After setting up the Airstream at our Oakhurst site, we immediately headed to Yosemite, undaunted by the cool weather and light rain. First stop, the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, located at the southern-most entrance to the park. The grove has more than 500 mature trees–among the largest and oldest living organisms on Earth.
Some trees in this grove are thousands of years old (the Grizzly Giant, for example, is thought to be 2,400 years old) and more than 50 feet in circumference. Our late-afternoon hike amid these beauties was a fitting introduction to one of the most amazing places on the planet. Unfortunately, we became immediately aware of the impact of human beings on this ancient forest. Visitors had been carving their names and initials into various trees for years. Consider the Fallen Monarch, a tree that fell more than 300 years ago: It’s covered with graffiti!
We had been warned about the crazy tourists, but we had no idea how crowded such a massive forest could become. Most visitors were friendly and helpful but some were loud and rude, and a few were even smoking cigarettes! Seriously?!
The great author, naturalist and preservationist John Muir, considered by many the Father of the National Parks, spent years lobbying Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt to include the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park. He personally escorted the president and, earlier, Ralph Waldo Emerson through the grove and into Yosemite Valley in an effort to share with them the majesty of this place and the importance of these trees. In hindsight, he had an inkling about the grove’s meaning for posterity.
In addition to the throngs of tourists, we encountered a mob of about seven deer. Seriously, aren’t the deer and other wildlife what it’s all about? We felt privileged that they continued munching their leafy lunch despite our picture-taking.
Muir once wrote about the inadequacy of words, saying no amount of word-making will ever make one single soul understand such places, but one day’s exposure is better than a “cartload of books.” So it was with our hike through the Mariposa Grove. We felt humbled, awestruck and, ultimately, grateful. Humbled by the indescribable grandeur; awestruck by the enormity of the grove (and its giant inhabitants); grateful that John Muir had the foresight and the National Parks Service had the mission to preserve such a place for all Americans. What a way to begin our tour!