As we left Oakdale, California, this morning and headed east on Route 120, the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada shimmered across the eastern horizon, partly obscured by clouds. Leaving the flat landscape of the Central Valley, we climbed through hills of grass and oak savanna before ascending more steeply into the Sierra foothills. Charred forest, damaged by wildfire, was soon encountered along the road, extending into western portions of Yosemite National Park.
When we eventually rounded a curve and Half Dome appeared in the distance, I knew that my dream of visiting Yosemite was finally realized. Indeed, the Park's spectacular glacial valley, lined by the granite cliffs of El Capitan, Half Dome, North Dome and other well-known summits, drained by the beautiful Merced River and adorned by Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite Falls and other magnificent cascades, is one of the more inspiring sites on our planet.
Arriving on a Monday morning in mid May, we hoped to escape the summer crowds that descend on Yosemite and many other National Parks. Alas, the crowds were already there, parked along the roadways, congregating at overlooks and clogging popular trails; we, of course, contributed to the human assault. One wonders if our population has expanded beyond the point where landscapes as grand as Yosemite National Park cannot withstand the onslaught. It seems we must significantly curtail access if we are to protect these natural gems (or even to make them worth visiting).