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Easter at Yosemite

YOSEMITE, Calif. -- Everyone can use a spring family tradition like the Musbachs' have.

Hours in the kitchen or around the dining room table are not required. Neither are fancy clothes. The kids can run and jump and get as dirty as they like. No wonder they cheer rather than groan when April comes near.

``It's my boys' favorite weekend of the year,'' says Liz Musbach, who lives in Oakland, Calif.

That's because every year at the beginning of April, the Musbachs head to Yosemite National Park for a long weekend with Liz Musbach's extended family who range from a spry 80 to a busy toddler. They oooh and aah over the giant waterfalls and spring wildflowers, watch the kids climb rocks and skim stones on the Merced River and gather for candlelit dinners amid the 1920s splendor of the Ahwahnee hotel (confident that the children are being entertained by their sitters.)

``It helps that our family likes to be together,'' said Musbach, noting that one sister and brother-in-law aren't letting a recent move to Washington, D.C. keep them from coming. ``They say they'll fly in every year,'' she adds..

Californians long have made Yosemite their private Easter tradition, attending the outdoor sunrise service at Mirror Lake, watching the egg hunt on the Ahwahnee lawns, gathering in the dining room for brunch, or hiking to the top of the thundering waterfalls.

``People book a year ahead to be here for Easter,'' says Kathy Langley, the Ahwahnee Easter Bunny -- and concierge. One spring several years ago, my family inadvertently became part of Yosemite's spring tradition when we happened to visit Easter weekend. I've thought ever since Yosemite would offer a novel spring break for families from the rest of the country too, especially when combined with a visit to San Francisco -- a four-hour drive from the park.

``You don't have the crowds like in the summer,'' explains Los Angeles school administrator Bruce Nentil, who has been coming at Easter with his family for the past 15 years.

Many people come just to gawk at the waterfalls -- the highest in the country, plunging from 3,000-foot-high cliffs -- are at their strongest from the melting snow. Legend has it that the spirits who live at Bridalveil Fall get their kicks from soaking anyone who dares come close.

Other visitors love the fields of wildflowers and the baby animals. This spring, Californians have more reason to celebrate at Yosemite as the park continues its recovery from the January 1997 floods that washed out roads, hundreds of motel rooms and two campgrounds, causing some $176 million damage. Eighty percent of the rooms and campsites are back in service, in better shape in some cases than before the flood, park officials report.

You can take your pick from the pricey Ahwahnee where rooms are more than $200 a night to Yosemite Lodge motel rooms for roughly $100 to Curry Village canvas platform tents for $42 to $10 campsites. Ask about the canvas cabin room-plus-extra discounts deal available through mid-May. Call 209-252-4848 for lodging or 800-436-7275 for camping or visit the Web site at www.yosemitepark.com.

There also are options outside the 1,170 square-mile park, from the upscale, full-service Tenaya Lodge resort to the more modest Yosemite Gatehouse on the Merced River. Call Yosemite Motels at 800-321-5261 to get rate information for seven motels outside the park. Call Yosemite Area Traveller Information at 900-454-YOSE ($1.95 first minute and 95 cents for each additional minute) or visit the Web site at www.yosemite.com.

For general park information, call 209-372-0200 or visit the Web site at www.nps.gov/yose/)

Seventy-eight-year-old Esther Ramirez, for one, tries to book the same room at the Yosemite Lodge every year because it affords her favorite view.

``There's no better place to spend Easter than in God's Country,'' explains Ramirez, a retired Avon cosmetics salesperson from Los Angeles.

She has been coming to Yosemite since she was a teenager and likes Easter time best of all. ``You see spring begin at Yosemite,'' she explains.

``Every night we have a picnic by the Merced River and watch the sun go down. We stay there for hours.'' said Bruce Nentil.

``It might be cold at Yosemite in spring,'' he continued, ``But it doesn't matter because there are so many things for everyone to do.''

Your family could:

-- Rent bikes with kids' trailers to cycle out to Mirror Lake along Yosemite's 12 miles of paved bike trails. Helmets are required and provided free. You may also rent baby jogging strollers or wheelchairs. Rentals are available at the Yosemite Lodge.

-- Climb some rocks. Once the kids are 8, you could sign on for an all-day, family rock-climbing course at the Yosemite Cross-Country Ski/Mountaineering School. Cost averages $70 per person. Call 209-372-8344.
-- Search for secret places with a park ranger as part of the Junior Rangers program. Gather around a campfire for a family evening. Ask at the visitor centers for scheduled times.

-- Buy the kids' souvenirs at Yosemite Kids, a new store at Yosemite Village that sells toys, puzzles, games, T-shirts and hats especially for the park's youngest visitors. Even the counters are designed for junior shoppers.

-- Hug a tree when you take the tram tour to see the sequoias with names like Fallen Monarch, the 2,700-year old Grizzly Giant and Clothespin Tree.
-- Check out a free Explorer Pack at the Nature Center at Happy Isles (opens May 15) with magnifying classes, maps, compasses and books and get up close and personal with rocks, trees and flowers.

-- Spend an evening learning Yosemite by Song and Story at the Yosemite Theater in the Valley Visitor Center.

Race you to the top of the falls.

(Look for Eileen Ogintz's books from HarperCollins West: ``A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains'' and, for parents, ``Are We There Yet?'')

(Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053 or e-mail to eogintz@aol.com. While every letter cannot be answered, some of your stories may be used in upcoming columns.)

(c) 1998, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate


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