Yosemite National Park
"I have seen persons of emotional temperament stand with tearful eyes, spellbound and dumb with awe, as they got their first view of the Valley from Inspiration Point, overwhelmed in the sudden presence of the unspeakable, stupendous grandeur."
Long before immigrants and pioneers step into what we now call Yosemite Valley, there were the Ahwaneechees who have occupied this area for thousands of years. They were the first to name the mountains, rocks, and rivers in these area. And to every peaks and spires, there is a legend to be told how they came to be.
As one would when they first visit the valley. The sheer cliffs, magnificent granite towers, and enchanting beauty begs to have stories told of them. Such was the enthralling grandeur of the place that it made believers out of John Muir, Galen Clark, and President Theodore Roosevelt to spend a good deal of their life and effort to protect it. Ansel Adams created some of his best work here, and later also advocated for its conservation.
This is our second time visiting Yosemite and our first coming here during late late fall. Wasn't quite snowing yet, but it was very wet on our first day and freezing the next morning.
We had stayed in the Curry Village tent lodges last time, but opted to stay at the Wawona Lodge this time around and boy were we happy to. Compared to the minimum (albeit very accommodating) amenities in Curry, Wawona is almost like a resort. Victorian-style decor, clean shared bathrooms, full service restaurant and bar, and a fireplace piano lounge.
The only drawback is that it's about 45-minutes of mountain driving to the valley. But in this cold damp November weekend, it was a tradeoff we were willing to make.
In the evening down in the visitor lounge, Tom Bopp makes a regular nightly appearance. Playing old tunes and others by requests, and occasionally give a picture show about the history of the lodge. The official unofficial historian, Tom have worked here for 31-straight years, and when Wawona is closed for the season, he serenades the crowd in the fancier Ahwanee Hotel.
The Ahwaneechees were extremely protective of their habitations, rightly so. They guarded their area so violently that the surrounding tribes had dubbed them "Yohhe'meti," or killers. The first European visitors inappropriately, perhaps by virtue of being lost in translation, adapted this word as the name of the valley that they just discovered.
Per standard colonizers practice back then, the natives were eventually driven out of the valley. Through some weird twist of ironic eventuality, the same government that had driven them out begun protecting these lands for the sake of nature and conservationism.
In 1864, after much lobbying by Gallen Clark to President Abraham Lincoln, Yosemite became the first land grant by the US government to set aside for its preservation and public use. And after further persistence from John Muir, in 1890 became the second US National Park.
Because of weather, and our relative state of weariness at the time, we didn't do much hiking during this visit. We mostly just try to enjoy the sights around the valley, waiting for the clouds and fog to break to give us a few glimpse of the granite walls surrounding the valley.
The only hike we did was the short stroll to Lower Yosemite Falls, which was unseasonably flowing with water because of the recent late fall rain.
When the clouds do break, the views were worth the wait and cold. Some fall colors also remained.
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."
- John Muir
The first Yosemite settlers knew very well the importance of land stewardship, being in balance with the surrounding nature that one lives in. When the granddaughter of Chief Tenaya, Totuya, returned 78-years after her family was driven out of the valley at bayonet-point, she noted how brushy and full the valley was. The Ahwanees had frequently burned the ground to keep the undergrowth clear.
Only after years of preventing natural wildfires, did the Rangers finally realized how important it were these fires to the health of the valley. Natural fires help clear the undergrowths to let sun penetrate the forest floors and help seedlings grow; whereas years of fire suppression built up dry tinder like stockpiles of gasoline causing overly-massive fires.
The next morning we woke up early around 5AM to make it to Tunnel View by sunrise. As we checked out of Wawona Lodge, the manager in charge scrounged up a few muffins and pumpkin loaf to-go for us, along with a cup of fresh hot coffee.
We took off in the cold dark morning towards the valley. It was 32F at the valley, so parts of the road was lined with a thin sheet of ice; wasn't quite treacherous but definitely heeded caution.
When we got into Tunnel View, other photographers and visitors were already lining up the viewing point. The sun rose up behind Half Dome, but it stayed low because this time of the year. The sky was clear of any clouds, but the valley floor was covered by swift moving mist. It was absolutely surreal.
"There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods... and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred."
-President Theodore S. Roosevelt
Yosemite have had many protectors and guardians, but none is probably as least known as the Buffalo Soldiers, the segregated black detachment of the US military. They were haphazardly dispatched to do the job that nobody else wanted to do. Looked down upon and abused, they managed to maintain the delicate balance of protecting the park and being courteous to visitors. Even completing some of the earliest roads in some parks.
It wasn't until 1916 that the National Park Service was finally established for the management and protection of these parks, 26 years after Yosemite was declared as a National Park.
From Tunnel View, we went further down the valley. Took a short walk by the Merced River, at a junction just before the Swinging Bridge (that doesn't swing anymore). The fog and mist still lingered, giving a very eerie and mystical feel to the air.
After a few more detour, we grabbed breakfast at Yosemite Lodge's dining hall. Biscuits, gravy, and coffee, it's ridiculous how much amenities are provided in these magnificent parks; a paradox of modern conveniences in the middle of untamed wilderness.
We then stopped at the Ahwanee Hotel, to warm ourselves by the big fireplaces in their great rooms. If Curry Village and Wawona isn't quite your style, surely the four-star accommodations here are. Backed into one of the granite corners of the valley, colorful foliage surrounds the hotel and its many lounges.
"The mountains are calling and I must go"
After a couple more hours of lounging around, we headed out of the park. Feeling refreshed with the cold clear mountain air and views. The Ahwanees, John Muir, and many others have always exclaimed the purifying and healing powers of these wilderness, anybody who have visited Yosemite surely have experienced it for themselves as well.