2014 Roadtrip: Bishop, CA to Merced, CA via Yosemite National Park

When we left Bishop at 10 a.m. it was 62° at 4194' (on May 5).  We were so lucky that Hwy 120 through Yosemite had opened on Friday, May 2 and we could drive it west. As soon as we turned from Hwy 395 to Hwy 120 we were in rugged granite mountains. At Tioga Pass (9950’) it was 41° and windy. There was snow on the roadsides but none on the road. It was cloudy but not foggy so we got good views of the impressive mountains. We passed gigantic trees that were not all sequoias--one huge one was the Jeffrey Pine (with its distinctive crocodile-looking bark). There was snow forecast in the high country and rain in Yosemite Valley for the next day--good we weren't staying and planning to hike. The views during our drive were awesome—so much granite rock face.

When we got down to the valley floor the flora changed radically. We were seeing deciduous trees dressed in spring green. We saw lots of purple lupines and Pacific dogwood. We saw Bridleveil Falls in all of their glory, as well as Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, even though there hadn't been much snow during the past winter and California is in drought. We passed by El Capitan and also had numerous wonderful views of Half Dome. It was 60° at 3955’ at 1 p.m. when we got to the Ahwahnee for lunch. The public  rooms at the Ahwahnee are indeed impressive. At $500 a night for a ‘tight’ room, we’ll never know what it’s like to stay there.

The host at the Ahwahnee Dining Room (One Ahwahnee Rd., Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, CA 95380, tel. 209-372-1489) sat us immediately. Our server, Adrian from Romania, was a delight—so formal and so attentive. We had one Cobb Salad ($18) and one vegetarian Onion Soup ($8.75). Bread was served with the meal. The room is huge and grand and has a nice view of the lawn and an impressive granite wall. Our table was, as we requested, by the big window. The experience was pleasant and we are glad we made the detour to have lunch there. We spent $28.89 plus tip.
The grand Ahwahnee Dining Room
After lunch at the Ahwahnee Dining Room, we followed the Merced River down to the San Joaquin Valley to Merced where we would stay the night. Did you know that there is a U.S. District Court housed in Yosemite? What a place to work!

There were lots of people in Yosemite but it wasn’t crowded. The drive to Merced was on a scenic route and it was scenic but it just couldn’t compare to the vistas we had just seen in Yosemite. At 3 p.m. it was 72° at 1400’ in elevation.

After Mariposa, CA we started seeing wildflowers on Hwy 140. Just before Merced, CA we stopped at the first fruit stand that had a sign for strawberries. The strawberries were divine—just like strawberries should taste. Their apricots were delicious too. We bought as much as we thought we could carry but the fruit was sooo good we went back to the stand before dinner and bought more strawberries and apricots as well as blueberries and cherries. The farmers are from Laos and said that they were Mein people. They also announced proudly that they were American citizens and had been in this country for 22 years. We asked them about restaurants in Merced and they recommended a Thai restaurant. Too bad that there aren’t any Laotian restaurants in Merced.  

We stayed at  the Courtyard by Marriott Merced (750 Motel Drive, Merced, California 95340, tel. 209-725-1221). Our room (221 “king with sofabed”) cost $110, without breakfast. It was a rectangle with a window at one end and the bed at the other. There was a (very, very uncomfortable) sofa near the window and a desk (with an additional table underneath it) at that end too. There was a flat screen TV, a chest of drawers, a mini fridge and a coffee maker. The TV was positioned so that we could see it when we were sitting on the sofa. The air conditioning/heating system was okay during the night but we couldn’t get it to a temperature we liked during the day (either too cold or too hot). The bathroom was fine, except for the noisy and ineffective fan. There is some kind of setting on the lights that made them into motion sensors which would have been pretty cool if we had known how to get it to work. Before dinner we used the hotel’s Jacuzzi and it was lovely. It had a view of the hotel’s grassy yard area, with palm trees. How long has it been since we’ve seen palm trees? 

We were generally happy with our meal at Sams Cafe (235 W 12th, Suite A, Merced, CA 95341, tel. 209-383-5350). Sam Malaythrong was not there that evening but our service was very good. After the woman at the reception desk at Courtyard by Marriott recommended Sams we called to find out if Sams made Mee Krob and the answer was “yes” so we went. (She was a Hmong from Laos. What are there so many Laotians in Merced?)

 At Sams, we ordered one Tom Yum Goong soup (described as “spicy blend of chili, lemon, lemongrass and shrimp” $10.95). It was delicious. We ordered the Mee Krob (described as “crispy egg noodle topped with meats, vegetables and gravy $8.95). It was very disappointing; the noodles should be rice noodles, not egg and the gravy was very Chinese-tasting, not Thai. Our next dish was Goong Krawb (described as soft shell crispy shrimp with Thai spices and herbs $10.95). That dish was good. Finally for dessert we had the creamy rice with mango ($5.95). It was a good dessert and a good enough meal. We ordered too much, of course, but wanted to keep tasting Sams’ dishes. We also had 2 glasses of Sams’ house red wine ($6) but didn’t like it. We spent $56.43 plus tip.

The next morning we noticed that our room at the Courtyard by Marriott did not have a microwave to boil water for Dimitri’s morning tea. Breakfast was not included in the price of our room, so we went to the 'bistro' downstairs and Dimitri had eggs, bacon and coffee ($8). Audre brought and had her own cereal with her own milk. We had our own lovely fruit from our Laotian farmers. The ‘bistro’ provided us with water.

The Courtyard by Marriott Merced had a couple of other things to comment on: there was no "all day coffee" in the lobby. We've gotten to like that and actually missed it. Local calls cost $.50 (what is that about?). Finally, there was no Mormon Bible in the room. There was a Bhagavad Gita, a book entitled "The Teaching of Budda" and a Gideon Bible. We figured that the company managing the Courtyard by Marriott Merced was Buddhist.