Yosemite’s Savage Beauty Awaits

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Camping under the Milky Way at Crocker Point

The long and tedious span of the worldwide covid-19 lockdown felt more like years than months for many, including myself.

But finally many countries are beginning to reopen allowing us once again to breathe fresh air and experience the great outdoors.

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Enjoying the view from Crocker Point

For me there is no better place to do this than at Yosemite National Park in California.

Yosemite reopened its gate in mid-June with restrictions to reduce the number of people entering the park and a decision that a number of facilities that will not open in 2020 including some restaurants, stores and lodging.

On the upside the reduced number of cars allowed into the park means far fewer traffic jams than usually accompany the summer months and much smaller crowds at key attractions.

Driving the “Valley Loop” you can enjoy a scenic turnout at Valley View and just another 15 minutes away you will find is Tunnel View.

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El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls and the Merced River at Valley View

A 30-minute drive will take you to Glacier Point affording one of the best views overlooking the valley, Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls. Heading in another direction in 30 minutes you can walk among the giant redwoods of the Mariposa Grove and 30 minutes further on awaits the wonders of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite’s high country.

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North Dome, Tenaya Canyon and Half Dome from Glacier Point

Even with the reduced  number of people allowed to hike the area many of the trails have fallen victim to the covid-19 pandemic with fewer trail permits issued. But if you limit yourself to hiking relatively flat terrain the valley floor has approximately 10 miles of trails to explore and a trail permit is not required. In a one- or two-hour stroll you can marvel at the iconic structures of El Captain, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock and Yosemite Falls.

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Yosemite Falls from Liedig Meadow near the Yosemite Lodge
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Half Does from Cooks Meadow near Yosemite Village

Whether you are a day hiker or the more adventurous sort like myself, who has donned a 40-50 pound backpack for days or weeks at a time to explore, the pristine wilderness awaits and one can still obtain the highly prized “wilderness and trail permit” by applying online.

One of my favorite day hikes is the 2.1-mile roundtrip trail with only a 456-foot elevation gain to Sentinel Dome. Add another 3 miles and 666 feet of elevation and you will find yourself at Taft Point on the south rim looking straight down at valley the floor 3000 feet below. The downfall due to the ease of the trail are the crowds, the upside is the incredible view consisting of Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome and many of Yosemite’s landmarks.

If you are looking to escape the crowds a good alternative is Dewey, Crocker and Stanford Points where the 9-mile trail and 1,925-foot elevation gain make for fewer visitors. Carrying a 54-pound backpack, 14 pounds of which was camera equipment, I recently spent three days on Crocker Point photographing the Milky Way, with day hikes to Dewey and Stanford Points.

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Carrying a full load at Dewey Point

The trail begins downhill through a covered forest for three-quarters of a mile, opening into the lush green McGurk Meadow for another half mile before once again entering the forest. At the 2 mile mark the steep climb to Dewey Point begins. As the trail ascends the sounds of birds singing, an occasional deer or bear sighting a sense of peace engulfs you overwhelming your senses.

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The forest opens to McGurk Meadow

And then suddenly there is that most welcome sound of all for a backpacker, the sound of a small stream where you can quench your ever-building thirst with fresh, cool water. It is important to note that even though you are in the wilderness you should to filter the water. Giardia is the last thing that you want to encounter.

Pushing uphill the last half mile past the stream you reach Dewey Point where most people stop and return back to their cars if on a day hike or pitch their tent to spend the night. I reached Dewey in the late afternoon where about 15 tents had already staked their claim for the night.

Having lived in Yosemite on and off for three years. I knew a little over a half mile further was Crocker Point which is seldom visited, and I had the place all to myself for three days. This is where I would suggest you spend the night.

The steep downhill trail which of course means a steep uphill climb when I leave can be daunting, but you will be rewarded with a much better view looking down on Bridalveil Falls, which you cannot see from Dewey. There is a panorama view from the cliffs edge of El Captain, North Dome, Clouds Rest and Half Dome.

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View from Crocker Point of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, North Dome, Clouds Rest and Half Dome

If you have never experienced the night skies in the backcountry away from the light pollution of the city prepare yourself, there is nothing on Earth quite like it. The dark blue velvet sky is filled with millions of stars shining like diamonds. During the summer months the Milky Way comes into view and splashes a palette of color from azure blue and rich purple to brilliant orange and crimson red.

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The Milky Way from Crocker Point

Whether you opt for a day hike or spend one to several nights out in the wilderness of Yosemite it will be something you will never forgot. If you are lucky it will get under your skin and you will want to return time and time again to Yosemite.

For me my Yosemite passion started back in 1965 when I was just 10. I spent my honeymoon there in 1972. I lived and worked there for three years and now at age 66 I still don a backpack and head into the wilderness. Yosemite and its hauntingly beautiful wilderness have become part of who I am.

Yosemite National Park: Be Prepared To Be Humbled

Yosemite National Park is one of those places that you have to experience in person. Although there are many beautiful photographs, movies and documentaries about Yosemite, nothing can compare to actually standing at the base of Yosemite Falls, overlooking the view from on top of Half Dome or positioning yourself on the edge of Glacier Point.

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Half Dome from Cooks Meadow after being flooded from snow melt


Located along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, the park covers 1,169 square miles of wilderness. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln’s signed the Yosemite Grant and in 1890 naturalist John Muir lobbied Congress into expanding the park, which eventually led to today’s U.S. National Park System.

Yosemite Valley has been inhabited for thousands of years by the Ahwahneechee Native Americans with the Paiute, Mono and Miwoks in close proximity.

During the gold rush period of California, competition for resources between the Native Americana and miners began to take its toll. In 1851, the Mariposa Battalion entered the west end of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Wars erupted. This event was seen as the introduction of the white man to Yosemite.


Over the years, several concessionaries have obtained permits to open stores, restaurants, camping sites and hotels in the park. The best known of these was in 1899 by the Curry Company, which founded Camp Curry at the base of Glacier Point. In 1925, Curry Company and the Yosemite National Park Company were forced to join together, forming the Yosemite Park and Curry Company, which lasted until the late 20th century. It too has been transformed as other companies have coupled with park service.

The formation of Yosemite is due to tectonic and volcanic activity spanning millions of years. Yosemite Valley is only 7 square miles and is a product of glaciers sculpting and carving granite as it moved.

When the ice receded, it left lakes, streams, rivers and sediment forming lush green meadows and forests. This small area of the park harbors some of Yosemite’s iconic landmarks. The Merced River courses through the valley surrounded by 3,000-foot granite walls and the iconic landmarks of Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome and Glacier Point.

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The Merced River in Yosemite Valley with North Dome in the background

Driving the Valley Loop Road, you will skirt the river and pass through the forests and meadows. Near the west end, you come across Valley View, which offers and a pristine view of the valley with the Merced River at your feet. Here you will marvel at Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridalvail Falls, all seemly a stone’s throw away.

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First snow at Valley View…El Capitan with a sliver of Bridalveil Falls 

A short drive from the valley floor is Tunnel View, overlooking nearly the entire valley. Views of Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Spires, Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridalvail Falls are all visible from this vantage point and nothing short of spectacular.

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Early winter from Tunnel View…El Capitan with Bridalveil Falls 

Another drive well worth taking ends at Glacier Point. With an elevation of 7,000 and the valley floor at 4,000, you find yourself looking over the top of Yosemite Falls, North Dome and Nevada and Vernal Falls. Half Dome in directly in front of you with Tuolumne Meadows in the distance.

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Tenaya Canyon from Glacier Point… North Dome (left), Half Dome (right) and Tenaya Canyon leading to Tuolumne Meadows and the “High Country”

Glacier Point is the trailhead for the Four Mile Trail, actually 4.5 miles, and the 9-mile Panorama Trail, both leading to the valley. Both trails offer beautiful views and vantage points to the delight of many, especially photographers, but they are not to be taken lightly. I have started in the warmth of the sun under clear blue skies in the morning only to encounter snow in the afternoon on both spring and fall days.

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My grandkids Dioni and Basil on their first hike, the 4 Mile Trail with Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and El Captian in the background… Basil is in college now

Accommodations in the park range from campsites to canvas tents, complete with wood stoves and wooden floors, to lodges to the magnificent five-star Ahwahnee Hotel.

The Ahwahnee is located in Yosemite Valley at the foot of granite cliff and the forests and meadows of the valley floor. Constructed of steel, granite, wood and timbers, it is one of the most beautiful hotels in the world. It opened its door to guests in 1927 and has welcomed moviestars, presidents and foreign royalty.

The Ahwahnee Hotel with the Royal Arches in the background

The layout and décor are striking and is reminiscent of the hotel in the movie “The Shining.” The Ahwahnee lobby, elevators and Great Lounge were adapted into the set of the Overlook Hotel. So do not be surprised if you see two twin girls wondering the halls muttering “Redrum, Redrum.”

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The Ahwahnee Dining Room

The dining room is 130 feet long and 51 feet wide and is nothing short of magnificent. Rock columns and timber in the form of trees support the 34-foot ceiling. During the Christmas season, the Bracebridge Dinner transports you to the Renaissance. This seven-course dining experience is reminiscent of a feast complete with a lord and his court, with minstrels and a jester that will surely entertain.

A visit to Yosemite will leave you both relaxed and exhilarated. Regardless of whether you are warming yourself by a campfire or the fireplace in the Ahwahnee, there will be a calm that overcomes you. Whether you drive or hike the valley floor, you will be humbled by Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and El Capitan. And if you are lucky enough to witness the wildlife of Yosemite and catch a glimpse of a bear, bobcat or one of the many deer that make the valley their home, one thing is guaranteed: You will never forget your visit to Yosemite.

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Yosemite Falls 2,425 feet located in Yosemite Valley

If you are there in the spring of a year with a heavy snowfall during the full moon you just might be lucky enough to see a Moonbow. It is formed by mist of the falls and the bright light of the full moon.

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Yosemite Falls Moonbow


My first trip was in 1965 with my grandparents and a few years later I would camp there as a Boy Scout. A few more years found me camping there as a hippie and in 1972 I spent my honeymoon at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

In 1982 I moved to Yosemite for a couple years and in 2012 I moved there for yet one more year. So you can see Yosemite has a very special place in my heart and has been and will always be in my life.