YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK – PART TWO

BLOG #23, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #14
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK – PART TWO
June 12, 2013

I abjectly apologize for the long delay in completing The Great Circle. Just to recapitulate, Bob and Lucy Earp, and Connie and I were so impressed by Ken Burns’ magnificent PBS National Park Series films that we decided to personally explore our western national parks for ourselves. Since we’d also been impressed with Christine Barnes’ Great Lodges of the National Parks (aired just after the Burns and Duncan series by PBS) as well as the two books that preceded the film series, we decided to stay in those wonderful old lodges whenever possible.

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It took us two years to complete both the Northwest and Southwest portions of The Great Circle. However, the blogs that detailed our peregrinations came to a temporary halt on June 20, 2012; “temporary,” because I fully intended to return to the series in a couple of weeks, but so many timely, provocative, and interesting subjects intruded that almost a year has passed since then! This time, I promise we’ll complete the loop before I stray away again.

* * * * *

REENTER JOHN MUIR AND YOSEMITE

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It is impossible to read Duncan and Burns’ national parks blockbuster without being mesmerized by the role one man played in awakening the nation to a belated conviction that America’s endangered scenic wonders must be saved before it was too late.

John Muir (1838-1914) was born in Dunbar, Scotland, but moved when only nine to America. In 1867, while attending the University of Wisconsin, Madison, an industrial accident nearly cost him an eye. That near disaster changed the course of his life, for he abandoned his technical studies and devoted himself to nature. He walked from the Middle West to the Gulf of Mexico. In 1868, he trekked into then little known Yosemite Valley, which over time became his life’s lodestar. From this focal point he took many trips into Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.

As early as 1876, Muir urged the federal government to adopt a forest conservation policy. The Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks were established in 1890. Early in 1899, President Grover Cleveland designated 13 national forests to be preserved from commercial exploitation; but powerful business groups persuaded the President to back off. But Muir penned two eloquent magazine articles that reversed the tide and swung public and Congressional opinion in favor of national forest reservations. Muir also influenced the large-scale conservation program of President Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1903, during his first term in office, accompanied Muir on a camping trip to the Yosemite region.

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The rest of Muir’s life was spent in almost continual battle with commercial interests determined to wrest control of America’s scenic wonderlands away from those who sought to preserve them for posterity. Though Muir won many such battles, one of his defeats all but broke his heart and hastened his death: the damming of Little Yosemite Valley and turning it into the Hetch Hetchy water reservoir for California’s Bay Area cities.

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Quite simply, Yosemite National Park is iconic in its being one of the world’s most famous wild spaces. Even in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln found time in 1864 to sign a Congressional bill granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias to the State of California as an inalienable public trust.

Today, in Mel White’s words, “Yosemite National Park, declared a World Heritage site in 1984 for its natural features, attracts more than 3.5 million visitors annually, most of whom see only the valley at its heart, a mile-wide, seven-mile-long area where the Merced River winds among waterfalls and granite monoliths.”

Among the wonders drawing tourists from around the world are the 620-feet-high Bridalveil Falls, the 3,000-feet-high El Capitan (the largest monolith of granite in the world), 8,842-feet-high Half Dome (Yosemite’s most recognized feature), 3,214-feet-high Glacier Point, three Redwood groves (the largest being the Mariposa Grove), 317-feet-high Vernal Falls, 500-feet-high Cascades, 370-feet-high Illilouette Fall, 600-feet-high Pywiak Cascade, 2,000-feet-high Sentinal Falls, 2,000-feet-high Snow Creek Falls, 1,612-feet-high Ribbon Fall, 1,250-feet-high Royal Arch Cascade, 700-feet-high Wildcat Fall, and the granddaddy of them all: 2,565-feet-high Yosemite Falls (including 1,430-feet-high Upper Fall, 320-feet-high Lower Fall, and the Cascades), besides the Park’s too many to count ephemeral falls [seasonal]. Mike Osborne says of the spectacular totality, “Many would argue that Yosemite National Park has the grandest assemblage of waterfalls in the world.” And there are many more in Yosemite’s high country (which few tourists ever reach). The spectacular Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, with its Horseshoe Falls, can only be reached by foot.

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Our visit will continue next week.

SOURCES USED

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

Northern California and Nevada Tour Book (Heathrow, Florida: AAA Publishing, 2009).

Osborne, Mike, Granite, Water, and Light: The Waterfalls of Yosemite Valley (Berkeley, California: Yosemite Association, 2009).

Walklet, Keith S., Yosemite: An Enduring Treasure (Berkeley, California: Yosemite Association, 2001).

BLOG #24, SERIE…

BLOG #24, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #13

KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

June 20, 2012

 

 

 

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We left the Southwest National Park series on April 25, with Sequoia National Park.  You may remember that Sequoia and Kings Canyon are administered as one entity, albeit with two separate management teams.  Without question, Kings Canyon is the lesser known of the two, perhaps because of its relatively late entry into the park system.  When you look at the map, things get confusing, what with the Sequoia National Forest (southern and northern branches), Giant Sequoia National Monument (southern and northern branches), and Sequoia National Park.

 

In 1891, the massive (sixteen feet in diameter) Mark Twain tree was cut down, then cut up into a dozen pieces (since it weighed nine tons), then shipped to the New York Museum of Natural History.  Two years later, the equally massive General Noble tree was cut down at the government’s orders, and shipped to Chicago for its Columbian World Fair exhibition; there it was turned into a two-story structure, then moved to the Smithsonian where it stood until the 1930s.

 

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Stephen Mather, John Muir, the Sierra Club, and others all stepped in to save sections of this Sierra Nevada corridor before it was too late, but commercial interests kept the Kings Canyon section from national park status until 1940.  It was a close call since Los Angeles coveted the Kings River watershed and came within the proverbial inch of damming it up.  Had they done so, the Kings Canyon’s wilderness would have been lost forever.  In 1978 Congress added the Mineral King area to the park.  Altogether, today, over 450,000 acres of Kings Canyon wilderness (mostly roadless) is preserved for those who wish to escape roads and backpack in—some 80,000 a year do just that.  Altogether 1,500,000 people a year love Kings Canyon/Sequoia to death with their traffic—all on only 120 miles of roads.

 

Providentially a great rampart of high mountains (the backbone of the Sierra Nevadas) barred east/west roadways from being constructed long enough to preserve this area in perpetuity for the American people.

 

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OUR VISIT TO THE PARK

 

Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and I, after a delicious breakfast at Wuksachi Lodge, headed out into the cold grey skies that gradually dissipated as we moved out of Sequoia National Park into Kings Canyon.  We stopped at both the Sequoia and Kings Canyon visitor centers, making a point to see both films.  We have found that travelers who don’t do so severely shortchange their visits.  We can all be grateful to the park rangers who serve us so well in facilities across the nation.

 

By the time we reached the rim of Kings Canyon—I hadn’t seen it in over forty years—the sun had come out.  It turned out to be one of those all too rare absolutely perfect blue sky days.  Way down below was the still undammed Kings River (Spanish explorers named it El Rio de los Santos Reyes), which translates to River of the Holy Kings (the Magi).  The river grew ever larger and louder as we zigzagged our way down the canyon wall.  Just as had been true with the snowmelt-swollen Kern River, the Kings River was torrential!  With a half-century high snowpack to stoke it, what a time to have picked in which to re-experience the canyon!  Since tourist season hadn’t yet begun, the day proved to be a serene one.  Everywhere we looked tributary streams and waterfalls fed into the gorge.  At the east end, where the road ends in the Zumwalt Meadows, we took advantage of the opportunity to explore the area.  We discovered that the park not only includes one of the greatest stands of Sequoias in the world, it also includes magnificent stands of sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, red fir, and incense cedar.

 

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Afterwards, regretting we couldn’t remain longer in the park, we drove back down the canyon, up over the canyon wall, back into Sequoia, down into the San Joaquin Valley, and then up through California’s legendary gold-mining towns such as Angels Camp (made famous by Mark Twain’s “The Jumping Frog of Calavaras County”), back into the cooler temperatures of the Sierras, a quick stop at one of our oldest national park lodges, Wawona, then on to that  famous tunnel that opens onto one of the grandest vistas our world has to offer: “Yosemite National Park, with its iconic peaks, waterfalls, and river.  Tourists seeing the vista for the first time are awe-struck.

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 Even those native Californians like Connie and me are moved almost to tears by being privileged to set eyes on it once again in this all too brief journey we call “life.”

 

 

SOURCES USED

 

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopfk, 2009).

 

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, Arizona: K. C. Publications, 2009).

 

BLOG #24, SERIE…

BLOG #24, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #13

KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

June 13, 2012

 

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We left the Southwest National Park series on April 25, with Sequoia National Park.  You may remember that Sequoia and Kings Canyon are administered as one entity, albeit with two separate management teams.  Without question, Kings Canyon is the lesser known of the two, perhaps because of its relatively late entry into the park system.  When you look at the map, things get confusing, what with the Sequoia National Forest (southern and northern branches), Giant Sequoia National Monument (southern and northern branches), and Sequoia National Park.

In 1891, the massive (sixteen feet in diameter) Mark Twain tree was cut down, then cut up into a dozen pieces (since it weighed nine tons), then shipped to the New York Museum of Natural History.  Two years later, the equally massive General Noble tree was cut down at the government’s orders, and shipped to Chicago for its Columbian World Fair exhibition; there it was turned into a two-story structure, then moved to the Smithsonian where it stood until the 1930s.

Image

Stephen Mather, John Muir, the Sierra Club, and others all stepped in to save sections of this Sierra Nevada corridor before it was too late, but commercial interests kept the Kings Canyon section from national park status until 1940.  It was a close call since Los Angeles coveted the Kings River watershed and came within the proverbial inch of damming it up.  Had they done so, the Kings Canyon’s wilderness would have been lost forever.  In 1978 Congress added the Mineral King area to the park.  Altogether, today, over 450,000 acres of Kings Canyon wilderness (mostly roadless) is preserved for those who wish to escape roads and backpack in—some 80,000 a year do just that.  Altogether 1,500,000 people a year love Kings Canyon/Sequoia to death with their traffic—all on only 120 miles of roads.

Providentially a great rampart of high mountains (the backbone of the Sierra Nevadas) barred east/west roadways from being constructed long enough to preserve this area in perpetuity for the American people.

Image

OUR VISIT TO THE PARK

Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and I, after a delicious breakfast at Wuksachi Lodge, headed out into the cold grey skies that gradually dissipated as we moved out of Sequoia National Park into Kings Canyon.  We stopped at both the Sequoia and Kings Canyon visitor centers, making a point to see both films.  We have found that travelers who don’t do so severely shortchange their visits.  We can all be grateful to the park rangers who serve us so well in facilities across the nation.

By the time we reached the rim of Kings Canyon—I hadn’t seen it in over forty years—the sun had come out.  It turned out to be one of those all too rare absolutely perfect blue sky days.  Way down below was the still undammed Kings River (Spanish explorers named it El Rio de los Santos Reyes), which translates to River of the Holy Kings (the Magi).  The river grew ever larger and louder as we zigzagged our way down the canyon wall.  Just as had been true with the snowmelt-swollen Kern River, the Kings River was torrential!  With a half-century high snowpack to stoke it, what a time to have picked in which to re-experience the canyon!  Since tourist season hadn’t yet begun, the day proved to be a serene one.  Everywhere we looked tributary streams and waterfalls fed into the gorge.  At the east end, where the road ends in the Zumwalt Meadows, we took advantage of the opportunity to explore the area.  We discovered that the park not only includes one of the greatest stands of Sequoias in the world, it also includes magnificent stands of sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, red fir, and incense cedar.

Image

Afterwards, regretting we couldn’t remain longer in the park, we drove back down the canyon, up over the canyon wall, back into Sequoia, down into the San Joaquin Valley, and then up through California’s legendary gold-mining towns such as Angels Camp (made famous by Mark Twain’s “The Jumping Frog of Calavaras County”), back into the cooler temperatures of the Sierras, a quick stop at one of our oldest national park lodges, Wawona, then on to that  famous tunnel that opens onto one of the grandest vistas our world has to offer: “Yosemite National Park, with its iconic peaks, waterfalls, and river.  Tourists seeing the vista for the first time are awe-struck.

Image

Even those native Californians like Connie and me are moved almost to tears by being privileged to set eyes on it once again in this all too brief journey we call “life.”

SOURCES USED

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopfk, 2009).

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, Arizona: K. C. Publications, 2009).

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #11 SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – PART ONE

BLOG # 16, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #11

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – PART ONE

APRIL 18, 2010

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Sequoias—the largest living things on earth—ought to be on everyone’s bucket list: something to see before you die.  They are also among the oldest living things on earth (enduring over 3,000 years).  Take the General Sherman sequoia, for instance.  It is more than 270 feet tall, 102 feet in circumference, and is estimated to be 2,100 years old (it was already a century old when Christ was born in a manger), and it should still be growing a thousand years from now.  A thirteen-story building would not even reach as high as its lowest branches.  It has enough lumber in it right now (it increases its girth 50 cubic feet a year) to stretch one by twelve boards, end-to-end 119 miles!  Heighth-wise, like all sequoias, it would have reached its maximum at around eight-hundred years.

Because of the value of its lumber, in all likelihood the sequoias would long since have been all cut down were it not that they are so massive and so heavy that when they do fall, they splinter into sections, shaking the earth like an earthquake.  Even so, it is a miracle that the species survives at all.

When the Pilgrims came to America, fully half of it was forested.  Indeed it was so vast and so dense that as late as the early nineteenth century, it was the common belief that much of the continent would still be unexplored a thousand years from then.  But then came the Industrial Revolution and Manifest Destiny; together, there was cranked up a juggernaut of such destructive power that entire forests were mowed down like so many matchsticks.  The sequoias would have been among them had not California’s Senator John Conness introduced a bill in 1864 to save the species from extinction.  Amazingly, even in the midst of the bloodiest war in our history, the Civil War, during which over 600,000 men died, there were enough senators who cared about preservation to push aside war matters long enough to pass the bill. It was said then that “These trees were alive when David danced before the Ark” and “The Mariposa Big Tree Grove is really the wonder of the world.”  When America’s first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, signed the bill on June 30, 1864, he had no way of knowing that he had just done something unprecedented in human history by setting aside in perpetuity sixty some square miles of wilderness land.  That moment represents the dividing line between destroying everything that blocks your way and the realization that preservation of beauty is essential for our well-being, both as a person and as a nation.

Galen Clark was chosen as the first guardian of these trees, ably supported by the U.S. Cavalry.  But from that day to this, fierce battles have continued to be fought by those seeking to preserve these sacred places and commercial interests determined to exploit them for personal gain.  It is being waged to this day: when “Drill Baby, Drill” is so infectious a siren call that those who counter with, “Wait, let’s first see what natural wonders might thereby be destroyed for all time,” are somehow viewed as little more than pesky obstructionists or ridiculed as “tree-huggers.”

Thus it was that the bill Lincoln signed was but the beginning of a ceaseless battle.  Enter John Muir, whose voice was so clear and his message so urgent, that he spawned a movement that continues to our time.  Duncan and Burns, in their monumental book, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, tell the fascinating story of a nation-changing meeting that almost wasn’t.  In the spring of 1903, Muir was so deeply disheartened by the obstructionists who were determined to prevent the Federal Government from putting teeth behind its preservation legislation that he was just about to abandon his futile efforts and escape on a trip to Europe and Asia when suddenly something totally unexpected happened: the new president, Teddy Roosevelt wanted to come out to California and make a trip into the endangered Sierras with him.  Muir canceled his foreign trip in hopes that somehow, sitting around a campfire, he might be able to do his cause some good.  What follows is so significant in the history of our nation that I’ll let Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns tell the riveting story in their own words:

On May 15, they set off from the town of Raymond for the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees in a caravan of wagons.  Muir was seated in the president’s coach—along with the governor of California, the secretary of the navy, the surgeon general, two college presidents, and Roosevelt’s personal secretary.  The other wagons carried more staff and dignitaries; a detachment of thirty African American troopers from the 9th Cavalry rode along as escorts.

It was hardly the trip he had been promised, but Muir tried his best to squeeze in words to the president and governor about the issue of making all of Yosemite a national park.  As they approached the grove of mighty sequoias, the president’s group paused, as all tourists did, for a photograph at the famous Wawona Tunnel Tree.  Later they posed for an official photograph lined up along the base of the Grizzly Giant, the oldest and most famous sequoia in Yosemite; estimated to be 2,700 years old.  It boasted a single branch that was six and a half feet in diameter.

Then the troops, the phalanx of reporters and photographers, and virtually all of the official party, headed back to the Wawona Hotel, where a series of receptions and a grand dinner were scheduled in the president’s honor that evening.  None of them knew that Roosevelt had no intention of attending.  Instead he remained behind with only Muir and a few park employees, who started preparing a camp at the base of one of the sequoias.  They built a fire and sat around it, eating a simple supper, talking as twilight enveloped them, getting to know one another in the glow of the blaze.

“The night was clear,” Roosevelt wrote, and “in the darkening aisles of the great sequoia grove . . . the majestic trunks, beautiful in color and symmetry, rose round us like the pillars of a mightier cathedral than ever was conceived even by the fervor of the Middle Ages.  Hermit thrushes sang beautifully in the evening.”  Roosevelt would later remark that “Muir cared little for birds or bird songs” —a failing the ornithologist-president found noteworthy.  Muir, in turn, could not help commenting on the President’s well-earned reputation for hunting.  “Mr. Roosevelt,” he asked, “when are you going to get beyond the boyishness of killing things?”

But it quickly became clear that under the darkening canopy of ancient trees, a deep friendship was being born.  “I had a perfectly glorious time,” Muir wrote his wife.

I never before had a more interesting, hearty, and manly companion.  I stuffed him pretty well regarding the timber thieves, the destructive work of the lumbermen, and other spoilers of the forest.

Long after sundown, with no tent and only a pile of army blankets for comfort and warmth, the two men finally went to sleep.  The next morning at 6:30 they saddled up for the long ride to Yosemite Valley, with the guide under strict orders from the president to avoid at all costs the Wawona Hotel and the delegation of officials he had jilted the night before.

In the high country near Glacier Point, with its spectacular panorama of the valley and its waterfalls arrayed at their feet, they stopped and once more made camp.  Then, their guide, Charlie Leidig, reported, they resumed their exchange of opinions and ideas.

Around the campfire Roosevelt and Muir talked far into the night regarding Muir’s glacial theory of the formation of Yosemite Valley.  They also talked a great deal about the protection of forests in general and Yosemite in particular. I heard them discussing the setting aside of other areas in the United States for park purposes.

“There was some difficulty in their campfire conversation,” Leidig added, “because both men wanted to do the talking.”

They awoke the next morning covered by a light snow that had fallen in the high country during the night.  Rather than feeling inconvenienced, Roosevelt couldn’t have been more thrilled., “We slept in a snowstorm last night!” he exclaimed to the crowds that [had] been patiently waiting for him on the valley floor.  “This has been the grandest day of my life.”

Hundreds of tourists had crowded into the valley’s hotels or established campsites in the meadows, all in hopes of seeing the president.  The board of commissioners in charge of the Yosemite Grant, already jealous of the way Muir had seemingly monopolized Roosevelt’s visit so far, planned to make up for lost time.  They had prepared a lavish banquet catered by a French chef borrowed from a swank San Francisco club, to be followed by $400 worth of fireworks, and then a grand illumination of Yosemite Falls by special calcium searchlights.  A comfortable bed with a cozy feather mattress was waiting in an artist’s studio that had been specially fitted out for the president’s private lodging.

Roosevelt would have none of it.  He paused long enough to shake some hands and talk for a few minutes with his disappointed hosts, and then mounted up and rode farther down the valley to camp one last night with Muir—this time in the meadows between Bridalveil Falls and the massive granite face of El Capitan.  Early the next morning, the wagon train of dignitaries, with its military escort, rushed the president back to the Raymond train station for the resumption of his cross-country tour, while Muir returned home to his writing.

“Camping with the President was a remarkable experience,” Muir told a friend.  “I fairly fell in love with him.”  Roosevelt, too, was changed by the experience.  “When he reached the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees [last] Friday evening the President was a tired, worried man,” the San Francisco Call reported.  “This evening he is bright, alert—the Roosevelt of old.”

And when the president spoke at the state capitol in Sacramento a day later, Roosevelt’s words sounded as if they could have come from the lips of John Muir.

Lying out at night under those Sequoias was lying in a temple built by no hand of man, a temple grander than any human architect could by any possibility build, and I hope for the preservation of the groves of giant trees simply because it would be a shame to our civilization to let them disappear.

 

They are monuments in themselves. . . .  I want them preserved.

 

I am impressed by the immensely greater greatness that lies in the future, and I ask that your marvelous natural resources be handed on unimpaired to your posterity.

 

We are not building this country of ours for a day.  It is to last through the ages.

Within three years, the California legislature and United States Congress approved the transfer of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove back to the federal government.  Yosemite National Park now encompassed almost everything Muir had been fighting for.  “Sound the timbrel,” he wrote a friend, “and let every Yosemite tree and stream rejoice!”

I am now an experienced lobbyist; my political education is complete.  Have attended Legislature, made speeches, explained, exhorted, persuaded every mother’s son of the legislature, newspaper reporters, and everybody else who would listen to me.

 

 

And now that the fight is finished and my education as a politician and lobbyist is finished. I am almost finished myself.

(Duncan and Burns, 95-8).

We will continue the Sequoia story in next week’s blog (Wednesdays with Dr. Joe, April 25).

SOURCES USED

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Kinopf, 2009).

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, AZ: K. C. Publications, 2009).

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK – NORTH RIM

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #7

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK – NORTH RIM

 

February 8, 2012

“How long does it take to see the Grand Canyon?’

“From a moment to a lifetime.”

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado.  277 miles long, 10 miles wide, one mile deep.  It has been known for well over a century as the greatest scenic wonder in the world.  One of its earliest visitors, John Muir, was so awe-struck by it that he wrote of it,

Wildness so godful, cosmic, primeval, bestows a new sense of earth’s beauty and size.

John Wesley Powell, in 1869, pronounced it

The most sublime spectacle on earth.

Yet, even though it was generally acknowledged as such a global treasure, those who tried to save it for posterity faced fierce opposition from local ranchers, miners, settlers, and others who were determined to keep the federal government from imposing restrictions on what they could or couldn’t do with it.  It should have been the nation’s second national park; indeed bills were introduced to that effect in 1882, 1883, and 1886—all failed.  In 1893 President Harrison did what he could, inadequate though it was: he used his administrative power to designate it as the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve.  Twenty-six long years later, Teddy Roosevelt, in 1908, used his newly passed Antiquities Act to elevate it to national monument status.  Not until 1919 was it finally made a national park.  But even then, full federal protection was anything but a given: grazing was still permitted; as a result cattle herds roamed freely on both rims, the park was honeycombed with still active mining claims, and newly elected Arizona senator, Ralph Henry Cameron continued to act as though he—not the American people—owned the canyon.

Today, however, the Grand Canyon is loved to death by almost 5,000,000 tourists a year, over 4,000,000 of them congesting the South Rim, helping to make it one of the most photographed places on earth.

The Grand Canyon is really three distinctly different parks: The overcrowded South Rim, the forested North Rim’s Kaibab Plateau; and the Colorado River and its Phantom Ranch.

THE NORTH RIM’S GRAND CANYON LODGE

           

The Grand Canyon Lodge (the only lodging facility on the North Rim, is open only five months a year (mid-May to mid-October), and not always then, for snow can keep it closed later in the spring, and close it earlier in the fall.  Only one-tenth (400,000 plus) of the millions that mob the South Rim make it here, for though it is only a ten-mile glide across to the South Rim, it’s 215 miles by nearest road.  So it is actually closer to Zion National Park than to its own park headquarters.  To hike across is a daunting 23 miles.  Given that the North Rim is a thousand feet higher than the South Rim, hikers descend almost 6,000 feet on the famed Bright Angel Trail  from the North Rim and ascend almost 5,000 feet to the South Rim.  Climate-wise, hikers experience the equivalent of going from Canada’s Hudson Bay to Mexico and back up.  In Bruce Aiken’s words: “The Canyon is a nude of the earth.  It shows the layers, the bones beneath the skin—what’s beneath the vegetation that covers the rest of the world” (Jaffe, 116).

Matthew Jaffe, in his splendid paean to the North Canyon, maintains that you don’t really know the Grand Canyon until you explore the uncrowded North Rim.  It is truly a different world.  Serene.  Quiet.  The travelers who make it here are the connoisseurs of the world travel, and are almost afraid to speak out, or write about its glories, for fear the rest of the world will discover it and wreck their Shangri-la..

As for the lodge itself, as always, Christine Barnes is the ultimate authority for its story.  The Utah Parks Company (UPC) and National Park Service (NPS) were so pleased with architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood’s Bryce and Zion lodges that they contracted with him to create a great lodge on the North Rim, as soon as he completed the Ahwahnee in Yosemite.  The result, according to Barnes, is that “Grand Canyon Lodge is architecturally and geographically linked to Bryce and Zion Park lodges, but its elegance and panache seem to have sprung from the same inspiration that created the hotel in Yosemite.  While the Ahwahnee’s success had been the elegant incorporation of the hotel with the towering walls of granite, on the North Rim the architect would look down for his inspiration” (Barnes, 137).

Underwood magically created a lodge that prevented visitors arriving from the north from any view of the Canyon until they’d first encountered a huge front of stone that was crowned by a watchtower.  As guests walked into the lodge, they’d initially see only timber and stone-work, but then they’d see the light which would draw them to the stairway, into the sunroom and into the lobby—then “BOOM! There’s the Grand Canyon” (Barnes, 137).  Outdoor terraces and stairways cascaded down from the lodge.

Flanking the lodge on both sides were one hundred Standard Cabins and twenty Deluxe Cabins; in 1931, less expensive Housekeeping Cabins were constructed near the campground away from the rim.  Since the site didn’t have water, they had to pipe it up from Roaring Springs, 3,400 feet below the rim.  On June 1, 1928, the lodge and cabins opened with accommodations for 250 guests.  Tourists were bussed in from the railroad terminal in Cedar City, Utah.

But then, on September 1, 1932, disaster!  Fire broke out in the lodge in the middle of the night.  Employees and workers battled the blaze for but a short time when the water pressure gave out, dooming the lodge and two Deluxe Cabins.  All that remained were stone walls, foundations, terraces, stairways, and fireplaces.  Horace Albright, NPS director, was devastated at the loss.  Two years later, the UPC began rebuilding the lodge on the same footprint, but Underwood was not involved.  The first floor plan remained as before, and the lodge we know today is still a wonderful place, but Christine Barnes laments, “But the marvelous sense of the building in perfect harmony with the rim was partially lost.  From the canyon wall the original lodge still rises, but the asymmetrical stairstep quality of the walls and rooflines with their rich texture are mostly gone.  Instead, the design was simplified and capped with a traditional green gable roof” (Barnes, 141).  The eighteen surviving Deluxe Cabins and the reconstructed lodge reopened on June 1, 1937.  They’re still there.

OUR OWN JOURNEY

We awoke at 6:30, and ate breakfast at Zion Lodge at 8:00; then drove out of Zion National Park via Carmel Junction, and headed south across the Arizona border onto the Kaibab Plateau.  I’ve always felt the Kaibab ought to have been part of Utah rather than Arizona, for it seems a world away from the rest of Arizona.  Alas, the Warm Fire of 2006 burned over 58,000 acres of the once lush forest.  But how grateful we were to discover that the fire had spared the rim area and the lodge.  Also grateful that we’d reserved our Deluxe Cabin over a year before.  And imagine how we felt when we discovered that the lodge had only been open one day!  Whenever we were tempted to complain about anything, we asked ourselves if we’d been able to do any better when everything had been snowed in for seven long months!  Actually, there were very few glitches, even so.  Just as was true with Bryce, the North Rim concessions were run by FOREVER Resorts.  And true to their word, they’d saved us Deluxe Cabins to die for, right on the rim next to the lodge; and sitting in rockers on our porch, we could look down, down, and down the almost 6,000 foot-drop to the Colorado River.

But before our rooms were cleaned, we first had to experience once again Underwood’s staggering surprise.  I submit that in all of America’s wondrous national park lodges, there are only two that literally take your breath away: walking up the stairs of Jackson lake Lodge, and suddenly, on the other side of the wall of glass are Mount Moran and the Grand Tetons soaring above Jackson Lake; and, second, stepping down into the Sun Room or into the Dining Room of Grand Canyon Lodge and suddenly, one of the most stunning views the world has to offer: the depths of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado!  Guests are too awestruck to say much: they just stand there by the great windows–transfixed as time seems to stand still.

At 4:00 p.m., we brought our luggage in from the car and unpacked for two whole days.  Glory be!  In the evening, as the sun began to die in the West, we gazed out from our table near a window, and were too overwhelmed to say much.  Not until the shadows closed in.  Afterwards, we returned to that eighty-three-year-old cabin, mercifully spared from burning down with the lodge, even though it was the closest self-standing structure on that side.  Eighty-three years of blizzards, rainstorms, and fierce winds.  We lit the fire in the fireplace, crawled in bed, and listened to the wind and cabin walls complain!

          

Next morning, outside our window—that view!  A view so stupendous it will remain limned in memory as long as we live. Same next door in Bob and Lucy Earp’s cabin.  Bob had been up with camera since before sunrise.  The day passed all too quickly, beginning with breakfast in that iconic dining room; sharing the experience were tourists from all over the world, as cosmopolitan a group as you’d ever get into one room.  Europeans confessed that they’d never seen anything to compare with it! Later, Connie and Lucy washed and dried our laundry in the campground washateria.  Then Bob and I went shutterbugging down the rim to Point Imperial and Point Roosevelt, managing to get thirty miles lost in the process.  Afterwards, thanked Sonya Michaels, the lodge manager, for all she and her staff had done to make our stay so special—everyone so eager to please.  In midafternoon, we listened to a riveting lecture on condors.

After dinner, we played Phase Ten, and I, for once, beat Robert.  That night the wind really blew!  But snuggled together in the Cabin of our Dreams, we felt it would be hard to conceptualize a greater experience than this.  We fell asleep wondering if it would really snow the next day as some had predicted.

SOURCES

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks I (Bend, OR: W. W. West, Inc., 2002).

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred Knopf/Random House, 2009).

Jaffe, Matthew, “The Secret Canyon” (Sunset Magazine, May 2007).

Scott, David L. and Kay W., The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C., National Geographic Society, 2009).

CRATER LAKE LODGE, CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK

Finding a rental car with enough trunk room for four people—for a month—was no easy task. Finally, Budget came through with a Lincoln Town Car (the only full-size auto with enough trunk room).

In mid-June, Connie and I picked up Bob and Lucy Earp at the Portland Airport Hampton Inn. We collectively gulped as we looked at all their luggage (from Tennessee) and ours (from Colorado). How in the world would we ever get all that in? We did—but it wasn’t easy.

Finally, with Bob in front with me and Lucy in back with Connie, we looked at each other: would our friendship stand a month together in the same car? We bowed our heads and prayed that God would grant us His protection and blessing. Out of our battery of resource books, we read out loud the lead quotation in Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns’ National Park opus maximus:

One learns that the world, though made, is yet being made.
That this is still the morning of creation. That mountains, long conceived, are now being born, brought to light by the glaciers, channels traced for rivers, basins hollowed for lakes.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. . . . The whole wilderness in unity and interrelation is alive and familiar… the very stones seem talkative, sympathetic, brotherly. . .

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in
and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.

This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest . . . in our
magnificent National Parks—Nature’s sublime onderlands, the admiration and joy of the world.

—John Muir

With that inspirational preamble, we drove off. I-5 South was predictably boring; but things got more interesting after we veered off onto Highway 58 at Eugene. Keeping us company for some time was one of Zane Grey’s most beloved fishing rivers, the North Umpqua. It was late afternoon before we hit the snowline. By the time we nosed the car into the Crater Lake Lodge parking lot, it was clear we wouldn’t be able to drive around the crater—too much snow!

By now, the lodge was an old friend: Connie and I first came here in 1962; our son Greg did too, but didn’t see much, since he was still in the hopper. The last time we visited it there was so much snow we had to tunnel our way through. But this year had been a light winter.

It is America’s deepest lake (almost 2,000 feet deep), and one of the ten deepest in the world; its beginning rocked the West: 7,700 years ago, towering Mount Mazama erupted with 100 times the magnitude of Mt. St. Helens in 1980, blowing ash and pumice over what is today eight western states and three Canadian provinces. The resulting caldron (six miles across), over millennia, gradually began to fill with water from rain and snowmelt—no streams feed into it or drain it. Snow is heavy, averaging 44 feet a year, thus its summers are short. It has been documented as the clearest water in the world, with perhaps as deep a blue as exists on the planet.

THE LODGE OREGONIANS WOULDN’T LET DIE

Most of our national parks were blessed by single-minded visionaries obsessed with saving them for posterity; this proved true for Crater lake as well: in 1870, a fifteen-year-old Kansas boy, William Gladstone Steel, idly thumbing through newspaper sheets that had been used to wrap his lunch, chanced to see an article about a mysterious “sunken lake” in Oregon. Not only did he vow to see it some day, he kept his vow. Fifteen years later, in 1885, the now thirty-year-old man stood on the lake’s rim—awestruck. Right then and there, he made another vow; to spend the rest of his life on its behalf. No small thanks to him, in 1902, it became the nation’s sixth national park. Steel became park superintendent.

But Steel yearned for more than just national park status, he wanted several lodges of the stature of El Tovar, Ahwahnee, and Old Faithful to grace it. But that task proved to be a veritable labor of Sisyphus for a number of reasons, chiefly his failure to find wealthy backers and the short summer seasons. Finally, concluding that he’d just have to make do with what he had (the support of Portland entrepreneur Alfred L. Parkhurst, architect R. H. Hockenberry, and builder Frank Keyes), plans to construct a lodge of some 77 rooms were set in motion.

Sadly, however, so underfunded was the project that they were forced to cut corners—but it was either that, or nothing. One of those cost-cutting decisions resulted in their foregoing strong roof trusses. Predictably, the roof collapsed during the blizzards of 1913-14. But the lodge bravely opened its doors anyway, in its unfinished state, in 1915.

And the people came. The late teens and Roaring Twenties spawned an explosion of automobile travel, and Crater Lake Lodge became a popular destination—at least when snow melted early enough. But always it was a battle to keep it open. Ownership changed hands again and again. In 1959, plans were made for its razing—but somehow it survived until 1984 when the National Park Service recommended that it be demolished, and a new one constructed away from the rim. And they had reasons: “The truth was that the old lodge was a dump. The roof sagged, the bathrooms were spartan, light fixtures dangled from the ceiling, and the wind whipped through the walls”. . . . As time passed, “it would kind of move and creak and groan with the snow in the winter . . . so heavy that the roof was kind of flattening out the building and the walls were bowing.” (Barnes, 90).

But then the people of Oregon stepped in to save the beloved old derelict. In 1987, the Oregon legislature passed a resolution to save it. A state-wide campaign known as “Saving Crater Lake Lodge” was organized. But none of it arrested the deterioration. Finally, in 1989, with the central roof threatening to collapse, the lodge was ordered to close.

Then began a six-year effort to save it. It soon became evident that if it were to survive, it must be dismantled and rebuilt from the foundation up. In the ensuing process it was discovered that it didn’t even have a foundation; nor was there any solid infrastructure. $15,000,000 was spent in painstaking efforts to not only restore the lodge, but, more importantly, restore it to what it never had been: a lodge anchored by a solid foundation and a steel-beamed infrastructure. The great hall was rebuilt and the kitchen gutted, then replaced. Windows overlooking the lake were positioned so they would showcase the reason why people came here, and everything radiated out from the great hall and the fireplaces.

On May 20, 1995, Crater lake Lodge—against all odds—reopened. Barnes concluded her moving story with these words: “The essence of Crater lake Lodge lies in its memories. While the historic structure no longer bears the ragged signs of aging, the heart of the lodge remains the same. It is still a wonder of man perched on the edge of a wonder of nature.” (Barnes, 93).

* * * * *

We checked in. Our fourth floor dormer room was small, as are almost all old hotel rooms. Those who thronged early lodges spent little time in their rooms, but much time exploring the parks; in the evenings, they reveled in each other’s company in the great halls, listened to music, played board games, and dreamed by the great fireplaces.

At Crater Lake Lodge, time stood still. Here we met not only Oregonians but people from all over the nation and from around the world. Each had come to savor a long-loved artifact of a bygone world that had miraculously survived until the Year of our Lord 2010. Like us, they’d come here to escape a cacophonous modern world so devoid of serenity and peace.

As we ate our dinner by the window, we gazed out, entranced, at the breathtaking late afternoon diorama of changing colors. No one was in a hurry to leave the table. Afterwards, we walked outside again, then came back and played a board game by one of the fireplaces. Later, we crawled into our bed (small compared to our usual standards) and snuggled—we had to! During the night, the 95-year-old building talked to me. And I couldn’t help but wonder who else had slept in this same little room. What were their thoughts? One of my last thoughts had to do with gratitude: I’m so grateful this place is still here!

Next week, it’s on to Oregon Caves Chateau.

SOURCES:

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National parks, Vol. 2 (Portland, Oregon: Graphic Arts Books, 2008). These two books are must-reads for all who treasure our parks.
Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2009).
White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009).