[aux_dropcap style=”classic”]S[/aux_dropcap]ix hours driving up from Los Angeles and we finally pulled into the Yosemite Valley, home to some of the most epic geology and passes captivating that America has to offer. This was at the top of my travel list for a decade, since way back in my New York days during a two week hospital recovery… thinking of all the places I’d rather be than strung up with eight broken bones and my first concussion. I was plotting out my exhaustive list of things to see in during my cross-country road-trip west and this was by far the most exciting. Picturing that view kept my imagination alive and creative juices flowing as the morphine slowly wore off and six months of healing began. But fresh out of time and money with a career overdue to begin, I left the car for my siblings and flew instead, straight to Burbank, with national park layovers.
Nearly eight years later, I finally made reached Inspiration Point! And the view truly lives up to the name. Just out below the frame of any picture you’ve seen of this of this breathtaking vista, there are two dozen photographers at Inspiration Point / Tunnel View at Yosemite Valley on an everyday basis, all set up and silently capturing one of the most beautiful sights on earth.
“Tunnel View” is the immediate overlook from Highway 41, a quick one mile hike from the parking lot will take you up and beyond the noisy bustle of tourists and traffic. A few agile photographers may brave the climb with their gear, but for the most part you’ll have the “Inspiration Point” view to yourself. The trailhead is easy to overlook, especially with everyone staring ahead to the equally astounding view ahead, giving those who take the time to go the extra distance a bonus of solitude with one of the greatest sights you can imagine. Although the Rockies may be “bigger,” the Sierra Nevada is home to the highest peak of the Lower 48: Mount Whitney, approximately 170 miles south of Yosemite. Our trip was in early January, camping between these two geoglyphic slabs. Granted, even a Central California winter is much more accommodating than virtually anywhere else, but looming storms kept any solid plans undecided, entirely dependent on which trail would be best for the morning.
We hit the hill by mid-morning, an old trail of zigzagging switchbacks creeping closer to the magnificent Upper Falls. A sunny hike would have been nice, but the cloudy elevation and scattered sprinkles gave us an uncommon look at this momentous landscape. Seems ideal to visit outside of the peak summer season, as even the winter crowds were much more packed than I’d anticipated. Yosemite is surely the Disneyland of national parks, so get out there around the new Year, as most of the tourists wait until summer. From the dozens of hikes like North Face, El Capitan and Half Dome; to the giant waterfalls and sequoia trees, this land could be the playground of giants. For mere humans, it will take many visits to experience the full buffet of adventures Yosemite has to offer. The campsites fill up quickly, too, so book it out as soon as you’re keen on a date.
There’s a great town center with exhibits for the evenings and more inclimate days, where I learned more about the park’s fascinating history. Yosemite is indeed the oldest, but not the first… in 1864, President Lincoln designated Yosemite Valley & Mariposa Grove (nearby area full of giant sequoias) a public trust of the state of California, marking the first time our government protected natural wonders for the public to enjoy. While this laid the foundation for our national park system, Yosemite itself didn’t become one until 18 years after Yellowstone was nationally parked-off, scarcely missing ‘2nd Place’ by a week, after the creation of Sequoia National Park.
Yet when it was first “park’d”, Yosemite National Park didn’t include that Tunnel View valley, or any of its iconic landmarks – El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls – none! The state of California had failed to prevent the intrusion of miners, loggers, cattlemen and sheepherders into the valley to do as they will… yes, hordes of sheep were quite the terror. None of these were resolved until 1903, during a Presidential camping trip when Theodore Roosevelt traveled to California, requesting John Muir take him camping for several days in Yosemite. After a night beneath the giant sequoias, Roosevelt described it with awe.
[aux_quote type=”pullquote-normal” text_align=”left” quote_symbol=”1″ float=””]Lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hands of man.[/aux_quote]
Muir convinced him to expand the national park to include those lands still in California’s possession, so that in 1906 it was signed into law that Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove were finally under federal protection.
John Muir is one of America’s favorite Scotsman, perhaps second only to the original James Bond – Sean Connery. Muir first saw Yosemite Valley in 1868 and lamented the destruction of the forests and meadows that surrounded the otherwise iconic valley, as sheep were once among the primary threats to the natural landscape. Sheepherders frequently set the meadows ablaze to promote growth of edible grass for grazing the tens of thousands of sheep throughout the area. “Hoofed locusts,” he called them, that “to let sheep trample so divinely fine a place seems barbarous,” as they destroyed region’s subalpine meadows and spread diseases that depleted the native bighorn sheep.
Pro-Tip for even the most amateur photographers – On a rainy day, a plastic bag goes a long way. The snow wasn’t supposed to start until 3, which it didn’t… but the unannounced rain came at 1. Luckily there was a plastic bag full of snacks stashed away to bail me out. Spontaneously eating all the snacks was just part of the fun.
Thanks for tagging along! Tell me about your Yosemite adventures in the comments below.