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Serenity prevails at lodge just outside Yosemite just off 120

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Serenity prevails at  lodge just outside  Yosemite just off 120

Some of the Evergreen Lodge cabins.

Photo contributed/

POSTED April 6, 2012 9:38 p.m.

GROVELAND — Along with Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, Yosemite is one of my favorite national parks. Unfortunately, more than 4 million annual visitors share my sentiments.

“In Yosemite Valley, it’s a bit of a bun fight,” said tourist Elaine Harris, using the British slang for a frenzied scramble. At Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, she said, crowds jostled for seats in the cafeteria. And it wasn’t even summer.

Harris, a holistic therapist visiting from England found Evergreen Lodge an hour’s drive northwest, a place “much more peaceful.”

Me too.

Seeking a more serene Yosemite, my partner, Wesla, and I visited Evergreen Lodge in April. The recently refurbished and expanded lodge in Groveland is about a mile from the Hetch Hetchy entrance to the park’s less-visited northwestern corner.

What we lost in proximity to Yosemite Valley, the hub of park activity, we made up by joining bicycling and fly-fishing excursions led by Evergreen’s guides. In the evenings, we enjoyed family films, slide shows and s’mores. Our simple cabin seemed sublimely remote.

During our four-day weekend, we did venture into the valley to visit the imposing Ahwahnee hotel, Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall. We’re glad we made the effort; the falls, swelled by the heaviest snowpack in more than 20 years, were splendid.

Our trip had begun on a less-than-promising note. We were shadowed by rain on the eight-hour drive from Los Angeles and ended up in a snowstorm at the 6,195-foot-high Crane Flat area. But we got some payoff. As we reached the valley and emerged from the Wawona tunnel, the stormy skies added high drama to the postcard panorama of El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil.

When we pulled up to Evergreen Lodge later Thursday night, we stayed in a spacious and pristine cabin with a private deck overlooking the forest. It was sparsely but smartly furnished with a queen bed, a sofa bed and a compact cast-iron stove to warm the room. Vintage photos and a topological map of the area adorned the walls. It did not have a phone or TV. The cabin lacked kitchen facilities; staff said that was to discourage bear visits. The refrigerator sitting on the floor was so tiny that I mistook it for a safe. We crammed our breakfast fixings into it and slept.

The rest of our stay was wonderful.

The Evergreen Lodge has been a meeting spot in the Yosemite area since Warren G. Harding was in the White House. The main lodge building that contains its restaurant, bar and poolroom opened around 1921, said co-owner Lee Zimmerman.

Eighteen cabins were added to the grounds in the next several decades. When Zimmerman and two other investors bought the property in 2001, it had been a family-owned resort for 27 years.

The three Bay Area men have since lavished more than $7 million on it. They added 50 vaulted-roof duplex and free-standing cedar cabins (including the one we stayed in), a recreation center, an events hall and a general store. The lodge also schedules activities geared to families and outdoor enthusiasts.

Wesla and I took full advantage. Friday morning found us pedaling out the lodge gate and onto Cherry Lake Road for a mostly downhill 14-mile ride through Stanislaus National Forest, which abuts Yosemite on the west.

On our right was a 1,200-foot drop plunging into the Poopenaut Valley, carved by the coursing Tuolumne River. Then we threaded through a cathedral of ponderosa pines, glided past Day-Glo green meadows and sped down a brake-squeezing screamer of a hill toward our goal: Rainbow Pool, with its cascades and summer swimming hole.

Our guide, Steve, was laid-back but careful, alerting us to the occasional oncoming car. In 2 1/2 hours, we passed nary another cyclist. Jason, the lodge’s recreation manager, met us at the end and loaded the bikes into his truck, sparing us the uphill return.

Hardly winded, Wesla and I picked up our car and headed for O’Shaughnessy Dam, nine miles to the northeast.

The dam, dating to the 1920s, pens up the Tuolumne to create Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which provides water for more than 2 million Bay Area residents and is a cause celebre for nature lovers. The Hetch Hetchy Valley, now submerged under 300 feet of water, once rivaled Yosemite in beauty. At least that’s what naturalist John Muir believed, and his philosophical heirs want it drained and restored. The state is studying the prospect.

From where we stood, the dam was a study in contrasts. On one side, the Tuolumne tumbled wildly down a boulder-strewn course. On the other side, the placid deep-blue reservoir reflected clouds and canyon walls.

After a short hike near the reservoir, we hurried back to the lodge for an afternoon dry-casting lesson, where Wesla proved herself a complete natural at fly casting. But when it came time for the real thing, she demurred, too tender-hearted even for catch-and-release.

As a result, my half-day fly-fishing outing turned into a private lesson. By 8:30 a.m. Saturday, I was up to my hip waders in the rushing Tuolumne, hypnotized by the parabola of my fishing line as it looped through the air and slapped onto the water.

In the evenings, Evergreen’s recreation center, with its enticing fireplace, was abuzz with families playing board games, children assembling s’mores and guests logging onto the Internet and phoning home.

Special to the 209

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