This last February my brother and I took the train to Yosemite National Park (well sort of&hellip ).
We got on the Pacific Surfliner at 8:00 a.m. from Oceanside, California to L.A. The ride from Oceanside to San Juan Capistrano was awesome.
We followed the Pacific Ocean sometimes high up on bluffs and other times right down next to the beach. We saw a lot of surfers with pelicans circling overhead.
San Juan Capistrano was a mission established in 1776 and the swallows used to come back every year on March 19th on their migration from Argentina. Unfortunately since 2009 the swallows now migrate a little further north.
After the train stopped at Capistrano, we headed inland towards L.A. There we boarded our thruway bus to Bakersfield. Then it was another train, the San Joaquin, up to Merced, the gateway to Yosemite. We arrived at 4:30 p.m. and picked up our rent a car before going to our hotel for the next two nights.
The next morning we were up early because we had a lot of miles to cover. The area we stayed in is referred to as the Valley and many of California’s fruits and vegetables are raised in this area. The land is very flat and we drove the long way south to Madera before cutting over towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains where Yosemite is located.
Our plan, in order to see as much of the park as possible, was to drive in the south entrance and drive out the west entrance. Yosemite’s elevations start at just under 3,000 feet and are as high as 13,000 feet so we had a steep climb from the valley floor to get there.
First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, beautiful meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness area. Over 95% of the park is wilderness with the main part of the action is in Yosemite Valley where the hotels and campsites are located.
Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is known for its geographic and biological diversity. Most of the trees are the Western Red Cedars (the Sequoias) and Ponderosa Pines. The Ponderosas were so round and tall I thought they were 200 years old (since they tend to grow a foot a year in most areas) but a ranger told me they were 300 hundred years old. There are not many places left in the U.S. today where you can see old growth forests like we saw in Yosemite. There are also two rivers, the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, that begin in the park and flow west to the Central Valley.
For tens of thousands of years humans have lived in this area. The Ahwahneechee lived here for generations, followed by the arrival of Europeans in the mid-1800s. The rugged terrain challenged many of these early travelers who came by horseback or stagecoach. By 1907, construction of the Yosemite Valley Railroad from Merced to El Portal eased the journey, thereby, increasing visitation. Historic mining sites remain from miners who came to the Sierra to seek their fortune in gold. And, today 3.5 million people enter the park every year to explore.
John Muir helped spark the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890. He was also instrumental in getting Sequoia and the Grand Canyon named as National Parks. In 1869, Muir landed a job as a shepherd which gave him the opportunity to study the flora and fauna. When he saw that the grazing sheep were destroying the area, he lobbied for a National Park.
Yosemite was also a favorite place for photos by Ansel Adams and you may want to read more about both Adams and Muir since space here is limited. A third person important to the area if you would like to read more is Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. He used his wealth and political connections to take the national park concept in important new directions when he saw how poorly the parks looked in 1914. He even hired staff to help him and paid them out of his own pocket.
When you arrive in the valley area you see El Capitan, the 3,000 foot monolith and it is one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers. You can only climb up because it is way too dangerous to go back down, so the trail must be taken. And right by El Capitan you can gaze upon the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. Across from El Capitan there are some other granite monolith rocks, like Half Dome. These rocks were carved out by the glaciers that came through the area.
We drove for almost an hour after we entered the south entrance and it truly was wilderness. The only bad thing was it was February and we were over 5,000 feet and there was no snow! That does not bode well for this summer’s fire season. Finally we entered a tunnel. The tunnel was constructed by the WPA in 1933 but as people came out of the tunnel there were so many accidents since the Overlook was a very dangerous place to pull over. So the Tunnel View Overlook was renovated and re-dedicated in 2008.
The Tunnel View scenic overlook is an historic site, and has beautiful views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome. Both the Wawona Tunnel and Tunnel View were determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 because of their exemplary designs. The overlook is such a popular site that there is an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people who visit every day during the height of the tourist season. But even more special to us when we pulled off onto the Overlook was the sun was positioned in such a way it created a huge rainbow on the distant Bridalveil Falls that was an incredible site to behold.
If you ever get to a National Park there is a book about the great lodges of the West. I have written about the lodges at both Yellowstone and Glacier. Whenever I get to a new Park, I always try to visit the famous lodge built there.
The lodge in Yosemite is called the Ahwahnee and is quite unique since it was Mather who lobbied for it to be developed. Many of the other famous lodges were built with materials found in their areas. But all natural resources in National Parks are protected now and building materials cannot be used from the parks any more. Since the lodge was not built until 1926, trucks had to haul all the building materials in over primitive roads seven days a week. The lodges in Glacier and Yellowstone used existing timber and stone but that can no longer happen. The primary building materials were steel, granite and concrete and then the outside of the granite and concrete was stained to look like redwood.
There is a central tower several stories tall and three separate wings with huge fireplaces. The west wing has a dining room that seats 350 people. The room is 130 feet long, over 51 feet wide and the ceiling reaches 34 feet. It is a massive room and very beautiful. During World War II, the Ahwahnee was a rest and relaxation hospital for the Navy. Over 90,000 troops rested there and almost 7,000 patients were treated at the lodge.
Not too far from the Ahwahnee is Curry Village where you can rents tents and Yosemite Lodge where you can also stay. There are also little towns just outside the park with lots of hotels and motels so you have a lot of choices when visiting the park.
As the sun was setting we drove down out of the park and back to our hotel in the Valley. The next day we headed home and that also turned into an adventure. Our Amtrak train was late; by almost an hour when we got to Bakersfield. We were rushed onto out thruway bus to LA. Our driver was excellent and took several back roads in LA to avoid rush hour. We actually made our train back to Oceanside with ten minutes to spare!
Editor's note: To read in depth about the Seattle, WA area, check out Kileen's book, “Journey Beckons.” You can order it through her website (as well as preview the first few chapters) at www.kileenprather.com or you can order it through Amazon either in book form or the kindle edition.
Happy to say that Kileen has been very busy. Her latest book, “Journey To Port” is now also available through Amazon/kindle, and it's also in book form through Amazon. Also, on her website (www.kileenprather.com), you can both preview a few chapters as well as order the book.
Ohhhhh my. Kileen is hitting a “home-run” again! Just released: “Journey To The Tropics” in which she explores love the second time around – all set within lush environment of the Bahamas! Enjoy – and visit Amazon to get your copy!