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WEEKEND ESCAPE: Yosemite

Dog Days Inn

Checking out a paws-friendly lodge by the rushing Merced

April 26, 1998|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER; Dean writes for The Times' Life & Style section

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — It threatened to be a thoughtful weekend--a pause to picnic and commemorate our late Aunt Kay among creeks and peaks she once prowled with the passion of John Muir, their original explorer and protector.

But through all the tales of her times, it became a celebration of a grand woman and of one great reach of Sierra Nevada wildlands.

Aunt Kay bred pedigree dogs, lived comfortably as a spinster, and was survived by D'Arcy, her beloved Corgi. As she willed it, D'Arcy of Short Shanks was invited to our wine and cheese memorial picnic at their favorite bend in the Merced River. So was Beau, our chow-shepherd mix, who crashes into furniture and lollops through life believing he is a red bear.

It was a thoughtful touch to include pups in the outdoors ceremony, although managers of local accommodations weren't mad about the idea. Seems they prefer guests who do not chew towels.

* HIKING: Taking a park trail that leads to the top of Yosemite Falls. L16

The antique and wonderfully log-covered Ahwahnee Hotel was no help. It can handle rock stars, party animals from Dubuque Rotary and the odd Sierra Club rowdy. But no dogs.

Yosemite Lodge--with communal bathrooms in some hallways--is more YMCA than Relais & Cha^teaux. But it also doesn't do dogs. Bears occasionally check in uninvited at Curry Village and White Wolf Lodge, but domestic pets are never invited.

But Yosemite View Lodge, a 158-room newcomer on the western periphery of the park at El Portal, has an open-paws policy. It charges $5 per pooch, with basic ordinances.

* Dogs must be registered at check-in and must wear a collar ribbon to identify them as bona fide--delicious pun intended--guests.

* They have the run of the place, as it were, if kept on a leash.

* Pets must not be left unattended anywhere on the premises while owners are clinging to El Capitan, or doing anything else. An added plus for owners and Fido is a 12-foot-square concrete patio attached to the back of your room, and surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. Beau got to grin at two shores of the Merced River, sniff tall pines, run off two raccoons, snooze in the alpine sun and peer sleepily at an owl perched on his fence.

We had it just as tough. Our room had Beau's back porch with its river gurgles and cost $157.90, including tax, one-trip pet tariff, two queen-sized beds, a kitchenette with plates and tools, a fireplace and a Jacuzzi built for two.

The drive from Los Angeles, north on Interstate 5 and California 99, was a five-hour lapse into clinical depression until well past Fresno on California 41. That's where the land begins to rise, turn green, sprout trees and become Yosemite National Park adjacent.

This is spring in the park, and that means icy falls, wildflowers stirring and deer wandering free and really not caring too much about you. Admission to heaven cost $20 per car. Look a ranger square in the eye, and 'fess to being over 62, and a Golden Age Lifetime pass costs $10 for unlimited national park admissions no matter where, nor the length of your lifetime.

We checked in at Yosemite View, Beau was beribboned and the Deans lurched on sport utility legs to early dinner at the Pavillion, the lodge's restaurant.

I made do with two starters, grilled portabello mushrooms topped with bay shrimp, and brie baked in phyllo with a roasted almond glaze. Nummy. Mrs. Dean went to the culinary edge and ordered a fricassee of wild mushrooms over ostrich medallions. Yech. Meanwhile, back at his patio, Beau was nose down in an Alpo pot-au-feu with noisettes of Gravy Train.

Next morning, we all walked the highway alongside the mighty Merced to the El Portal General Store. That's a misnomer to anyone expecting shotgun shells, kerosene lamps and venison jerky. So close to Southern California, the generality of this store is elevated to Pinot Noir, a passable Camembert and tofu.

We packed $32 worth of luncheon basics into a cooler and picnicked the morning away. As skiers were thinning out at nine-run Badger's Pass, rock climbers were already risking necks on Half Dome and Cathedral Rocks. Azaleas were blooming, and Yosemite Falls thundered for almost a half a mile. Straight down.

It was four seasons in one, of course, with a cliff-to-valley grandeur guaranteed to justify blind acceptance of creationism.

We picnicked in Aunt Kay's holy place that afternoon, remembering her over our Pinot Noir and everyone else's Chardonnay and Merlot, until the day became night. Coats and sweaters came out. Beau, who technically should have been on a leash within park boundaries, wasn't splashing quite so happily in the Merced's chilly shallows.

Departure the next morning was a tourist's meander that included the Pioneer History Center, a gathering of cabins and wooden offices from other areas and eras of Yosemite; then brunch at the Wawona Hotel that hasn't budged since 1875.

Thanks, Aunt Kay, for this sharing of your place. You'll be happy to know that Beau is still wearing his ribbon.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Budget for Two

Gas: $48.00

Park admission, one car: 20.00

Yosemite View Lodge, 2 nights plus pet charge: 310.80

Dinner, the Pavillion: 40.15

Breakfast, Yosemite View: 15.50

Picnic supplies: 32.00

Dinner, Yosemite Lodge: 16.50

Cocktails: 10.25

Coffee, toast, Yosemite View: 8.00

Brunch, Wawona Hotel: 42.00

FINAL TAB: $495.20

Yosemite View Lodge, 11136 Highway 140, El Portal, CA 95318; tel. (209) 379-2681.

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