Ziplinging at Yosemite

January 19, 2015

Exhibits in the Valley Visitor's Center in Yosemite Village bring the history of the place to life, from its American Indian origin to the 19th century, when schoolteachers David and Jennie Curry built the rustic Curry Village.

She won’t admit it, but my 12-year-old was trying hard to wear her brave face when it came to winter zip lining.

We were on our way from our usual Yosemite headquarters—the Evergreen Lodge, just outside Yosemite’s main gate off Highway 120 — down the western part of the valley, a beautiful drive that runs parallel to the Merced River exiting Yosemite Valley. The goal was Mariposa and a date with Yosemite Ziplines and Adventure Ranch.

I initially thought no one zip lines in winter—especially in the mountains. It sounded cold. My wife and I zip lined a few summers ago on Catalina. My 13-year-old zip lined in Mexico with her mother. It seemed like a warm weather ride that usually ends up on a beach somewhere.

Wrong. Put on a jacket and get your zip on.

The idea was to take my family of springtime Yosemite regulars to see what the world’s greatest national park is like in winter. Of course, we didn’t hike as much. We didn’t try to get wet near the waterfalls—many of which are spectacularly frozen in place. With the temperature hovering in the 20s and 30s, we did things we don’t normally do in spring—went ice skating (most scenic rink ever), checked out the visitor center and the Ansel Adams gallery and, of course, went zip lining.

The 6-year-old—who would probably try slinging a towel over a power line, if it meant a good ride—was still too young. But she watched her family do the two-hour, six-line course (not including the dual, side-by-side lines that allow zippers to race, which would technically make it seven).

But the 12-year-old—whom we’ll call Lorelei, because that’s her name—was a zip line newbie. She was being brave, but I could tell there was a little concern.

Yosemite Ziplines and Adventure Ranch was perfect. Situated on gorgeous, green rolling hills with amazing views of the valley beyond, the line tour has enough distance, speed and height to keep it interesting for the die-hards, but it’s great for first-timers, who find it easier to soar down gradual slopes and work their way from shorter to longer lines, rather than having to step off a cliff from the get-go.

And the elevation is perfect. As owner Bryan Imrie said, it’s below the snow line, but above the fog. And it’s gorgeous.

Lorelei was great—she felt safe and even raced her sister down the side-by-side twin zips, and she really benefitted from the help offered by our very professional and amusing guides (One stretch allowed riders to try dropping a beanbag into a box 50 feet below, with winners taking home a special prize). And on one slope overlooking Mariposa, we got an unexpected history lesson on the city’s importance during the Gold Rush days.

On our way back through town, we hit the appropriately named Happy Burger Diner, which claims to have the largest menu in the Sierra. The walls are covered with LP covers from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and has a great feel that matches the quality of the food. (At one point, my picture-snapping wife called it the greatest diner ever).

You can’t venture near Yosemite without a few more stops, though, and the other highlight of our trip was ice skating at Curry Village, to Charlie Brown Christmas music with Half Dome and Glacier Point looming large on either side. Yeah, it’s regular old ice skating—only in the middle of one of the world’s most beautiful forests, at the foot of granite spectacles stretching 3,000 feet into the sky. The vibe is amazing and truly one of the most fun winter outings in California (plus there’s a giant fire pit nearby to keep the nonskaters toasty). There are four 21/2-hour sessions during the day, costing $10 for kids, $10.50 for adults, plus a $4 charge for skates. The rink is open until early March. (Find more details at www.yosemitepark.com/ice-skating.aspx.)

Winter in Yosemite also gives one the chance to see the visitor center, a gem of a place that gets overlooked during warm months, when people are running up the sides of Nevada and Vernal falls and driving up Glacier Point. It’s much bigger than I remember and covers just about everything one might want to know about Yosemite, including its indigenous people, its wildlife, its formation and its history as a forerunner for the national park system. The surprisingly large and comfortable theater also shows an excellent Ken Burns documentary about the park, called "Yosemite: A Gathering of Spirit."

My kids can get easily bored in museums—and anywhere anyone threatens to educate them—but they were pretty intrigued. Even in the warm months, the visitor center is worth carving out some time for and the rangers inside are helpful there, as they were in the Ansel Adams Gallery next door. As the title would suggest, there is a ton of photographs—some on display and some for sale—taken by the famous Yosemite enthusiast, as well as jewelry and a surprisingly large book selection. I spent far more money there than I envisioned. (Everyone, from the 6-year-old, to the 47-year-old dad found something they had to bring home).

We lucked out in all respects: The weather was cooperative and the roads forgiving. There was some snow at the upper elevations and frozen-over waterfalls, which were stunning. Yosemite is such an incredible place to visit. It may not have some of the winter tourist draws of ski-happy places like Tahoe—although there is, of course, a high-country ski resort at Badger Pass—but Yosemite in winter is well worth valuable vacation time. Even when the waterfalls aren’t running, and the hiking requires way more layers of clothes.

———

IF YOU GO

Yosemite Ziplines and Adventure Ranch, 4808 California 140, Mariposa, CA 95338, (209) 742-4844, http://yosemiteziptours.com. Tours are $95 per person, though discounts are available for groups. Children must be at least 8 years old and riders must weigh between 70 and 250 pounds. Reservations are encouraged (call beforehand to get a drive-time estimate, based on where you’re staying, then add at least 20 minutes to the estimate)

Parents need to know: Obviously, it’s cold at this time of year, especially when jetting down a zip line. A knit hat that fits comfortably under the helmet they provide is a good idea, as are gloves. Wear sturdy shoes. The tour guides drive you up the hills, but some walking (and landing) is involved.

Nearby eats: For a small town, Mariposa has lots of places to eat. I highly recommend the Happy Burger Diner, which boasts the largest menu in the Sierra. It just might—and it might be the yummiest as well. And the prices are more than reasonable.

———

 

 





 


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services