Yosemite Valley in Summer: Glorious and Draining

Excerpt from Book 1 (1998). Although we were headed across Yosemite National Park on Highway 120 on our way to Lee Vining where we’ll then turn south towards Lone Pine, Mike Gibbons, Mike Galli and I took a side trip to Yosemite Valley. Initially, I was against the detour, wanting to avoid the crowds and congestion of the valley in summer. Once we got there, I’m glad I was overruled by the Mikes. When we first entered the valley and got our first glimpse of El Capitan, Half Dome and the waterfalls, we were euphoric. Nevertheless, I was dismayed once we got to the Village where there were thousands of visitors. This excerpt starts us inside the Ahwahnee Hotel where we’d hoped to find some place to eat. Instead we just look around for a while before grabbing some food at some depressing concessions nearby. Just a quick note: The three of us were fortunate in choosing the summer of 1998 to visit the park and the Sierras. The summer followed the big El Niño winter and because of the record snowpack, the waterfalls, often dry or diminished this time of year were still going strong. Happy Trails!

Upper Yosemite Falls


Wednesday, August  5th, 1998

We next move on to the Winter Room and look at displays of antique ski equipment, climbing gear, and some nostalgic black and white photos from the 1940’s and ‘50’s. Galli remarks that the people in the photos all look so healthy and vigorous. This is a marked contrast to most of the campers and pasty-looking tourists we’ve seen at the village and here at the hotel. Adjectives such as puffy, doughy, and obese come to mind.

Since the hotel does not meet our dietary needs, we return to Yosemite Village to forage for somewhat healthy food with the other tourists. While I stand in line at a dismal looking deli counter waiting to order a turkey sandwich, the Mikes inform me that they’ve located a cafeteria upstairs that serves pasta that they are going to try. I tell them that I’ll join them once I get my food down here. Sandwich and Snapple in hand, I go upstairs and find the Mikes still in line. I get their attention and point towards an empty table where they can find me. As they join me, I comment about the universally poor attitude of each of the Yosemite employees we’ve run across. Both of the Mikes agree with my perception that the workers here make the slaves rowing on the Centurion’s boat in “Ben-Hur” seem like cheerful Mouseketeers. Finishing our dinners, we can’t leave Yosemite Village fast enough. I had only been to Yosemite once before, but it was in late October of 1992 and the crowds were non-existent, the park peaceful as if meditating before the onset of late fall and winter. Yosemite Village in mid-summer, I find is an abysmal, draining experience.

As we make our escape, away from the crowds, we feel we can breathe again and we allow ourselves to once again be spellbound by the saturated late afternoon colors. Most of the valley floor is now in shadow but the eastern meadows and rock faces, where the sun still shines are golden and Upper Yosemite Falls cascades downward like liquid fire. On my previous trip, all the falls were dry, but now they give the valley a tangible vitality.


About victorvolta

I am a freelance photographer/writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in the very suburban city of Santa Clara. Education: San Jose State University (class of '84) BA degree in Journalism with concentrations in Photojournalism and English. Favorite Foods: Ribeye steaks and Stan's Doughnuts (separate plates, usually). Favorite Drinks: Strong gourmet coffee and Trader Joe's Blood Orange Italian Soda (separate cups).
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