Yosemite Valley

Monday, July 2 and Thursday, July 5, 2007
Yosemite National Park, CA

Our campground was about 20 miles from the park. Not too bad, right? Only it is another 40 minute drive to Yosemite Valley from the gate! Can’t be helped, the campsites in the park itself were booked solid. The drive into the park on CA 120 is beautiful, however, so we didn’t mind the distance too much. After entering the park, the road climbs through a nice forest up to around 6000, and then starts a long decent into Yosemite Valley. On the way down, you pass through the area of the giant 1990 A-Rock fire. The fire, which burned over 16,000 acres, was largely the result of the fire suppression activities over the years, leaving a large fuel load on the ground. When the fire got out of control, it burned everything, including trees that normally would have been relatively fire resistant.

This fire led to the creation of a new fire management plan for the park. Today, the park will allow containable lightning caused fires to burn themselves out. Controlled burns are also used to reduce fuel loads. A series of controlled burns were being set in the lower valley while we were there. Vance and Ella enjoyed seeing the fire trucks and watching the flames – particularly at night!

Denise and I saw the results of the A-Rock fire in 1991. It was interesting to compare the ‘then and now’ 16 years later. Completely blackened when we first saw it, today the hillsides are a carpet of green, with trees reaching a height of 10-15 feet. It will take awhile to completely recover, but other than the standing trunks of the burnt out trees, you’d be hard pressed to tell there was a fire there in the past.

After the first area, the road literally turns into a cliffhanger, dropping down the solid granite walls and passing through three tunnels. There we got our first peek into Yosemite Valley with a framed view of Half Dome.

Back when I lived in the Bay Area and visited the park often, there was a lot of discussion about how to manage the number of cars. There was some talk of building a series of parking lots outside of the valley and adding a shuttle system. The end result was to build a large parking lot near Yosemite Village, and add shuttles. The system works relatively well, although Yosemite Village is a zoo.

After lunch, we stopped by the Visitor Center to get the kids started on the Yosemite Jr. Ranger program. Ella really enjoys working on the Jr. Rangers, which is great, because Vance is completely over them. I can’t really blame him – he’s completed close to 50, including 20 on this trip so far!

The main reason we keep him working at them is despite the initial moaning and groaning, he’s always pleased with himself when the ranger awards the badge, and there is almost always at least one new fact he learns. Invariably, several days later he’ll tell us or someone ‘did you know….,’ relating his latest nugget of Jr. Ranger knowledge. As long as he’s learning, we’ll keep doing them.

Of course, Yosemite Valley is about the waterfalls. It’s a good thing we came when we did for Ella’s sake, because while there was still some water on Yosemite Falls, two weeks later when we came back it was dry as a bone! The snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains has been much less than average for the past two years, so the waterfalls, which normally would be full this time of year, are running at late summer levels.

There is a large field of boulders at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls which Vance and Ella found irresistible. Ella has been taking rock climbing lessons, and she put her new skills to use as we scrambled over, around and a few times under the rocks. We also enjoyed watching several climbers scaling the vertical rock face to the left of the falls. On the way back down, Ella scrambled around the rocks to pick up a bag of trash, fulfilling one of her requirements for the Jr. Ranger.

Then Vance disappeared.

I had given him permission to go ahead of us as long as he stopped at the bridge. We’ve been trying to give him some level of personal freedom within the confines of safety, as otherwise he’d always be chafing under our feet. 99.9% of the time he stays within the limits we set. But today……when I reached the bridge, he was nowhere to be found. I wasn’t greatly concerned, thinking maybe he just hadn’t understood me, and walked on ahead a little bit. I left Denise and Ella at the bridge to look for him, and then I started walking down towards the bathrooms and bus stop, about a ½ mile away.

I started having some real misgivings when I couldn’t find him at the bus stop, so I turned around and started back. About that time, a Park Service vehicle came zooming up with sirens on. Really scared now, I jogged behind the vehicle until it came to a stop in front of a crowd standing in front of a really rocky area. I pushed through the crowd, expecting the worst…..only to find a teenaged boy who had slipped off the rocks and hurt his wrist.

Feeling bad for the injured kid, but no closer to finding Vance, I hurried on back up the trail. I was really puzzled by this point, because we’ve drilled into Vance a 1000 times to stay put if he ever got separated from us (I had gone over this rule again earlier in the day with both him and Ella). I ran back up to the bridge with my imagination running away with me……and there he was, standing with Denise and Ella, with a sheepish look on his face.

I hate to get onto Vance for stuff like this, because he’s usually so well behaved. But for whatever reason, he had decided to walk past the bridge and go up the over side of the creek a little ways. Eventually Ella spotted him under some trees. I perhaps was a bit more excitable than usual after my run uphill and the scare of the ranger coming up with sirens flashing, so Vance got rather an earful. I think he learned his lesson! All’s well that ends well.

Returning to the valley floor a couple of days later, we visited Bridal Veil Falls, and then went by the Yosemite Cemetery. Located behind the museum, the cemetery is the final resting place for many of the early white settlers of the valley, including Galen Clark. Clark, along with John Muir, was probably the person most responsible for preserving Yosemite as a National Park. One of the exercises in the Jr. Ranger book was to learn about some of the individuals buried there, so Ella and Vance wandered around the cemetery, happily announcing new ‘discoveries’ when they found a tombstone with information they needed. Some of the stories were tragic, such as a young girl who drowned in the rapids of the Merced River, and another who fell to her death.

Afterwards, both Ella and Vance were awarded their Jr. Ranger badges, with the ranger making a nice announcement of their accomplishment to the crowd in the Visitor Center. Walking next door to the museum, the kids came across someone feeding a squirrel. Newly sworn to protect the park as a Jr. Ranger, Ella leaped into action, and informed the gentleman that he wasn’t supposed to do that, as it was bad for the animals.

He ignored her and continued the feeding. With any luck, he’ll be one of the numerous people that get bit on the finger by squirrels every day. Some parks have problems with squirrels carrying Bubonic Plague, so the prohibitions on feeding the animals are there for a reason. Despite signs everywhere, people continue to feed them right and left.

Inside the museum, Vance has got his fist balled up and is shaking with rage. Barely able to control his voice, he pointed out the person who continued to feed the squirrel. The lessons the rangers had taught them had taken root…. that was for sure! I decided it was time for some further discussion, particularly when Vance let it slip that ‘Ella got to tell some people not to feed the squirrels, BUT I DIDN’T!”

Hold on there, Yosemite Sam....!!

I pulled him aside at that point, and tried the best I could to explain that he needed to look at his reasons for being upset. Being worried about the squirrels was fine, but if his real reason for being so mad was he wanted to go boss someone around, then that wasn’t okay. I also tried to explain that the best he could do was to tell people when they were doing something wrong, and if it was serious, like mistreating an animal, he should find a ranger. That got his attention, and hopefully he learned a good lesson.

We’ve struggled a bit lately with helping Vance find a balance with all the information he's learned. He’s gotten a non-stop litany for the past few months from the Jr. Ranger programs and Ranger talks about preserving the environment. Then when he sees someone ‘violating’ what he’s been taught is a no-no, he’s ready to go after them, staying upset at the transgression for days. I’m trying to instill a ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ attitude in him, but so far, the ‘zero tolerance’ attitude he’s developed from all these Ranger programs is winning. It’s an interesting dilemma, in how much if any we should try to curb some of his youthful enthusiasm.

After finishing my talk with Vance, a very nice thing happened. As we were walking away, a woman wearing a Yosemite Association shirt called out to me and asked, ‘are you dad?’ Having overheard our ‘discussion’, she thanked me for my ‘lesson’ to Vance, offering to talk with him for a moment. She provided the perfect balance, as she thanked Vance for caring so much about the park. She also told him how many people don’t treat our National Parks with the respect that they deserve, but the most you could do is try to educate them and hope for the best. I was extremely grateful for her intervention, as it calmed Vance down considerably. Hopefully he came away with some new insights into ‘park management practices’.

Vance: Yosemite Valley is where Yosemite Falls is located. On the first day I climbed a hard, rocky surface with the difficulties all around me at the base of lower Yosemite Falls. Ella was right behind me. It is a great workout.

It took Ella and me several days to finish the junior rangers. The ranger even made an announcement at the visitor center about us becoming junior rangers. We purchased two books about bears that come to Yosemite to summer. These are hilarious books. I recommend reading them if you want to get a kick while in the park.


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