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.

YS007W Tuolumne Meadows

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.

Marmot & Tioga Rd View 1

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.

Marmot & Tioga Rd View

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.

Yosemite New 2

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.

Yosemite New 1

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.”

Half Dome Alpinglow & Royal Arches

These are the Royal Arches.

We also went to see the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias:

Giant Sequoia

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.

Inside the 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 …

–Samantha Mozart