Yo Yosemite! Oh Yosemite!

There are times when I can post photos with no commentary and times when I simply cannot. The upside is that I have no way of knowing if you skip my thoughts and just look at the photos 😉. Or do I? 🤔

I jotted notes throughout this adventure as usual, but it’s taken me a week since we returned from Yosemite to actually start working on the posts (yes ‘posts’ cause one post won’t do) in earnest L. I blame my job which I love, but which sometimes gets in the way of my other loves (damn mortgage …); reading for pleasure; training for a 60 mile walk; reading the news (I used to be a news junkie, I don’t know what to call the level I’m at now); being daunted by the knowledge that I took around 700 photos and I have to review them cause I can’t post all of them; reading for pleasure; searching for dill to plant next to my tomato vines that have been attacked by hornworms so I can continue growing a fruit that I don’t eat cause the vines were a “gift” from a friend who eats them; getting ready for another trip; and, you guessed it, reading for pleasure LOL. There are many sound reasons why it has taken me a week to get to writing the thoughts that have been running around in my head.

Hornworms are voracious and decimated this poor (previously flourishing) tomato vine in 2 days!!!

Fittingly, I’m writing this from Puerto Rico where I’m working on a new research project on adventure-based tourism (vs being the adventure tourist I was last week) and its resilience (or not) to natural disasters like Hurricane Maria which hit Puerto Rico in 2017 (Puerto Rico will feature in another series of posts 😊).

So Yosemite

Let me start by saying that Yosemite is AWESOME, BREATHTAKING, MIND-BLOWING and more. Yes, I have to shout because Yosemite is beyond my wildest imagination, though in my recent visit I only saw a very small part of the approximately 1,200 sq. miles that comprise this national park. Hopefully the photos will capture some of its grandeur. If they don’t, you’ll just have to go visit and experience it yourself.

Why Yosemite?

Some background. Yosemite was high on my bucket list of national parks to visit, not because it is very popular, but for a host of other reasons. The protection of Yosemite pre-dates the establishment of Yellowstone as the US’ first national park in 1872. Yosemite was first protected as a California state park (by the federal government) in 1864 but didn’t become a national park for another 26 years. Yosemite was sacred to Native Americans prior to being “discovered” by Europeans and remains sacred to them today. It is a natural and cultural icon of national and global significance (World Heritage list 1984). It was steeped in controversy. It was protected by Buffalo Soldiers. It was where in 1918 the first paid woman ranger (Clare Marie Hodges) in the national park service started the job. It is so much more than these few factors I’ve listed here.

I don’t recall when I first heard of Yosemite. However, I do remember when it moved to the top 10 of my national parks list – it was in 2005 when I read about John Muir’s fight to prevent the building of the controversial dam (now the O’Shaughnessy Dam) in the park’s Hetch Hetchy Valley and David Brower (Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee, 1971). Yosemite moved to my top 5 in January 2009 when Shelton Johnson performed his reenactment Yosemite Through the Eyes of a Buffalo Soldier (more about this in another post) at a cultural heritage tourism conference I attended. So Yosemite has been sitting near the very top of my national parks bucket list for quite a few years.

I’ve had two other opportunities to visit Yosemite, but had to cancel for good reasons. This time around I was determined to make this trip with my outdoors tribe (Southern California Outdoor Black Adventurers (SCOBA)) even though it meant either not going home for Cropover or going for a short time. We started planning this trip early in the year but because the set dates of August 2-5 clashed with the last days of Cropover, I had a really hard time figuring out the logistics. For reasons previously explained, things swung in Yosemite’s favour and I decided that I would go home late July and return August 1 (cause there was a fete July 31 that I wanted to go to), just in time to leave for Yosemite early on August 2. Unfortunately, other events intervened and I ended up cancelling my Cropover trip altogether, so no fete 😢. Yosemite was worth it.

Our car is on fire!!! 

Before I can get to Yosemite and the real photos, I have to backtrack a bit. Whether we’re day hiking or camping, we try to carpool because we have to safeguard the resources we love. Three of us (Jennetta, Ivan and I) live in the same area and usually drive together. When we’re camping we rent a vehicle because none of our cars can hold all of our camping gear.

For this trip, the adventure started on the Thursday when we picked up (or tried to pick up) our rental. It took us three locations and two burnt cars to get us the vehicle. First, we thought we were picking up from our usual location (close to Jennetta) and it ended up being another one a few miles away. So we re-routed and went there, driving in two cars. At the second location, the size car we wanted (with satellite radio) was not available so they sent us to a third location (closer to where Ivan and I live), so we took off again. I was driving alone and when I got close to the rental agency, I saw what I thought was mist (it was a really hot day and I thought misters were on) but on turning into the parking lot realized it was smoke coming from a car. By the time I parked I could see that the smoking car was right next to the rental agency, there were flames under the car, and a sheriff was trying to break the car’s window with a fire extinguisher. Then the agency was told to evacuate, our agent confirmed that the car on fire was the one assigned to us (she had just finished checking it to finish the contract and give us the keys when it started smoking), and the car parked beside it was also burning. I heard a small explosion, Jennetta just heard popping. There was no time for photos or videos. We were out of there, though with less haste than we should’ve had, because it was just surreal, you had to be there for the experience. So we left and waited to hear from them. We were sent to the location close to Jennetta, where we thought we had the reservation in the first place and finally got a car, more than two hours later than planned. I won’t go into the rest of the details. Since this post is about Yosemite, not driving around in a lopsided circle, strange experiences, customer service, or an adventure before our planned adventures, I’ll stop digressing and move on.

Back to Yosemite

Sometimes I find it really hard to believe that I get to experience these wondrous places. How fortunate and blessed I am!

We arrived at our campsite on the outskirts of the park on Friday afternoon, set up camp, ate dinner, and relaxed in preparation for our first hike the Saturday. Though we were tent camping, we weren’t rough camping because the campground had several bathroom locations (given the cleanliness of these bathrooms I would’ve preferred no bathroom), a camp store, game room and more. Plus it wasn’t cold as it had been on previous camping trips so I was able to use my mini airbed as a mat under my sleeping bag and while it wasn’t the most comfortable, it was okay. At any rate I was tired enough – I hadn’t slept the night before since I had to leave at 6 am and only slept fleetingly during our 8 hour journey to get to the campground – that even with minimal comfort I slept for over 6 hours. I awoke relatively refreshed and ready to experience Yosemite for the first time, hiking from the controversial O’Shaughnessy Dam in what used to be Hetch Hetchy Valley, now Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, to Wapama Falls.

O’Shaughnessy Dam & Views

Wapama Falls

Over 95% of Yosemite is designated as ‘wilderness’ under the federal Wilderness Act of 1964 (NPS, 2017). According to the Wilderness Act a ‘wilderness’ is “in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape … an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain … an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value” (Section 2.c.). California also has its own wilderness act, the California Wilderness Act, which was passed in 1984. While day hiking is allowed without special permission, permits are required to stay in wilderness areas overnight.

Wapama Falls is in wilderness, but we didn’t need a permit because we were only day hiking. Our hike was just over 5 miles round trip (a part of the longer Rancheria Falls trail). NPS rates this trail as moderate, but it was less than that. It was a good warm up for our hike the following day. The views were spectacular and the sounds of rushing water, exhilarating. All around an excellent introduction to Yosemite.

Views of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir from the Trail to Wapama Falls

The hike to Wapama falls follows the perimeter of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. With every few feet there’s another gorgeous view of the reservoir and surrounding granite walls.

Wapama Falls

Flora, Fauna & Other Awesome Sights

Let us Rejoice

As I was hiking around the reservoir and experiencing the falls, my recurring thought was of a verse from Psalm 118 “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” So I rejoiced that I was fortunate enough to hike in another national park from my bucket list. I rejoiced that I was finally able to see and walk across the dam that I first read about as a grad student many years ago when I was building my knowledge about protecting areas of natural and cultural importance. I didn’t rejoice that the dam that broke John Muir’s heart had been built, but about the opportunity to try to envision the Hetch Hetchy Valley that Muir had fallen in love with and wanted to preserve to share with future generations. I rejoiced about the fact that there was so much wilderness left despite this dam that on August 3, 2019 I could experience it and at times feel that I was there alone and at one with nature, even though I could see my friends ahead of and behind me. I rejoiced in the fact that the controversy surrounding the construction of the dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley to provide a stable and abundant water supply for San Francisco, engendered a lot more interest in protecting natural spaces in the US and led to the establishment of the National Park Service. I rejoiced in the fact that though the first nationally protected natural area was not in the US (Main Ridge Forest Reserve in Tobago in 1776 was first in western hemisphere; royal reserves in India date back over 2000 years), the NPS took the idea of national parks and protected areas to a previously and to this day still unheralded level and that national parks are truly ‘America’s Best Idea’.

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