The International Writers Magazine
: Travel in the USA

California’s Yosemite National Park
Tithiparna Sengupta

Yosemite National Park - a majestic expanse of mountains, valleys and meadowlands on the west slope of California Sierra Nevada - is one of the most beautiful and popular holiday destinations of America.

Did I see you cringe on hearing the word "popular"? I wouldn’t blame you, we are all wary of crowded tourist spots. But, believe me, the Yosemite National Park is so breathtakingly scenic that you can easily forgive it for being a crowd-puller.

The crowd at Yosemite is an odd mixture. There are the writers, painters and photographers seeking inspiration from nature. There are the scientists and explorers seeking the truth. There are the intrepid rock-climbers seeking adventure in the granite walls of the Half-Dome. There are the nature and wildlife lovers seeking beauty and solitude in their long hikes in the backcountry. And there are people like us, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but primarily seeking to browse as much of the Park as possible in a short span of time.

The history of Yosemite is interesting. Native Indians had lived in the Yosemite region for thousands of years. In 1849, with the discovery of gold in the Sierra foothills, the miners started arriving in the region in droves. This led to bitter conflicts, and also reckless plundering of the environment. Several conservationists then appealed to the US Government to protect Yosemite, and President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill granting Yosemite Valley to the State of California, as a public trust. This was in 1864. Much later, in October 1890, the Yosemite National Park was created.

The Park has several entrances. We drive into the Park through its southern gates. Our first stop is at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. A quick lesson on botany here for the readers. The giant sequoia trees are said to be the largest living things in the world and of the many sequoias in the Mariposa Grove, one – the Giant Grizzly- is estimated to be around 2,700 years old!
It is mid-March, springtime in the rest of California. But the Mariposa Grove is a white fairyland covered with snow. We plough through the snow and crane our necks to see the giant sequoias thrusting their heads into the very heavens.

Our guidebook raves wild on the Yosemite Valley - its mighty rocks and its two great falls, the Yosemite Falls and the Bridalveil Fall. As we drive away from the Mariposa Grove towards the Yosemite Valley, the snowy landscape gives way to a blinding blue sky and white Dogwood flowers. The road is delightfully winding and, suddenly - almost like magic - the Merced River appears to our left. This is the river that bisects the Yosemite Valley.

The lush green riverbank is an ideal place for camping. Sitting inside a tent or –if you are fond of exploring ways American - a RV, you can listen to the gurgle of the river. And upon stepping out, you see the river itself, rushing past in a mad hurry, and the wooded hills rolling away from the other bank to the horizon. Rafting on Merced is another popular way to experience Yosemite’s beauty.
We park our car at the roadside and walk down to the river, in complete awe of the scenery. For a long, long time we stand at the riverbank, watching the water in its endless dance. Finally it is time to scramble back into the car. Driving along the river and then through a dimly lit tunnel - the Wayonna tunnel – we reach the Tunnel View point. From here one gets a panoramic view of the Yosemite valley - the rocks looming large, and the Bridalveil Fall tumbling down to the valley floor in a thick, smoky strand.

We gape at the granite faces of the El Capitan, the Half Dome and the Cathedral Rock, and at the black-crested blue bird that preens itself away from the branch of a pine tree.
Once done with contemplating the grand and the small at the Tunnel View Point, it is time to head for the Yosemite village. The Yosemite Village has got a visitor’s centre, a souvenir shop, a museum, a photo gallery, auditoriums and a restaurant. Ever the unblushing tourists, we splurge on a host of posters, magnets and key chains at the souvenir shop; and then make a beeline for sandwiches and coffee latte at the restaurant.

Meanwhile, the afternoon sun casts a soporific effect on the valley. The rocks glow softly in the sun, the meadows sleep peacefully in their giant shadows, and a trembling little rainbow springs up in the milky white water of the Bridalveil Fall. For the romantic and the recluse, this is the perfect time to indulge in hiking.

There are many trails in Yosemite, long and short. We pick up the Mirror Lake trail, a 1-mile road that wanders through the woods and finally reaches the Mirror Lake – an emerald-green pool slowly turning to a meadow by geological forces. The signboards along the trail ask us to keep our eyes out for the mountain lion and the bear. We do, but unfortunately or fortunately, the denizens of the forest do not show up.

Bicycle rentals too are available in Yosemite. Paved bike roads offer cyclists sweeping views of the valley. And if you have the spirit for adventure, saddle up and experience Yosemite from the back of a mule or a horse. In fact, half a day is all you need to ride to the Vernal Falls Bridge area that offers great views of two smaller falls of the valley – the Vernal Fall and the Nevada Fall.
For the photographically inclined, a visit to the Ansel Adams Gallery in the Yosemite Village is a must. One of the greatest landscape-photographers ever, Ansel Adams drew the world’s attention to Yosemite through his dramatic photos. A visit to the gallery leaves us with a strange longing to live all the glorious moments captured in the photographer’s frames.

But, for doing that a weekend is not enough. One has to keep coming back to Yosemite in different times of the year. It is a Park for all seasons. Winter here is a cloak of snow, a grand time on skis and skates. Spring is the waterfalls thundering with winter snow melt. Summer is the Tuolumne Meadows, the high country of the Sierras, bursting with wildflowers. Fall is the gold and red autumn leaves.
As we drive out of the Park, we cast many a wistful glance back and make quick mental notes to be back again in late summer. The vision of a wildflower-washed Tuolumne Meadows helps us brace ourselves for the crazily busy week ahead.
© Tithiparna Sengupta September 2005

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