Travel Northern California: Day 2, Yosemite – Continued.
“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” Ansel Adams
1 minute staring down the valley view and it’s not hard to understand where the mountain of inspiration came from for some of the greatest creative minds in our history. Ansel Adams and John Muir literally cut their teeth and had their careers born from this place where monster trees reach for the sky, clouds rest upon giant granite, and pastel color gradients fall into all the spaces in between.
I had a lot of grandiose ideas of what we would be able to accomplish and see while in Yosemite for just one day, which I suppose is better than showing up without a plan and no idea of what to expect. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and lost in the nearly 750,000 acres of vast wilderness with some hiking trails going on for over 200 miles. We didn’t make it to everything I had hoped to squeeze in, but what we did will remain with me forever.
“Down through the middle of the Valley flows the crystal Merced, River of Mercy, peacefully quiet, reflecting lilies and trees and the onlooking rocks; things frail and fleeting and types of endurance meeting here and blending in countless forms, as if into this one mountain mansion Nature had gathered her choicest treasures, to draw her lovers into close and confiding communion with her.” John Muir
Yosemite’s history is not an unfamiliar story: it’s early inhabitants were indigenous natives, the Ahwahneeche or “dwellers in ahwahnee“. A major trading route went through the area and when the California Gold Rush came through during the 19th century, it caused a huge influx of European-Americans, resulting in competition for resources. In 1851 the US Army led an assault against the natives, called the Mariposa Wars, in order to suppress their presence. A physician with the company battalion is credited with naming Yosemite Valley, in that he described the Ahwahneeche as “they are killers” or Yohhe’meti. They were eventually rounded up, villages burned, and sent to Fresno to live in encampments.
Temperatures were in the 90’s that day. With the sun reflecting off the giant granite, and being beat from exploring some of the trails around the valley, we decided to head to the top of Glacier Point (over 3,000 feet above the valley and a total elevation of 7,214 feet). It’s just an out-of-this-world feeling to look out over that expanse and feel on top of the world. When you are below in the valley, you feel so dwarfed by the enormity of the trees, boulders, waterfalls and granite from which they plunge. From the top of Glacier Point, it’s a completely different perspective. As if you might be able to rule it all.
I feel ridiculous trying to describe this place with my own words, especially from the shadows of such giants who have stood here before me. Instead I prefer to share their words, intermixed with my pictures.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.” John Muir
“There are no forms in nature. Nature is a vast, chaotic collection of shapes. You as an artist create configurations out of chaos. You make a formal statement where there was none to begin with. All art is a combination of an external event and an internal event… I make a photograph to give you the equivalent of what I felt. Equivalent is still the best word.” Ansel Adams
“I will follow my instincts, be myself for good or ill, and see what will be the upshot. As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.” John Muir
“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” John Muir
We decide to head back down into the valley and out of the park while there is still some light left. Time seems to be a lost concept in this place and I have underestimated how quickly the sun dips back into the earth.
But before we can even make it back down into the valley, a bear saunters across the road and looks on dumbfoundedly as crazy tourists jump from their cars to chase after it in hopes of a snapshot. I don’t understand how people can abandon their vehicle in the middle of the road and pursue a bear with a camera. And now I think to myself that I will always side with the bear when I hear about attacks on humans.
Just down the road, maybe another ten feet, two bears are grazing in the meadow. I photographed this image from my car window. This is definitely not the greatest photograph in the world, and in hindsight I failed to take the real picture. What you don’t see here was that there was a crowd of 15 or so people along side the road and another 3 flanking the bears from the woods to camera-right. Recipe for disaster if you ask me and I don’t intend on being in the news. At least not for stupidity.
I don’t want to be a part of the problem, and all of the people were really making me nervous, so we quickly moved on.
As quickly as we moved on, so did the last of the light. Just before the light bid it’s last adieu, I snapped a couple photos of the fingerprints of a forest fire that burned through the area last year.
Not just any forest fire though, the third largest in California’s history and the biggest wildfire on record in the Sierra’s (called the Rim Fire). The fire was started by an out-of-control, illegal campfire by a hunter, that resulted in over 257,000 acres and costing $81 million dollars to contain.
Normally this is good for forest health and is an integral part of regeneration and succession in the forest ecosystem. However, this fire burned a little to hot and officials predict that most of the forest’s plant life will be unable to regenerate and succeed as a result. To combat this, they proposed selective logging to recoup money to offset the cost of firefighting. In fact we passed a logging yard en-route from San Francisco on our way to Yosemite that had a 30 ft high stack of burned logs in which sprinklers were running on, probably to prevent re-ignition. I totally missed my chance to grab a photo of it and never did see another like it on our trip.
Yosemite was never on my short list of must-see places. I had never even given it much consideration. It was a long day– but a beautiful, impacting day that I am glad I squeezed in and hope to never forget.
Next up, we drive 390 miles north through the central valley, flanked by the Coastal Mountain range to the West and the Sierra Nevadas to the East, in order to reach the coastal city of Eureka where we meet up with family.
Stay tuned for more of the story of our exploration of California.