After more than two decades of living in California, I finally made it to Yosemite National Park.

Actually, I almost didn’t.

That’s why this blog, which originally was going to be about Yosemite, is now about the importance of research, road trip snacks and making the most of plans gone awry. And, signage.

We mapped out two routes: West Entrance or East Entrance.

Either way was about a six-hour drive. Since our hotel was at the West Entrance, we decided to take the scenic route through Mammoth – another place I’d never been – to the East Entrance and drive through the park to the hotel.  It was the perfect plan!

Except it was closed.

As we neared Mammoth, I Googled directions to the hotel. That’s how we found out that, in mid-May, the East Entrance was snowed in. (Yes, this would have been a good thing to check before we hit the road.) The only way in was through the West Entrance on the opposite side of the park.

After six hours of driving, we were somehow thirty miles and six and a half hours from our hotel.

We cursed and threw things for a few minutes. We considered going back home. Then we decided to spend the night in Mammoth and explore the area. We were just minutes from Devil’s Postpile National Monument, a famous 60’ geological phenomenon of columnar basalt rock that looked intriguing.

It was closed.

When life gives you lemons, add vodka, triple sec and syrup and make a Lemon Drop martini.

After martinis, dinner and sleep, we set out bright and early to salvage our Yosemite visit. Armed with lattes, bagels and unreasonable optimism, we headed to the East Entrance anyway. Maybe it wasn’t really closed? Maybe the website just hadn’t been updated? Maybe the guards would let us through if we politely explained our dilemma and begged and offered them cash? What did we have to lose?

As it turned out – another hour. Carefully navigating the still-slippery road lined by tall snowdrifts on one side and a dizzyingly steep gorge on the other, we reluctantly admitted defeat.  There was no guard to cajole or bribe – just a snow-shrouded tower and a heavy gate. The East Entrance was a ghost town.

West Entrance it is, then.

We settled in for a six-hour drive. But it was a crisp, sunny day, and the winding mountain roads took us past frozen lakes, ski resorts, rolling fields, towering forests and small towns. The dreaded detour turned into a scenic and enjoyable road trip.

Perfectly situated just minutes from the park entrance with river and mountain views, Yosemite View Lodge welcomed us with a cozy room overlooking the rushing river.

I had been advised that the park was really “just a lot of big rocks.” Which is true to a point, but they’re magnificent. We spent the next two days hiking rocky trails, being soaked by waterfalls and getting lost in nature. Literally. (Note to National Park Service: Signage matters. Rustic signs are charming. Rusted-out signs are useless.)

Of course, the East Entrance opened during our stay. We didn’t go that way, though, because we wanted to stop by Sequoia National Park on the way home and see the famed giant trees.

It was closed.