My Treks Through The Crown Jewel Of The National Park System

Recently, I attended an environmental law conference that was held by the California State Bar Association. The conference was held just over one mile outside of Yosemite National Park, and I would be lying if I said that was not the primary motivation for my attendance. I have always been passionate about public lands, and I love visiting national parks, but I must admit that I was not prepared for the true wonders that were in store within the park.

My first day inside the park was the longest period of time that I had for adventuring. It has always been one of the items on my bucket list to see a Giant Sequoia. Yosemite is home to three separate groves of Giant Sequoias, but the most famous (Mariposa Grove) was closed, and the road to the other two was in danger of being closed before the end of the week due to weather. For this reason, the first day’s task was to see one of the other two groves (Tuolumne Grove).

Victim of my own impatience, I only had one thing on my mind for the day; seeing the giant trees. Fortunately, I was with my wife and mother-in-law, and they were interested in seeing the valley before we went to Tuolumne Grove. Though their insistence on seeing Yosemite Valley did little to quell my eagerness to see the Sequoias, the first look down into the valley took everything off of my mind except the masterpiece below.

Searching for words to describe the scenery, one finds himself or herself lying if they avoid language with spiritual connotations. Yosemite Valley; home of the legendary El Capitan and Half Dome mountain peaks. The subject of so many environmental writings, what more is there for me to say? At the same time, I both envy those who saw this view without the disruption of other park visitors and have trouble remembering that anyone else is present.

Though lower in elevation than some of the other peaks, one cannot help but pay the appropriate respects to the almost glowing granite face of El Capitan. It quickly becomes a much greater tribute to all who have conquered its heights.

Next, eyes are drawn upward to the summit of Half Dome. Its smooth back and hooking face are so iconic that even without having seen it before, it is as recognizable as an old friend. Visible from so many different vantage points throughout the park, Half Dome has the ability to appear different and yet the same no matter where the viewer is.

Though fall and Winter are not peak viewing times, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the legendary Bridalveil Fall. Varying from a seemingly gentle trickle to a blowing mist, the fall seems to the onlooker, who has not yet seen Yosemite Falls, to deserve the title of King of waterfalls. I most look forward to seeing all of these legendary falls at their peak on my next return to the park.

The Sequoias were all and more that I expected them to be. Kings of all trees, the great giants are daunting and humbling. The geographic limitation of the of the trees makes the few places where they exist hallowed ground. Even the famous tunnel Sequoia of Tuolumne, which is dead, commands the reverence of onlookers in a way that makes it feel very much alive.

It is hard to pick a favorite feature of the park, though I had thought it would be no competition for the Sequoias, but it is easy for me to pick my favorite experience from this trip. It was the hike with my wife to the peak of Sentinel Dome (8,123′), and the feeling of accomplishment that accompanied it, not to mention the views, that will forever be the highlight of my first journey through Yosemite. Though we love our natural areas and public lands, neither of us had done any large mountain hiking before. As we reached the top and sat silently for a moment together we could not help but smile; knowing that not only had we made it to the top, but that we had also been changed by the journey and the addiction to the feelings of satisfaction that accompanied it.

If you are ever in California, do not let the trip pass you by without experiencing this public treasure. I promise you will hear the call of the mountains made so famous by the words of John Muir — “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”

— TH