Yosemite National Park turns 125!

2015 marks the 125 anniversary of Yosemite National Park. 2014 marked the 150 anniversary of the Yosemite Grant. One year later we claim to be 25 years younger?  Yes. Well, not exactly. Yosemite has a long and interesting story and sometimes it takes a couple tries to get things right.

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Lets try to get the story figured out. In 2014 we commemorated the 150 anniversary of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Groove of Big Trees protected as California’s first State Park. Not only was it California’s first state park, it was the World’s first state park. This, ladies and gentleman, was the seed planted that would sprout into America’s best idea, the National Park idea. Although Yellowstone can take credit as the nation’s first National Park in 1872, Yosemite can take credit as providing the first glimpse of this idea, protection for future generations.

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Yosemite’s first form of protection was created under a grant that transferred land from the federal government to the state of California. This ground-breaking piece of legislation was signed by Abraham Lincoln on June 30th 1864, during the heat of the civil war.  However, the Yosemite Grant’s protection was limited. Very little beyond the stretches of Yosemite Valley’s granite cliffs would have the same protection.

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This map shows the arbitrary lines drawn to “protect” Yosemite Valley . These lines left the Yosemite Valley vulnerable.  Not long after, alarms were sounded and  work started to protect the lands found beyond the stretches of Yosemite Valley. What happened outside the walls of Yosemite Valley would undoubtedly shape what flowed into it.

John Muir below Royal Arches and Washington Column

Although it took 26 years and public outcry by people like John Muir and the Sierra Club, further protection was eventually secured. On October 1, 1890 the third national park was created, Yosemite National Park. President, Benjamin Harris, signed legislation protecting 1500 square miles of land surrounding Yosemite Valley. This newly formed National Park would help protect the watersheds from being polluted, the high meadows from being grazed, and from other threats, such as mining prospects.

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The boundaries drawn did not include Yosemite Valley or the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, those places would remain protected as a State Park until 1906. The boundaries drawn in yellow were the ones created in 1890, boundaries that are actually larger than Yosemite’s current park boundaries, which are drawn in red. Yosemite National Park protected Tuolumne Meadows, the Tuolumne and Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias, Hetch Hetchy Valley and countless streams, granitic domes and peaks. The 1890 park boundaries even included the Devil’s Postpile, which is now a National Monument on the Eastern side of the Sierra. If you are wondering where Teddy Roosevelt fits in this picture, that is a later part of the story. In 1906 Teddy Roosevelt transferred Yosemite Valley as a State Park into Yosemite National Park, helping to make all the pieces fit together. This was also the time Yosemite’s boundaries were redrawn once again. The red boundaries were created in 1906, which follows the spine of the Sierra Nevada.

Cathedral Peak. Yosemite National Park Photo by David Jefferson

150 years ago, we tried our best to protect Yosemite. 125 years ago we were still trying to figure out how to better protect Yosemite’s landscapes. This is something that continues today and into our future. Next year, Yosemite and the entire National Park Service will commemorate a different anniversary, the centennial of the National Park Service! To learn more about Yosemite’s anniversaries, visit http://www.nps.gov/featurecontent/yose/anniversary/events/index.html

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Playing Piano in Yosemite

2015 Ahwahnee Steinway Piano Brett ArcherVisiting at The Ahwahnee or Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park, you may have been treated to the strains of piano music during your dinner in the Ahwahnee Dining Room or while relaxing in the lobby with cocktails at Wawona Hotel. Few people forget the pianist at Wawona Hotel, as he has a style and personality suited to the tales he tells and the songs he sings on summer evenings in Yosemite. Tom Bopp has been playing piano at Wawona Hotel since 1983 (and at The Ahwahnee since 1985) and is quite steeped in the area’s history. Not only does Tom have many tales to tell and songs to sing about Wawona history but he also knows a thing or two about the pianos he plays – including the three Steinway pianos at The Ahwahnee.

From Tom Bopp:

“The story goes that in 1927, decorators working out last details for the interior of a brand new hotel called The Ahwahnee were familiar with a talented young man who’d been spending his summers in Yosemite, dividing his time between practicing the piano and wandering about taking pictures. He was clearly a short step away from becoming a fine concert pianist, and perhaps that’s why it’s said he was recruited to find a piano suitable for the world-class hotel. The pianist’s name was Ansel Adams, who was just then deciding whether to change his career path. ”

“Two other fine pianos grace The Ahwahnee. Currently in the Great Lounge is the ornate tiger-mahogany 1902 Steinway Model “C” measuring 7’4” (Number 102266). It was shipped from Steinway in New York to the M. Steinert & Sons store in Boston on July 26, 1902; a piano resembling it appears in a fuzzy photo of the Camp Curry evening outdoor concert circa 1918, but its provenance remains undiscovered. The other piano, Mason & Hamlin Number 32500 dates to 1924 and measures 6’2″. It is remembered to have lived in The Ahwahnee Bar (formerly “The Indian Room”) as early as the 1960s (Dudley Kendall remembers jazz pianist/composer Vince Guaraldi dropping in to play on it one night).”

Along with Christer Norden and Dr. Ted Long, Tom plays piano for patrons of the Ahwahnee Dining Room during nightly dinner service and at gala dinners for Vintners’ Holidays and Chefs’ Holidays at The Ahwahnee. Tom provided the following details about the piano in the dining room:

BLACK STEINWAY Serial #247305
Model: “D” Ebony
Length: 8′ 11-3/4″ 274 cm (according to modern specifications per the Steinway website)
Manufactured: December 13, 1926
Sold To: Sherman Clay (Authorized Steinway Dealer), San Francisco
Shipped: April 11, 1927

Additional Notes:  The Steinway company representative said their records noted that this Steinway currently resided in the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite — and that this information was entered in 1995.  The number “E2937” stamped on the bottom of the keyslip is an internal manufacturing number used by the makers of the piano, according to the Steinway representative.  Inside the Steinway a massive and intricately designed metal plate supports the several tons of tension created by the strings; on that plate, near the music rack, is preserved the signature of Frederick T. Steinway (1860 – 1927), inscribed by him in the last year of his life, probably at the New York factory. According to Ansel Adams’ son, Michael, Ansel played on this piano on occasion, but not regularly or for pay.

Visit Tom Bopp’s blog for more information about the pianos in Yosemite.