Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The BIG 50th Birthday Adventure, Part 2, Yosemite Valley

If I haven't mentioned it in your presence before, I was born in Yosemite Valley. I don't remember it, because we moved away when I was two years old. That was part of why I wanted to return for this momentous birthday, to see where my life began. And I had the best guides in the world: my parents and my two brothers. They filled me in on all the places they remembered.

First, though, we checked into the Ahwahnee Hotel so we could take showers and get pretty again. Three days of backpacking with no showers leaves one kind of stinky. It is a low water year in Yosemite, so even camps that normally had showers didn't allow any the week we went.

The Ahwahnee Hotel is every bit as wonderful as its reputation. It is stunningly magnificent and at the same time it blends with its surroundings so as not to claim too much notice. That's the way the architect wanted it, wisely. Here it is reflected in the pool out front.

When we got to our room, I was amazed at the views. We had a corner room on the fourth floor with windows on two sides and a balcony. Here's what we could see from our windows.

My dad had arranged for a birthday dinner in the Ahwahnee dining room, known for its fantastic high windows with views like the ones from our room. I was so in the moment, I didn't take any pictures of dinner. David, me, Wanda, Les, Mike, and Pat  were there, and we had a wonderful dinner. I told my parents that the best thing was raising us in the national parks, because I am such a nature girl, I love the outdoors so much, and I think growing up scrambling around in the mountains was the best childhood for me.

Then I got a big surprise.

Mmmmm. Yes, the six of us ate the whole thing. Well, almost. It was chocolate and raspberry with dark chocolate ribbons. Dad conspired with David to get just the right flavor. Well done.

Next Day: Where I Began

No one ever believes that someone can really be born in Yosemite. When we lived there, there was a hospital. Today it is a medical clinic, and I'm told that even without hospital accommodations, they delivered three babies there last year. You know, babies don't always arrive on schedule. But I did.

First stop on our itinerary was the hospital. Mom told me that they wouldn't let my brothers in to see me, so she held me up to the window and they came and looked at me. Dad told me he was in the coffee shop in the basement when the doctor came and told him I was a girl. Dad called up to him that my name was Neysa Carol. Doctor was a bit unsure about that at first. Aren't most people?

That's my mom, Wanda, and me outside the entrance. Up above, you'll notice the hospital nestled in the trees and a huge granite mountain behind. Normally, that's where Yosemite Falls splashes down, down, down. This year, as I mentioned, it is a dry year and the falls has stopped until more water fills the river. But this explains a lot of things about me: that I love waterfalls beyond any natural element, that I feel the rocks speak and live, and that I must have mountains. It all started right there. Wow.

Next was to visit my first house. The story has it that the family lived in a different house until I was born. While mom and I were in the hospital, the family moved into their new, larger house, with the help of my mom's Aunt Beth. (I think it was her aunt. My dad also had an Aunt Beth. Confusing.)

Again, within view, and certainly within earshot is Yosemite Falls. Most people don't realize this about national parks: the year round employees usually live in the park. The housing area in Yosemite Valley has about 40 homes, not including all the living quarters for the seasonal and DNC employees. There is a day care, a school, a post office, even a district court. My brothers went to elementary school just steps from our house. Mom told me every afternoon just as I went down for a nap, that was afternoon recess and the noise often woke me right up. My dad was the district ranger of Yosemite Valley, which meant whenever there was a crisis or a crime, he had to go. Mike, my oldest brother, tells me there were very few nights that dad got to sleep through the night.

Next on the list: Yosemite Chapel, where I was baptized. Again, looking right out at Yosemite Falls. Boy, I am one lucky girl.

The group is, from left to right: David, Pat McClanahan, Neysa, Mike McClanahan, Wanda and Les McClanahan. I had so much fun seeing all the sites with them in Yosemite Valley. They gave up their precious time to come celebrate with me.

At the chapel, a framed poem hung in the vestibule. I thought is was moving.(Not literally. Emotionally.)

Some of the falls did have a little water. We stopped by Bridalveil Fall for a look. Normally, you would get wet being this close to the falls. And all these rocks would be slippery. But they were bone dry.

Of course, we had to go see the visitor center and all the other interpretive stuff. They have a really cool exhibit there of the geological history of Yosemite. I love geology, so I ate that up. We went to the Ansel Adams Gallery. And the Museum.

Along the walkway, Dad decided to hug a tree. "That's one big ponderosa," he said.

We spent much of the rest of the day lounging around on the patio at the Ahwahnee, but not before being regular tourists and buying our fair share of souvenirs. I fell in love with this hotel, not only for its amazing setting, but also for the care and attention the builders and designers put into it. In order to make the concrete and steel look more natural, they set the concrete columns in molds of real timber and then painted it to look like wood. The interior design involves elements inspired by native American motifs. Below is the grand lounge (my apologies for the poor camera work. It is pretty dark.) We had tea here. Well, some of us had tea while others took a nap. (No, Melissa, I did not nap.)

 This tapestry was on the wall by the elevator
 Every room had a different medallion above the door.

These gorgeous stained glass ceiling tiles always made me look up when I was in the elevator.

The windows in the grand lounge each had a different stained glass design at the top.

 This mural was commissioned specifically for this position above the fireplace in the elevator alcove.

My dad told a story about when JFK (yes, THE JFK) came to Yosemite and stayed at the Ahwahnee. Dad was in charge of security that night at the hotel. They basically stayed up all night. There are many grand pianos at the hotel, and I guess one of JFK's staffers (dad will have to comment and remind me who it was) played the piano in the grand lounge all night. Cool.

For another perspective on our lovely room, here are some shots of it from outside. It was on the fourth floor, corner, with a balcony. Right up there by that giant cliff.

Here is a shot of El Capitan, like I need to tell anyone that. I couldn't get a good view of Half Dome from our hotel, because there were so many trees in the way. However, if you go back to Part 1 of my blog report, you can see Half Dome in the distance behind me as I stand on the ridge at May Lake. You've all seen hundreds of photos of it, anyway, so you don't need one from me.

For our final night in Yosemite, we ate dinner at the Mountain Room at Yosemite Falls Lodge. It was delicious. One of our waiters looked like Uncle Festus from the Adams Family. Really. The next day, it was time to leave Yosemite and start making our way home. We met up with the family again in the southern end of the park, at Wawona, for lunch. Here are Les and Wanda relaxing on the veranda.

Before we left, we needed to get a picture of the Queen on her throne.

It's hard to describe what this whole trip means to me. I am working on some poetry to try to express it. To see where I started my life is just incredible. What a wonderful way to enter this world, in the beauty of nature, massive mountains of granite, waterfalls everywhere you turn, the rush of biodiversity that appears down each path. To be with the people who were there at the start, to hear their stories and memories. To honor myself and feel connected to this place not just in abstract, but in reality. These were the things I hoped for as I planned this adventure. I challenged myself physically and did not collapse. I challenged myself emotionally by sharing with a family that has had its ups and downs. I challenged myself spiritually to find my roots and essence. It's always been with me, this place of glory. But I had never known it in person before. Now I have. And I feel fulfilled. I hope to return again and again. To explore deeper and further the trails and trees. To grow my mountain goat feet and not let that granite scare me. To see more waterfalls and dream of life as a drop of freefalling joy. This is awe.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience with beautiful words and pictures.

  2. Yes! Thank you for sharing your story with us. Yosemite is our version of heaven, and we have spent many summers in Tuolumne as well as time in the Valley. Try to get to the Valley some winter during the snow. And fall. And the spring waterfalls! You are so blessed to have been born there!

  3. Neysa, what a lovely description of your family and the beauty of Yosemite. How fortunate that your early sounds and sights were of waterfalls and the majestic forest. Of course you're an outdoor girl!