by Dahna Branyan
“It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.” – Theodore Roosevelt
The next leg took us uneventfully back down to the valley through the orchard country of Fresno and Merced, and then as we headed back up into the Sierras, destiny, in the form of Apple Car Play, took a hand. Siri sweetly guided us to an old logging road sporting a “road closed sign” where a woman rancher happened to be repairing a fence. We explained our Siri problem and asked if the road was really closed. She said it was open, but there were low spots that might still have water. She hesitated before saying that yes, that from there it was the road to Groveland, near our campground. We cursed Siri for the next ten miles as we rattled and rolled down the forest service road to the connecting highway. Again Siri told us to take Old Priest Road up to Groveland, CA and our campground. This time we ignored Siri and took New Priest Road instead, giving her a piece of our mind about her routing judgement. It was a steep grade zig-zagging to the top. Pat got a bit worried when the transmission started heating up so we used a few pullouts to let it cool down a few minutes before going on. Once at the top and settled into our new digs, we found we were right to ignore Siri since RVs and travel trailers were not allowed on Old Priest Road because it was a straight 17 % grade. We also met a neighbor who burned up his transmission on the new road, proving again that Pat is a pretty smart fellow for letting the transmission cool on the way up.
We still had to climb further up the Sierras before descending down into Yosemite Valley the next day. It was not as arduous as the roads into Groveland or Sequoia, but what a lovely drive through the evergreen forest, dotted with mountain dogwoods and manzanita. The curves were alternately punctuated with luscious waterfalls and breathtaking views of the valley below, including previews of El Capitan and Half Dome in the distance.
First Look at Yosemite Valley and Merced River
Greenleaf Manzanita (Arctostapylos patula)
The Valley Awaits
It is easier to feel than to realize, or in any way explain, Yosemite grandeur. The magnitudes of the rocks and trees and streams are so delicately harmonized, they are mostly hidden. John Muir
But only from the valley floor can you glimpse what Muir was talking about. The interplay of the valley’s granite walls with the fast moving Merced River and the beauty of the diverse foliage is sublime. If one can filter out the cars and people, it takes little imagination to see this beautiful rugged valley the way the native Awahneechee saw their home, Awahnee (translated as “gaping mouth”). It’s hard to say if they named it after the geology of the valley or their initial reaction to the magnificent valley. Well, that was our reaction anyway.
El Capitan, Its Heart Exposed
The Majestic Half Dome
We were very happy campers coming back home to Yosemite Pines RV Resort. Our neighbors, Gary and Shelley from Whittier, CA had just returned from Hetch Hetchy so we sat out with drinks and talked about all we had seen. When they mentioned Whittier, Pat remembered it was Nixon’s home turf. Turns out, Gary is related to Nixon on the Milhous side of the family. We had a great time visiting with them. They had recently retired from running a family seafood business. I wish we could have visited longer – I might have been able to talk them out of a recipe or two. But they were leaving the next morning and we were headed back to Yosemite, this time to see Hetch Hetchy ourselves.
John Muir and the Sierra Club fought from 1901 to 1913 to save the Hetch Hetchy Valley, lying within Yosemite National Park, from a dam that the City of San Francisco wished to build within Yosemite, arguing that there were better alternatives. As he wrote in Yosemite,
“Hetch Hetchy Valley, far from being a plain, common, rock-bound meadow, as many who have not seen it seem to suppose, is a grand landscape garden, one of Nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples. As in Yosemite, the sublime rocks of its walls seem to glow with life, whether leaning back in repose or standing erect in thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to storms and calms alike, their brows in the sky, their feet set in the groves and gay flowery meadows, while birds, bees, and butterflies help the river and waterfalls to stir all the air into music—things frail and fleeting and types of permanence meeting here and blending, just as they do in Yosemite, to draw her lovers into close and confiding communion with her.”
They lost that battle and the city built a dam impounding the Tuolumne River to supply the city with water and electricity. The beautiful valley was lost.
O’Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
But after visiting Hetch Hetchy, I feel somewhat conflicted. Yes, the beautiful valley was lost, but there is still a certain rugged beauty in the reservoir against the stone walls. There are still quiet trails to explore and a few primitive campgrounds. It is not congested with cars and tourists tramping over everything like Yosemite Valley experiences daily. Relatively few people visit. Who is to say what is the greater harm? By all accounts, the amount of sediment that has covered the valley floor is negligible. Perhaps one day, the proponents of restoring Hetch Hetchy will win or the dam will fail (it has been there for a hundred years now.) and a restored Hetch Hetchy may end up less damaged than what has been done to Yosemite Valley.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
California Indian Pink (Silene Californica)
We ended our Yosemite visit with a trip to the Mariposa Sequoia Grove, one of three groves of giants within the park. Stopping off at the Wawona area to visit the interpretive center and the Big Trees Lodge (formerly the Wawona Hotel) , built in the 1850’s,
Big Trees Lodge
A thunderstorm erupted during our visit and prevented us from seeing the full grove and some of the named trees, like the Grizzly, but it was still awesome to stand among the giants.
A Fallen Monarch On A Rainy Day
5 thoughts on “Spring Trip, Part 6: Yosemite, Our Own Notre Dame”
Looks like you guys had a blast in Yellowstone. It was the best national park that Becky and I ever visited. The scenery, as your pictures depict, is outstanding. However, Becky and I mostly remember it for the animals that we saw-bison, black bear, brown bear. elk, moose, and swans.
It is truly a shame that Hetch Hetchy Valley was damned but with our crumbling, 100-year-old infrastructure it may we’ll drain some day exposing the valley.
We did have a blast in Yellowstone. That’s up next with pictures! I have read a bit about plans to restore Hetch Hetchy and Sierra Club and others think it will not be so daunting as it seems. Come see us when you are through botanizing.
Dammed not damned! Perhaps a Freudian slip!
And well instead of we’ll. I hate these spell checks, especially when I do my best proofing after sending the comments!
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Thank you so much for the gorgeous photos of Yosemite — I never get tired of seeing pics of this jewel and wishing that there was just a small chance that I would get to see it all in person one day.
After growing up on that coastal plain that is the Houston area with no mountains for many hundreds of miles, I vividly remember the very first time I was directly and physically able to experience real mountains. And that was thanks to you and Rocky taking me for a drive and walk up Boulder canyon when I visited you in Boulder waaay back in 1971. I was so completely smitten that I decided then and there to move to Colorado. And that’s no doubt why I’ll stay in MT no matter how nasty the majority of voters turn.
So, my deep love and respect for giant chunks of rock and the flora and fauna that with and upon them salutes your lovely pictures and the stories of how you traveled to meet them. xox
Thank you, Linda. I love the mountains too, but not enough to live in them during the winters anymore. After living in Utah, I came to appreciate the high desert landscapes and somewhat milder weather. It’s the desert that will always evoke a feeling of home for me. But it is always an awesome experience to see the ruggedness and beauty of the mountains. I hope you do get to see Yosemite someday. There are flights to San Francisco and tours that go daily to Yosemite that could still put it within your reach.