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Judy Crowell: The Grandeur and Glory of Yosemite National Park

From its majestic views and an endless array of sights to see and things to do, the 747,956-acre reserve is not to be missed

<p>Yosemite National Park’s Tunnel View off Highway 41 offers an expansive view of the Yosemite Valley.</p>

Yosemite National Park’s Tunnel View off Highway 41 offers an expansive view of the Yosemite Valley.  (Judy Crowell / Noozhawk photo)

By Judy Crowell, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery of Yosemite National Park.]

Wow! Merveilleux! Wunderbar! Fabuloso!

More than 3.5 million visitors flock to Yosemite National Park each year, about 10 percent from outside the United States. No matter the nationality, no matter the language, one’s first glimpse of the Tunnel View, one of the most photographed vistas in the world, renders you speechless.

Famed naturalist John Muir called it the “grandest special temple of nature I was ever permitted to enter.”

Created as a forest reserve in 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln, Yosemite encompasses 747,956 acres; has as its highest peak Mount Lyell, at 13,114 feet; is home to more than 400 species of vertebrates; offers 800 miles of hiking trails and 12 miles of biking paths; and boasts 13 main campgrounds and a variety of marvelous lodging options.

Tenaya Lodge, just two miles from the park, combines elegance, luxury, fine dining, a world-class spa (Ascent) and superb service with the scope and amenities of a Four Diamond resort. This is a special place where landscape and resort become one — where you can rough it without roughing it.

The Ahwahnee Hotel, built in 1927 and located in the heart of the park, is a mastery of architecture. The mammoth dining room has hosted countless celebrities, royalty and presidents.

For a trip back to the 19th century, there’s the Victorian-style Wawona Hotel, built in 1850, oozing character and nostalgia, and low on modern conveniences. It's perfect for guests looking for a purist Yosemite experience and a challenging nine holes of golf on a course reputed to have been designed by acclaimed architect Alister MacKenzie. I found it fascinating in spite of — or perhaps because of — its resemblance to the Overlook Hotel in the 1980 movie The Shining.

Yosemite is an Indian word, meaning grizzly bear, but don’t expect to encounter any California grizzlies. Sadly, they are extinct in Yosemite today. In fact, 94 percent of the park is designated "wilderness," so wildlife abounds — mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, golden eagles and black bears, to name just a few. Up to 500 black bears call this sanctuary their home. Full grown, they weigh 150 to 500 pounds but only a half-pound at birth. Lucky mommas give birth and even nurse their cubs while asleep (hibernating). You go, girl!

There’s no way I can begin to tell you of all the sights and activities here, so I’m sending you to TripAdvisor.com, by clicking here, for its excellent list of Yosemite must-sees.

First among them are rocks, but what rocks! Start with a drive to Glacier Point, at 8,000-feet elevation. Once there, tippy-toe over the paved trail to the railing’s edge and look out across the valley for one of the most exhilarating overlooks on Earth, a 3,214-foot drop to the valley floor directly below. Bridalveil Falls, a spring wonder with wind swirls, creating a delicate water free-fall, is beautiful even when dry.

Half Dome and North Dome facing each other is a geologist’s dream. Nature’s forces are still sculpting this exposed, 87 million-year-old rock.

Then there’s El Capitan, the massive, granite monolith standing 3,593 feet from base to summit, straight up, not the slightest slant and a daunting challenge to climbers (i.e., masochists) from all over the world. Looking like ants from below, climbers usually make the ascent in four to six days, hauling up to 100 pounds of gear, food and water, and sleeping on porta-ledges on El Cap’s sheer face. At least 70 big wall routes have been established on the southeast and southwest faces, with varying ascent times ranging from 2½ hours to 261 days. Impossible for me to fathom!

Once again, John Muir, “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life.” Such grandeur should not be missed.

— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and part-time Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.


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