by Thomas U. Tuttle
It was 95 degrees and humid when I picked up my rented BMW touring motorcycle from the shop just outside Sacramento, California. The bike was equipped with a couple of saddle cases in which to consolidate my gear and various travel supplies. It felt big and strong, and after a quick test ride in the sizable parking lot, along with reviewing the route toward Yosemite National Park, I was on my way.
Yes, Yosemite was my destination, and my long cruise was underway. I took route 16 toward Sutter Creek and “Gold Country” (2% of all the gold in the world was mined within a 15 mile radius of that town), rolling onto the backroads whenever possible (routes 49, 108 and 4 all big fun on the bike – and by car, certainly).
Incredibly despite the heat and arid conditions, much of this region is wine country, with water plentiful this year given a huge 2016-17 snowfall that broke a serious drought and replenished the numerous rivers and reservoirs lubricating the land. Constant sunshine illuminated the rolling landscape, and the zen of motorcycle riding was in full force.
There was a street dance in the small, historic mining town of Amador City, with talented local musicians bringing the people out to the street for dancing, laughter and beverages. Sutter Creek, a few miles away by a historic road, has transitioned fully into a tourist haven with plenty of antique stores and no less than 12 wine tasting rooms. Beautiful, fun town – but bring your wallet!
My bike was outstanding, but was considerably bigger than my Harley Davidson Dyna Wide Glide on which I enjoy cruising Minnesota’s Land of 10,000 Lakes. While straddling the jumbo bike my feet were unable to rest flat-footed in the ground, given how deceptively high the seat was positioned – very different from my low-slung Harley. While I’m naturally very aware of my surroundings at all times, rolling with the heavy 1600cc’s kept me on my toes – literally!
Of course, with the quiet, powerful BMW engine revving nicely, straight line riding was a dream – and getting the hang of the terrains many curves was seriously enjoyable!
Eventually the push was on for Yosemite, via route 120 (one of three entrances to the park), generally set up to serve visitors coming from the general directions of San Francisco, Los Angeles or Sacramento – with SAC considered the best, I’d been told, with less traffic and an easy entrance. Nice ride past ancient Chinese Camp (yes, outpost for labor from Asia in the mid-1800’s – PC has not created a name change yet) with switchbacks leading to significant gains in altitude and attitude. The Sierra Nevada range looming in three directions.
After paying a few dollars to enter the park and receive maps and other information (motorcycle was $25, other vehicles pay different rates, check online), it was a beautiful 15-20 mile up-and-down cruise to Yosemite Valley – the place where numerous campgrounds, park shuttles, ranger outposts, traffic and general busyness rule.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that while riding into this stunning environment, I suddenly encountered orange barrels, cones, and road construction crews hard at work. One hour delay. Just chill out, have a sandwich and exhibit my famous patience…Ha!
Let’s hope the National Park Service has a better plan than the Twin Cities.
Eventually, I made my way to the Glacier Point Road – my destination and the beginning of a thirty mile route to glorious views of Yosemite’s immortal sites, such as Half Dome, El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite Falls – and much more.
It’s always sunny in this part of the world during the summer (98% of daily available sunshine) so the spectacular views are guaranteed. Many descriptive words can be used to relate the magnificence of looking directly at these icons of America, with stunning being just one of them. The beauty is beyond words, and the extraordinary hiking trails available takes one to different vantage points off Glacier Point (generally strenuous but very doable hikes).
The next time that I visit, it’s going to be before Memorial Day or just after Labor Day. The waterfalls were still going strong during my visit due to the continuing snowmelt – a summer plus. But it’s the crowds that could be avoided by visiting at another time. Put simply, the place can get very crowded – and feels that way.
A Ranger told me that 3.5 of the parks four million average annual visitors arrive between those two national holidays. 2016 brought nearly five million people, so for me the congestion solution is clear – I’ll be back next late spring!
And it will be on a motorcycle. The BMW and I made friends during the course of my journey, and I’m going to ride it back. One night on the mountain and two days of hiking were not enough. It’s easy to see why Abraham Lincoln set aside Yosemite land during his tenure, why John Muir worked his entire life to expand Yosemite to its nearly one-million acres, and why legendary photographer Ansel Adams had a hard time leaving once he arrived.
Yellowstone was our first designated National Park and is magnificent, but there is indeed something about the grandeur of Yosemite. Maybe it’s the size and the scope and the immediacy of it when viewed from the valley floor, as well as the outer reaches such as Glacier Point.
Breathtaking and Majestic, no two ways about it.