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  • Writer's pictureNaomi Braker

Off to Yosemite: Nostalgic Detours and Riverside Camping

As our car turned onto the familiar CA-152, better known as Pacheco Pass, a familiar sensation stirred in the depths of my mind. I knew something awaited us on this journey, and soon it struck me like a bolt of lightning. Casa De Fruita! A cherished childhood stop whenever we visited my grandparents in Arizona. I (still, to this day) get wildly carsick, and Casa De Fruita, despite being only an hour and a half into the 9-hour drive, was a welcome stop for me to get out of the car and stop feeling so sick. Although it had expanded over the years, I was excited to discover the roadside attraction still exuded the quaint charm I remembered.


Back in 1908, Casa De Fruita opened its doors as a small roadside produce stand, selling the best of the region’s abundant produce. Garlic has always been Gilroy’s claim to fame, and many varieties were sold at Casa De Fruita, sitting aside pineapples, avocados, artichokes, apples, and much more. It quickly became a roadside staple for those traveling between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley and grew rapidly. When I was young, it featured the roadside stand, a duck pond, and even a train you could ride around! The duck pond and train remained, evoking fond memories. It has definitely grown from my childhood, and today features a sprawling complex that features a market, a bakery, a wine shop, a restaurant, and even an RV park. Despite its growth, Casa De Fruita has managed to retain its original attraction and warm, welcoming atmosphere.


Naturally, being in Gilroy, we couldn't resist purchasing the infamous pickled garlic cloves—a delicacy my father and I once devoured like candy straight from the jar. The Bradfords have a garlic obsession.


Around noon, we reached our destination: Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes. Timing our arrival is key for securing the best campsite. At Thousand Trails, spots are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the check-out time is set at noon. This unique system grants early arrivals the privilege of choosing from newly vacated spots. While technically check-in is not permitted until 1 PM, the campground staff have never mentioned it, so we always arrive early.


Luck was on our side as we snagged a marvelous campsite situated near the tranquil waters of the South Fork of the Tuolumne River. Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes boasts a picturesque campground that perfectly complements the breathtaking natural surroundings. However, later, we discovered that the convenient tree canopy, perfect for keeping our RV cool and shady, sacrificed our Starlink internet connection due to the foliage obstructing the signal. Don’t worry, we devised ingenious workarounds that I'll share later.


Given our late arrival, we had already planned on forgoing entering Yosemite National Park on that day, even though the temptation was undeniable. Instead, the ever-helpful campground host enlightened us about a captivating alternative: gold panning. Intrigued by the idea, we purchased two pans from the well-stocked Thousand Trails campground store and embarked on a quest for hidden treasures. Little did we anticipate the impact of this year's copious snowfall—resulting in frigid waters that challenged even the most resilient souls – the children in the campsite were screaming. While I persevered, Ian quickly grew disenchanted. Nonetheless, our gold panning excursion proved to be an amusing and relaxing way to pass the time, yielding only a handful of minuscule flakes but leaving us with delightful memories.


With exhaustion finally tugging at our eyelids, we surrendered to an early bedtime, anticipating a rejuvenating slumber. Rising promptly at 5 AM, we embarked on our first day in the valley. But that's a story for the next post!


The journey to Yosemite began with delightful detours, nostalgic reminiscences, and the allure of gold panning. As we settled into our idyllic campsite, surrounded by the serenity of the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, we braced ourselves for the adventures that awaited us in the captivating Yosemite Valley. Stay tuned for the next post, where I'll recount the astonishing wonders we discovered on our early morning expedition.


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