"The stars are threshed, and the souls are threshed from their husks."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Old Yosemite Rant, Part the First.

Yosemite! It's a Native American word for 'deep grass valley.' Only the barest mention of the now vanished Ahwahneechee tribe that were driven out by soldiers defending the gold rush can be discovered in the park literature. On the parks website, the luxurious Ahwahnee(R) hotel is given more prose than the people that gave it its name.

Yosemite haunted Scott and I as we traveled the central valley. Four highways in the valley lead to Yosemite, and we visited roadside stands on each one. Neither of us had ever been there. As a reward for nearly finishing my manuscript, Olga and I rented a cabin and went to see something of this national treasure.

The land leading up to the 'entrance' to the valley is striking in itself. The foothills leap around the patient, winding roads, and the Stanislaus National Forest is everything you'd like a pine and oak forest to be.

Everything changes when you approach the entrance to the park and wait in a long line of cars to pay the funny-hat wearing ranger in order to be allowed the privilege to witness a monument to geology conscripted into serving the U.S. Government. I felt immediately ill at ease. I was entering a place where my every movement would be limited and monitored by staff paid and trained to view visitors and criminals as one and the same being. The list of my potential crimes? Swimming in mountains pools (where I, or family members, would be charged for my rescue) straying off the trail, eating any of the edible plants, and shitting in the woods.

Now, I am not reactionary, nor overly stupid, despite my Thanksgiving breakfast of Wingwalker Amber Ale. I know that the park and its authorities deal with an excess of people. One man shitting in the woods is not a problem, but thirty thousand families of four every day is. But therein lies the paradox. By making Yosemite an American brand name-i.e. A National Park, it ensured that the place would be forced to endure heavier traffic-by several orders of magnitude-than the surrounding national forest, where you are encouraged to do all of the above, including hunting and fishing. As a result, the Valley they sought to preserve is a network of parking lots and generic, soulless park employee housing. Visiting Yosemite is participating in the industrialization of Nature.

I looked up into the sheer granite cliffs and held back tears. It was beauty incomprehensible. I looked at the valley itself and wanted to vomit.

The main threats to Yosemite valley were not human, but industrial. Had this not been set aside as a national park, a small town would have evolved in the valley, occupying roughly the same space the ranger housing does today. Legislation could have simply prevented logging and strip mining and let people live there however they might otherwise.


At 7:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the French Alps, you can take a cablecar to pretty close to the tip of l'Aiguille du Midi, one of the peaks. You go to 2800 m in winter. The car goes even higher in summer. There's a restaurant, gift shop, and a postal box with it's very own postmark.

But then, the view was one of the most terrifying and beautiful things I've ever seen. Of course, the ease with which I essentially summited a mountain cheapened the experience. But are the extreme sports kooks with $15,000 worth of REI equipment really more worthy? And are we really comfortable saying that some tacky gift-shop, however ill-conceived, has the power to ruin the alps? That's like letting Hallmark destroy Christmas.

Incidentally, the cable car was run by a private enterprise, and the valley beneath l'Aiguille du Midi is readily accessible because it's a ski resort town. Didn't make the gift shop any less tacky.


At 6:18 AM, Blogger Galen said...

Modern tourism/rape of Mother Nature is based on the idea that the world really isn’t that interesting. The kids’ll hate it. We need to spruce it up, make it entertaining! This is because modern culture has robbed the modern American of any ability to enjoy anything not labeled as “enjoyable.” We are a culture of idiots. Things aren’t funny without a laugh track. Things aren’t dramatic without a big score. Books aren’t self-reading enough. Movie adaptations are better. Our whole world must be created out of cues on what to enjoy, constant noise, sound bites, and the constant dosing of the populace with fake feelings of superiority. Nature offers none of that. In fact, it may be full of bears, bees, or other things which exist solely to hurt us. It is hard to have any sense of awe when you are so self-centered.


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