“The Incomparable Valley” ~ Yosemite National Park (Part 1)

“I have seen persons of emotional temperament stand with tearful eyes, spellbound and dumb with awe, as they got their first view of the Valley from Inspiration Point, overwhelmed in the sudden presence of the unspeakable, stupendous grandeur.”  ~  Galen Clark, guardian of the Yosemite Grant

Stunning vista from Tunnel View (Bridalveil Falls to the right).

Yosemite National Park, referred to as “the incomparable valley”, is probably best known for its grand waterfalls and distinctive granite cliffs.  It offers so much more, as John Muir so beautifully told us in his poems and letters written so long ago.

Reaching across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Yosemite encompasses 761,268 acres (1200 square miles), roughly the size of Rhode Island.  It has such amazing gifts to offer up, deep valleys, soaring granite cliffs, spectacular waterfalls, clear rushing streams and rivers, stunning meadows, giant sequoia, vast wilderness areas, and biological diversity – the stuff a nature lover’s dreams are made of.  If not for the efforts of renown conservationist and naturalist John Muir and others, 3.5 million annual visitors to this national park today would not be able to enjoy her wonders.

Bridge over Merced River (from Happy Isles Nature Center)

In 1889 John Muir, becoming evermore concerned about the damage being caused by sheep grazing in the High Sierras, launched a campaign with the help of Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, to persuade Congress to preserve these lands.  Their persistence paid off and on October 1, 1890, Yosemite National Park was established.

Earlier still, in 1855, homesteader Galen Clark wandered upon the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia.  So mesmerized was he by these giants, his personal fight to preserve them from logging soon extended to include Yosemite Valley.  His efforts gained support and the Yosemite Grant was drafted and submitted to Congress.  In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill and Yosemite became the first territory ever set aside by Congress for preservation and public use.  Today Galen Clark has a mountain range, the Clark Range, named after him, which can be seen from Glacier Point.

Some of the original inhabitants of the Yosemite Valley were the Miwok Indians. Looking out over the valley, they named it Ahwahnee, “place of the gaping mouth” and later called themselves the Ahwahneechee.  They were followed by Europeans in the mid-1800’s, who quickly set out to displace these native tribes.

Of the 3.5 million who visit here yearly, most do not travel further than the 7 square miles of Yosemite Valley.  If you do nothing but this, there is still much to see.  Some of the more prominent features (but certainly not all-inclusive) that can be seen from Yosemite Valley are:

  • El Capitan (very popular with the rock-climbing set)
El Capitan
  • Half-Dome (can be climbed by permit only from ~ May through October – better views from Glacier Point)
Half Dome
Yosemite Falls (not all is captured in this photo)
Vernal Falls
Nevada Falls (upper right)
Bridalveil Falls
Ahwahnee Hotel
  • Ansel Adams Museum
Except for the Ansel Adams Museum, which we plan to explore later this week, we were able to see all these stunning sights.  Even with our two weeks here, we would never be able to take in all of Yosemite, so we have already decided we will save the eastern part of the park, Tuolumne Meadows, for a later date.
The elegant Ahwahnee Hotel
The Ahwahnee Hotel is a definite must-see, its stunning architecture set against a backdrop of towering granite cliffs.  It was originally built for the wealthy traveling to the park who were looking for more comfort and opulence than that provided by other lodging.  Since 1927, the Ahwahnee Yosemite tradition is the reenactment of Renaissance finery at the famous Bracebridge Dinner.  At this seven-course Yuletide feast you are taken back in time to the 17th century, with jesters, musicians and a court of over 100 players to entertain you for four hours.  I have read that this night of frolicking and festivities will only set you back about $425 (certainly not in our budget).
Terry just down from Vernal Falls

A hike up to Vernal Falls was in our budget (cause it’s free) and provided some quick exercise.  Only about a 1.5 mile hike but with an elevation gain of ~1000 feet and no guard rails to the top, it made for some heart-pounding moments.  It brought back memories of our time touring ruin sites in Mexico, climbing down from the pyramids.  In the past decade more than a dozen people have lost their lives foolishly swimming above the falls.  We watched nervously as many elderly folks with canes tried to make the crowded journey to the top – yikes!

Stay tuned for more photos and stories of this incomparable valley as we hike some of her trails.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”  ~ John Muir

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