The vintage photo in my sleek Airstream suite at the new AutoCamp Yosemite pretty much summed up what’s wrong and right about visiting the national park some 30 miles to the east.
In the black-and-white image, two hat-wearing women in tight shirtwaists and billowing skirts hold hands as they dance on a narrow ledge jutting from a sheer-walled granite peak. So even before selfies (seemingly de rigueur for the majority of Yosemite’s 4 million annual visitors) people did dumb stunts inservice of a photo op.
On the other hand, who wouldn’t get a little giddy surrounded by such thrilling scenery? Despite today’s multitudes (and their perilous posing), it’s still possible to be dazzled by Yosemite’s unique combination of rock, water, forest and meadow — the building blocks of formidable El Capitan and Half Dome, a half-dozen vertiginous thundering falls, the boulder-strewn Merced and Tuolumne rivers roiling with snow melt and the timeless shade of giant sequoias.
The spectacular beauty that drains adults’ iPhone batteries also fills children’s thoughts. “I spy with my little eye … tall trees!” exclaimed one young visitor to Yosemite Valley in June. “I see three waterfalls,” cried another, starting to skip as she approached the official Yosemite Falls viewpoint. “One goes up and one goes down!” The third may have been the mist rising from between the upper and lower cascades, but her elation needed no precision to justify it.
Similarly, the excitement in Airstream-adoring circles over AutoCamp Yosemite is understandable, even if the recently opened resort off Highway 140 near Mariposa still has a few bugs to work out. Expanding on an Airstream-centered concept that began in Santa Barbara in 2013 and added a Russian River site three years later, AutoCamp Yosemite boasts 80 specially outfitted, block-mounted trailers around a large, frog-filled pond or lined up under trees in tidy rows worthy of Velma Melmac (Google the name if you postdate “Farley,” the San Francisco Chronicle’s former comic strip).
The Airstreams offer a bedroom with a queen-sized bed, a pair of nightstands, and two small drawers and a TV behind an opaque glass door; a compact living area with a full-sized pull-out futon, a kitchenette (microwave, mini-fridge, sink) with ingeniously stored dishes, glassware, cutlery, BBQ utensils and a campfire-ready pot and pan; and a roomy bathroom with a tiled walk-in shower and overhead fan (good for privacy as well as ventilation, since bathroom walls, like an Eichler’s, don’t reach the ceiling). Outside is a wooden deck with a firepit/grill, two reclining chairs and a dining set. Tray tables provide an indoor dining option in inclement weather, while air conditioning and heating will allow the Airstreams to stay open year-round.
Among the thicket of gleaming silver tubes are five wheelchair-accessible “X Suites,” which have all the amenities of an Airstream (but hopefully less of the wobble, an issue I’ve been told would be addressed over the summer); three cabins, which include all the Airstream furnishings, plus a stovetop and two bunk beds; and 15 luxury tents, which come with an electric blanket on the queen bed and a heater, but are only open April to October. Bathrooms and showers for tent occupants can be found in the handsome two-story clubhouse — a glass-walled lounge with Merced River-inspired sculptural wall art, gourmet snacks (think Cowgirl Creamery cheese and craft beer), a seasonally heated outdoor pool and complimentary scones and coffee in the morning.
Although units are fairly close together, presaging summer crowds in Yosemite Valley, guests on my visit faithfully adhered to the policies of observing quiet time between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. and keeping noise from otherwise welcome kids and dogs to a reasonable level. Most guests will connect with their inner children while using one of the little red wagons to haul their belongings to the park.
They’ll also succumb to the urge to post on Instagram — but again, can you blame them?
The Glamping Set
Rebecca Miller (founder, entrepreneur, flyer fisherwoman): Nothing compares to the magic of the Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana. Originally homesteaded in the early 1900s and nestled in a pristine valley, the real luxury of spending time on the property is not only in enjoying their impeccable attention to every detail, from flawless service and guides to five-star dining, but also in the intimacy you have with nature. The experience is as expansive as it is private, and is crafted with respect for the environment, local communities, and the history of the property and state. It’s truly special no matter the season.
Jon Finck (writer, man about town): Magnificent as Alaska is, what really caught my attention was dropping anchor in Victoria, British Columbia, and spending a day in the world-famous Butchart Gardens. These floral gardens are nothing short of paradise on earth and not to be missed along with high tea at the famous Empress Hotel. butchartgardens.com
AutoCamp Yosemite 6323 Hwy. 140, Midpines. (888) 405-7553, autocamp.com. August rates: Airstreams and accessible suites from $379, luxury tents from $319.
For current conditions in Yosemite National Park: nps.gov/yose, (209) 372-0200