In the summer of 1971 Cynthia and I hit the road in our red ’65 Beetle. We meandered our way across the continent, from Nova Scotia all the way to tiny Tofino on Vancouver Island.
Once there, we looked at one another and asked ourselves, “Where to next? Hmmmm, let’s see… south, of course!” Accordingly, we knocked together a plan which involved the lunatic idea of seeing what summer was like in the desert of western Mexico. We checked the Bug, counted our shrunken stack of traveller’s cheques – nodded, and promptly set out. Va-voom.
After ten days we found ourselves on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in NE California. There we rather stumbled upon a park named Yosemite. We’d never heard of it. All I knew of “Yosemite” was a Looney Tunes character named Yosemite Sam. He was a cranky, heavily- armed, unkempt western fella who hated Bugs Bunny and sought to put an end to him. Pretty silly name for a National Park, I thought. What did I know?
I later learned “Yosemite” is an adaptation of the native term meaning “they are killers” — referring to the original inhabitants, the Ahwahneechee tribe, who had a reputation for ferocity. It’s probably better for business that most tourists don’t know this.
In any case, visiting Yosemite turned out to be a huge privilege for us; we were stunned by the beauty of the place. The centerpiece of the park is Yosemite Falls, at 2425′, the highest waterfall in North America.
“In those days I ranked the places I visited in terms of their natural beauty; Yosemite immediately went to the top of my list.”
It’s still there, 46 years later . I return as often as I can.
Now I have a grandson named Sam, age 11; he an absolute world-beater – just ask anybody. His Uncle Dave, our son, describes him as “brilliant, and kind”, which I think is a splendid and accurate assessment. He’s also funny as all-get-out. Sam and I take off together as often as we can. We’re perfect travel buddies. These trips are some of my life’s greatest joys – his, too, I think.
Over the winter we talked about “our next trip” and arrived at the opinion that it was about time for Sam to see Yosemite for himself. The juxtaposition of Yosemite and Sam made me smile, and made the trip seem a natural. We flew to San Francisco on the sixth of May.
Sam’s greatest interest these days is everything to do with computers. He’s an absolute Apple fanatic; he’s saving up for a MacBook Pro. Accordingly, he wanted to see several things in Silicon Valley, the cluster of brainiac communities south of San Francisco.
In two and a half days we went to Apple HQ in Cupertino, the Intel Museum in Santa Clara, the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. We wandered the vast campus (8800A) of Stanford University in Palo Alto; it was a total treat. Incidentally, many astronauts have studied at Stanford. Strange as it may seem, California’s preeminent novelist, John Steinbeck, dropped out of Stanford. It’s said he had little use for college.
The atmosphere in Silicon Valley fairly vibrates with intelligence, creativity and energy. Sam, naturally, was dazzled — filled with wonder and joy. I was quite moved to see him taking everything in. The phrase the joy of grandfatherhood pretty much sums it up.
When we’d had our heads crammed with cyber-facts, we (or at least I) needed to get out of town for a bit of mental fresh air. We found a perfectly fascinating and beautiful way to get to Yosemite. It starts with tiny CA Route 130 over the Diablo Range, from San Jose to Patterson. At its highest point (4265′) is the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, built in the late 19thC, and still in use by the University of California, Santa Cruz. Interestingly, it is the first permanently-occupied observatory in the world. We were amused to see signs that suggested the main activity here is, in fact, sleeping. It sure was quiet when we were there at mid-day. The place reminded me of a creepy H.G. Wells science fantasy called “The Sleeper Awakes”, about the misadventures of an insomniac.
Next day we made it to Yosemite. There were rivers and waterfalls everywhere because of the enormous snowfall of the past winter. In fact, the main route through the park (CA120) was still blocked with snow. The sunlit leaves were that glorious lime-green you see only in springtime. It’s a world of “green and golden wonder”, as photographer Ansel Adams remarked.
Sam and I romped and stomped and hooted for hours — through the woods and along roaring, silver-gold rivers, while the sun-bathed granite cliffs directed our gaze heavenward. The sky was blue, blue, blue. Wet with spray, we stood in rapture on a bridge at the base of Little Yosemite Falls. Once again, the joy of grandfatherhood overwhelmed me. This is some blessing!
Visitor Information is easily obtained from the park’s excellent website — https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm, so I will confinet my remarks to the thing that particulary struck me on this visit: the people who helped make Yosemite what it is today– a glorious monument to forward-thinking. Thanks to certain visionaries – Lafayette Brunnell, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Ansel Adams – Yosemite is one of the most beautiful and well-managed places on Earth. This is a stellar acheivement, particularly in view of the fact that the park now gets 5 million visitors a year.
To me, though, the man who really stands out in Yosemite history is John Muir (1838-1914) — Scottish-born naturalist, writer, explorer, philosopher and proto-hippie. He lived alone in a one-room cabin in the Yosemite Valley for years studying the area and developing his philosophy. By an extraordinary chain of events he befriended President Theodore Roosevelt with whom he went on an unauthorized three-daycamping trip in 1903. During that trip Muir persuaded the president to proclaim Yosemite a national park – which he did in 1906. We are the beneficiaries of this brilliant idea.
Muir is held in the highest esteem among conservationists for deepening our understanding of the natural world and our part in it. He was a magnificent writer. Look at this, from My Boyhood and Youth (1913): “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”
After two days, it was time for Sam and me to make our way home. I really love Yosemite. If you’ve not seen it, no amount of words, photos or videos will do it justice. It’s a vision of Heaven to me. Listen to me….lose no time! You’ve just gotta see this place before you die. Yosemite is dazzling beyond belief — as beautiful a place as you’ll ever see. My own experience this time was vastly enriched by having my young companion with me, the perfect travel-buddy — my precious grandson, Sam.
We’ll soon start planning our next trip.