Called the “Range of Light” first by John Muir, then by famed photographer Ansel Adams, we all can cheer as our precious Yosemite officially recognizes 150 years of national park status Monday.
Yosemite is my favorite place in all the world. Growing up in the literal shadow of Mount Rainier, my loyalties were mixed for many years. But the granite walls and towering waterfalls in Yosemite won my heart.
My father was an elementary principal in Tacoma, Wash., and he, too, loved Yosemite. Thus, starting in the late 1940s, our family hooked up the travel trailer each spring and summer vacation and made the thousand-mile journey to pay homage to this sacred place.
Mind you, those were the days before interstate highways. U.S. 99 was a two-lane road until somewhere around Lodi and, yes, you ground your way through each and every town and city on the route.
Passing under Modesto’s Ninth Street arch was always exciting because you knew that in just over an hour we would make the left turn in Merced and head up to the park. (Pulling a trailer up through the Groveland entrance was nearly impossible since it was barely a one-lane track back in those days.)
Camping was awesome! Camps 7, 11 and 13 were all on the Merced River and Dad made sure we left in plenty of time to get a favored riverside spot. Sadly, today in the name of progress, all of those campgrounds are closed and only fading memories remain of evening campfire conversations, teenage romances and making sure you were at the ranger circle by 9 a.m. for the morning nature walk and lecture.
Camp 4 was considered the “dog camp,” and if you brought your pooch that is where you camped. Far from the river, but the giant boulders and proximity to Yosemite Village and the swimming pool helped make up for that loss. Today Camp 4 is the backpackers’ and rock climbers’ paradise, but we oldtimers will always cherish the days of doggie heaven.
No day was complete without attending the evening variety show at Camp Curry, followed at exactly 9 p.m. by the fabulous “firefall” from Glacier Point. Rangers would build a bonfire on that tongue of rock high above the Valley floor, then push the dying embers over the edge in a shower of sparks and glitter, falling 3,000 feet. A tradition that began in 1872 died 46 years ago in 1968; another loss to that new world of progressive thinking.
A careful search of the gift shop (or Google) might give you an old photo or painting to allow next generations a small glimpse of what they have missed.
Mirror Lake was really a lake back then, not just a reedy meadow. Every winter it was dredged and the sand and gravel sediment was spread on snowy roads in the park. Today, enlightened minds have decided that this is not appropriate, and thus the lake is mostly a swamp and the roads go largely unsanded.
But, enough of this meander down memory lane. Today, we still have the magnificent granite walls, spires and domes. Much of the year, the water still spills over the 3,000-foot valley walls. The hiking trails in our park are world class. The views from Glacier Point are beyond description.
Lunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel is one of life’s great experiences. For the price of an excellent sandwich or salad you bask in the most majestic dining hall in all America, the masterpiece of Gilbert Stanley Underwood, the king of “parkitecture” with lodges in Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks. All of this for just $20 per car and a drive of less than two hours.
Yet, we are told that less than half of the residents of our area have ever visited this great place.
Imagine that! People from around the world travel to see our park, yet our locals somehow do not take the effort to make the short drive to this wonder of wonders.
Any year in which I do not visit Yosemite at least six times is a lost year. Folks ask, “What is the best time of year to visit Yosemite,” and I answer simply “Any day you are in the park is the best time to be there!”