Dick's Adventures of 2021 - Part 3

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Adventures of 2016         Adventures of 2017          Adventures of 2018

Adventures of 2019          Adventures of 2020          2021 Part 1          2021 Part 2

Family Weekend at Wawona          Rancheria Falls
Family Weekend at Wawona

Like a number of our family outings, this one was scheduled then canceled before it finally happened. We had reservations at The Redwoods in Yosemite for May 2020, then along came Covid and the park was closed to all but residents. I decided to take another approach, looked on the Airbnb web site, found a cabin in Wawona with room for ten people overlooking the South Fork of the Merced River, and booked it for May 6 - 9, 2021 

Vacation cabin life has become a family habit, starting in 2018 when we stayed at Camp Four and a Half Cabin on the upper Kings River. That was also our second try at that location, our 2017 reservation having been canceled due to heavy storms that damaged the dirt road. We returned to the cabin in 2019, and booked a trip in 2020 that also lost out to the pandemic. 

At this point I decided we needed to find a place that was convenient for my younger daughter who lives in Oakhurst, the Kings canyon location being too far for an overnight stay, and focused on Wawona, about four miles from the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park and about 20 miles from Jennifer's place.

This brings us to the present day, and a weekend that was everything we hoped and more. Since we had nine people coming from five different households in four cities, we did our usual back and forth emailing to plan food and discuss arrival times. On Day 1, a Thursday, my daughter Teri and her mother Jackie drove up from Fresno early in the day and I followed an hour or so later from Clovis. Since we could not check in until 3 p.m., they passed the time looking at the history center, the covered bridge, and enjoying the trees and cool weather around the Wawona store.

When I arrived we drove up the road on the south side of the river and hiked the short trail to the Swinging Bridge, where we had all been several times previously. In fact, Jackie was there a week earlier, and said that the river was now running a little bit higher. The bridge trail is virtually level, and continues up and down stream on rhe north side after you cross the bridge. We ended our hike at the bridge and returned to the trailhead. We sat in our lawn chairs in the shade until it was time to check in, then drove back to the highway and up Chilnualna Falls Road on the north side of the river. The cabin is about a quarter mile off this road, with a couple of turns that were clearly described in the directions.

Teri and I had looked at the outside of the cabin when we were in the area in December, but we could not see what a great place it was until we got inside. Large windows along two sides of the living room/dining area give a long view of the river. There are two large decks outside, plus a small one off the upstairs bedroom and one half-way down for the hot tub. Stairs go up or down from every deck, and all have river views.

There are two bedrooms, each with a king size bed, and another room with six bunk beds, room for all of our party of nine. Big screen TVs in each bedroom and the living room, a wood stove, barbecue, modern kitchen and many other features made it an excellent place for our annual family weekend.

The front of River View Cabin One of our several views of the river

Of course, not everything was perfect. Only three cars are allowed, while we had six part of the time. There was no mention of this on the web site; we learned it only when we read the rule book, a plain binder sitting on a cabinet in the cabin. We had to shuffle vehicles and ferry people back and forth between the cabin and "downtown" Wawona, where there was a large parking lot.

Nosy neighbors or someone complained to the owner that we had "way more than nine people," which was either a lie or the result of insufficient brain development. No one came into the cabin and counted heads, but if they had they would have seen eight overnight Friday and nine for half of Saturday, the exact number we booked for.

These minor glitches aside, the weekend was a delight from start to finish, and everyone was impressed with the facility and the location.

On Thursday, Teri, Jackie and I enjoyed a spaghetti dinner that I had prepared at home and just had to warm up, with salad and bread that they provided. After dinner Jackie and I walked over to the Pine Tree Market on Chilnualna Falls Road, to see how late it was open, and to see how much effort would be required if we had to park some of our cars there. During our walk we saw three deer. The rest of the evening included reading and conversation, and looking forward to the arrival of the rest of our party the next two days. Teri got caught up reading a book that I had brought about logging in the area and stayed up about 90 minutes past her normal bedtime.

Too many cars Snow, not far above the river

Daughter Jennifer arrived in mid-morning on Friday, and after getting her stuff into the cabin, we decided to hike to Chilnualna Falls. The trailhead parking lot is about a mile or so up the road, and was filling up quickly as we arrived. This is not a single waterfall, but instead a series of cascades and drops of varying height. There are three cascades or five, depending on which website you read. The round trip hike to the farthest fall is about eight miles, not on our radar now or any time in the future. Teri and I backpacked to an upper part of the falls in September, 1980, when we were both much younger. For our purposes in the 21st century, a steep quarter mile hike took us to a nice drop, with a lot of cascades partially visible above and below.

Along the way we spotted some lupines and a few other late wildflowers, but the falls was the highlight. I have visited this spot in recent years, once when the water was flowing fairly good and once when it was barely a trickle. This was the best flow I have ever seen, and we all enjoyed this outing.

Lupines along the Chilnualna Falls Trail Chilnualna Falls

Late that afternoon most of the rest of our party arrived - my grandson Johnny with his boys Colton and Jack, and grandson Mikie right behind him. Johnny's wife Brittany would join us the following day.

The boys immediately began exploring the cabin, and were delighted with the multiple decks and stairs. They insisted on giving their father a tour, although he had actually seen much of it while they were in another area.

Behind the cabin there were rough concrete steps down to the river, although none of the early arrivals thought this route looked safe. We found that we could go down from the street through a drainage, and get to the river along a rough dirt road, and the boys and Johnny soon got out their fishing gear and went to the river. I admit that things got so lively after the arrival of two young boys that I can't recall everything we did, or exactly when we did it. I do know that Jackie had brought lasagna which she fixed for dinner, and everyone enjoyed it.

Jack and Colton had recently discovered a modern version of the Little Rascals, so I brought my DVDs of the originals, produced from 1922 through 1944, and we watched one of these short features in the evening. Of course, the entire crew enjoyed this.

Once it got dark, most of the group decided to try the hot tub, which was ready to use and kept them busy till late into the evening. Teri and Jennifer both have to get up very early, and usually go to be around 7:30. I try to get to bed between 9:30 and 10, and everyone else falls somewhere in between. So we all stayed up late or very late, getting settled down for the night well after 11 p.m.

Sketchy steps down to the river Jack in a peaceful and scenic setting

On Saturday morning everyone walked down to the river, in two or three separate groups. I was last, and walked along the stream for a ways before I saw Jackie and Jennifer coming back downstream. While swimming in the river was promoted as one of the "amenities" of the cabin, no one wanted to venture into that rushing stream of recently melted snow.

Jackie and Jennifer on their morning hike The cabin from down by the river

The Upshaw's had just acquired a new puppy, so Brittany stayed home to baby sit, coming up for the day on Saturday. When it got close to the time she was expected, most of us went to the nearby elementary school, where the boys made up for missing their Saturday baseball games at home.

Now came the comedy of errors which seems to plague us from time to time. Johnny and Brittany were exchanging texts, during which she said she was waiting at the park entrance, about five miles from where we were. Johnny texted back, telling her to stop at the school.

Time passed with no Brittany, at which time Johnny realized that the texts had been delayed and were about 20 minutes behind real time. Mikie and I returned to the cabin while Johnny, Teri and the boys continued to wait. Eventually they drove to the highway to watch for her. Meanwhile, Mikie and I found her relaxing in the cabin, chatting with Jackie.

Eventually we got everyone together at the cabin, and after saying goodbye to Jennifer, most of the group drove up to the Chilnualna trailhead, with Jackie and I staying behind. They enjoyed the falls, going a little farther up the trail than we had done the day before. Back at the trailhead, they drove past it and down to a bridge across Chilnualna Creek. At the end of this road was another trailhead for the Swinging Bridge, slightly longer than the one on the south side. The boys had been to the bridge with Teri and me but enjoyed the trip with their parents and Uncle Mikie, along with Grandma Teri.

Colton at the bat Jack's ready to handle a hot grounder
The Saturday hiking crew Johnny Upshaw and sons

Once the hikers returned, Johnny started fixing dinner, taking advantage of the barbecue on the patio. After we had enjoyed a third excellent dinner, the Upshaw's packed up to head for home, leaving Mikie, Jackie, Teri and me to finish out the weekend. None of us stayed up as late as we had the night before, with Mikie being the last to turn in.

We had to be out by 9 a.m. Sunday, so we didn't do anything but eat breakfast and gather up our stuff. We ran the dishwasher and emptied it, and took the trash with us as required, but routine clean-up was provided by the cabin owner (we had to sweep and mop the Kings River Cabin along with all other domestic duties).

Over the next week or so we had a discussion about next year's outing - Wawona or Kings River. Finally I realized there was no reason we could not do both, so watch this space for more cabin news.

Friday night dinner - clockwise from left front: Mikie,
Jackie, Teri, Jennifer, Dick, Jack, Colton and Johnny
Jack and Teri in an intense card game

Final comments:

Apparently the people naming roads in Wawona are short on imagination. On our trip we drove on Chilnualna Falls Road, Yosemite Pines Road, Yosemite Avenue, and Chilnualna Lane. Of course, there are many other small roads off the Falls Road - there are literally dozens of cabins, most for rent when not in use by the owners. Some are available through The Redwoods at Yosemite, and most others through Airbnb.

In February a massive wind storm (Mono winds) blew through the Sierra, breaking off dozens of trees, many of which fell on buildings and cars. There were a couple of cabins near us with damage, but fortunately our place was spared. On the way home I took this photo of a building at Westfall Ranger Station that was badly damaged. Tree removal work along the road between the entrance and Wawona caused delays of about 15 minutes each way as we arrived and departed.

--Dick Estel, May 2021

More Photos

Rancheria Falls

It looks like this was my eighth hike to Rancheria Falls, beginning with The Ramblers in 2016. My companion this time was Jackie Taggart, my daughters' mother and my former wife. We had enjoyed seeing Chilnualna Falls at Wawona earlier in the month, and felt the need for more waterfalls. So on May 24 we drove in  my pickup on Auberry Road and Highway 168 to Huntington Lake, elevation 7,000 feet and nearly 70 miles from home, to Rancheria Falls.

At the top of 10-mile four-lane section of the highway, we began to see the devastation that had been caused by the Creek Fire, California's largest ever single incident wildfire. On the last few miles before Shaver Lake, what had been a tree-lined road was now a winding and somewhat scary route along the side of the mountain, with views down into the steep canyon on our left.

However, the town of Shaver Lake had escaped any damage, and there are sections of the forest that are still nice and green. Most of the way to Huntington Lake is not burned, and around that lake everything is mostly normal.

This was certainly true along the one mile dirt road in to the trailhead, and on the trail itself. There were a few wildflowers, and because of a brief late-season storm, patches of snow.

Yellow violets lined both sides of the trail in this sunny spot We saw snow patches all along the upper half of the trail

It was about sixty degrees, with a few wispy clouds in the blue sky, and magnificent tall red fir trees all along the way. Actually they weren't all tall - we saw one that had been bent over by the weight of snow, but had started a new leader back up toward the sky.

Evergreens frame a single tiny cloud Nature will not be stopped!

Of course, the best scenery is always the falls. Rancheria Falls runs over a cliff in a large almost vertical drop and down a number of cascades above and below. Although the water was perhaps the lowest I've seen it, the falls is so well "designed" that it is impressive at low water or high. The first view of the falls is framed through a couple of big red firs. Then there is a place where you can stand or sit comfortably and enjoy an unobstructed view of the falls. A few adventurous hikers had made their way down close to the bottom of the falls - a location that would be dangerous if the cascades were at full force.

First view of the falls Rancheria Falls

We enjoyed a light snack while gazing at what I think is one of the best waterfalls outside of Yosemite, then started back down the trail. When we first arrived there was no one else in the parking lot. A couple was hiking out, having decided not to chance the rough road with their rental car. However, we met or were passed by probably 20 other hikers once we got close to the falls, and while hiking back out.

Driving back down the mountain, we stopped at the Pizza Factory in Prather, and enjoyed eating inside a restaurant - not the first, but probably the third time since the beginning of the big shut-down in March of 2020.

Although we had both been to the falls before, we agreed it's worth an annual visit, even in years with low rainfall. Hopefully we will enjoy a wetter winter next year.

--Dick Estel, June 2021

More Photos



Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window)


Wawona Weekend          Rancheria Falls


Weekend at Wawona
(Photos by Brittany, Johnny and Dick)

Newly sprouted plant along the falls trail Sunlight shines through black oak leaves  Jack in a contemplative mood
Mikie The South Fork of the Merced River Johnny, Jennifer, Colton and Teri at the school
Brittany, Colton and Jack The Saturday Hikers We enjoyed watching this fuzzy visitor
Rancheria Falls
(Photos by Jackie and Dick)
Despite the frequent patches of
snow, the weather was warm
Jackie at the viewing area Dick and the falls
The falls and cascades below Visitors brave the mist at the base of the falls Cascade below the falls
Related Links
South Fork of the Merced River Yosemite National Park Chilnualna Falls
Chilnualna Falls Trail Chilnualna Falls Trailhead Wawona
Airbnb Mono Winds Chilnualna Falls Video
Rancheria Falls Trail Rancheria Falls Rancheria Falls Video







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Updated June 6, 2021