An Old Fashioned 4th of July

July 4th, 2007
Wawona - Yosemite National Park, CA

Yosemite has an excellent newsletter describing activities in the park. Looking for a 4th of July event, I noticed a description of an ‘Old Fashioned Celebration’ in the Wawona section of the park. Located in the southern reaches of the park, Wawona has a preserved historic village, consisting of structures used when the park was first created (Wawona, not the valley floor, was the location of the first park headquarters).

It was a long drive – you have to drive down into Yosemite Valley, and the drive back out on a road that climbs back up the opposite canyon wall. Shortly before entering a long tunnel lies the famous ‘Tunnel View’, showcasing Bridal Veil Falls, El Capitan and Half Dome. We stopped, snapped off a few pictures, then headed on our way up (and down) the long, twisty road.

The celebration was exactly as advertised. Sitting in an old barn, we began the festivities by singing several patriotic songs – Yankee Doodle, America the Beautiful, etc….these were followed by several speeches by ‘famous’ people such as John Muir and Frederick Law Olmsted. A band up on stage accompanied the sweating, singing crowd. With the band, hosts and ‘speakers’ dressed up in period costume, it was easy to image celebrating July 4th in 1887, rather than 2007!

After the singing and speeches, we were urged to cross the covered bridge into the historic town. There the real fun started with a potato sack race. Neither Vance nor Ella could be induced to participate, so I ‘hopped’ in to help break the ice. I managed to complete the race without falling flat on my face (quite a few folks managed some spectacular face plants!)

This was followed by a three legged race. By now Vance and Ella were ready to join in the fun, pairing off with Denise and I, we all got to race. Again, no one fell, so life was good. Denise and Ella came in 3rd in their race.

Vance and Ella then tried the egg toss, where our luck came to an end – Ella got splattered with the first egg that came her way! She was a good sport, though… Surprising me greatly, Vance wanted to try the egg toss again, so he and I paired up for the ‘adult’ level toss. He then displayed a previously undisclosed talent for egg tossing and catching, as we won! He clinched the victory with a catch at a distance of around 50 feet.

There were other events – a nail driving contest, and of course tug of war. The park service and Yosemite volunteers really outdid themselves – everyone involved had a great time. Afterwards Vance and Ella changed into their bathing suits and cooled off by swimming and splashing around in the South Fork of the Merced River. Swimming always makes for hungry kids, so we enjoyed a nice picnic. Ella commented that our visit to Wawona felt like being in a whole new Park. Yosemite NP is huge and each area has its own distinct characteristics.

Glacier Point

After the celebration, we elected to drive up to Glacier Point while we were in the general area. Glacier Point is one of the most remarkable overlooks anywhere – you view Yosemite Valley from a sheer 4000 ft dropoff. Even though it is quite a drive from the valley floor, the view is well worth it. For those more motivated, you can take the infamous ‘4 Mile Trail’, which climbs from the valley floor to Glacier Point – all 4000 feet of it. Miles and I hiked down it when he was 11 years old – even with gravity on your side it is quite the hike. I’ve hiked up it several times as a younger man, but nothing tempted me to repeat the feat this trip!

One of the great things about traveling is that you never know what the next curve will reveal. Sometimes you come across a scene so sublime that you simply are grateful to be alive to view it. In this case, a small alpine meadow caught our attention on the drive up to Glacier Point. We stopped, stared, and simply stood there as the nearby birds became used to our presence and started back their chatter. The sound of the woods can simply envelope you if you will slow down and let it. I’m not sure just how long Denise and I stood and looked at the lovely meadow in the lengthing afternoon shadows, but eventually the inquiries from Vance and Ella on just how long we intended to linger before moving on eventually snapped us back to the here and now.

We stopped initially at an overlook whose name I can’t recall, but it offered an amazing view of the Little Yosemite Valley (up the Merced River from the main valley). The views of Half Dome, Vernal, Nevada and Illouette Falls were simply amazing from on high. I pointed out Nevada Falls to Vance and Denise, as they had not previously seen it in anything other than postcards and photos. I think Vance was rather surprised to finally see the spot that we had talked about for so long, the special place where we would spread his Granddaddy’s ashes.

Pushing on to Glacier Point, we arrived shortly before sunset, just in time for the sunset talk. This proved to be a rather lame ranger program, but the setting was spectacular, as the light shifted down the color spectrum from white to pinks. Added entertainment was provided by watching various people who climbed over the railing to get photos standing close to the edge. One particular risky couple edged out a sloped slab of rock, wearing nothing more than flip-flops, dragging their preteen daughter along. Watching, alternating between fascination and horror, we kept expecting the ranger to intervene. However, I’ve come to realize that the rangers in the large parks long ago came to the conclusion that the best they can do is stick to the program, and let Darwin take care of the rest. Fortunately for all, this family got their photo without incident, standing just inches from the sheer 4000 foot drop. Of course the picture above shows the President of the United States standing a foot from the same drop! Times certainly do change....

For years, Yosemite offered a ‘firefall program’, where a large bonfire was built at Glacier Point, then pushed over the edge. The resulting stream of embers would be viewed from the Camp Curry area on the valley floor. A valley tradition for years, it was finally ended in 1968 once conservation ethics took hold. However, the light show provided by the sunset on Half Dome provides a natural and spectacular scene.

Ella had been asking me questions about some of the lichens on the rocks – not having a clue, I suggested she ask the ranger. She did, and thereby became the first winner of the ‘stump the ranger’ contest for the evening, as the newbie ranger had no idea either!

On the drive back down, we were suddenly rewarded with another breath taking view, as a clearing opened up to an amazing sunset over the Central Valley. Perched high in the Sierra Nevada, we were able to see the lights of the towns along the CA Hwy 99 corridor, and the vivid orange, pink, yellows, reds and purples of the sunset along the mountain ranges closer to the coast. Again we pulled off and admired the view for a lengthy period of time –the richness of the colors was overwhelming.

A nice day, all around. Who says we need pyrotechnics to have a blast on the 4th of July?

Vance: 4th of July was a very fun day. There were a lot of old fashioned games. The first event was a little music in the barn. Next was a sack race. Ella and I refused to do it.

Then Dad and I did the three legged race. We scored 5th place. Ella and Mom did it, too. I made the winning catch in the adult egg toss. You had to toss and catch the egg softly because it was a raw egg, not hard boiled. I think playing tennis ball catch in Groveland was great practice. Lastly, Ella and I swam in a little pool in the river and then had a picnic.


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