That’s what it felt like to drive through the Wawona Tunnel into Yosemite Valley during our spring break trip a few weeks ago. Yosemite National Park is always going to be special for me. Even though it was not the first national park I visited (the Grand Canyon), nor the one that I did my first overnight backpacking trip in (Shenandoah), it was the first park I worked in. It represents the first time I realized that I had really quit my full-time “grown-up job” in Washington DC, and turned down a very different career path – one spent outdoors working to help people forge connections with nature.
While Yosemite has become a veritable miniature town, complete with golf course, auto shop, court, and restaurants and accommodations galore, it somehow manages to retain that grandeur – that ability to bowl you over and humble you with the full blast of it’s beauty. You can still see John Muir walking through the meadows, still feel the presence of the Ahwahneechee or Miwok people as they gathered and ground black acorns down into flour. It still has the full force of those soaring granite cliffs, and the crashing waterfalls, the delicate flowers in bloom, and the gnarled oaks.
I was thrilled to be able to share this place, which will always have profound meaning to me – even if it no longer makes me cry when I enter the valley for the first time – with Jon. I spent the days we had in the valley dragging him around to my favorite spots. The metates atop a glacial erratic near the base of Lower Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Beach, Hetch Hetchy’s Wapama Falls. We explored some firsts for me as well – the entire Yosemite Falls Trail to the top of the upper falls, the park film, Wawona and Hodgedon Meadow campgrounds.
One of the most exciting firsts in my mind was getting to climb in the park. Yosemite is one of the most famous places to climb in the world, and I knew that Jon’s first trip to the park would be incomplete without the opportunity to get on the granite faces.
I am a most reluctant rock climber, but every time we do it, I get a little more comfortable clinging to a rock face, shredding my hands and knees, and struggling until my muscles quiver to drag my body up the rock. I am slowly getting over my mental handicaps, slowly being the key phrase.
So I was really happy to be able to spend a day in the Camp 4 area, climbing some top-roped routes and giving Jon some time to get his fix. Someday, I will be able to do it without a moment’s hesitation. For now, I’m content to do a bit of scrambling and belay him as he climbs much more competently up each route. Each of us finds our bliss in different activities, and although climbing is challenging for me, I find happiness in the look on his face, the way his whole posture changes, and how meditative he becomes as he works on a new route. I don’t think he knows quite how in his element he looks, and how much joy that brings me.
While I love that in the last year, Jon and I have made our way through quite a few new parks for each of us, I also love taking another look at a park I’ve been to in the past. Visiting Yosemite will never be the same for me as it was the first time I drove into the valley, to start my new job, my new life. But each time I return, the sense of home will always remain.
“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.” – John Muir