Yosemite National Park – urban release
A few days in and around Yosemite National Park can do wonders for adjusting an urban warrior’s attitude. In this, I speak from experience. Although the park is crowded in prime season, with noise and traffic by the roadways and main paths, the sights more than compensate for this. And, one can reap further benefits by going out early in the morning or by finding less well-travelled paths. There are still places where one can find real peace and temporary release from the challenges of city life. It is restorative.
Drought, what drought? Birds, what birds!
Although drought has stressed the park — as can be seen from the dead pines and other sad trees that dot some slopes — the area still manages to host an abundance of nature. We set out on a guided bird walk led by Michael Ross (Yosemite Conservancy) and never left the paved roads and pathways. Yet, stopping every few meters to listen and observe, we spotted birds all around. In addition to some familiar peri-urban avians like ravens and Steller’s jays, we found forest birds like acorn woodpeckers and western wood-pewees and less familiar flyers like Bullock’s Oriole, yellow-rumped warblers, and northern rough-winged swallows. Standing there quietly on the edge of a meadow or woods, nature goes on about its business all around you. It draws you in.
Despite the drought, the weather was cool, rainy and at times downright soggy. The rain offered some advantages to those with Gore-Tex lined shoes and a willingness to explore. First of all, it transformed views around the valley into scenes reminiscent of Chinese scrolls, with lush greenery mixed with granite mountains and low clouds. Second, it gave the many waterfalls along the valley walls a turbo-boost, helping them to live up to their reputation. Third, it helped to reduce the flow of tourists along the pathways to the favourite sights. These benefits far exceeded the disadvantage of getting a little wet along the way.
An evolving park
In our wanderings over the course of a few days, I was a bit haunted by reflections from a piece that William Least Heat-Moon wrote for National Geographic Magazine called “Yosemite – Grace Under Pressure” (January 2005). He described the fate of the original inhabitants of the valley, most of whom were driven out or marginalised by insurgent Euro-Americans, and the damage to the environment in the early quest by the new arrivals to exploit the natural riches. He also pointed to reasons for optimism in that the park has managed to preserve the transcendent “grand beyondness” of the valley and brought people closer to nature.
Ken Burns reinforces this view in his film Yosemite – A Gathering of Spirit (2014), which highlights the efforts to protect the valley and surrounding region. Shown regularly at the visitor’s center, the film is uplifting and a fine way to dry out on a rainy afternoon. At the park museum next door, there are efforts at educating the visitor to the Native American history. An interesting model village and various exhibits highlight their culture and traditions. My favourite part of this was a demonstration by a Native American artist on the craft of basket making, taking redbud twigs and transforming them into practical works of art.
Beyond the valley
Yosemite Park is huge and one can only manage to cover selected highlights over a short visit. Beyond Yosemite Valley, there are sights such as the wonderful giant sequoias at Mariposa Grove (closed from June 2015 for two years of renewal) or open expanses at Tuolumne Meadows (which we saved for our next visit). There are big rewards in getting away from the main path and onto some of the side trails. Taking a little extra time, one can find calm and better observe the natural world all around. Walking the trails, thick with organic material that absorbs footfalls, is good for the soul. Thankfully, it is still here to be found and very worthy of our efforts to preserve it.
Photos and sketch by Doug, (c) 2015
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