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Yosemite Yosemite

28th July 2010

A Chill Out Day Walking the Yosemite Valley Floor Learning Some of its History

El Capitan from the Valley Floor
Merced River by El Capitan
    My plan today was no plan, just take my time exploring up the valley, walking where I fancied, and just enjoying the feel.
    I pulled up near to El Capitan and had a stroll up the rive side, eyeing up the sheer side of the mountain to see if any climbers were out on its face. I couldn't spot any. The climb is so severe that it can take more than one day, and then climbers would have to bivouac overnight, suspended from anchors attached to the cliff surface. Brave people.
    I headed further up the valley and took a walk through a beautiful meadow, alive with butterflies and birds and a favourite pathway for many casual walkers, and then ambled along the river bank, alive with kids splashing about in the cool waters. Folk appreciated the beauty here, and also knew how to enjoy it in their own ways. The walk afforded me an excellent view of Taft Point where I perched yesterday, and also gave me a good vista of the Cathedral Spires and Rocks further down the valley.
Cathedral Spires and Cathedral Rocks
Yosemite Chapel
    I eventually reached part of the valley where the Old Yosemite Village used to be located. Stretching between the Four Mile Trail and Sentinel Bridge, it was a bustling hamlet during the late 1800s and early 1900s. It consisted of guest cottages, photo studios, a hotel, bathhouse, saloon, and other amenities for the many travelers visiting the valley. The Old Village had gone, but sugar maple, giant sequoias, and fruit trees planted by the villagers could still be seen.
    There was an old chapel quite close to the road. Yosemite Chapel was the only building remaining from the Old Village, and was the oldest structure in Yosemite Valley. Built in 1879 near the foot of the Four Mile Trail, it was moved to its current location in 1901.
    Where the Old Village once stood, little evidence remained. In its heyday, thousands of tourists arrived on horseback, in wagons, and in early Model T Fords. They danced, bathed, and slept here. Today this was hard to imagine, as the meadow seems so pristine. The National Park Service relocated the old buildings over time, removing the last building, Degnan's Bakery, in 1981.
Rafts Lazily Drifting Down the Merced River
    A century of trash once lay buried beneath the meadows surface, obstructing water flow and preventing plant growth. In 1993, restoration crews using excavators dug up and removed the debris. The water essential to maintain a healthy meadow returned, and seeds that had lain dormant for nearly a century came back to life.
Yosemite Lower Fall
    I was all set to carry on blindly walking up the valley, just enjoying it all, and I would have done so for miles, but common sense eventually prevailed (I hadn't lost it all at the time of writing) and I knew I ought to go and get my backpack with an adequate supply of water and trail mix plus jerky. Once properly provisioned I carried on across the meadows, crossed a bridge with rafts lazily floating by underneath. This reminded me of a time when my children were young, and we had a family holiday in the Dordogne. A firm existed that would hire out canoes, and you would state for how many hours you wanted to drift down the river, they would calculate how far you would travel, and be there to pick you up and bring you back. We hired two canoes for five hours, took plenty of fruit, cheese, bread, juices and wine, and cast off. We stopped off at an island further down and had our picnic. That was such a lovely day.
    Not far from the bridge was the Yosemite Lower Fall. The walk up to the Lower Fall was in welcome shade, and when I reached the base of the fall, it was like being in Trafalgar Square on a hot summer's day, all and sundry were paddling in the cool waters running down from the fall. I too couldn't resist the temptation, and dangled my feet in the cool waters. I had sat next to a family who turned out to be from Bristol. They had flown out to Denver, and were working their way across to San Francisco over a three week period.
Mirror Lake Lower Pool
    A hike up to Mirror Lake followed, so called because at one time its waters reflected the glorious peaks around it. It was more of a pond really, and seasonal. A rock fall had formed an upper and lower pool, and the upper pool was gradually silting up. In times gone by it was dredged for sand, and in winter time the ice on its surface was cut and stored in an ice house at the lodge. It had become a major tourist attraction, and still was.
    I sat on a rock and tucked in to my provisions, watching foolhardy lads jump off a high rock into about three feet of water. Silly, I thought. But it was a kid's paradise. I wondered how many of these kids never see the sea, America was a vast place and that idea was conceivable. Directly above me was Half Dome, with its 4,200' sheer drop. That was a pretty impressive sight. Once I had taken my fill off the place, I headed back down to the valley floor, this time by the old carriage route. Crumbs, that must have been a very bumpy ride for passengers.
Mirror Lake Upper Pool
Half Dome from Mirror Lake
    A network of cycle routes and trails took me across to Ahwahnee. The first director of the National Park Service, Stephen T. Mather, was as at home in the high Sierra as he was in high society. To ensure Yosemite's protection for future generations, he knew that influential people would have to care about the park in it natural state. To attract this clientele, Mather hired architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood to create a world-class hotel that reflected the Valley's stately domes and cliffs. On 14th July, 1927, at a cost of $1.5M, The Ahwahnee opened its doors in a gala event.
    Kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, movie stars and celebrities have all graced the Ahwahnee's guest list. But during World War II, the artwork and fine furnishings moved into storage and the hotel was transformed into a Navy convalescent hospital. The Great Lounge became a dormitory fro 350 sailors. At times, as many as 850 staff and patients occupied the grand hotel. Servicemen soon grew weary, as Yosemite was far away from loved ones and "civilisation".
Front of The Ahwahnee
    This was a truly grand place, full of stained wood furnishings, photographs and paintings, it simply oozed an opulent history. I took one look at the price list for food, and fled.
    To bring me back to earth I hiked to Curry Village for a swim in the pool and a shower. I then uploaded a couple of web pages, and while I was doing this, an American chap who had plugged in his laptop next to mine, asked if I would mind watching his machine while he ordered a pizza and got a beer. I had no problem with that. When he returned, we got chatting, and I got the usual "Where are you from?", routine. I said England, and pre-empted the next question by appending East Anglia to my response. To my astonishment, he knew where it was, and he had really enjoyed the area. I asked where he had been to in the region. "Ipswich", was his response. It turned out he had been a jet-fighter pilot at the Woodbridge airbase, and had lived in Ipswich. Whilst over in Britain, he had been to Wales many times, and the south coast. He had also traveled extensively throughout Europe. He seemed to have loved every minute of his time abroad, and "would do it again". Flying was his living now, and he flew up and down the west coast a lot. He had often flown over Yosemite, but this was his first ever trip there. What a small world. I left him to enjoy his food, while I went in search of mine.
    I too opted for a pizza, and whilst eating it at a table all to myself, I was joined by four young English women. They were doing a whistle-stop tour around the west of the Sierra Nevada over three weeks. We exchanged stories before I said my farewells and headed back to camp. Dusk was fast approaching.
    Today's unplanned day turned out rather well. Being out walking the valley was far more preferable to being cooped up in a motorised mechanical vehicle; I could smell the pine, and feel the wind on my face, and hear it blowing through the trees. A nice chill out day.
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Yosemite Yosemite

Uploaded from American Resort Campsite, Coloma CA on 01/08/10 at 09:10

Last updated 1.8.2010