A Summer Day at Wawona in Yosemite

Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park

Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park

Have you ever spent a summer day in the Wawona area of Yosemite National Park? Though summer is winding down for 2014, you can still spend a day here exploring giant sequoia trees, an historic hotel, the Pioneer Yosemite History Center and hit the greens for a round of golf before fall brings shorter days and cooler nights. Wawona is best known as the home of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias – Yosemite’s largest and most accessible sequoia grove, home to over 200 mature trees that can be thousands of years old! The Big Trees Tram Tour provides park visitors with a detailed tour of Mariposa Grove in an open-air tram vehicle with an audio narrative. This is the last year of the Big Trees Tram Tour as changes resulting from the restoration of the grove get underway in 2015. The tour operates as long as the Mariposa Grove Road is open, so you can still catch a tour until October 2014. Otherwise. you can hike through the grove to admire these lovely ancient trees and enjoy the tranquility of this old-growth forest.

The Bachelor and Three Graces at Mariposa Grove

The Bachelor and Three Graces at Mariposa Grove

Big Trees Tram Tour in Yosemite

Big Trees Tram Tour in Yosemite

After a morning in Mariposa Grove, a leisurely lunch awaits at the dining room of the Wawona Hotel. The summer menu includes classics like Fish & Chips, Caesar Salad and the All-American Hamburger. Dine on the verandah at this National Historic Landmark and admire the Victorian era architecture of the main building as the hotel was built in stages during the 1800s. Before they are pruned in early September, hops vines cover the verandahs. Planted by early settlers in the Wawona area, hops is a main ingredient in the brewing of beer. Though not native to Yosemite, the hops are allowed to remain as part of the historic character of Wawona Hotel.

Fish & Chips at The Wawona Hotel Dining Room

Fish & Chips at The Wawona Hotel Dining Room

Hops vines growing on the verandahs of Wawona Hotel

Hops vines growing on the verandahs of Wawona Hotel

For some exercise and fresh air after lunch, consider playing a round of golf at the Wawona golf course. This historic nine hole course was opened in 1918, and has since become a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary – an award winning education and certification program that helps golf course managers protect the environment and preserve the natural resource aspect of the game of golf. Though golfing is not an activity usually found in national parks, the course is preserved and protected as part of the historic character of Wawona Hotel and as an Audubon sanctuary. Keep in mind that when you are on the course near the hotel, you are viewing Wawona Hotel from the original approach to the hotel’s entrance where you can see the hotel with Chilnualna Falls in the background.

Hole #5 on the Wawona golf course

Hole #5 on the Wawona golf course

The view of Wawona Hotel from Wawona golf course

The view of Wawona Hotel from Wawona golf course

The photos above were taken on a lovely summer day in Wawona and posted to our Instagram account (@yosemitednc).

 

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The Art of Exploring the High Sierra in Yosemite

Painting at Townsley Lake. Photo: Emily Nash

James McGrew painting at Townsley Lake.
Photo: Emily Nash

James McGrew has been visiting Yosemite his entire life, and guiding High Sierra Camp loop trips through the Yosemite backcountry for the last 14 years. His artwork gives him, and those who travel with him on these trips, yet another way to connect to the beauty of the Sierra landscape. We were honored to be able to catch up with James this year before he started his backcountry season to find out more about his unique perspective on Yosemite and some of the places that he loves.

As this season winds to a close, the High Sierra Camp lottery for next year is right around the corner. Beginning September 1, 2014, you can apply for the popular High Sierra Camp loop trips, with James or another one of the amazing rangers who lead these high country trips.

What is your favorite High Sierra Camp or spot along the High Sierra Loop, and why is it special to you?

That’s a tough question because all the camps are unique and special to me. I truly love them all. I love Glen Aulin for the breathtaking view down the canyon and the reddish oxidized and glacially polished rock. I love May Lake for the sparkling gemstone-like qualities of the lake, relatively short hike up Mt. Hoffmann in the center of the park, and the ridge next to camp with spectacular views across Tuolumne, the Cathedral Range and down to Yosemite Valley. I love Sunrise for the breathtaking view of alpine peaks across Long Meadow which changes its colors from week to week and is often frost-covered in morning. I love Merced Lake for the diversity of leisure activities and things to explore on layover days. We get a chance to slow down, relax, swim, fish, explore without a backpack. I like the larger campfire circle that allows for the largest audiences of our campfire programs in the high country. Finally, Vogelsang, perched so high, offers spectacular scenery, a steep scramble up Vogelsang Peak or short walks to alpine lakes. We can’t do campfire programs, but I enjoy the large crowds that gather for the sunset talks and open views and clear skies for the astronomy programs.

What do you remember of your first trip to the high sierra?

I was just four months old so I don’t actually remember my first trip. However, my parents said I was enthralled with my fist in my mouth and eyes wide open, looking up at the towering granite. By eight years old, I really remember thinking how much I loved Yosemite and asking my parents to take me backpacking for my birthday in late June. We were not really in the high country, but rather back packing out of Hetch Hetchy and that year, 1983, was the highest snow pack year on record so the waterfalls roared with a power I’ve never seen since. The mist of Tueulala falls spread across the trail and hundreds of newts crawled about. Then crossing the bridge below Wapama falls was another memorable experience as my father carried me across the bridges which crossed the raging water and torrential spray. When I returned home following the trip, I remember drawing the waterfalls from memory.

Sunrise Impressions. Oil on Linen 9x12

Sunrise Impressions. Oil on Linen 9×12
James McGrew

 

You sometimes incorporate art into your evening programs/presentations; how do you go about that, and what does it look like?

Art and Artists played a key role in the preservation and management of Yosemite. I conduct several programs which sometimes involve plein air painting and art to help illustrate the art history, natural history and help people see and experience Yosemite and find their own interpretations. These include sunset talks or daytime programs and even the entire loop trip.

Although a loop trip consists of many individual interpretive programs including day hikes, sunset talks, evening campfire and astronomy programs, all with different topics, I tie them all together with an overriding art theme for the week. It actually applies to everything from art and history, to geology, biology, aesthetics, philosophy, ecology and management.

I give specific programs on art history in Yosemite, as well as an actual art class and have the participants produce their own interpretation of Yosemite with pastels and pastel paper. At the end of the trip, we have an art show and each participant shares their unique interpretation and experiences.

If I’m actually painting during a presentation, I set up my tripod and pochade on my “stage” in front of an audience so they can clearly see my painting and the scene I’m painting. I paint extremely fast so people are usually surprised to see a painting take shape in just a few minutes. The purpose is to help draw the crowd and help them observe or study things more carefully, especially certain elements I will focus on during the program. It’s a way to hook the audience, inspire contemplation and get them thinking about my topics, which may range from geology, sunsets, atmosphere, light, aesthetics/emotion and beauty in nature.

I don’t complete a painting during a ranger program. Rather they are just oil sketches or impressionist starts to serve a purpose involving the audience as an interpretive technique. I usually just scrape down the panel to reuse for the next program.

Painting

James McGrew.
Photo: Emily Nash

What art supplies are must-haves for the backcountry for you?

Lightweight, sturdy carbon fiber tripod with quick release plates mounted to each of my cameras and pochade for easy switching; pochade box with quick release plate to mount on the tripod and loaded with a limited palette of professional oil colors made with California walnut oil (mfg. by M. Graham in Oregon); oil-primed linen panels ranging in size from 6×8 to 12×16; brushes; paint knife; about an ounce of walnut oil (for making paint more fluid and for cleaning brushes safely); steel palette cup for the oil; some paper towels; nitrile gloves; ziploc bag for waste. The walnut oil dries more slowly than linseed oil so I can backpack for a week and the paint stays fresh without having to reapply any paint to my palette or carry tubes of paint. Obviously that means that the paintings remain wet for at least a week or two. So, I developed some lightweight and compact methods for transporting wet paintings.   The art supplies all fit into a ziploc freezer bag, and the tripod straps to the outside of my backpack. I’ve refined my supplies so that it’s all surprisingly compact, lightweight and efficient.

Note: Although many people mistakenly think that oil paints are toxic, when used properly, they are naturally safer for the artist and environment than acrylics and many watercolors. In fact, the oils themselves are loaded with omega-3 and can double as cooking and salad dressing oil.

How does your artwork change or affect your experience in the high country?

Painting greatly affects my experience in many ways but overall most prominently in three primary ways including observation, focus, and a tangible visual memorabilia.

First, it forces me to carefully observe and explore while looking for unique or ideal compositions. Also, as a vehicle for communication good paintings often serve a valuable purpose in sharing information or ideas to an audience. Therefore, when painting I’m thinking more critically about the landscape, wildlife, history, atmosphere, as well as my emotions and how to best interpret those into a visual medium with pigment and brushstrokes. In the process of standing in one location, quietly observing, I find that I’m using all my senses, not just eyesight and this all goes into the painting. Moreover, that process enables me to experience Yosemite as wildlife often passes by as I’m standing in one location. I think that most of my greatest wildlife observations and discoveries have occurred while painting. I’m more acutely aware of the subtle shifts of light, weather and atmosphere, geology, insect hatches, migrations, etc. That awareness in turn helps me as a naturalist just the way my science background (Degree in Biology with Chemistry and Geology Minors and Graduate work for a Master’s of Science in Environmental Education) helps me in my painting nature.

Second, painting helps me focus. Most naturalists go through some sort of process to clear their minds and mentally prepare for a program. For me, sometimes it’s going for a walk, splitting firewood, sitting by the river studying notes, or the meditative rhythm of fly fishing. But one of the best ways to focus and clear my mind is actually to find a quiet place and paint for a while. It really forces me to slow down, focus, relax yet energize at the same time. Painting requires a tremendous amount of energy and focus and that energy also carries over into presentations.

Finally, painting produces a tangible object that accurately represents an experience or location in Yosemite, not just visually but emotionally as well. I compare my photography with my paintings and the paintings always convey much more of the natural light, atmosphere, edges, and emotions I felt while experiencing a scene or event. A camera is merely a recording device, quite different and pales compared to the human visual processing system comprise of densely packed cells at the center of the retina, looser arrangements of cells peripherally, a combination of color, detail, motion, location tracking systems which are wired to different parts of the brain and which influence physiological responses. Those elements influence painting which is an interpretation, not just reproducing a visual scene.

Do you have any recommendations for people visiting Tuolumne Meadows and the high sierra for the first time?

Whether leisurely relaxing or pushing an adventure like rock climbing, I think that people benefit from just taking some time to use their senses and experience someplace for a period of time.   Get out away from the crowds and spend some time and watch how many things reveal themselves, especially when looking from different perspectives and focusing on one thing for a while. Take time to observe from different perspectives and use all senses. At those moments, I find that most people make wonderful discoveries.

Painting on Sentinel Dome

Painting on Sentinel Dome
Photo: Emily Nash

Meet a DNC Yosemite Naturalist

Yosemite is a place of true wonder and we have a staff to help you explore the beauty and understand all of its intricacies. We introduce one naturalist, through a letter written to Yosemite, showing her love and passion for this National Park. Meet Ashley McComb:

My dearest Yosemite,

You might know me as the interpretive naturalist that lives and works within the cozy valley formed by your majestic granite walls. Working as a naturalist has been my dream job ever since I was a small child, because you stole my heart at an age that seems so far away now. Though I was 19 years old when I first stepped foot on your precious soil, I have dreamt of you ever since I was capable of dreaming.

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Tears streamed down my freckled face when I first laid eyes upon your heart, and the waterfalls that pour from it. You warm my soul with each breath I take of your fresh air.

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Snow Plant

Your assortment of wild-flowers, woody shrubs, mushrooms, and trees keep me grinnin’ all day long! Your wild raspberries nourish my happy little body each morning, afternoon, and night. I have never known wild berries to taste so good, so sweet, and so fresh. Maybe it is all the love your treasured soil contains. Or maybe it is because you are just pure magic.

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Amanita

My dearest Yosemite, why are you so good to me? Raspberries, an amazing individual within the rose family, Rosaceae Rubus, grow wild and free; and on my naturalist strolls through the Ahwahnee meadow, park visitors who explore your lands are able to bask in their beauty, sweet aroma, and indescribably wonderful taste! My dear Yosemite, your wild raspberries, Rosaceae Rubus leucodermis, keep all of us sustained and invigorated, as our fingers stain purple and red while picking your delicious little treats.

Raspberries_1

Rubus leucodermis

My goodness Yosemite, you make me want to steal away to your green meadows and river shores, for we humans are so eagerly interested in everything alive. On my naturalist strolls, we swim in all that is alive, we taste it, we see it, we understand and delve in every aspect of your beauty. And it does not stop there! You have so many wild and untouched horizons upon your majestic lands.

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A view of Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne transformed the carbon compounds that make up my body the first day I saw its glory: open meadows untouched by human toes, gnarled peaks that touch the sky like spines on a dragon’s back, and gaping mountain mouths that reach out toward the heavens. Tuolumne is a whole other world: one that cannot be described by mere words.

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Before you opened my eyes to the immeasurable beauty of open lands I was lost, but now, you have shown me true life, true freedom, and true happiness. I have finally found that our spirits need wilderness to breathe.

Blog 1 Thank you Yosemite. Thank you so much, for everything.

Sincerely,
An Interpretive Naturalist who truly adores you,
Ashley McComb

Have you discovered your passion within Yosemite? Join a DNC Naturalist to learn more about Yosemite National Park and uncover more of its beauty!

Art History of The Ahwahnee in Yosemite

In addition to being situated in one of the most picturesque landscapes on earth and designated as a National Historic Landmark, The Ahwahnee also boasts an amazing art collection that complements the architecture of the hotel. Did you know that The Ahwahnee displays one of the greatest Persian rug collections in the world? Though the design motifs found throughout the hotel are inspired by Native American patterns, the geometric patterns found in kilims, soumaks, kalamkars and other Middle Eastern rugs blend in seamlessly. The hotel’s original decorators – Dr. Phyllis Ackerman and Dr. Arthur Upham Pope – were experts in Persian arts and selected a variety of Persian rugs for the hotel’s public spaces since there wasn’t enough time before the grand opening to have Navajo rugs created. The Ahwahnee required fifty-nine rugs in total at opening and they were purchased in New York in 1927, ranging in price from 48.75 to $93.75 for a total of $5659. Today, many of the original rugs are displayed in the hotel’s public spaces mounted on the walls. Some are fully framed and the remnants of others are framed that proved too fragile over time.

2014 Ahwahnee Rug Display Mural Room Michelle Hansen

Persian rug from the hotel’s original decor on display in the Mural Room.

2014 Ahwahnee rug sign Michelle HansenThe geometric patterns found in the rugs also inspired six art deco mosaic floor designs created by Henry Temple Howard with a special patent-pending process that combined linoleum, cork, clay, sawdust and linseed oil. Referred to as “rubber tile”, the mosaic designs were based on basket patterns from the Yurok, Hupa and Pomo tribes of California. Baskets and basket patterns are prominently displayed throughout the hotel to this day. U.C. Berkeley graduate Jeannette Dyer Spencer created the striking basket mural above the fireplace in the elevator lobby and the equally colorful stencil patterns found on the walls and ceilings throughout the hotel. Spencer made such a great impression with her work that she was hired permanently as the hotel’s interior decorator after the opening of the hotel on July 14, 1927. The baskets currently on display in the Great Lounge represent the basket artistry of California tribes such as Miwok, Pomo, Mono, Hupa and Yokuts, and another Native American tribe is also represented by the Pima of Arizona.

Floor mosaic at The Ahwahnee.

Floor mosaic at The Ahwahnee.

Basket mural by Jeannette Dyer Spencer.

Basket mural by Jeannette Dyer Spencer.

Native American baskets on display in the Great Lounge at The Ahwahnee.

Native American baskets on display in the Great Lounge at The Ahwahnee.

Though not placed in the hotel as part of the original decor, the watercolor paintings of Gunnar Widforss now line the hallway from the registration lobby to the Dining Room and Great Lounge. A Swedish artist who preferred painting landscapes such as the Grand Canyon was already famous by the time he arrived in Yosemite. Widforss was contracted by the Yosemite Park and Curry Company to create paintings of Yosemite suitable for the grand scale of The Ahwahnee architecture and the landscape that surrounds it.

Vernal Fall by Gunnar Widforss.

Vernal Fall by Gunnar Widforss.

The Mural Room, once known as the Writing Room, features a toile pente (painted linen) mural on the wall created by Robert Boardman Howard for the hotel’s opening in 1927. The fifteenth century style of the mural features the native flora and fauna of Yosemite National Park in a pattern of flowering plants with animals large and small, serving not only as historic decor, but also as a nature guide to Yosemite. The Mural Room also features a unique corner fireplace with a hammered-copper hood and the only oak floor in the hotel’s public spaces.

Detail of the mural by Robert Boardman Howard on the wall of the Mural Room.

Detail of the mural by Robert Boardman Howard on the wall of the Mural Room.

Though all of the decor delights park visitors in the public areas of the hotel, the most striking decorative element is the custom 5 x 6 foot stained glass panels that cap the ten floor-to-ceiling windows of the Great Lounge. Also designed by Jeannette Dyer Spencer, the stained glass panels were a last minute addition to hotel architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood’s original design. Though Spencer went on to contribute to the Ahwahnee decor in many areas, she was initially selected by Ackerman and Pope specifically for her background in stained glass design. Her selection and design experience provided The Ahwahnee with one of its most enduring artistic elements.

One of ten stained glass windows in the Great Lounge at The Ahwahnee.

One of ten stained glass windows in the Great Lounge at The Ahwahnee.