Road Trip

Visiting Yosemite: A guide to grand touring the national park in a family-friendly SUV

Grand touring isn't dead. It's just different than it used to be.

Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Cruising up the coast of California in a Ford Mustang. Taking an RV full of family on a trip to explore the American West. Leaf peeping in New England while hopping from bed and breakfast to bed and breakfast in your family sedan. These are classic examples of U.S. road trips that do not feature a grand touring car.

Is the dream of grand touring dead? The advent of the EV and the popularity of the minivan and SUVs have not killed it. In fact, they've revolutionized it.

No longer do you have to cram six people into a sedan with your brother standing up between mom and dad in the front. You can tour in comfort in a modern SUV and still have as authentic an experience as you did in your childhood, perhaps better.

Autocamp Yosemite pond Airstream Autocamp Yosemite is a unique and luxurious way to "camp" near Yosemite.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Buckled into a thoroughly modern Honda Passport, this grand touring trip set off from Autocamp Yosemite, a resort made entirely of Airstream trailers, tiny houses, and small cabins, just as the sun was starting to shine the first light of morning. Headed seats, accurate navigation, and right-sized cup holders gave the beginning of the trip an optimistic note.

On the winding roads of CA 140, the Passport was relatively efficient and stuck to the road much better than the Honda Pilot would have. The sun continued to rise and touch the tree tops as the route wound its way over and around the Merced River.

2019 Honda Passport The Honda Passport is smaller than a Honda Pilot and bigger than a Honda CR-V.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Making it into the park before the sun has fully risen is not only a treat but a necessity if you want to beat the hoards of tourists that flock to the park's most famous sites, pushing into your space with their selfie sticks, cigarette smoke, and overstuffed backpacks.

Tunnel View Yosemite morning Tunnel View is one of the can't-miss spots in Yosemite National Park.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Start by winding your way up Wawona Road to the start of the Artist Point Trail and Tunnel View with an observation deck that requires no hiking to get to and a view that you've likely seen countless times before in pictures. El Capitan rises on one side as Cathedral Rocks grace the other. It's impossible to fathom exactly how big they are from the viewpoint, but no one leaves the spot unimpressed.

Continuing to head up the mountain, the Passport's V6 had no problem passing 5,000 and 8,000 feet as the SUV rose out of the famed Yosemite Tunnel. The turn up Glacier Point Road had the SUV pointing for, you guessed it, Glacier Point. Getting there early meant not being stuck behind busses and being able to easily cruise uphill while stopping for a bit of hiking and observation along the way. Pulling off for a walk on the Mono Meadow Trail is a must, but watch out for bears.

Mono Meadow trailhead 2019 Honda Passport Park at the tailhead at Mono Meadow for a scenic hike.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Back from the hike, the journey up the road continued to Washburn Point, where the Passport braved the crowded parking area, easily maneuvering into a tight spot near the far curb, setting up its occupants for a short walk to a viewing platform to see awe-inspiring views of the Clark Range and Sierra Crest rising up from the treetops, Illilouette Falls flowing, and the profile of Half Dome. It's one of the better selfie-taking spots in the park because of the angles of the scenery.

Yosemite National Park Washburn Point view Washburn Point provides a different view of Half Dome an surrounding hillsides. Be sure to visit in the morning before the parking spots get swallowed up by tourists.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Continuing further up Glacier Point road, easily passing 9,000 feet of elevation, the road ends at the Glacier Point parking area where the peanut-bladdered find relief in the numerous restrooms available. Parking is easier further down the row you travel. Spaces are narrow so making full use of the Passport's on-board camera system to ensure proper space sitting was wholly appropriate.

Glacier Point crowd Yosemite National Park Getting up to Glacier Point early in the day should be a priority for adventure seekers who don't want to deal with heavy crowds.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

From there, it's a short and slightly uphill handicap-accessible walk to the most spectacular view that Yosemite offers. Standing before the visitor on the observation deck are Half Dome and three waterfalls. The Yosemite Valley floor is carpeted with thick trees that mask the ant-sized cars winding their way to Yosemite Village. Space is limited and tourists are generally pushy, but be sure to leave time to have a moment to put down your phone or camera (or both) and just stand and take it all in. (And maybe thank Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir for ensuring that it is still around.)

Glacier Point Yosemite National Park guide key sign The National Park Service has installed these helpful signs to show visitors what they're seeing. The space around them is often crowded so take a quick picture then move and use the image on your phone to help you navigate.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Before you leave, use the restroom again. There are several, often overlooked options available so check for the shortest line.

The trip back down Glacier Point Road to the Yosemite Valley isn't nearly as long as it seems when driving the other direction. By now, it's likely near lunchtime, but before heading to The Ahwahnee for lunch, stop on the way back down near Bridalveil Falls where roadside parking is generally easy to find and the views are, once again, spectacular.

The Ahwahnee's dining room isn't as fancy during the day as it is during the night. This gives parents dressed in hiking clothes the opportunity to sit and dine in the historic hotel without the obligation of staying at the hotel and wearing a dinner jacket.

The Ahwahnee dining room Yosemite National Park The historical Ahwanee dining room is a must-stop. It has tasty cuisine at prices that aren't outrageous.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Continuing after lunch, the rest of the day relies more on your patience and the time limits of daylight rather than the availability of sights to be seen. Skip the urge to circle for a parking space near the Visitors Center and instead cruise for an hour along Big Oak Flat Road and head east on Tioga Road. When touring with little ones, this gives them an opportunity to take a 45-minute or so nap that can be used to your advantage later in the day.

Pull-off points with unique views are abundant along this road the further you travel. Don't forget your camera and perhaps think about leaving the heated seats on if you're hopping in and out of the car in the cooler months (read: not June or July but most other times of the year).

Olmstead Point Half Dome Olmstead Point is on the other side of the park from Yosemite Valley and worth the trip. Here, Half Dome is in the distance.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

If your shoes have sufficient grip and you're still feeling up for some hiking, don't miss a stop at Olmstead Point where the terrain looks nothing like what you'll see in other parts of the park but the view shows off the back side of the terrain you saw earlier in the day from Washburn Point. Proceeding down the road, the stone encroaches and it's easy to think of what the terrain must be like on the moon.

Venture even further east to Tenaya Lake, a peaceful respite that provides the opportunity to sit and marvel at calm true-blue water away from mobs of tourists. That's also a good turnaround point, where you can head back to the Valley to take advantage of the waning afternoon crowds to see some of Yosemite's most popular features including the El Capitan Meadow, Valley View, Yosemite Chapel, and Yosemite Falls.

Tenaya Lake Yosemite National Park Tenaya Lake is a peaceful respite away from the hustle and bustle of Yosemite's more popular attractions.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

While a stop at the Yosemite Visitors Center provides some historical context for your visit, if you're looking for souvenirs, the best place to go is the Village Store.

Souvenirs in hand, it was now nearly dark on the Valley floor, and it was time for these travelers to point the Passport back to AutoCamp. The two-row SUV had served as a trusty steed - reliable, comfortable, and easily maneuverable. Those aren't the characteristics that shoppers frequently look for, but it's something that they remember when it comes time to get their next vehicle. Though not a traditional grand tourer, the Passport provided a grand level of touring capability.

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Honda is working with Verizon on self-driving cars technology.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

The Mcity campus was designed to be a proving ground for new technologies. Honda and Verizon are utilizing it as such as they partner to explore how Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband and 5G Mobile Edge Compute (MEC) can be used to ensure quick and reliable communication between road infrastructure, vehicles, and pedestrians.

The 5G technology leverages cloud technology to deliver lower latency, a large amount of bandwidth, and improved communication. This communication includes the way that vehicles interact with ther cars, traffic lights, pedestrians and emergency vehicles to improve threat detection and avoid accidents when seconds matter most. That's where the "V2" in acronyms like "V2V" (vehicle-to-vehicle) and "V2X" (vehicle- to-everything).

Honda and Verizon Test How 5G Enhances Safety for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles www.youtube.com

Honda has been working since 2017 to develop a technology that will help to create a collision-free society. The technology, called Safe Swarm, uses V2X communication to enable vehicles to communicate with other road users and share key information such as location, speed, and vehicle sensor data.

There are some obstacles, not the least of which is the need to outfit each vehicle with onboard artificial intelligence capabilities. The use of 5G helps move the AI capabilities from the vehicle to the MEC, reducing the need for AI onboard each vehicle.

"The ability to move computing power to the edge of our 5G network is an essential building block for autonomous and connected vehicles, helping cars to communicate with each other in near real-time and with sensors and cameras installed in streets and traffic lights," said Sanyogita Shamsunder, vice president of Technology Development and 5G Labs at Verizon. "When you consider that roughly 42,000 people were killed in car accidents last year and 94% of accidents are caused by human error, our new technologies including 5G and MEC can help drivers 'see' things before the human eye can register and react helping to prevent collisions and save lives."

Three safety scenarios have been explored as part of the testing:

  • Pedestrian Scenario - A pedestrian is crossing a street at an intersection. An approaching driver cannot see the pedestrian due to a building obstructing the view. Smart cameras mounted in the intersection relay information to MEC using the 5G network. Verizon's MEC and V2X software platforms detect the pedestrian and vehicle and determine the precise location of road users assisted by Verizon's Hyper Precise Location services. A visual warning message is then sent alerting the driver of the potential danger.
  • Emergency Vehicle Warning Scenari - A driver cannot see an approaching emergency vehicle and cannot hear its siren due to the high volume of in-vehicle audio. Verizon's MEC and V2X software receive a safety message from the emergency vehicle and send a warning message to nearby vehicles. The driver receives a visual warning.
  • Red Light Runner Scenario - A vehicle fails to stop at a red light. Using data from the smart cameras, MEC and V2X software detect the vehicle and send a red-light-runner visual warning message to other vehicles approaching the intersection.

You can watch the video of Honda and Verizon's Mcity tests at http://honda.us/5GResearch.

Honda isn't the only company exploring what 5G communication can offer. Pirelli has installed the tech in its tires and BMW recently updated its My BMW app to make it compatible with the new technology. Audi is working on similar technology out on the road in Virginia and Georgia.

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Drivers will be able to utilize the Mappo app in their Ford Mustang Mach-E.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Mappo is a new way to explore. The app provides culture-oriented travel recommendations based on books, movies, music, and more, going further than the traditional reach of points of interest recommendations. It includes themed routes and utilizes crowd sourcing to generate content from locations around the globe.

The app launched with 30,000 points of interest with references in more than a dozen major cities in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Points of interest aren't just marked on a map, but are supported with content such as quotes, book clips and trivia. Users can browse points of interest nearby, or you can use the search box to look up themed routes based on a place, the name of an author or book, or several other filters such as movies, music and history.

Mappo app interface in SYNC 4

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

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Ford will be the first automaker to add Mappo to its vehicles. The addition is the result of a collaboration between Mappo, a startup from Tel Aviv, Israel, and the Ford Research Center in Israel.

"People love telling their friends about interesting places in books, movies and music – now they can share these passions with the world through Mappo," said Stuart Taylor, global director, Ford enterprise connectivity. "Mappo makes long drives or brief escapes richer experiences, whether people stay inside their vehicle or step out to experience a landmark."

Customers who have vehicles equipped with SYNC 3 or SYNC 4 technology will be able to use Mappo through voice commands, giving them an easy way to experience the app as they travel. Mappo also will be available for the 2021 F-150, Mustang Mach-E, Bronco, and other future Ford vehicles.

Vehicles equipped with navigation technology can use SYNC AppLink for the unique capability of creating routes to the points of interest found in the Mappo app.

In addition to Ford vehicles, the Mappo app is aviaalbe for iOS and Android devices.

Getting in and out of your vehicle to explore doesn't stop the Mappo experience. Any saved route on your smartphone can be easily selected once running the app inside your vehicle, and you can quickly pick up where you left off – whether leaving a vehicle to explore or coming back to continue to your next destination.

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