This photograph is a view looking down on the top of Vernal Falls. I took the photo last month during the high water. Recently, I edited it in Photoshop to remove the people and fence from platform beside the top of Vernal Falls. So this is probably pretty much how it looked before there were people (at least European people).
With the people and fence in the picture, things look a little bit junkier – but it doesn’t really spoil the grandeur of the falls. But taking the people out has set me to musing about what Yosemite would be like without people – and also what appropriate stewardship of a unique place like Yosemite should be.
I think that actually the National Park Service does a pretty good job all things considered. From above, human footprint in the valley isn’t all that extensive, and there are some places you really can’t see it at all. The shuttle bus system is really a good way to get people to drive less in the valley, and still get them about conveniently. But I hate the feeling of constant construction and tourism in the summer months in the valley, and despair at what at times feel likes sacrilege towards one of the greatest temples of nature.
John Muir would probably have missed the serenity of the valley, although in his time there were other eco-scourges: for example, the sheep herds he called “hooved locusts.” (Muir originally came to the Yosemite on a summer job tending these very sheep.)
I’d like to think that there might be a better way to manage the valley without excluding anyone who really wants to see it, but I do realize this a big political problem.
But suppose there were another “almost-Yosemite” to start over with? I’m speaking of Hetchy-Hetchy, which is now filled with water as a reservoir for the Bay Area. Muir himself described Hetchy-Hetchy as another Yosemite. The defeat of the efforts to conserve Hetchy-Hetchy and the victory of pro-development water interests were a great early defeat for this country’s environmental movement.
The defeat at Hetchy-Hetchy helped fuel the rise of the Sierra Club, the National Park movement, and – following other defeats, notably Glen Canyon – a de facto moratorium on development in areas of scenic wonder.
There’s now talk of draining Hetchy-Hetchy and restoring it (for example, see the Yosemite Blog coverage). This may all be a dream, but it could happen. If it does, and if we can restore Hetchy-Hetchy, let’s make it a temple to the grandeur of nature, not (like Yosemite sometimes feels) a temple to tourism, autos, buses, and park concessionaires.