Today’s guest blogger and Connection Messenger* Esther Miller reminisces about her first visit to Yosemite National Park many years ago, with several other special stops along the way. If you haven’t yet read the post that launched our series celebrating the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Park System, go to “The National Park System: 100 Years of Nature, History, and America’s Stories.” I hope the series will get you pulling up a map and finding a new national park to explore and share with your family and friends. Each is a national treasure. Each will feed your soul.
Off to Yosemite!
That wondrous land of fabled beauty that I had just learned to pronounce correctly. Is this really happening to me?
My boyfriend’s VW camper crossed miles of boring, hot desert from the San Bernardino mountains to the eastern edge of the Sierras. Desert that was only something to get through. We passed through Red Mountain and Jo’burg, never knowing that Randsburg, the almost ghost town, was only two miles away. Couldn’t wait to get into some real scenery, see something…anything…green.
Climb every mountain
We turned off at Lone Pine and found the Whitney Portal, the trail that leads thousands of hikers to the top of the highest mountain in the lower forty-eight. Mt. Whitney is not a national park, then or now, but the trail is in a national forest and the sign told us Lone Pine Lake was only two miles up the trail. “Up” is the operant word here. Two miles, beginning at 8,000 feet and ending at 10,000 feet. We were young. We were strong. We were stupid. The lake was gorgeous, the candy bar we split was heavenly, and our legs ached for days.
We took several days to get to Yosemite. I know we passed Manzanar which was not yet a National Historical Site. After we learned of the Japanese internment camps during WWII, we found Manzanar on subsequent trips but haven’t yet seen any of the interpretive signs or changes that have been made.
Devils Postpile National Monument caught our eye that September day and we drove down the long switchback road into the park. The postpile is a 100′ tall formation of six-sided basalt columns. We were able to walk on the top and see the closely fit columns as if they were tiles, then we went down to the bottom and saw how thick those “tiles” really were.
Watch that shower temperature!
Our other vivid memory is of the campground showers we took the following morning. The air was quite chilly, there was almost no one in the campground, and we drove over to the showers that were supposedly fed by a hot spring. Larry took his shower in record time and came out complaining of the frigid water. So I was prepared to freeze, turned on the water, and quickly jumped back from the steaming stream. Apparently, the shower was indeed fed by the hot spring, through a pipe in the cold ground. Larry got all the cold water out of the system and I got the full force of the hot springs’ offering. My shower was as short as his. The Postpile monument has changed considerably in the 40 years since then, so don’t go looking for that shower. I seriously doubt you would find it.
It is hard to separate the many memories and greater understanding of Yosemite gained from several visits, so forgive me for failing to rave on about its beauty. That has been described and painted and photographed by those much more talented than I.
Music hath charms
The Valley was crowded even though school had started, so we camped at Bridal Veil Creek Campground, on the rim of the valley before the creek becomes the famous falls. We were in a back corner, near large boulders, and had a nice campfire. Three musicians from a neighboring site wandered over to our fire and with the boulders as a sort of amphitheater, began singing folk songs. Slowly, most of the rest of the campground joined us in a magical night of music.
A couple of nights later we were at the southern entrance to the park, camped next to another couple our age. It turned out that her father was an original member of the singing group The Four Freshmen and she told stories about growing up with him.
I don’t know if we saw the Giant Sequoias on that trip or only on later trips. We saw enough to know we had to return and did so many times.
Esther has worked professionally in special education and mental health and has had a variety of volunteer jobs. Gardening, cooking, and ham radio are among her many interests. She married and raised her family in California, then lived in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia for nearly 14 years. She recently returned to California to be near family.