We’ve loved Yosemite for a long time: knowing it through the fine black and white photographic prints by Ansel Adams; some of which we had seen up close at the Andrew Smith Gallery in Santa Fe.

The drive from our campground in Coarsegold to Yosemite National Park on Route 41 (the South entrance) is a long and winding road. It climbs from about 1800 feet to over 5000 feet in about 25 miles of winding, but good highway. After greeting the friendly park ranger (those hats give charm and integrity to every face beneath) and flashing our Senior Pass, we entered the park and had yet another 35 miles to drive to Yosemite Village. This part of the drive was even more winding, and brought us higher (6000ft.), then down into Yosemite Valley on a narrow two-lane road.

It was a lovely drive through Sequoia forests of ever-greater grandeur as the road grew steeper and more serpentine around the contours of the mountains.

We were already so filled with the beauty of each vista around each curve, that when we came through the long, rough-hewn tunnel into the Yosemite Valley we were taken by surprise by the compound vista to our left: of El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock

Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall: all arrayed before us, like famous living actors taking their bows after a lifetime of having enchanted us in pictures.

We stopped, crossed the road and just looked in awe at the scene stretched out before us–one so familiar, yet so new. We attempted to photograph what we saw, but only gained more profound respect for Ansel Adams. How did he do it? And with a cumbersome 8×10 camera, perched on a tripod, on top of his station wagon.

It was about noon so the light on the valley rock was very flat. We stopped at the same overlook again on our way out and watched the setting sun bring the valley to life with defining light and shadow. As it turned out we had about the best possible weather in the best season to experience Yosemite.

There were many more miles to go before our own little pictures began to take on the intimacy we craved of this special place. We kept stopping at turnouts, taking pictures, sighing, and pressing on.

A stop at the Bridalveil Fall turnout was especially memorable. In springtime, the flow of water from the snowmelt high above is tremendous (it pretty much dries up by summer), so we‘d see it in all its best. The trail to the falls was one of dazzling sunlight and increasing moisture. Fortunately, we’d brought rain gear. With hoods up and cameras held Napolean style behind the cover of our rain jackets, we climbed the trail to an overlook, lavishly soaked with wind-driven plumes from the fall. A steady flow of water coursed over the paved trail beneath our feet joining a raging torrent of incredible beauty beside it. We gave it our best shot photographically by quickly removing the camera from its shelter, aiming as best we could, and shooting before the camera got soaked. It was great, wet fun, especially after over a month in the arid desert.

When at last we got to Yosemite Village, we found the Ansel Adams Gallery, and compared notes with Ansel via his images shot in nearly the same spots we had stood. Our conclusion, he really knew what he was doing, and knew just when to do it!

A visit to the Yosemite Visitors Center’s excellent exhibits and film taught us many things:

Yosemite’s Geological History; it is a 400×80 mile single mass of granite, pressed upward from its volcanic womb by oceanic pressures, while erosion of the lesser stone which had covered it hundreds of millions of years ago exposed its monolithic grandeur. Millenia of glacial grinding and the flow of the Merced River formed, and is still forming, the Yosemite Valley.

Natural History observed; a western dogwood, with 6 petals rather than the eastern four, is presently blooming throughout the park. Steller’s Jay is a handsome bird (about the same size as the Blue Jay), half dark, matte brown up to it’s high jagged crest, and half iridescent indigo in its longer feathers, with a quick, crow-like intelligence. The Golden Ground Squirrel looks much an Eastern Chipmunk, whose makings have been bleached golden somehow. The black bears out here are ingenious at opening trashcans and the rangers have become even more ingenious, inventing several kinds of ‘bear-proof’ trashcans that the tourists must figure out how to open.

Human history; After the Native people of the Valley were driven out, and white commercial interests began to prey upon the area, threatening this extraordinary natural jewel, Galen Clark persuaded Abraham Lincoln to sign the Yosemite Grant, which would provide the foundation of further national and state parks. (this was in 1864, during the Civil War!) Would that all presidents had this much wisdom, stewardship and foresight. John Muir built a small, eave-hung cabin off the end of a sawmill roof, from which he could see all the great features of the valley, and where he wrote for the preservation of wildness. He would later become the first president of the Sierra Club.

Yosemite is a thoroughly satisfying natural wonder at a grand scale, and also at a very grass-blade-intimate scale. The one thing needed, for those who would take pictures, is time: time to notice when the light is at its best on the many changing rock faces, time to notice the seasonal colors, the depths of springs and snowmelts, time to plan to be in the right place at the right time of day!

This is a place to know in all seasons, as Ansel Adams’ photographs had already shown us. I hope we’ll be here for a longer sojourn someday when we might be able to camp in the valley in the Airstream for a period of time, hike it some, and get to know it well.

As we drove back up the winding roads into the dusk at careful speed, a wolf-in-residence safely crossed our path.

Explore posts in the same categories: Historic Sites

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