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Gouged granite forms the 3,000 foot deep Yosemite Valley.

On a crisp, clear October morning a few years ago, I caught my first glimpse of you, Yosemite Valley, through a tree break. There, browned meadow grasses with frosted tips glinted in sunlight. Mule deer does grazed in a small herd with twitchy, listening ears. Granite cliffs stretched tall toward a blue sky. My heart leapt inside my chest and I thought, could this, would this be love?

You have a beauty that John Muir called incomparable, that draws four million tourists to see you each year, that inspires a government agency’s protection, that made my heart flutter that first morning. In the end, it was love that I learned for Yosemite Valley, though a sad, mourning sort of love.

I mourn for your superhighways, two whole lanes in each direction and their too-fast drivers. I mourn because you’ve been paved to oblivion, all parking lots, roads, bike paths, and sidewalks, to provide tourists with an ironic access to nature. Because your riverbanks are, in places, scoured lifeless by thousands of swimmers seeking a cool flush of water on a summer day. Because of life’s harried pace, visitors rushing to do without really seeing. Most of all, Yosemite Valley, I mourn for your deadened wilderness spirit, trampled hard by these people and their selfish self-focus.

On my 22nd birthday, more than 10 years ago now, a friend suggested that I execute 22 sun salutations, a sequence of yoga poses, with some sort of hope or wish for the year in mind. I did this unique take on a Yoga Mala, and I’ve maintained the tradition each year since. This year, on a warm, dusty afternoon in late August, I unrolled my yoga mat into the shadows of Yosemite Valley’s south side. I flowed through 32 sun salutations, growing a dream for Yosemite Valley as I moved.

With love, I sun saluted you then and I salute you now, Yosemite Valley. This is my wish for you: may your tourists turn their gazes outward, providing the space for  your wild spirit to re-grow untamed, untrammeled, unmodified, un-commodified. May your spirit be found everywhere, from the quiet recesses of cleaved granite, to the warmth of a wise raven’s heart, in the long sunbeams that play shadow puppets on granite backdrops, through the screaming-fast peregrine falcon fly-by, to the fat rolls of the marmot’s September belly.

This is the spirit of Yosemite Valley (photo by Bryon Powell).

6 Responses to “I (Sun) Salute You, Yosemite Valley”

  1. Ewa says:

    I do so wish they kept car traffic out of the Valley. Some parks do that but I don’t see Yosemite wanting to risk losing all those tourists who want to have drive thru nature experience.
    It would be something to see Yosemite the way John Muir did.

    • Meghan says:

      Ewa, the challenge of managing Yosemite Valley for preservation and recreation, what the National Park Service does, is probably one of the greatest challenges in all of the NPS system. I don’t envy them this challenge, for sure! Yosemite Valley has had multiple iterations throughout its human occupation, used for all kinds of things. Who knows which is the “right” iteration.

  2. Ingunn says:

    I went to Yosemite this summer, and while it was obviously a spectacular place, it almost had more of a theme park feel to me…definitely not wilderness! It wasn’t until we hit the backcountry that I fell in love with the Sierra.

    Loved this post, especially: “…the fat rolls of the marmot’s September belly.” <3

    • Meghan says:

      Thanks for the compliment, Ingunn. As you say, Yosemite National Park’s backcountry is so different from the frontcountry of Yosemite Valley. For this, I’m so grateful. 🙂 Thanks for speaking up about your experience!

  3. Joey says:

    I found this through Jeffrey Trust’s tweet with a link to it. I worked in Yosemite in the summer of ’05 and have been back a few times since. My grandmother was born in the park (that clinic was a hospital in 1936) and my great-grandfather worked for the NPS in Yosemite. The homes they lived in are still in use in Yosemite Village.

    So I’m a moth to a flame when it comes to anything Yosemite-related. Your post resonated with me in a number of ways. I often wondered how we could reduce the impact of people in the valley.

    I wish Yosemite could have a system similar to Zion National Park where visitors park at the entrance and are shuttled through the park on free shuttles. However, from what I understand, there are issues with building a parking ramp in El Portal or any other surrounding area. I believe environmental groups are opposed to the impact ramps like that would have wherever they would be built.

    And the ultimate irony to me is that those of us (myself included) who so badly want the place preserved are trampling it too. One person strolling across or rolling their yoga mat onto a meadow is harmless. 5,000 people doing it becomes problematic.

    It’s reassuring to know that Yosemite is the size of Rhode Island and that the vast majority of that space is left in peace. My favorite hikes are places like Cloud’s Rest or above North Dome where you hardly see a person.

    One other thought on the visitors who are “rushing to do without really seeing,” my first visit to Yosemite was a day and a half and was part of a greater road trip. I hiked and hiked – definitely rushing – the full day I was there. It was enough to bring me back to work for a full summer and for two more extended visits since then. Some people are only able to have a taste but it’s enough to bring them back. That perspective helped give me more patience with the tourists who drove me insane – the people who were in and out or who were seemingly only there to camp rather than to experience what was around them.

  4. Meghan says:

    Joey, thanks for the comment and thanks for sharing your experiences.

    I’m pretty sure that I know “of” you, as I think we have both, in the past and at different times, worked for the same entity at Yosemite. 🙂

    I, too, think that Yosemite Valley would benefit from a shuttle system. Indeed, doing this would be go complicated, different than, say, Zion, because of the park’s layout. I think the park could do it, for sure, but the NPS and the American people would have to be willing to give up a little (to build parking garages, be willing to take public transport) to get a lot (a quieter, less disturbed Yosemite Valley).

    Thanks again for chiming in your experiences!

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