“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” ~ Ansel Adams

While in California this past February I had the opportunity to re-visit a place that I hadn't been to since my parents had come out to visit me when I lived in Stockton way back in 1986. Even though I didn't live all that far from Yosemite National Park when I was a California resident, I had only been there three times so when my friend Katherine suggested we take an impromptu trip to Yosemite via Amtrak, I was all for it!

As Katharine was in Santa Cruz - on the coast - and I was in Stockton - in the San Joaquin Valley - we decided to meet up at the Amtrak station in Stockton where we boarded the San Joaquin 712 which took us to the town of Merced where we then transferred to a YARTS bus for the remainder of our ride to Yosemite.

YARTS - the Yosemite Area Rapid Transit System - was established in May of 2000 as an alternative method for travelers to get to Yosemite year-round as efforts have been made to cut down on the amount of automobile traffic in Yosemite Valley due to the pollution and congestion that have become major concerns as massive amounts of people visit the park annually.  YARTS motto is "Watch the scenery, not the road" and considering there's some wonderful scenery along the way and the price is quite reasonable, it's really a great way to go!

As a side note, in retrospect and had we the chance to do it over again, I think I would have opted to make the 3-hour drive from Stockton as once we got to Yosemite we were a bit restricted in our wanderings being that the year-round shuttle bus that they operate in the park was on a limited winter schedule and it really cut back on the things that we were able to see while we were there.  Plus, without a car and not having the time to take one of the tours that are offered, we weren't able to do the Wawoma Tunnel View which is the view in the image below that most people associate Yosemite Valley with. It's a view that when seen in person pretty much takes your breath away.

Image credit:  NPS.gov

Regardless of that, being in Yosemite is good for the soul no matter what view you may be looking at and as I was in California visiting a friend who was dying, my soul was in need of the majesty and beauty that Yosemite offers regardless of how I got there!  Plus I had promised to bring my friend back photos as she was in need of glimpsing one of her very favorite places on earth also and the only way for her to ever do that again was through the lens of a camera.  As my friend ended up passing away shortly after my return to the East Coast, I am grateful that Katharine and I had the chance to go to Yosemite when we did and that I had photos to show Cyndi before she died.

Anyway, all personal sadness aside ... Katharine had a night to use at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls so once our bus arrived we checked in, tossed our stuff in our room, and hit the Valley floor in search of scenery.  Believe it or not, the only pictures that I took of our room were the two here so there's not much that I can tell you about our accommodations other than they had a beautiful view of Upper Yosemite Falls from our sliding door and that they were comfortable and clean.  Unless you're staying at the Wawona Hotel or The Ahwahnee, you really don't go to Yosemite for the accommodations - you go for the views - so I wasn't too concerned about taking pictures at the Lodge.

Speaking of The Ahwahnee, after catching a shuttle bus from in front of the Lodge, our first order of business was to make a stop at Yosemite's premiere hotel accommodations which is an absolutely gorgeous place to have lunch and drinks.  In case you missed my post about that, you can read it here.

The front of the Ahwahnee Hotel

Now before moving on to more of our trip to Yosemite Valley as it wouldn't be me if I didn't try to give you at least just a bit of history about an area, I'd like to do that now before getting too much further into this post. Feel free to jump over this if you're not into all that but I'll try to keep it brief!  "Try" being the operative word of course! ... Long, long before Yosemite Valley became the focal point of Yosemite National Park, the land in the central section of the Sierra Nevadas which was to become the must-see destination of millions of visitors was inhabited by a band of Sierra Miwok-speaking Native Americans called the Ahwahnechee. They lived in Yosemite Valley for centuries before European-American contact began but in 1851, during the Mariposa War, California State Militia troops of the Mariposa Battalion arrived in the valley and burned Ahwahnechee villages and took their food stores.

It is believed that when settler James Savage, whose trading camp on the Merced River 10 miles west of Yosemite Valley was raided by Native Americans in December 1850, led the Mariposa Battalion into Yosemite Valley in March of 1851 in pursuit of approximately 200 Ahwaneechees led by Chief Tenaya, that they became the first non-indigenous discoverers of Yosemite Valley. Accounts from the battalion, especially those from frontiersman Dr. Lafayette Bunnell, popularized Yosemite Valley as a scenic wonder and it was Bunnell who suggested that they name the valley after what the surrounding Sierra Miwok tribes, who feared the Yosemite Valley tribe, called them (Yos.s.e'meti) which literally translated means "those who kill". 

To quote Dr. Bunnell from Chaper IV of Discovery of the Yosemite:  "As I did not take a fancy to any of the names proposed, I remarked that “an American name would be the most appropriate;” that “I could not see any necessity for going to a foreign country for a name for American scenery—the grandest that had ever yet been looked upon. That it would be better to give it an Indian name than to import a strange and inexpressive one; that the name of the tribe who had occupied it, would be more appropriate than any I had heard suggested.” I then proposed “that we give the valley the name of Yo-sem-i-ty, as it was suggestive, euphonious, and certainly American; that by so doing, the name of the tribe of Indians which we met leaving their homes in this valley, perhaps never to return, would be perpetuated.” . . . . upon a viva voce vote being taken, it was almost unanimously adopted." 

An article by Dr. Bunnell, “How the Yo-Semite Valley was Discovered and Named,” Hutchings’ Illustrated California Magazine (May 1859),  and subsequent book from which the above quote was taken, Discovery of the Yosemite, and the Indian War of 1851did much to promote the beauty of Yosemite Valley and probably had some influence when Senator John Conness of California introduced a park bill in 1864 to the United States Senate to cede Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees to the state. Following the introduction of the bill, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Yosemite Valley Grant Act, Senate Bill 203, on June 30th, 1864 granting the State of California possession of the Yosemite Valley and the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove "upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation" making the two tracts "inalienable for all time". This was the first time in history that a federal government had set aside scenic lands simply to protect them and to allow for their enjoyment by all people and, in effect, created the first national park though officially Yosemite National Park was not established until October 1st, 1890 when President Benjamin Harrison signed into law congressional action establishing the area as a national park following a tireless campaign by the environmental trailblazer John Muir (1838-1914) and his colleagues.

Even though Yosemite had been established as part of the National Park System in 1890, it wasn't until 1903 that Yosemite Valley became a part of that.  Following more campaigning and a three-day camping trip to the Valley by President Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir successfully persuaded President Roosevelt to sign a bill on June 11th of that year giving control of Yosemite Valley back to the federal government and taking it away from the State of California. And there you have it, the semi-Reader's Digest version of the formation of Yosemite National Park and Yosemite Valley.  There really is a lot more to the story as Yosemite has a very long and colorful history but I wanted to try to kept it brief here; should you choose to read more, I would suggest starting at the National Park Service's website for Yosemite National Park where they've got lots of good information and pictures about the history of Yosemite as well as information on visiting the park.

So, speaking of visiting the park - how about we do that now that the history lesson is out of the way? Even though it was early February, when Katharine and I arrived on the valley floor there was hardly any snow to be seen and the temperatures were quite warm.  Up until very recently, the Sierra Nevadas had been having a fairly mild winter but since our visit they've gotten some much-needed snow and I'm sure that the park's waterfalls will be flowing nicely with the spring thaw that visitors will look at in wonder and awe as that's what you do at Yosemite - look at the majesty of nature in wonder and awe!

By the time Katharine and I were done walking around The Ahwahnee and had caught the shuttle bus that makes a loop around the valley floor, it was already starting to get to be late afternoon/early evening so by the time we made it to Sentinel Bridge, the light wasn't all that great for picture-taking. Still, we were there and I had promised Cyndi pictures so I did the best I could with the fading light and my lack of a tripod to hold the camera steady in low lighting conditions. 

The shots above and below were taken from Sentinel Bridge looking over the Merced River towards Half Dome which is probably Yosemite's most well-known rock formation. Rising more than 4,737 feet above the valley floor, it's easy to see why! My photos join the millions - nay billions - that have been taken from that very spot!

Turning around on the bridge and shooting in the other direction gave me a shot of the parking area/shuttle bus stop with Upper Yosemite Falls in the background. Yosemite Fall is the highest measured waterfall in America but more on that in a moment.

Having taken as many pictures as we could from Sentinel Bridge with the light really starting to fade fast, Katharine and I took a walk down to the hay field near the bus stop for a few more photos of the surrounding area.

The sign above shows the flood water levels during Yosemite National Park's worst natural disaster to date and worst flood in park history when the Merced River overflowed its banks between December 31, 1996 to January 5, 1997. The flood began on New Years' Eve 1996 when an unseasonably warm rain began to fall and mountain snow packs started melting during a torrential 24-hour rainfall that occurred from January 1st to the 2nd. All roads out of the park - Highway 120, Highway 41, and Highway 140 - were inundated by the floodwaters which left 2,100 park visitors stranded until the flood waters finally started to recede and they could begin leaving on January 3rd. No doubt it was not those folks' best visit ever to Yosemite but it was definitely something to tell their friends and family about!

I took a lot of photos of the obviously dead but very cool tree above but as at that point it was starting to get pretty late and rather cold for Katharine (being a New Englander I was more used to the colder temps), we caught the next shuttle bus that came by and took the slow ride around the valley floor arriving back at the Lodge when it was full-on dark. When night falls in the valley, it falls pretty quickly! We went to bed fairly early hoping to get up fairly early so as to get a chance to see a few more spots before I had to catch the bus back to the train at 10:00. Katharine was going to stay a bit longer as her train to San Jose would be later than mine to Stockton plus I wanted to get back to see Cyndi before the day was through.

Following a cup of tea in the cafeteria at the Lodge, we took a walk over to the viewing area of Yosemite Falls which wasn't far at all and definitely not crowded at that time of the morning, though there were a few other folks out and about getting an early start also.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, Yosemite Falls is the highest measured falls in America and at 2,425 feet from the top of the upper falls to the base of the lower falls, it is listed as the seventh highest waterfall in the world. The 1,430-foot plunge of the Upper Falls, formed by the waters of Yosemite Creek, is among the twenty highest waterfalls in the world, and after that comes a series of five smaller plunges which are collectively referred to as the Middle Cascades that are not visible from the valley because of their location in a narrow, constricted gorge. The Cascades account for a total drop of 675 feet which is more than twice the height of the Lower Falls which make up a final 320-foot drop adjacent to an accessible viewing area which is where Katharine and I were heading that chilly but bright February morning.

If you look closely in the photos above, in the one to the left you can almost see Katharine posing by the falls and myself in the photo to the right; hopefully that will give you a bit of a size comparison as sometimes it's really hard to tell from pictures how big something is. Katharine is kind of like me, though, in the further away a camera is from me - unless it's in my hands pointing in the opposite direction - the better!

In a 1904 book entitled Indians of the Yosemite Valley and Vicinity Their History, Customs and Traditions, author Galen Clark tells of a legend of the Ahwahneechee people of Yosemite Valley who called the waterfall "Cholock" and believed that the plunge pool at its base was inhabited by the spirits of several witches called the Poloti. An Ahwaneechee folktale describes a woman going to fetch a pail of water from the pool and after drawing it out, finds it be full of snakes. Later that night, after the woman had trespassed into their territory, the spirits caused the woman's house to be sucked into the pool by a powerful wind taking the woman and her newborn baby with it.

I'm not sure if we would have been able to draw a pail of water from the pool had we been of a mind to as the water levels were way down and Yosemite Creek barely trickled across the talus on its way to meet up with the Merced River. Katharine told me that in times past, standing nearby left most visitors a bit damp but that sure wasn't the case during our visit.  Hopefully recent snowfalls out there have changed Yosemite Creek into more than a trickle since we were there! The picture to the right above shows you a view to Sentinel Rock across the valley floor with very little water flowing down the creek.

Heading back down the trail I got a photo of Upper Yosemite Falls with what Katharine called "Finger Rock" to the right before we headed off  to find one of the shuttle buses so that we could catch a ride back over to Sentinel Bridge and try to get get some photos while the sun was shining.  On the way I stopped to take pictures of a pretty stone bridge, the shuttle bus stop, a few of the native inhabitants of the valley out scaring up some breakfast, and a shot of Half Dome from across the field. 

Half Dome from the floor of Yosemite Valley

Arriving back at Sentinel Bridge I took photos of Yosemite Falls from across the meadow and more photos of Half Dome and the Merced River from the bridge itself.

Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge in Yosemite Valley

Even though it seemed like we had barely been walking around for about an hour, it was starting to get late so we had to make a decision - wait for the shuttle bus which would slowly make its way around the valley back to the Lodge and cause me to possibly miss my bus or head off on foot across the pathway in the meadow and walk back to the Lodge. Not wanting to miss my bus, I voted for the "let's walk" option and we took off across the somewhat frosty path in the direction of the Lodge.

The footbridge was definitely slick in places but we made it across with no mishaps or spills and got back to the Lodge where I grabbed my backpack from our room and made it to the bus with time to spare in spite of the fact that I kept stopping to take photos here and there while we were walking across the meadow regardless of my worry about catching the bus in time. I really gotta learn to lay off of that shutter button but I was pretty sure that this was going to be my last trip to Yosemite for quite some time to come plus I wanted to get plenty of photos to show Cyndi.

Katharine and I are parted company with a hug as I got on the bus to head back to Merced and the train to Stockton and I hope I remembered to thank her profusely for having given me the chance to spend a night in one of God's most beautiful creations on earth.

On my way out of the park on the bus, I was able to catch a couple quick photos of El Capitan, a 7,569-foot tall granite cliff that stands guard over Yosemite Valley while calling rock climbers from all over the world to come and try out one of its many climbing routes. Considering I took the shots from a bus window while it wound its way out of the valley, I think they came out more or less okay and I was happy that I'd had the chance to see El Cap even if it was from the window of a passing bus.

Napping most of the way back on the bus and again on the train, before I knew it I had arrived at the Amtrak station in Stockton where I was quite glad to see that my rental car had not been stolen from the train station parking lot overnight considering that it's not in the best part of town. Coming back to the city after having had a chance to visit Yosemite National Park and take in some of the grandeur that makes it such a wonderful piece of America, I was thankful for people like John Muir and Ansel Adams who fought to keep it protected and preserved for generations to come.  John Muir wrote in 1901, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life."  He really could not have been more right.

If you're of a mind to, you can view more photos of Yosemite Valley in my SmugMug Gallery and should you find yourself visiting the park and wanting to take a hike or two - something that I wish I had been able to do when I was younger! - then check out this great website on The 10 Most Stunning Hikes in Yosemite by 10 Adventures who help you find hiking trails and adventure tours in the most stunning places on earth.


  1. What an amazing place! I would so love to see it for myself but for now I will be happy to see it through your eyes Linda, thankyou. x

  2. I will most likely never get there. I'm not the hiking, outdoorsy kinda gal. However, I sure can appreciate its beauty. I've been to Colorado twice, 2 weeks each time, and have traversed the Continental Divide, East to West and North to South, many times during those 2 trips. The mountains, valleys, meadows, wildlife, being so high that my head was literally in the clouds... all incredibly humbling and awe-inspiring. What surprised me most was how GOOD it smelled. Clean, mountain air!

    Great job for such a quick visit!

  3. BEAUTIFUL! Absolutely breathtaking. One of these days I need to see if I have the photos from my grandparents' visit to Yosemite. They met there.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing, and will have to put this one on my bucket list!

  5. It has been far too long since we were there--'89! Would love to go back. Beautiful photos. Srsly.

  6. I really do love that place. I've seen some amazing natural sites here in Washington State, but I haven't seen anything that rivals Yosemite.


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