It was a place that had languished on my “someday” list for decades. I finally got there last April: Yosemite! Home to that very big cliff, El Capitan, that I had stared at in photographs since my teens, and my longtime heart’s desire, the hovering, split mountain known as Half Dome.
Yosemite is so famous, I was afraid I’d be impatient with the way it has to be managed to protect it from the hordes. But my experience was impressive, overall. To be honest, I was happy just to see people getting outdoors and enjoying themselves. How forward-thinking, those early advocates were who pressed to protect this iconic place from development and commercialization. It was 1864 when citizen Galen Clark and Senator John Conness got Congress to pass the “Yosemite Grant” and President Abraham Lincoln to sign it. Then in 1903, conservationist John Muir went camping in Yosemite valley with then-president Teddy Roosevelt, and he was inspired to return the park to federal protection as a harbinger to 1916’s formation of the U.S. national park system.
Those visionaries did this for me! And you! And the other four million people who visit Yosemite every year! Thank you, I say. Thank you, those with the gumption not to let the natural world be messed up irreparably. Despite the huge numbers, it’s all still there. The “Tunnel View” – that iconic bend in the road where El Capitan comes into view on the lefthand side of the frame and Half Dome on the right. Bridal Veil Falls. Tuolumne Meadows. Ancient sequoia groves. Wild rivers. Water falls, everywhere, including Yosemite Falls, whose 2,425-foot drop is the highest in North America. Stunning.
And the night sky. Oh, how well-worth missing a couple of hours in a cozy bed it is, to see it. At that magical hour of three a.m., my friend and I went out and photographed that sky. Well, she did—she’s a professional. I sort of got horizontally comfy nearby, the better to see the celestial view (when I wasn’t scanning for night-time critters, such as bears). It went well. And we were rewarded by the sight of someone high on El Capitan climbing at night with headlamps. Intrepid, that.
Although the seven square miles of Yosemite Valley comprise just one percent of the park area, it is where the vast majority of visitors come and stay. Beyond the valley is so much more, a wilderness the size of Rhode Island. It’s enough for a lifetime of exploration. Adjacent to it are three more wilderness areas, making it one of the most comprehensive wildlife habitat areas in east-central California.
With the completion of the centennial of the national parks last year, it’s possible that the focus on conservation of important natural areas such as Yosemite (and the lesser known) will get fuzzy, especially given the changing political climate. But seeing Yosemite reminded me how vital it remains to watchdog our natural legacies. Wildernesses everywhere are at risk. As we know, once it’s gone, it’s….gone. I plan to do my part to be a voice of support for them, and urge you to do so as well. That way, when your turn comes to travel to see these places, there’s a chance they will still be there.