Aware in Yosemite
Aware is something you learn, or at least you
should, when you visit Yosemite Valley.
It's pretty simple: Don't feed the bears, don't
leave food around for bears to find, don't approach
the bears - LEAVE THE BEARS ALONE!
Given that four million people visit this seven
mile long by one-and-a-half mile wide valley,
I think being Bear Aware is working overall -
for now. If it will be enough in the end to save
the valley from being loved to death is another
story (with the outcome not necessarily a bad
one - one can hope).
I'm thinking that being Bear Aware can be adopted
in a much larger sense - as a general philosophy
excessively hot and busy weekend, combined with
our early departure and task of emptying two rooms
of our city flat in preparation for painting during
our absence, make for a more basic trip preparation
than usual. Hiking shoes, camera, underwear -
all one needs for survival in the wilderness;
thank goodness our cabin will have a shower, there's
nothing better than a hot shower after spending
a day surviving in the wilderness...
By 6:30 we were seated inside the Ferry Building
Amtrak station, waiting for our bus to take us
over the Bay Bridge to Emeryville and the 7:49
departure of the first southbound run of the San
Joaquin, running from Oakland to Bakersfield,
with bus connections in Bakersfield to destinations
further south. Riding the train from Oakland to
Bakersfield, then climbing aboard a bus for a
long bouncy ride to Los Angeles is, one might
say, a very tough day. But that's another story.
Our story is much more appealing and finds Jayne
and I getting off the train in Merced to transfer
for the 70 mile bus ride into Yosemite.
Taking this public transit way of getting to Yosemite
has its challenges. Both times we have taken this
route, the train stayed flawlessly on schedule
going to Yosemite, only to be at least an hour
late coming home. On the way home on a previous
trip we were delayed for about an hour on a siding
waiting for a freight train to pass. While we
waited, a fellow rider walked by and, seeing the
train schedule lying on the seat commented, "A
work of fiction..." While that may be a little
harsh, the schedule should not be taken too literally,
especially later in the day, when things have
had more time to get fouled up.
That's just part of the charm of riding the train.
Some of the charm is lost on the bus. The seats
are truly designed as torture implements for tall
people. On our trip out we endured the cacophony
of dueling monologues wafting in from opposite
ends of the bus, the bus driver from the front
and some sort of group leader speaking to his
flock from the back. Nonetheless, the scenery
is fine, and you don't have to drive.
The point is to leave your car at home, if you
possibly can. If you do have to drive, you can
drive, park the car, stuff the keys in your backpack,
and take the shuttle bus (or walk!) once you're
there. The shuttle bus system connects the valley
almost as well as the Muni in San Francisco; and
the bus drivers are a lot friendlier - sometimes
alarmingly so. (they're given a microphone and
encouraged to talk, most of the time this is informative,
but to excess leads to the horror of listening
to someone talk to themselves.)
It's true that going beyond the valley to explore
other parts of Yosemite National Park requires
a car, but if you only intend on visiting Yosemite
Valley, leave the car at home. You'll meet a lot
of interesting people on the bus.
It's also being Bear Aware. 12 bears were killed
last year by private cars. The last bear was killed
only a couple of weeks ago; a young cub, whose
mother mourned her child, like any mother would.
Inside the Yosemite Bubble -
begins to seep into the corners of my subconscious
stepping off the bus at Curry Village into the
warm early afternoon air, sweet with the smell
of pine. By 1:45 we are settling into our lodgings,
along the back row of cabins nestled among hundred
foot pine trees and cabin sized granite boulders,
just as the gentle rise toward Cathedral Rocks
turns nearly vertical.
Once settled and fed, cameras are unpacked, butt-packs
are strapped on, and we're off for a "short
walk". El Capitan rises to the northwest
and Half Dome to the east, three thousand feet
straight up, shining white and purplish-gray in
the afternoon light; and this is when it swarms
into my conscience awareness - The Yosemite Bubble.
The Yosemite Bubble is a term that originated
with Ranger Julie, who isn't really a ranger and
whom we'll hear more about later. It is the best
way I can think of to describe the feeling of
walking amongst the tall pines, black oak, and
incense-cedar; the gently meandering Merced River,
lined with lily and crossed with quaint stone
bridges; the lengthening shadows of afternoon
illuminating the autumn-hued valley with a warm
glow. And just beyond, the soaring granite walls,
reaching up to the sky, their sheer rock-face
standing as color pallets for the sun, ever changing
with the light. Here, in this perfect setting,
protected by mighty walls of granite and limestone,
the world outside is held at bay. Inside the Yosemite
Bubble, you can let go and concern yourself with
more important things. Like watching the river
slide gently past Clark's Bridge; or following
the furtive flight of a Steller Jay as it darts
amongst the limbs of an Oak tree; or just standing
quietly looking up, way up, at Half Dome, turning
pink-red as afternoon wears toward evening. This
is being in the Yosemite Bubble, and much of what
is going on outside seems of little importance.
Jayne and I thus find ourselves entranced and
our short walk turns into a several hour exploration;
with a stop at the Visitors Center a couple miles
down the road, and finally, with the help of a
shuttle bus, at Yosemite Lodge in search of refreshment.
By the time we are back to Curry Village the inky
veil of dusk has settled into the valley. We consider
taking in the ranger talk for the evening, but
by 7:45 exhaustion overtakes me and I am sound
asleep - dreaming happy thoughts of being Bear
Aware and content, living inside the Yosemite
Someone's Rummaging Around in Our Luggage -
all the peace and tranquility, Man's mind - or
at least my mind - if left unattended long enough,
will wander off into pointless distraction. So
it is that I lay in bed thinking about that cabin
sized boulder not 20 feet from my head; and how
at some point in time, that boulder was part of
the mountain looming over Jayne and I. Hmmmm...
As if a bungee cord is attached to my wondering
mind, I am snapped back into acute awareness of
the moment and my immediate surroundings.
At first I think of all the reasons we I didn't
just hear the sound of rustling coming from the
open closet, about six feet from the foot of the
bed. None of them really seem very plausible,
but I'd rather not consider the alternative. How
on earth a bear managed to get in the cabin closet
unannounced is completely mystifying.
Somehow, somewhere, we have not been Bear Aware
- and now we're paying the price. But what could
the Bear want from us? We hadn't brought any food
with us - or had we?
"Hear that?" I quietly ask.
"Yes, there are Cliff Bars in there, but
they're sealed in plastic"
Rustle rus... I turn in bed and the rustling
Okay then, a truce.
Soon my mind is wandering again and I go back
to the time Jayne and I were in a little burra
(think "tropical cabin") in Fiji, along
a sandy beach, on a small island where the ferry
couldn't even dock; we had to wade ashore. Every
night we heard the sound, just outside our bathroom
window, of rather large sounding choppers - like
those you'd see on a crab, only a lot bigger -
chopping away at something. It sounded is if was
either tunneling underneath our burra, or eating
a hole into the wall. Using the bathroom in the
middle of the night took on a whole new twist...
Yeah, I remember that...
truce is over.
It is time to take action. I fumble for the flashlight
on the nightstand; my plan is to throw a beam
of light on the bear and face it down. What might
happen after that has not fully formed in my head.
In any case, it's too bad that I'll never get
a good look at the bear since my contact lenses
are in their little case next to me and without
them I'm blind as a bat.
I hear a bat chirp outside our cabin window as
I raise the light toward the open closet door.
With my finely honed sense of hearing, to compensate
for the rather impressionistic vision of the world
my unaided eyesight provides me; I aim the beam
of light toward the sound of the rustling
There it is, rushing toward us... Only Jayne actually
sees it, of course, as it speeds outside through
the heretofore unseen hole at the bottom of the
door frame; So it isn't a bear after all, but
a two inch mouse, or maybe a shrew. No matter;
for the next three nights, the shrew (or mouse)
challenges wits with Jayne and I.
The next night we stick a sturdy piece of cardboard
in the hole, and put the Cliff Bars (that are
left unnibbled) in the built-in dresser drawer.
Later that evening we hear the sound of the cardboard
in the doorframe being pushed from outside, and
then a rustling inside the drawer. There is obviously
more than one way into the cabin.
We consider putting the Cliff Bars in one of the
large steel containers provided throughout Curry
Village for folks with real food. It seems ridiculous
to use up one of those containers for two Cliff
Bars. We put the bars inside a plastic bag, put
the bag in our little vinyl cooler, and put the
cooler in the bathtub. After putting the piece
of cardboard back into the small hole in the doorframe,
we confidently head out for an evening of fine
dining at the Lodge and a show presented by Ranger
Upon our return, around 9:30, we find that the
piece of cardboard has been completely eaten through.
We immediately go into defense mode. He's in here
After thoroughly checking out the cabin, all we
find is a rather large bug that, while menacing
looking, is apparently not interested in the Cliff
Bars or in much else, really. In a typical fit
of human insensitivity, I go at the bug with a
hiking boot, when Jayne stops me, wraps the bug
in a tissue, and deposits it outside - another
example of what is meant by "My Better Half".
After all, I probably appear pretty hideous to
the bug, who, if a bit larger and able to avail
itself of a hiking boot, would have just as well
stamped out my ugly mug. Jayne is the true humanitarian.
But there is no shrew to be found in the entire
cabin; despite the obvious signs of its visitation.
The remaining Cliff Bars are safe in their triple-sealed
environment. It's as if the little rodent wanted
to let us know that it could get in anytime it
We sleep that night with no sign at all of our
shrew adversary, who each night was starting to
seem more like a little friend; a friend with
a taste for Cliff Bars; and who helped expand
our understanding of being Bear Aware..
is There to Do in Yosemite, Anyway?
my friend, soon enough you will be back into your
rushed little world of traffic jams and deadlines
and all the nonsense that makes up a modern life
in the human world....
are attracted to the extreme possibilities, soon
finding themselves in some hormone induced drive,
hanging from the vertical side of Half Dome with
nothing more the a thin line of nylon as their
best hope for a bright future.
approach is to stand on a meadow's edge on the
valley floor, gaze at Half Dome three thousand
feet straight up, and let it soak into your conscience
as you think to yourself, "Well, there's
nothing I can do here to make this any better",
snap a picture, and amble on down the trail.
are a variety of physical challenges available
for a wide range of motivations. From dangling
at the end of a rope two thousand feet in the
air, to walking downstairs for a bite to eat (if
you're staying at the Ahwahnee that is, otherwise
you'll have to walk just a little bit further.)
fall somewhere in the middle, perhaps a little
toward the lightweight end, averaging maybe five
or six miles of hiking a day. Our walking adventures
along the valley floor take us to Happy Isles
- a pleasant walk along the Merced across wooden
footbridges, the surrounding forest showing the
first signs of autumn color - and also include
walks along the Mist Trail, Cooks Meadow, the
Sentinel Bridge, Mirror Lake and whatever other
little trail we could find. By the end of each
day, our feet are a little sore and we're a little
hungry, but rarely do we feel more satisfied.
isn't without its challenges and little annoyances,
crisp but hazy morning finds us leaping from the
shuttle bus at the designated trailhead for the
one mile hike to Mirror Lake and the two mile
loop trail around the lake.
hazy morning is due to fires burning off in the
more remote sections of the park (most of Yosemite
National Park is wilderness area.) The lightening
induced fires burning off in the wilderness are
part of the natural process, essential to a healthy
forest. The fires are being monitored by the Park
Service, but allowed to run their course. Though
distant, the fires are evident by the shafts of
smoky light glinting through the trees in the
angled morning light.
restraint to not rush in and put out the fire
exemplifies the more enlightened approach the
Park Service has taken in recent years in "managing"
the wilderness. From no longer encouraging the
feeding of bears with "bear feeding platforms"
throughout the park, to allowing natural fire
to burn, we are learning to leave some things
alone; learning that human invention and interference
in regard to managing nature is many times simply
folly. We have not always been so Bear Aware.
any case, I digress.
stumble off the bus and naturally gravitate toward
the dirt path leading up into the woods, shadowed
from the morning sun by the looming presence of
is soon apparent that the course we have chosen
is designated as a bridle path. The first clue
being the caravan of a dozen or so horses ambling
single file down the path moving toward us, each
horse carrying the burden of a single human rider.
We step off the path and politely wait as the
caravan makes its way back toward the stables.
After they pass, we rejoin the trail and make
our way back up the valley toward the lake. Reminders
of their journey dot the trail.
matter, other than the caravan, we see nary a
soul on the trail; this is the path for us.
a mile or so of hiking, it is apparent that Mirror
Lake is really more of a marshy pond at the end
of long dry season than a full blown "lake".
We follow a path leading down to what was once
the waters edge, poke our way out onto the rocky
dry lake bottom and with a short leap over a shallow
lap of water find ourselves on the other side
of the lake.
make our way onto a paved trail, complete with
interpretative signs at regular intervals explaining
the ecology and history of the area.
sign tells of a time that the lake sported a bathhouse,
riding stables, guest house, boat rentals, ballroom,
and expansive outdoor deck.
look out over the brackish pond, surrounded by
dry lake bed and marshland and try to imagine
what it may have been like here at this spot,
a century ago. The sounds of stately waltzes echoing
through the cool mountain air; the shimmering
reflection of dancers rippling on the moonlit
compelling vision, to be sure, but the green marsh,
rocky lake bed, and still pond reflecting the
surrounding peaks are just fine for me at this
moment. The happy bathers, boaters, and dancers
are but a wisp of imagination and the natural
process of silting and seasonal dryness are the
dominant features now.
of making the complete loop, we decide to head
back toward the trail head and find a dirt path
gently rising into the forest, forking off to
the right above the lake.
have, of course, ventured onto another path used
by horses. We have a knack.
the late morning sun, things aren't quite as sanguine
as was the earlier trip on the other side of the
lake. Dodging land mines left by caravans long
past becomes inconsequential when compared to
the excited swarms of nymphs swirling around my
vision of a nymph is of something alluring, provocative,
and beautiful, all while being a little dangerous.
How these nasty little gnat-like creatures making
dive bomber runs on my head ever got to be called
"nymphs" seems to me to be a sign of
a twisted sense of humor.
are nothing more than moving towers of food, announcing
our presence by radiating heat and carbon dioxide.
The nymphs are not only annoying, but a little
humbling as well. Walking now entails taking a
few steps and then wildly flapping your arms around
your head. Nature's way of making humans look
Jayne, however, makes the best of it and devises
a new type of aerobic workout. Stylishly waving
her scarf above her head, she not only succeeds
in mitigating the swarm of nymphs, but makes it
look like a cross between Tai Chi and modern dance.
Jayne has found her "pet rock", destined
to make her wealthy beyond her wildest dreams
- Jayne's Horsetrail Workout Video.
in the end, what does it mean to be Bear Aware?
with a grateful heart, notice things, tread lightly,
appreciate much, be humble; and, of course, leave
the bears alone. That's an easy thing to do while
walking amidst the grandeur of Yosemite Valley.
It's a lesson to remember and strive towards always,
even if we continually fall short in achieving.
- 17 (9 girls and 8 boys)
Jay - 48
Butterflies - 12
Mad, "Chirping", Body-Shaking Squirrel
- 1 (one agitated squirrel!)
we always tried to be Bear Aware!