Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Valley

Population: 1,035 | Area: 2.120 sq mi (5.492 km2) | Population Density: 490/sq mi (190/km2) | Elevation: 4,000 feet (1,200 m)
Dates Visited: 11.06.12 – 11.09.12 | Total Inter-City Miles Traveled: 6,485 miles | Total Hours Traveled: 132 hours (5.5 days)

Inter-City Transportation: Amtrak #4, Amtrak #5 (going back to S.F.) | Origin: San Francisco, CA | Stop-over City: Merced, CA

Though this may come at a surprise, Yosemite National Park is accessible by public transportation. Starting from San Francisco, the trip can be booked with just one purchase: the Amtrak train out to Merced, CA and the YARTS bus ticket into Yosemite Valley. And within the valley lie the most beautiful and breathtaking landscapes I’ve ever seen in my life.

Yosemite National Park is located in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and is a wilderness that has inspired countless people, cultures, arts and movements for tens of thousands of years. Rich in resources, Yosemite was exploited in mining efforts and in war until the efforts of preservationist John Muir helped secure the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890.

Of the 3.5 million people who visit the park annually, most stay in the Yosemite Valley, an area that represents only one-percent of the park area. The Valley, however, in its abundance of views, hikes, and land could be explored for weeks on end.

The relationship between landscape architecture and Yosemite is also an interesting one. The work by landscape architects in places like Yosemite and Niagara Falls, are often unknown to the general public because unlike architecture, these sites were designed to enhance the wilderness experience and conceal the hand of design. What’s more, with millions of visitors every year, the National Park Service must strenuously manage the park in order to alleviate the destructive effects of human visitation. Though wilderness, a loaded word that most people want to believe exists untouched by man, is the commodity people want to see when they visit Yosemite, it’s important to realize and accept that the views we enjoy are still products of human labor and culture.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Lawrence Halprin are two landscape architects who were very influential in how Yosemite National Park is perceived today. When Congress set aside Yosemite for recreation, not only did Olmsted help ensure that Yosemite would be a public park enjoyed by the everyman–in Great Britain many parks were considered “rich men’s parks” and barred to the general public–but he also prepared the preliminary report on the landscape management of Yosemite. Olmsted’s Point, a lookout area off of the Tioga Road, was named in Olmsted’s honor.

In 2002, the National Park Service commissioned the renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin to redesign the approach to the awe-inspiring Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America, which had deteriorated due to overcrowding. Halprin’s final design, which took three years to complete and $13.5 million in funding, rehabilitated surrounding habitats, improved visitor circulation, and put in additional amenities such as an amphitheatre and restrooms that blended in with the natural surroundings.

An image of Halprin’s redesigned approach. Photo Credit: yosemitehikes.com

My hiking experience has been fairly limited up till now, however, in the few days that I spent in Yosemite, the stunning views pushed me to hike new heights. For the first two days I was there–I needed the third day to nurse life back into my legs–I was blessed with phenomenal weather–blue, cloudless skies in the 70s–and no crowds of people given that I was visiting in the off season. The air in the mountains are the most crisp and fresh I’ve ever smelled; the stars at night shine with a luminosity seen nowhere else; and the sensation of ascending and being on top of a mountain is one of the wildest and most addicting sensations that I have ever felt.

I’ll definitely be back, Yosemite.

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