Re-discovering America, the Park-to-Park Highway Series – Part 3 of 4

We rejoin the Park-to-Park tour group at their halfway point. After driving long hours to get to Lassen National Park and discovering they could not tour the park due to lack of roads, the group pressed on, through snowy conditions to Yosemite.

Park-To-Park Highway, Part 3

Yosemite National Park

Carl Sharsmith was a ranger who worked in the park nearly every summer from his late 20’s all the way until his death at age 91. He is said to have explored every nook and cranny of Yosemite’s High Sierra. There is a story that park rangers at Yosemite always love to tell. One day in his later years, a woman visitor to the park approached Sharsmith and asked, “I have one hour to tour Yosemite. What shall I see?”

Sharsmith stroked his beard, and after some careful thought, pointed down to a rock. “See that rock down there by the river? Well, if I were you and only had one hour to tour Yosemite, I would just walk down to that rock, have a seat, and I’d just cry.”

Home to cliffs of sheer white granite, cascading waterfalls, and massive trees as far as the eye can see, Yosemite holds so many majestic vistas. It was drastically different from anything the tour had yet witnessed. It was the famous naturalist John Muir was in many ways responsible for Yosemite’s existence.

Likewise, Steven Mather dedicated much of his personal resources for the betterment of the park. It was, after all, his favorite. It was his passion for the area that allowed him to acquire Tioga Road and complete it so that visitors to the park could easily access it.

The Park-to-Park tour group spent their first night in Yosemite at the Sentinel Hotel, and had a spectacular viewing of the famous Firefall. A campfire was built using the wood from Red Fir. The campfire would burn all day, then in the evening around 9pm there was a ritual in Curry Village where locals would gather round to sing an Indian love song, then proclaim, “Let the fire fall!” then shovel the embers from the fire over the cliff, creating a dramatic spectacle of a waterfall of fire.

The tour continued through the park on Glacier Road, ascending to 3,200 feet to Glacier Point Hotel. This brought them to the best views of Yosemite. During the development of the park, workers used the principles of landscape architecture in order for the park to be accessible to visitors, and yet still look natural and rustic. Using timber and stone, they created facilities that perfectly blended into the landscape.

After a 3rd night in the park, the group said ‘goodbye’ to Yosemite and continued on to the next National Park. 

Driving through the San Joaquin Valley through Madera and Fresno, the group arrived at the gateway to Sequoia and General Grant national park. 

General Grant National Park

Created in 1890, the park was established to protect the General Grant grove of giant sequoia trees and an amazing section of what is now Kings Canyon National Park. The shining star is the General Grant Tree, which towers 267 feet tall, is 1,500 years old, and is the 3rd largest tree in the world. At 154 acres, this section of the park is geographically isolated from the rest of Kings Canyon National Park.

The park is composed of two distinct areas – Grant Grove and Cedar Grove. Kings Canyon is also home to Redwood Canyon, the largest remaining grove of sequoia trees in the world.

In 1873, the renowned naturalist John Muir hiked from Yosemite to the giant forest of sequoias. Afterwards, Muir became a staunch advocate for federal protection of the region. The dramatic landscape of this region is testimony to nature’s size, beauty, and diversity – with towering mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the some of the world’s largest trees. In fact, Muir called this area “a rival to Yosemite.”

Sequoia National Park

When the tour arrived at Sequoia National Park on October 17th, Superintendent John R. White led group through the 2nd oldest national park in the U.S. (next to Yellowstone), where the group found themselves in a wilderness of giants.

With some trees towering up to 300 feet tall, this was quite a sight and like nothing they had seen before. Each of the monolithic trees were hundreds of years old and captured the imagination of everyone. The mere fact that these trees were huge, old, and rare, provided the perfect trifecta of fascination.

Before the park came to be, loggers naturally gravitated to these gentle giants as a great source of wood. Indeed, it was one example of the threats our national parks face with respect to logging, mining, ranching, etc. and another reason why all of the parks gained protection under the federal level in order to preserve the natural beauty of our nation.

The tour group reveled in the sight of these trees, taking numerous pictures of themselves being dwarfed by the giant Sequoia.

The next day, a snow storm drove them out of the park; the first severe winter weather the group had encountered on the Park-to-Park tour.

Their next stops: Zion, Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde, which we’ll take up in Part 4 of our Park-to-Park series!


Click here to read Part 2 of the Park-to-Park Highway series...

or

Click here to read Part 4 of the Park-to-Park Highway series...


Meet Rob Decker, Creator of National Park Posters

Photographer and graphic artist Rob Decker studied photography with Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park during the summer of 1979 when he was just 19. It was an experience solidified his love of photography and our National Parks. Now he is on a journey to photograph and create iconic WPA-style posters of all our major national parks as we celebrate the next 100 years of the National Park Service.

"I feel it’s important to protect America’s special places, and to connect people with nature. And it’s up to all of us to pitch in. Perhaps more importantly, we need to inspire the next generation of park stewards. I’m trying to make a difference by giving back to the amazing organizations that support our National Parks. I donate 10% of annual profits, so when you buy one of these original works, you're helping these trusts, conservancies and associations, too."

Click here to meet the artist, Rob Decker.


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