yosemite national park

A short visit to Yosemite National Park and it’s sad history

My Mom is a huge inspiration for me and she never stops having adventures, here is a guest post by her on her visit to Yosemite National Park: 

My partner and me recently visited my sister who temporarily works in the Silicon Valley and planned a short holiday around a family visit. One of the highlights of our trip was a 2 day visit to Yosemite National Park in North California. The entire park covers an area of 3,026 km2 and reaches across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This was very my first visit to a national park in the US and I happened to choose the national park which paved the way to the development of the idea of the national park system in the US. In 1864 Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant to protect the Yosemite Valley, a group of people then successfully lobbied to establish a national park that encompassed Yosemite Valley’s surrounding mountains.

We had to restrict our visit to the Yosemite Valley area as we had only planned a 2-day trip. Also, we visited in April and could not visit the part of the Yosemite park which reaches over the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range as this is only accessible from May or June onwards depending on weather conditions. In the winter season, which can last until May or June, certain roads in and out of the valley require snow chains, also some trails only open in May. It is advisable to check the weather forecast and plan a trip to Yosemite ahead to make the most of your visit.  The National Park website is a great source of information   – https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/index.htm

yosemite national park

April was, however, a perfect time to see the waterfalls and streams which are best seen in spring when the snow in the mountains is melting and turns the rivers and streams into powerful torrents.

The sheer beauty of nature in Yosemite is amazing or ‘awesome’, as some people may say.  It is indeed awe inspiring and I could have spent hours just watching the waterfalls and torrents and get an idea of the forces of nature. Somehow I felt connected to my surroundings, simply because everywhere you turned your eye, all you could see was sheer beauty. The fact that 4 to 5 million tourists visit Yosemite every year shows that nature and wilderness are appreciated by people from all over the word. In a time where we label, judge and put a price tag on everything, what price do you put on the beauty of a waterfall?

yosemite national park waterfall

We decided not to stay overnight in the valley itself because we found that hotel accommodation in the valley was limited and quite expensive. The other accommodation option we found was camping and we did not have the time to plan for the logistics of camping. Looking at signs like the one below, it seems that camping can get quite exciting if you are ill-prepared, don’t follow the rules and leave your food or tasty toiletries in the wrong place.

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We decided to book a room in an Inn in Oakhurst, just outside Yosemite Park. While my daughter blogs about pool parties in Las Vegas, we had a very different pool experience in Oakhurst. When arriving at the Inn we were greeted by an extremely friendly hotel receptionist and we asked if the pool was heated. It had been snowing all day during our stay in the valley and while driving to the hotel we had this vision of a dip in a nicely heated pool to warm up and relax. But this was not to be. The friendly receptionist went to great lengths to explain that they do not heat the pool as it makes no sense to heat water when the air was cold because we would feel so cold when getting out of the water that we would be freezing by the time we got back to the room and all the benefits of the warm water in the pool would be completely wasted!! We were so baffled by her logic and felt too tired and cold to have the energy to argue with her. Instead we went straight to our rooms, turned on the heater and headed for a warm shower. So, if you are looking for pool parties, Oakhurst may not be the perfect place. Have a look at Mel’s  Las Vegas pool party guide instead.

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We planned a few hikes in Yosemite which were rated from easy to moderate to strenuous and we quickly realised that any hike not rated as ‘easy’ from Yosemite Valley involves going uphill. Of course, this makes sense when you start a hike from a valley – duh. What I am trying to say is that you should beware and plan your hikes. Make sure you have the right clothes, bring some snacks as there are no shops selling drinks, sweets or ice cream in the wilderness and most of all make sure you bring your walking boots!! (In case you notice that I recommend planning several times – I admit, we could have planned our trip better and with more time ahead which is why I recommend doing exactly that)

A map of all hikes can be found on https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/valleyhikes1.pdf

We did the following hikes:

  1. Yosemite Fall – This trail can’t be called a hike because it is like a stroll in a park with a beautifully amazingly awesome waterfall as the centerpiece. It was a great introduction to Yosemite for us on our first day because a) it was snowing and we were wearing trainers which got wet which resulted in cold feet, b) we were a bit jet-lagged and weren’t up for a strenuous hike in bad weather and c) we were looking forward to ‘that pool’ in our hotel.

 

yosemite fall

  1. Vernall and Nevada Fall Trail.

A great hike which is marked as moderate to strenuous and trust me – it works the other way around.  The first part is all up-hill after which you go – guess what? –  down-hill.

We had to turn back twice on this trail, once before reaching Vernall Fall (1538 meter) when just before reaching the waterfall the surface of the trail, which was right next to a steep abyss leading to the torrential river got icier at the same time as it got narrower.  The cliff wall on the right-hand side just did not offer enough support to prevent an icy slide into the abyss and torrential river which we simply did not fancy at all.

yosemite national park

The second turn-around was on the way to Nevada Falls (1801 meters). The higher we climbed, the less people we met on the trail which become snowier and snowier until we came to a point where the trail was completely covered in snow and became unpassable – at least as far as me, my trainers and my fear of heights was concerned. All in all, we managed to do a 4-hour hike with a nice little picnic in between.

yosemite national park

yosemite national park

  1. Walk to Inspiration point. We parked our car just outside Wawona Tunnel off Highway 41 (marked as Tunnel View on the official map). After about 30 minutes walking uphill we were wondering whether this was really worth the hard work, or rather it was my partner who was having serious doubts. But he is from Sweden and it is hard to impress a Swede with a beautiful view when he lives in a country with plenty of beautiful sceneries. You can judge for yourself by the picture below and decide if you might get inspired to walk uphill for a while to reach ‘inspiration point’.

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We also visited the Yosemite visitor centre, mainly to warm up on the first day of our visit when it was snowing. It turned out to be very interesting as it offered a glimpse into the history of the Yosemite National Park which stirred my interest to find out about more about Yosemite’s past.

History of Yosemite and the native Americans

Like every area that is now a national park in the US, Yosemite used to be the home of the Native Americans who have been living in the Yosemite area for thousands of years. Yosemite Valley was called Ahwahnee which means ‘gaping, mouth like place’ and the Indians were called Ahwahnechee who belong to a group called Miwok. Yosemite was special as it was the home of an entire community of Native Americans who managed to remain in the park until the first half of the 20th century. Whereas most Indians had been completely removed from other national parks like e.g. Yellowstone and Glacier in the 19th century, the Yosemite Indians managed to stay much longer because they both resisted and adapted to the invasion of their homeland.

The first contact between Yosemite Indians and whites took place during the Californian gold rush in the 1840’s which brought thousands of fortune seekers to the central Sierra Nevada in their feverish search of gold. Yosemite Valley was discovered during a military campaign in 1851 when a group of volunteers called the Mariposa Battalion entered Yosemite to capture the Indians and their chief Tenaya and move them to the Fresno Indian reservation. Instead of being completely removed from the valley, the Yosemite Indians managed to return and develop a relationship with the nearby mining camps by working for the miners. Since Yosemite Valley was not in the centre of the mining area and since the Indians turned out to be a useful source of labour, the Indian presence in the Valley was tolerated.

The first European and American tourists entered Yosemite in 1855 and as Yosemite’s fame grew, the number of tourists increased. This in turn saw the construction of tourist facilities like hotels, trails and roads like the wagon road which brought coaches full of tourists on a regular basis. Indians once again adapted to change and remained on relative good terms with their new neighbours. They found employment during the spring and summer tourist season which allowed them to make a living and remain in their ancestral homes. The men found work chopping wood, putting up hay, working in hotels, serving as guides, driving sight-seeing waggons and providing tourist parties with freshly hunted fish and game. Women worked as domestics, maids or washer women and sold their hand-woven baskets to tourists. Indian labour was valuable due to the remote location of Yosemite and the Indians posed no threat to tourists. Yosemite also did not attract the same kind of rough crowds which tended to congregate in most mining camps. Therefore, the Yosemite Indians continued to be ‘tolerated’ and were left to live in Yosemite Valley.

The presence of the Yosemite Indians was not just tolerated but increasingly became a tourist attraction. Many tourists associated the Yosemite Indians with the idea of wilderness and saw them as objects of curiosity. Yosemite was an excellent place to see ‘real Indians in their natural environment’.  By the end of the 19th century, Indians had become integral to the Yosemite experience just as tourists had become important to the Yosemite’s Indians to make a living.

The Yosemite Indians had to adapt to further changes in the early 20th century when e.g. hunting prohibitions were implemented which stopped them from hunting deer and game.  After the national park service was created in 1916 the Indians were paid to participate in the Indian Field days organized by the park authorities to attract tourists in late summer when the waterfalls had diminished. For a fee, Indians dressed in full Indian costumes and participated in activities like rodeo events, parades, Indian baby shows and horse race with Indian riders pretending to be warriors. Many of these activities were completely alien to the culture of the Yosemite Indians but conformed to stereotypical expectations of how a ‘real Indian’ was supposed to look and act.

The National Park Service then started to charge the Indians who were living in the valley rent and those who could not afford to pay the rent had to leave the Valley. At the same time the park’s superintendent prevented the influx of outside Indians into the valley. Also, the Indians who were employed by the park had to leave their homes once they had retired. The idea was that the Indian presence in the park would eventually ‘die out’ and the problem would take care of itself. Eventually the Indians were pushed to leave the valley and move into towns outside of Yosemite as job opportunities in the park disappeared and their behaviour was increasingly restricted. The last homes of the Indian village were destroyed in 1969.

Though many descendants of Yosemite Indians still have a close connection to the Park and frequently visit to gather acorns and maintain various religious traditions and practices, Yosemite Park has eventually been completely cleared of the Indian presence, just like all other national parks in the US.

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The first sentence of this display board in the visitor centre – ‘Imagine strangers invading your neighbourhood’ reminds me how history repeats itself: Those ‘strangers’ were of course the settlers who are the ancestors of US citizens today who now have a government which tries to stop certain strangers from invading their neighbourhood.

I do not want to finish on such a sad note. I promised myself to go back to Yosemite to see more of its beauty and enjoy the wilderness and next time I plan to:

  1. Spend more time in the park and plan with more time ahead
  2. Visit outside of the Yosemite winter season
  3. Stay overnight in the valley
  4. And most importantly……. Bring proper walking boots

 

This post was written by my beautiful Mom, Dani 

 

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