessica Pook | 01 August 2019
Between the wrap-around porches and old jailhouse, it isn’t difficult to imagine a time when cowboys sauntered through these streets and gold-panners frequented the streams, desperate for the tell-tale glisten of a nugget.
I stop at a sign that reads: ’Oldest Saloon in California’. It’s got a look of days-gone-by and you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t open, but the minute I walk in I’m catapulted back into the now with the help of an NBA (National Basket Ball) final between the local team, Golden State Warriors, and the Toronto Raptors. It’s a tense game and the place falls silent with the exception of a chorus of “Lets go Warriors!” I feel like I’ve entered a time warp.
Groveland, a tiny historical town in Tuolumne County, is a great alternative to staying in Yosemite National Park and the family-run Groveland Hotel, just a half hour drive from the park, offers historic lodgings and live music on Thursdays. Meanwhile, Sonora, another ‘living Gold-Rush town’ in the Sierra Nevada Foothills offers characterful hotels with plenty of charm - such as the Sonora Inn, which has hosted the likes of Grace Kelly and Drew Barrymore. A trip to the neighbouring ‘family-friendly’ Sportsman Bar proves a curious experience as punters are offered the chance to buy a beer and a gun, in that order.
The following day is spent exploring Yosemite National Park and the giant sequoia trees that have been rooted there for thousands of years. While Mariposa Grove is the largest and most popular in the park - home to tree 'characters' such as the Grizzly Giant, the Faithful Couple and The Bachelor and Three Graces - Tuolume Grove, near the west edge of the park, offers just as impressive trunks but is generally less busy so you can enjoy these majestic giants without the crowds.
Located on the northwest corner of Yosemite National Park, Hetch Hetchy Valley, a reservoir surrounded by rugged cliffs, offers another hidden gem away from the crowds. Hike the two-mile trail in the spring to enjoy the uninterrupted views of wild flowers and the Wapama and Tueeulala Falls that seem fit to burst thanks to the melting snow. The reserve provides a welcomed respite from the main park, which can become extremely busy during peak months.
Those that do venture into the heart of the national park will be rewarded with a natural oasis of scenic hikes, towering waterfalls and sheer cliff edges, most recently highlighted in the National Geographic documentary film Free Solo, which follows rock climber Alex Honnold on his quest to perform a climb of El Capitan without ropes – it’s not easy watching.
The view from the top of Glacier Point certainly commands your attention. With panoramic vistas of the park, it’s worth the half-hour drive to get to. The drama of Half Dome, with its distinct stone face looming and the pounding Yosemite Falls, leaves me questioning if they are actually real. It takes a closer inspection, and a thorough drenching, to convince me otherwise.
For a truly unique experience, visit the park during the last two weeks of February when the seasonal Horsetail Fall flows from El Capitan. For a few evenings each year visitors are treated to a ‘firefall,’ a spectacular lava effect created by the low sun as it reflects off the cascading water.
While I may have visited too late to see this particular natural wonder, I’ve managed to time my trip perfectly for bear spotting season, and sure enough, just before leaving the park I'm treated to the sight of a black bear grazing on the meadow, no doubt ravenous after a long winter hibernation.
Having arrived in California via a very modern L.A., it's the old charm of the Gold Rush towns and the natural allure of Yosemite National Park which has me captivated with the Golden State.
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