Anyone who has ever visited Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park knows how crowded and potentially dangerous it can be during peak tourism season. Today I am starting a series of essays chronicling my personal experiences in Yosemite National Park as they relate to the iconic naturalist and conservationist, John Muir.
Most of you probably are cognizant of who Muir was and what he represented, and you probably already know that he was literally the person responsible for putting this classic park on the map. Often times I wonder what he would think about Yosemite in its current state; a place much different from the one he knew and loved. This especially pertains to Yosemite Valley, the thoroughfare and commercial hub of the park, and for that matter, just about any park. After recently viewing a fine art photograph of the area, I was inspired to begin these essays, which are for everyone, whether you’ve been there once, never visited, or know it like the back of your hand.
Most visitors to Yosemite enter either through the South or West entrances. Both can be accessed from the California city of Fresno. Both entrances are fairly similar in scenery and length…In terms of this essay, either one of these entrances could apply.
For many, the City of Fresno represents the gateway to Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, you normally can’t see the mountains from there because the area is so hazy. I imagine it’s probably a combination of the pesticides and chemicals used on the farms in the area along with the California smog that seems to permeate everywhere. The journey to the park begins here, past the fruit and vegetable stands of the rural surroundings. Eventually the city gives way to the Sierra’s rolling foothills. Slowly, subtly, and steadily you begin to climb, passing small towns along the way. The trees get bigger and the road gets steeper as you venture further into the mountains. Soon, you are in a full-fledged, unmistakable mountain forest with rushing streams and larger than life-sized trees. After several more miles of driving you round another blind, sharp turn and out of the corner of your eye you catch the glistening highlight of a whitewater of gushing steam. What the heck..you think…its worth a couple of minutes of your time and pull off to check it out.
Immediately it’s the sound that catches your attention. This stream is no joke. As a matter of fact, its more like a rushing torrent and upon closer inspection, you realize that one false slip into that and its certain death. You also realize that the stop was well worth your time.
As you continue up the mountain your natural appetite for scenery magnifies as the journey continues. After a short time, you reach the park entrance, a nondescript area in the forest where they take your money, give you a brochure, and let you in. The idyllic drive continues and you eventually you start to descend weaving your way down the mountain towards the valley below. Soon you begin to catch glimpses of what you’ve been longing for all along. As you continue your descent, the views get better and better.
After going through a tunnel, the scene completely unfolds before your very eyes. Massive waterfalls, monolithic towers of granite, sweeping vistas, and an absolutely pristine river meandering through a tranquil meadow surrounded by trees literally takes your breath away. God willing, it’s only a matter of minutes now before you enter this fairytale landscape. The road continues downward and soon you reach an intersection…
It is now onto the valley and its record-breaking spectacles of nature. All at once, the traffic picks up significantly. You notice this curiosity immediately at your first stop, the elegant Bridalveil Falls. Here the whipping, free-flowing, waters of Yosemite Creek gracefully plunge over 600 feet to the valley floor, making it one of the largest waterfalls in the park. The mist is everywhere and the rainbow it creates is a pleasant, natural surprise. The sound is unmistakable, like an oversized snake hissing and beckoning in the distance.
Never mind the scenery though, it’s the traffic that gets your attention first. The parking lot is packed with people running around as busy as bees. Meanwhile there are vehicles coming and going, pulling out, pulling in, backing up, turning and parking. This all reminds you of some sort of strange mating ritual of man and machine here on the concrete and black top, with a gargantuan waterfall as a backdrop. They act like they are the only ones there. Oblivious to any kind of danger, they walk out in front of moving vehicles while shouting and yelling to their friends and family.
Suddenly, you find yourself making a hasty exit from the oversized parking lot of craziness thinking you’ll catch the next one instead.
To be continued………….