Thomas Jefferson stepped out onto his Monticello portico and gazed out across America. He called this country Eden. He didn’t see the need for a national park, for all America was, he perceived.
The years went by. Industrialization spewed out over the landscape and the people found themselves crowded into big, noisy cities where tall buildings cast long, sooty shadows over their canyons.
It was a time when the gap between the rich and those of lesser means began to widen. People such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Frederick Law Olmsted and Stephen Mather saw the need to preserve American’s places of natural beauty for the people, no matter their income or station in life. The evolution and establishment of the national parks grew from the ground up. It was a grassroots movement.
Paintings and then photos were circulated, and the first tourists arrived in Yosemite in 1855. At first they came on horseback and by stagecoach, and soon, by train and automobile. My party of companions and I entered Yosemite 135 years later from the east at Lee Vining, near Mono Lake, and drove over the Tioga Road.
One of the first places you see along the road after you go over the Tioga Pass at 9,943 feet altitude is Tuolumne Meadows at 8,619 feet. In the distance, back among the trees in this photo, you can see the Tuolumne River meandering through the meadow. The Tioga Pass is closed in winter, deep snow making it impassible. By sometime in May the snow melts and the pass opens. We came in the spring, May and June; and once in July, but by then many of the waterfalls had dried up, except those fed by living glaciers. The waterfalls are full in the spring when the snow is melting. The Tioga Road began as an Indian trail, was paved for cars in 1937 and realigned and dedicated in 1961. In winter you can get into Yosemite National Park, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and Yosemite Valley through the lower altitude, warmer, western entrances.
This is the view of Yosemite Valley from near Olmsted Point, elevation 8,300 feet. Olmsted Point is named for American landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and his son Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. for their work dedicated to preserving the land and towards establishing a national parks system. We saw lots of Steller’s jays along the way, beautiful blue birds, and I’d like to tell you that this critter in the photo below is a hungry bear, but it’s actually a marmot hoping to be fed. I do not feed wild animals.
Over the Tioga Road we wound down into Yosemite Valley, along the way passing wildflowers and interesting rock formations, and around a bend, suddenly a small waterfall issuing through a crack in a granite rock. You can look down into the valley from a point near the head of Yosemite Falls, where Yosemite Creek spills over the edge.
We came to Tenaya Lake on our way into Yosemite Valley.
Down in Yosemite Valley, altitude 4,000 feet, we encountered the awesome 1927 Ahwahnee Inn and ate lunch there in the cavernous, cathedral ceilinged stone dining room while we looked at mule deer in the grass just outside the window. Ahwahnee is the name the native people of the valley, the Ahwahneechee, gave to the valley: it means wide open mouth or “place of gaping mouth.” To me, such an opening means opportunity. Behind the inn you see the Royal Arches rock formation.
New concessionaires recently have bought the Yosemite Valley hotels, restaurants and outdoor activities and are changing the name of the Ahwahnee Inn to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. This short Los Angeles Times piece tells the story. Yosemite is the native people’s word for “people who should be feared: they are killers.”
These are the Royal Arches.
We also went to see the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias:
Here I am standing in front of a giant sequoia.
And, below, is one of my companions going through the hollowed out trunk of a fallen sequoia.
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, is located in the southwest corner of Yosemite. The tallest tree stands at 285 feet, the oldest tree is 1,900-2,400 years old. Bristlecone pines grow in the region, too. They survive in subalpine climates where there is little rainfall. The oldest known bristlecone pine in the world is located in the White Mountains in the Inyo National Forest. The White Mountains are not part of the Sierra Nevada range. They rise just to the east. This is the tree. Its exact location is kept secret to protect it from human despoilment. Its name is Methuselah and it has been carbon dated to be 4,847 years old. It is a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva). This photo is from mnn.com (Mother Nature Network Earth Matters Galleries.)
Tomorrow we will journey into Nature’s Great Cathedral, Yosemite Valley …
I wish I could visit Yosemite again.
Oh, me, too, Julia.
I would love to visit Yosemite again.
Your comment came through twice, so I’ll reply twice. 🙂 Tomorrow, Saturday, Yosemite Valley — heaven on earth.
I have the warmest spot in my heart for Yosemite–for the experience of traveling up winding roads on our way, the sight of El Capitan, the ride up to Glacier Point, looking down at the valley while knowing John Muir and others like him walked by the river, down the path. I am forever in love with the place, and greatful we have national parks, something, to a large point, uniquely American.
Thank you, Samantha for sharing your story and the images. Lovely seeing you smile in one of the shots.
And, why wouldn’t I be smiling, being there in Yosemite, Silvia. It holds a warm place in my heart, too. It beckons, always. Yes, the national parks are uniquely American, and there for all people. The people own the parks, all of us Americans do. I have a great love for Yosemite, like you.
And this week, as I have been writing my posts, I have had the privilege of watching the re-airing of Ken Burns’s “The National Parks” on our local PBS station. Inspiring and informative for my writing these stories.
I always wanted to see Yosemite, and now I have! It is stunning!! I think my great grandfather was involved in trying to preserve this area too.
You definitely are gifted with taking excellent pictures. Thanks for the excellent description of the area! I loved it!
Thank you, Gwynn. You’ll see more of Yosemite tomorrow — Yosemite Valley. No doubt your great grandfather was involved in preserving that valley as well as the area that I wrote about today. Tomorrow I will post comparison photos of the twin valleys — Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy. The comparison lends impact to the cause for restoring Hetch Hetchy. I’ve been watching, this week, the Ken Burns National Parks series on TV. It’s interesting all those who worked so hard to preserve this area, how they went about it and how they thought about it, often with opposing viewpoints. Gifford Pinchot, for one. No doubt your great grandfather knew him. I see him almost as a nemesis to preserving the parks, but that’s how he saw it. He just thought that clear cutting the forests in certain areas would help maintain the society-nature balance and that filling Hetch Hetchy with water was the most economical way to find water, and pure glacier melt water, for the city of San Francisco. Stephen Mather had a nervous breakdown over this ongoing preservation debate and had to be put in a sanitarium for a while. The only thing that brought him out of his depression was going to a National Park.
Wow, just wow! Stunning images. Thank you for introducing us to such amazing places!
Thank you, Gulara. I think the most stunning will be posted tomorrow — Yosemite Valley. So, please do come back for them. Of all the places, perhaps in the world, I think Yosemite has the most stunning, spiritually uplifting, awe inspiring beauty.
Thank you for the beautiful pictures of Yosemite. The United States is beautiful. As I have said to you before, I had the privilege of traveling across country from the West to the Southwest, to the Midwest to the East, to the South in 2008, and I was always amazed at the beauty. As an American living outside of my country, I think I treasured it much more than when I was living there.
Visiting from the A to Z Blog Challenge.
Patricia @ EverythingMustChange
Patricia, you and I will have to tour Italy and come tour the U.S. again. Definitely, yes, I, too, treasure this country. That accounts in large part for my great attraction to Thomas Jefferson. Visiting both his homes — Monticello again, and Poplar Forest for the first time — top my travel priority list.
My aunt took me and her other niece to see Independence Hall when I was 4, and I saw the Liberty Bell. That gave this country meaning for me. Of course, at that age, I’m not sure which impressed me the most — Independence Hall, my new brown and white saddle shoes with the red rubber soles or my aunt’s other niece’s long, thick braids.
Extraordinary photos Samantha thank you! That sequoia trunk is breathtaking …
Ahwahneechee – just looking at the word makes me think of a wide open mouth. It’s lovely when words sound like what they mean!
Sweet little marmot. Glad it was not a bear. I also do not feed wild animals …
I think I can see Methusalah’s face in the trunk of the last photo …
Thank you for this lovely post on Eden on Earth …
More Eden on Earth tomorrow, Susan, Yosemite Valley. Ahwahnee does sound like what it means. I’m disappointed the new concessionaire changed the name. I thought readers would like my marmot. I did meet a bear once in Yosemite. It’s amazing how big they are close up.