Massive Flood Damage Closes Yosemite National Park

SAN FRANCISCO -- Yosemite National Park will be closed at least through January due to devastating damage from flooding to both the park and its access roads, the National Park Service said.

"The opening date is completely up in the air," said a park spokesman. "We haven't even completed an assessment of the damage."

Gray Line of San Francisco said it would restart its daily tours from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park on the day the park reopens to vehicle traffic, even if it means using Highway 41 through Oakhurst, which is the most southerly and longest route to the park from San Francisco.

Another San Francisco-based tour company, California Parlor Car Tours, also said it is prepared to restart its overnight programs to Yosemite Valley as soon as the park reopens.

The firm had a tour group stranded for 24 hours when the Merced River flooded the valley, preventing vehicles from leaving the park, said Bipin Ramaiya, the firm's president.

"They were moved for one night from Yosemite Lodge to some makeshift sleeping accommodations, but it was a good group of people who were understanding," he said.

There is no word yet as to when Highway 120, the main route to Yosemite from San Francisco, or Highway 140 through Merced might reopen after the devastating rainstorms caused several landslides to block the roadway on New Year's Day.

The only route open to the park is Highway 41 through Oakhurst and passage of vehicles is limited to park service vehicles, who are only using the highway during daylight hours, the spokesman said.

Although Yosemite attracts hundreds of motorcoach tours each year, the impact of the floods on the tour industry is minimal because January is low season, tour operators said.

Gray Line, which is the only firm that operates day tours to Yosemite year round, has given its passengers full refunds for the canceled tours and has put together an alternative way of seeing Yosemite -- by air.

Through an agreement with Scenic Air Tours, passengers depart San Francisco airport for the Sierra Nevadas and take a flight over the park's valley and a tour of the Gold Country towns of Columbia and Jamestown.

The day-long tour costs $199 per person and is offered daily.

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