Author Q & A
Why a second edition so soon? The first edition was just published last year.
First and foremost - because of the improvements in Mariposa Grove. The project was suppose to be completed in time for the first edition, but we've had a few years of rough weather up here, so the completion date was delayed. Since this is such a major change to the park I felt I needed to put out a second edition. There have also been some improvements to Kings Canyon, and to the accessible lodging in Yosemite, so I included those updates as well. Additionally, I was able to include changes to the dining facilities in the parks, and I added a few hotels in the gateway cities. And of course I fact checked all of the old material. In the end, there's really a lot of new information in this edition.
Why did you group Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks together?
Yosemite is very popular, but even though Kings Canyon and Sequoia are only about a four-hour drive from Yosemite Valley, they are often overlooked by visitors. Plus the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway provides a lovely diversion while traveling between the two areas. Seriously, it's a shame to miss out on Sequoia's Giant Forest and Kings Canyon's rugged granite walls, so I encourage everyone to budget enough time to visit all three parks.
How often do you visit the parks?
Well, since Yosemite is in my backyard, I visit it often. It's not uncommon for Charles and I to pack a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon in Yosemite Valley. We do however try to dodge the summer crowds, and if we go we get an alpine start and leave the park around 10, when it really starts to get crowded. I'm a little further from Sequoia and Kings Canyon so I maybe hit them every 3 or 4 months, or when something new has been added.
What do you think of the access of the new Mariposa Grove?
I think they did an excellent job of both removing the commercial facilities and making the area accessible to everyone. The new trails through the grove are lovely, and even if you can't walk very far you can still enjoy the massive trees. And although the entire grove is not accessible, there's about a mile of barrier-free trails near the Grizzly Giant and next to the Mariposa Grove Arrival Center. They also made accommodations for folks who have disabled parking placards - they can park close to the lower grove, even though private vehicle traffic is now prohibited in the grove. The new grove is beautiful, and it's a totally different - and more natural - experience. Plus the improvements will help preserve these beautiful trees for future generations.
How did you pick out the properties that you included in the book?
First and foremost, I included all the in-park lodging options. Then I turned to properties in the gateway communities, because the in-park properties tend to sell out quickly. I visited every property that I included, and spent a good deal of time documenting the access features of the accessible rooms. I included a wide variety of accessible properties, from rustic cabins and spacious mountain homes to chain properties, small inns and even a tent cabin or two. The properties have varying degrees of access, as my readers have varying degrees of mobility; but all of the included properties have a management team that is committed to access. There were a few properties that I considered in the beginning, but because of a lack of access or a poor management attitude regarding access, were not included in this book.
I know you said that you live in the area, so do you have a favorite thing to do in Yosemite? Something that you like to do over and over?
I absolutely love driving over to the park for a relaxing Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee. They really put out a great spread on Sundays.
And if I'm on a more limited budget, I pack a picnic lunch and head over to the Cathedral Beach Picnic Area, and then I take a short walk to Lower Yosemite Fall after lunch. I truly enjoy all the falls in the park, and I try to visit them at different times of the year.
I'm planning a trip to San Francisco. Do you think a trip to Yosemite is doable? How long should I stay?
My mother-in-law was famous for her one-day Yosemite tours for visiting relatives; however I really think that's pushing the envelope a bit. It's about a four-hour drive to Yosemite Valley from San Francisco - and that's without traffic delays - so you will be in a bus or car for at least eight hours if you take a day trip. That leaves precious little time to explore the wonders of Yosemite, which is the whole purpose of your visit. I think Yosemite is certainly doable as an add-on from San Francisco, but it's best to spend three or four days in the park to fully enjoy the experience.
I've really not heard much about Kings Canyon National Park. Tell me why I should add it to my bucket list.
Kings Canyon National Park is like the forgotten stepchild - everyone knows its there but most folks entirely overlook it. Truth be told, that's reason enough for adding it to your bucket list, as it's refreshingly devoid of the tourist crowds that are present in many other areas of the parks. Although Grant Grove is certainly worth a stop, I highly recommend setting out on your own to explore the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, between Grant Grove and Cedar Grove, as it's a more remote - yet still accessible - section of the park. It's a beautiful drive, with many pullouts along the way, where you can get an up-close-and-personal look at the massive granite canyon framed by the turbulent Kings River. And once you reach Cedar Grove, explore the trails at Zumwalt Meadows and Roaring River Falls. Pack along a picnic lunch and make a day of it.
Did you encounter any problems while you were researching this book? I know the weather in California has been very wet this year, so did that effect you at all?
Well Mother Nature definitely threw a monkey wrench into our plans this year; but for the most part we were able to reschedule visits when it poured down rain. That's one advantage of living in the area. On the plus side, the added precipitation made for a great show at Yosemite Falls, at a time when it would normally be dry. Unfortunately the weather did delay the project at Mariposa Grove, which was suppose to be completed in late Spring 2017. The grove reopened on June 15, 2018, and I checked out the improvements shortly thereafter, so I could release the second edition of this book in August 2018.
I don't like crowds, especially in natural settings. Can you give me some ideas of how I can avoid them in Yosemite, and still have an accessible vacation?
Summer time - especially holidays and weekends - is unbearably crowded in Yosemite Valley. My advice would be to plan a visit in late spring or fall when there are fewer visitors. That said, the valley is still the most visited place, so take a day or two and explore Tioga Road or enjoy the scenic drive to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. And if you want to dodge the crowds even more, spend the night at Evergreen Lodge or Rush Creek Lodge, located outside of the park near the Big Oak Flat Entrance. Both properties have a nice selection of accessible rooms.
There have been a lot of access improvements in the parks over the years. Does one project really stand out in your mind?
Absolutely. The 2005 access upgrades to the trail to Lower Yosemite Fall tops my list, because it was a major improvement. Previously most of the trail was doable, but the last part was steep and slippery, and darn near impossible for wheelers and slow walkers without some major assistance. Now just about everybody can make it to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall, thanks to the accessible trail on the west side.
Do you have a favorite park out of the three?
How do you pick a favorite child? I like all three parks for different reasons. I like Yosemite because of my fond childhood memories there, Sequoia for the beautiful Giant Forest, and Kings Canyon for the magnificent granite canyon lined by the roaring Kings River.
So what's next for you? Are you working on another national park book?
Of course! I'm working on the second edition of Barrier-Free Travel; The Grand Canyon for Wheelers and Slow Walkers, which will be released in February 2019 - on the park's 100th birthday. And in 2019 I'll be penning a comprehensive guide to accessible lodges in all of the national parks.