Yosemite means “the killers” in the Native American language of the land’s former inhabitants. Were they killers or were they misunderstood and labeled killers by the intruders that wanted part of this gorgeous land? Maybe they killed to protect this land. Maybe they knew then what millions of visitors from around the world see now at Yosemite National Park, that this land is special and needs protecting.
Before I even enter the park, the surrounding area begins to impress. We drive around the sides of mountains, winding up further into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Out the car window I see mountains lined up, the clear skies allowing the far off peaks to be visible. Rocky sides and trees color the cliffs close by, while those lying further off are colored by blues that grow lighter with distance. The skies are filled with bright vibrant blues and dotted with white wisps of clouds.
Through the entrance we drive on to the sights that have been captivating visitors for the 150 years that this land has been preserved and for many undocumented years prior. I am lucky to be here in the off-season, when traffic by car and by foot is light. We may not be able to see the entire park in the winter because of snow but there is still more than enough to inspire awe.
The road in the park wraps around trees and boulders, carving out the path of least of resistance. Through a clearing in the trees I can see off in the distance a half dome of rocky mountain peaking out over the mountainous landscape. We pull over on the side of the cliffside road to spend a few minutes appreciating this view. The Half Dome, famously inspiring the North Face logo design, is also an icon of Yosemite National Park. The clear blue skies cast a perfect array of sunshine on this popular climbing structure. I am careful to not step too close to the cliff’s edge as I stare in amazement, clicking a few photos to remember the way this spot took my breathe away. I feel a chill run up my spine and goosebumps form on my skin as I take in the display that nature has set up before me.
Further along, the Half Dome is visible from Tunnel View landing. It is gorgeous from all angles, and no explanation is needed for it to take the breath away from everyone standing near me. I cannot believe the Half Dome is here in front of me, looking this way naturally. It looks photoshopped, unbelievable. It is impossible to take a bad picture from here. From Tunnel View is also visible the Bridalveil Falls, where water flows off the cliffside, cascading into an array of water that looks like a bride’s veil. Brides must long to marry beneath it, and a small chapel nearby caters to the nature lovers’ desires for a wedding in this most photogenic park. The park doesn’t outshine the bride though, rather it complements and highlights her beauty.
We trace the Merced River, carrying on further through what seems like a large portion of the park but is actually miniscule in comparison to its 880,000 acres. Across from Half Dome we find El Capitan, a difficult but rewarding climb that presents a challenge to even experienced climbers. “Look! There’s a climber there! Right above the two light horizontal lines and beneath the two black indents.” “Oh I see him there too!” He hangs from the cliffside on his harness, settling in for the night. The most spectacular accommodation I could imagine. It’s the off-season so he is alone in his pursuit tonight, but he has an audience still. Our group stands watching through binoculars, and we are surrounded by other groups, hikers, couples. Some brought chairs and beers along with their binoculars. This is a sight to enjoy for those of us unable to scale this behemoth rock ourselves. In the summer, this climber would not be alone up there and the audience would swell.
In another corner of the park there continues a show that is at least 2000 years old. The Mariposa Grove contains giant sequoia trees that have been standing tall since before the Native Americans lived among them. The oldest and one of the largest, Grizzly Giant looks like the Tree of Life. Its enormous trunk, measuring 96 feet around the base, makes me look like a little ant beside it. It stretches taller than the Empire State Building, its branches extending out to provide a shady covering. This grandfatherly tree has stood here for 2000 years, outliving all others here. Looking around, I see burn marks at the base of most trees. My guide explains that the burning helps the trees grow healthy and tall, that the park rangers will conduct controlled burning to promote growth. Without this burning, she explains, the trees would perish, a phenomenon contrary to our natural instinct.
Yosemite has changed me, even in this short time, it has opened my mind and taken up residence in my heart. I cannot wait to visit this park again and again, allowing it to change me and influence me with its massive feats of natural beauty. The striking enormity of nature on the west coast is beyond what the east coast can offer, beyond what I have seen before. I cannot believe what is before my eyes, it puts into perspective the nature I am accustomed to. The influence of travel strikes again, widening my mind and allowing me to understand and appreciate more of the world.