Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Travelers
Yosemite Travelers

Steve and I usually spend months planning our trips, but this time, lucky us, we left the planning to his sister Karen and her husband Joe, who live in Novato CA. On September 30 they packed their car  with all the food, maps and equipment we would need for five days and drove to Sacramento to pick us up at the airport. Karen knew the best places to get deli sandwiches and fresh fruit. Then we drove three hours to Yosemite National Park, where they had rented a lovely two-bedroom house just outside the park. It was the first visit to Yosemite for all of us. The next morning, Martin, a wonderful guide, arrived to escort us to must-see places. Even the weather was perfect.

Martin told us a lot about Galen Clark, the first Guardian of Yosemite. Clark had come to California in 1848, the first year of the Gold Rush. What he found instead of gold was the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias south of Yosemite valley, the area first protected in 1864 by an act signed by Abraham Lincoln. At age 39, Clark contracted tuberculosis and was given six months to live. According to Martin, Clark engraved his own tombstone with his name and birthdate, 1814; then he planted young sequoias around it. The mountain air must have been good for him. He died in 1910 at 96, with full-grown sequoias all around his grave. Preserving Yosemite was his life’s mission.

John Muir was another Park hero we encountered. Muir camped out with Theodore Roosevelt for three nights and reinforced TR’s notion of saving wilderness for future generations. We walked all around Glacier Point, where they had some serious talks. Steve, Karen and Martin hiked from there to the top of Sentinel Dome, while Joe, with a broken ankle, and I, with blistering boots, soaked up the scenery and met them at the other end of the trail. Karen had read a lot about Muir and inspired me to buy a book about him for our grandson Stephen. I also got a map of the John Muir Trail for son-in-law Sean, who had hiked the Rae Lakes part of that trail last summer.

On the way out of the Park on the third day, we stopped at Olmsted Point and learned about the role Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. played in the development of Yosemite. Olmsted was already famous for designing New York City’s Central Park. With his son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., he wrote a report recommending policies for the care and protection of Yosemite’s scenery and wildlife. It became a classic national park treatise. From Olmsted Point we could see clear evidence of the glaciers that had carved out the Valley. In these photos you can see more of the beauty and history that we discovered in Yosemite.

Karen’s overall objective was for us to see Yosemite from the top and from the bottom. At Pioneer Village, Indian Village and the Ahwahnee Hotel, we viewed the park from the ground up. From Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome and Olmsted Point, we got overviews. At all levels we could see evidence of the drought and forest fires California has suffered over the last three years. The trees showed brown-tipped branches and dying trunks. Martin said that the oaks hadn’t produced acorns this year, leaving the bears without the prime source of calories they need before they hibernate. Lakes were at historic low levels; waterfalls were almost dry. We must go back some spring when the water is flowing fully.

Two books I had with me amplified our experience: Inspiring Generations: 150 Years, 150 Stories in Yosemite and Gloryland, a novel by Shelton Johnson, currently a Yosemite Park Ranger. The central character in Johnson’s novel is a South Carolina sharecropper who becomes one of the Buffalo Soldiers who protected the Park during the 1890s. It was the Ahwahnee Indians who nicknamed these soldiers, noticing the similarity of these soldiers’ hair to the fur on buffaloes’ heads. I loved the main character’s response to the glories of the Park: “Every day in Yosemite is like Sunday, and I don’t have to dress right or mind my manners. All I gotta do to be in church is open my eyes in the morning. Every day here is a kind of prayer, and every night the prayer is answered.”

Verses of my favorite Spiritual are a regular refrain in this book:

“Do Lord, oh do Lord, Do remember me (3 times) Goin’ way beyond the blue.

I got a home in Gloryland That outshines the sun (3 times) Goin’ way beyond the blue.

Gloryland indeed–one of the most glorious places on Earth. Now on to Tahoe!

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