A garden gate lures at Tenaya Lodge

Like many Californians, I love Yosemite but don’t visit very often, scared away by the hordes of tourists who can turn the valley floor into a giant big parking lot, albeit one with spectacular views. But there’s an easy way to enjoy Yosemite while at the same time experiencing the peace, silence and alpine serenity that made this corner of the Sierra Nevada so famous in the first place.

And that’s to stay outside of the park. You can venture in for a day’s hike and a few photo ops, then slip back outside park boundaries, where the wind sighs through the pines with the same soul-stirring sound, but there are far fewer people to interrupt your reverie.

One such Yosemite jumping-off point is Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite; this classic luxury lodge has been a favorite of active families and couples seeking romance for more than 20 years. Now there’s a new offering at Tenaya that brings it to the attention of those of us drawn to the mountains not so much to fish and splash, but more for the mental clarity and inspiration we find there. It’s Ascent, an airy new spa designed to reflect the herb-scented air of the pine forests and alpine meadows that surround Tenaya.

A visit to Ascent for their opening weekend, with my sister Beth as an equally eager guinea pig, was an introduction to the art of spas going green and greener.

Spa director Kate Riley was lured to Ascent from Gaia, one of my favorite Napa valley spas, where she was responsible for implementing the sustainable, organic, and locally sourced philosophy that earned Gaia some serious green cred and landed it on a number of top “green spa” lists. And sure enough, Kate is bringing to Ascent the same super-focused attention to “locavore” detail, hiring top-notch California formulators to create products for Ascent that feature herbs and botanicals indigenous to the central Sierra, including plants used for healing by the Native American tribes that frequented the area.

The Zen-like lounge at Ascent Spa

Los Angeles-based Kimberly Parry and Sebastopol-based Julia Faller both use only farm-fresh, all-organic, chemical-free botanicals in their product lines, Kimberly Parry Organics and Benedetta Skin Care, which are mixed in small batches and eschew all preservatives. Then there’s La Bella Donna, a line of all-mineral makeup that protects against the strong high-altitude sun, also without chemicals, preservatives — or the usual pore-clogging oils.

Beth and I compared notes after our facials and massages with happy results: No irritation, no greasiness. We decided the plant-infused massage oils and facial products had the same effect on our skin as composted mulch has on our gardens. (And we found it particularly amusing that Riley chose aesthetic specialists from both southern and northern California, as if to reflect Tenaya’s location halfway between – or to avoid our state’s notorious north-south rivalries.)

We both went home having made product purchases, something we almost never do, sharing — among other things — an almost obsessive thriftiness. (See Beth’s great post on our family tradition of bargain-hunting, which she calls snarfing.) “If it makes us look younger without Botox, then I guess we can count it as a bargain,” was Beth’s comment. I think we just found the promise of Ascent’s lush garden-based nurturing too much to resist.