When I first pulled up to the Wawona Hotel at the southern end of Yosemite National Park, the late morning sun brightened the western-facing front of the gleaming white 19th century inn. Nestled just down the road from the towering Sequoias, the beautiful Victorian lodge provides me with the perfect opportunity to slow down and enjoy a leisurely lunch. On my first outing through Yosemite, I have the remarkable sense of déjà vu as I drive around the curved road along the main steps of the veranda and as I pull into the tree-shaded lot and leave my rental car to cool off from the winding, twisting excursion I have completed from Tioga Pass. As I stroll slowly on this autumn day, I have this remarkable sense of being in this time and this place and this moment somewhere previously. I stop for photos looking out at the lush lawn that enjoys its final month before the winter snows begin their annual visits.
Inside the café, with only a few tables occupied, I marvel at the detailed architecture that surrounds me. The lighting fixtures, the ceiling, the tall windows, all augmented by the pristine white table linens and the illumination from the perfect morning light welcoming a similarly lovely afternoon, remind me so vividly of another meal in another hotel in another vacation. Yet this unique structure, built when the national was merely a hundred years in age, gracing the jewel of the Sierra Nevadas, provides a singularly unique turn-of-two-centuries glimpse into the earliest efforts of a country to relax and unwind. And on this day, I continue to take advantage of its original expectations for its guests, but still I feel I have been here before.
When I first pulled up to the western-facing Lodge at Cloudcroft hidden within the Sacramento Mountains, the fading twilight provided just enough illumination to confirm that an early summer storm neared its moment of impact. Perched in the elevations rising high above Alamogordo, the historic inn built as a resort terminus by the nineteenth century railroad company allowed just enough cover to bring some of our luggage inside before the lightening, thunder, and hail descended on the small New Mexican town. I had pulled past the grassy lawn and found a spot between the pines before ducking back inside dodging the large raindrops beginning to pelt me – I would get the last of our bags after the menacing storm wandered along its way to the southeast.
The next morning we awake early, before the sun even has a chance to glisten on the rain-drenched furs and grass and blooms, and descend to the gypsum slopes to sled and roll and explore White Sands National Monument. We cross paths with another early riser: an elk crossing the road and headed back into the forest before those pesky humans invade the thoroughfares. And when we return to the mountain top for our late-morning Sunday brunch, we drive around the curved road along the main steps of the lodge. As I pull into the tree-shaded lot and leave the rented SUV to cool off from the winding, twisting excursion we complete up from the sandy slopes, we stroll inside and sit for our relaxing midday meal. Surrounded by perfectly appointed lighting fixtures, the tall windows, and the historic stained glass, all augmented by the pristine white table linens and the illumination of the late morning sunshine, we enjoy a fabulous brunch before the next leg of our epic family vacation. What are the chances that I will ever experience a moment like this again?