Yosemite Park

The next day, the weather and the park were both lovely, if a bit crowded. This place is the busiest park in America, and I can see why, in a way. The views are larger than life and present themselves as “wilderness packaged”. I don’t mean that the park service does anything to falsify or package the beauty of the place, but the way that we experience the roadway park is pretty much the same for everyone, every time. I stood in one spot and realized that I had stood there in August of 1958, seeing the exact same view of Yosemite Falls, having the same feelings of wonder and at the same time, a certain emotional as well as physical distance, like it was a memory even the first time.

The tree, was probably alive in 1958, though. By the way, that tree was a favorite spot for Japanese tourists to be photographed. I saw three busloads of Japanese tourists come especially to stand by that tree and have their pictures taken. It wasn’t the backdrop, but the tree itself. I couldn’t find out why. The falls, in case you’re looking for them are not running- too dry. You can see the path just right of center.

The grand views of glacier-carved mountains from the flat valley floor are in some ways a picture-show outdoors. Distance minimizes parallax and creates images that look much the same from everyone’s camera angle. The features of Half Dome, or the other side of the Grand Canyon from these viewpoints seem to be theatrical back-projections for a movie. These glorious places are of a scale not easily comprehensible to folks looking out from “overlooks” and “vistas” on the side of the road, or even, I suspect, from any one point on a trail. They are very, very difficult to photograph with any success. The postcard says it all. It is the immensity of each of these places that is its glory and, at the same time, the thing that makes the place ungraspable for a day-tripper like me. Places like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon belong, more rightly, to the hikers, for the reality, the soul of these places is in what is next to you, and the work you put into getting to the place you want to be, that hilltop or canyon that is not seen from the “outlooks”.

I’m just a driving tourist this trip- well, every trip, actually, and I join all of the German and Japanese, and Chinese folks, the cars filled with young families and oldsters, the ones who come on buses and the ones in rented RV’s, moving from vista to vista, stopping at all the places on the road that the people who really know this place, the Park Service, have conveniently arranged for us all to “Oooh!, and Ahhhh!” without driving off the road. For the most part, it is a remarkable well orchestrated dance, this movement of thousands of viewers, campers, hikers, bikers and day-trippers through a mountainous, dangerous set of roads, every day, with a minimum of hassle. I saw very few Rangers during this trip, and I know that the ones I didn’t see were probably just as busy as those I did, and I have to take my hat off to them. This place could easily be a madhouse, even on a beautiful October day. The fact that is was merely crowded and not crazy is a wonder commensurate with the natural wonders that make up Yosemite.

Here is the obligatory “Tunnel View” shot (there is a tunnel just at this point on Glacier Rd) …and the people all taking said shot. There were always young men and women who insisted on standing on the wall that kept you from a very nasty fall. Nobody died while I was there.

Given all that, I did have a couple of favorite places, even if they were shared with dozens of others at each stop. The first is Washburn Outlook, on the road to Glacier Point. It lacks the almost straight-down view of the valley floor that is possible at Glacier, but offers a real sense of the range of the place.

This is the Pano version, as seen by the iPhone, but it’s a pretty fair representation. The second one is a pano of the view straight down into the valley, where I stood for the 1958 shot.

The second favorite spot is Tioga Pass, or actually some of the spots along the road to the pass, especially the area just after Tamarack Flat, where the rock is pretty much still holding out against the trees. It’s a naked, powerful place, the setting for Night on Bald Mountain, and you feel you could just slip off the edge of the world around every corner. The trees that are there are tough, old things, clinging on with a tenacity that is visible; roots snaking over naked rock for any available purchase, crowns cloven by lightning or dead from exposure, greenery strung out along the lee side. It’s pretty much the edge of where they can survive, the treeline, but it seems nobody told them, and they’re holding on for dear life.

I took mainly film shots of those trees, but here is a shot of the road sliding off the edge of the world as we know it… or maybe the photographer was sliding off… who knows?

In the midst of all of this there are meadows, as lovely and unexpected as the first crocuses that pop up in the yard in February. There is even a small lake along the road, with only a few people stopping to enjoy it, mostly photographers. I even see tripods and long lenses! Of course there are many more mountain meadows and many lakes, some pointed out with roadside arrows and trailheads for the real tourists, but not for me. I just have what they built the roads to.

The road from Tioga Pass to the edge of the park and then down through the Inyo National Forest and the Lee Vining Valley is as spectacular as the park itself, but I’ll leave that to the next post- Lone Pine.

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