Yosemite Cemetery Halloween Tour

Park visitors won’t find tricks, treats, or haunted houses in Yosemite, but in October they will find a Halloween activity suitable for visitors of all ages. Relive Yosemite’s past on a fall evening by lantern light and visit the grave sites of Native Americans and early settlers buried in the historic Yosemite Cemetery. This little-known spot in Yosemite Village is an oasis of quiet on a busy summer day and a place of reflection in the calm of autumn. Delaware North at Yosemite interpretive guides lead a tour of the historic cemetery in Yosemite Valley each year on Halloween evening, with additional tours offered earlier during the week of the holiday.

The Yosemite Cemetery Tour is offered free of charge to all park visitors. Meet the tour guide in front of the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, and then follow along to an evening campfire for introductions. Touring the timeline of the cemetery, guides will share history and stories at several different grave sites ranging from simple headstones to more elaborate resting places. Historic figures include native Miwok families, Yosemite’s first guardian, Yosemite’s first trail builder and the first person to climb Half Dome. From 1870 to 1956, local residents were buried in this area that had previously served as a Miwok burial ground for several centuries. Look for the tallest grave marker in the cemetery and find the final resting place of James Lamon, the first Euro-American to permanently settle in Yosemite Valley – which included spending his first winter here alone!

Though you may feel moved by the spirit of Yosemite, there are no frightening elements to this tour. Yosemite history is presented in a fun and informative way along the pathways of the cemetery. For the tour, the cemetery grounds are lighted by lantern and candle, but feel free to bring a flashlight – fall evenings are very dark in Yosemite! Tour dates for 2015 include Thursday 10/29, Friday 10/30 and Saturday 10/31 at 7:30 pm, with an additional family focused tour at 5:30 pm on Saturday 10/31.

For more tour details, visit http://www.yosemitepark.com/halloween-cemetery-tour.aspx

Want to learn more about the Yosemite Cemetery? The Guide to the Yosemite Cemetery can be purchased at visitor center bookstores in Yosemite.

Farewell to Yosemite Stables Crews

YVStablesGroup-1356The summer of 2015 was the last time to take a commercial trail ride in the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite National Park. Come fall, the Yosemite Valley Stable will also close for the two hour and half-day trail rides offered to park visitors since the 1920s. Both changes in stable operations are brought about by the implementation of the Tuolumne River Plan and the Merced River Plan authored by the National Park Service. The plans were conceived to reduce the impact of development in the flood plains of Yosemite’s rivers. Both stables will remain operational for supplying Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps and providing backcountry saddle trips for park visitors. By the summer of 2016, only the Wawona Stable will continue to offer two hour trail rides to park visitors.

For many stables employees, returning every summer to pack and guide equated to many consecutive years of service in Yosemite National Park. Employees often lived in tent cabins near the stable, where maintaining the stable operation gets a very early start each morning. Though the season for trail rides isn’t long in Yosemite – summer months in Tuolumne Meadows and Wawona, spring to fall in Yosemite Valley – the crews spend a lot of time living and working together providing this historically popular activity for visitors from around the world. Delaware North at Yosemite commends the Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley stables staff (including mules and horses!) for their skill and dedication in serving park visitors for over twenty years. Happy Trails!

Little Known Facts About the History of Curry Village in Yosemite

Curry Village after a spring snowstorm 2015

Curry Village after a spring snowstorm 2015. Photo by Marta Czajkowska.

Did you know that Curry Village in Yosemite National Park is a National Historic District? Designated on the National Historic Landmark register as Camp Curry Historic District, Curry Village was originally established as Camp Curry by the Curry family in 1899. Over one hundred years later, this rustic resort in Yosemite Valley is still serving thousands of park visitors each year with a mix of lodging consisting of hotel rooms, cabins and tent cabins set at the east end of the valley just under Glacier Point with a commanding view of Half Dome. Curry Village is by far the largest lodging property in the park with 503 accommodations. With restaurants, stores, a swimming pool and a guest lounge, Curry Village maintains the legacy of Camp Curry with comforts established by the Curry family and their passion for Yosemite.

1.  The original rate was $1.50 per day. This rate included lodging and meals.

2. The camp once housed a bowling alley and dance hall.

3. Early refrigeration consisted of carving blocks of ice from Mirror Lake in winter and storing them in sawdust for summer.

4. There was one heck of a toboggan run at Curry Village from 1927 to 1952.

5. After Camp Curry, the Curry family built The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley and became the Yosemite Park & Curry Company.

6. A children’s park at Camp Curry was known as Kiddie Kamp, and housed a petting zoo.  It also included a mini train ride.

7. At Camp Curry, the song “Indian Love Call” was sung during the Firefall, which took place every summer night at 9:00 pm.

8. The Curry Village Ice Rink once hosted a Winter Carnival where a King and Queen were crowned during an elaborate pageant.

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.

mariposa_grove

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

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.

 

Room With a View: La Casa Nevada in Yosemite

 Casa Nevada at the base of Nevada Fall in Yosemite.

Hotel La Casa Nevada at the base of Nevada Fall in Yosemite.

Imagine waking up to the thunderous roar of Nevada Fall – one of Yosemite Valley’s famous waterfalls – just outside your window before you start your day of exploring the Sierra Nevada. In 1870, you could do that by claiming a room at the Alpine House located at the base of Nevada Fall. Operated by Albert and Emily Snow, the simple Alpine House also became a favorite lunch stopover for riders and hikers in Yosemite, where Emily Snow was known equally for her good cooking and her bad jokes. With the addition of another building and expansion of the original one over the years, in 1875 the Alpine House became La Casa Nevada – “The Snow House” in Spanish.

“Well, you folks would hardly think it,” said Emily Snow, “but there is eleven feet of snow here all summer. My husband is near 6 feet tall and I’m a little over five. Ain’t that eleven?”*

Emily Snow would round out a traveler’s lunch with house-baked doughnuts, bread and elderberry pie. The Snow House was always known as a place where you could eat well and drink well in Yosemite. Though the Sierra Nevada snow melt water is particularly sweet in Yosemite’s high country, the most popular beverages involved liquor. A memorable quote from the hotel register – still housed in the collection of the Yosemite Museum today – read “Be sure to try the Snow water.”

Though the Snows survived an earthquake in the spring of 1872 that moved the original Alpine House two inches to the east and stopped the flow of Nevada Fall for almost a minute, La Casa Nevada would not last into the 20th Century. The hotel served many park visitors until the hotel was foreclosed on in 1897. The buildings fell into disrepair after they were abandoned and were eventually dismantled by the State of California in 1900. For a hundred years after La Casa Nevada shuttered its views of Nevada Fall, park visitors could find broken glass in the vicinity of the hotel’s location resulting from the consumption of “Snow Water”.

* Quote from The Yosemite Grant 1864 – 1906: A Pictorial History by Hank Johnston

Badger Pass Ski Area in Yosemite National Park: California’s First Ski Resort

Did you know that we celebrated the 80th anniversary of Badger Pass Ski Area in 2015? Since 1935, California’s first ski resort has taught generations of families to enjoy winter sports. Offering rental equipment and ski instruction – now including snowboarding – visitors to Yosemite National Park of all ages can learn new winter sport skills at Badger Pass Ski Area. Legendary Badger Pass ski instructor and U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame member Nic Fiore once said, “Come to Yosemite. We have a ski school which really teaches people to ski and focuses on beginner and family. You can have a really lovely day here.”(2) Nic arrived in Yosemite in 1948 and never left. It is estimated that he taught over 100,000 people to ski during his time in Yosemite. Things haven’t really changed at Badger Pass since Nic’s days as head of the Yosemite Ski School. The Badger Pups program – one of the first children’s ski programs in the country – still teaches Yosemite’s youngest visitors to ski and snowboard.

Nic Fiore was director of the Yosemite Ski School from 1956 to 2001

Nic Fiore was director of the Yosemite Ski School from 1956 to 2001

Always modest in size, Badger Pass Ski Area doesn’t compare to the large ski resorts at Lake Tahoe or in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. At an elevation of 7300 feet, Badger Pass Ski Area’s longest run is only 800 feet, but the impact that Badger Pass had on the growing popularity of skiing looms large. Though ski touring was always a popular sport for the Yosemite community and winter visitors, the idea of a resort with lifts and groomed slopes occurred to the head of concessionaire Yosemite Park & Curry Company, Donald Tressider, in 1934. The opening of the Glacier Point Road and Wawona Tunnel in 1933 made it possible for the YP & CC to create Badger Pass Ski Area 23 miles from Yosemite Valley in 1934 with the Badger Pass Ski House completed in 1935. Competitive ski races and contests and the addition of experienced European ski instructors to the Yosemite Ski School contributed to the popularity of Badger Pass in California and skiing as a winter sport in the United States. By 1936, the world’s greatest skiers were practicing for the Winter Olympics, and by 1937, state skiing championship races were being held at Badger Pass. By the 1940s, Badger Pass was welcoming over 70,000 skiers during the winter season and Donald Tressider had become vice president of the California Ski Association.

The first mechanical ski lift at Badger Pass was also the first mechanical lift not only in California but in the American west. Known as the Up-ski, the lift had sleds (with nicknames like “Big Bertha” and “Queen Mary”) that carried 8 people at a time to “Ski-Top”, the start of the Rail Creek, Bishop Creek and Strawberry Creek runs. Today, only Rail Creek is marked as a ski run, accessible from Badger Pass for experienced backcountry skiers, but the lift is long gone after it’s thirteen years of service beginning in 1935. After World War II, the ski industry had grown and lured skiers to places like Aspen, Colorado and Sun Valley Idaho. With so many options for skiers across the nation, Badger Pass Ski Area had to distinguish itself with one of the ski industry’s first all-inclusive packages, called the “Mid-Week Ski Special”. This special included lodging, dining, equipment rental, lift ticket, lesson and transportation from Yosemite Valley all for $25 dollars a day!

The Up-Ski was the first mechanical ski lift in the American west

The Up-Ski was the first mechanical ski lift in the American west

The Badger Pass Ski House (today’s day lodge) was designed by architect Eldridge T. Spencer and opened on December  17th in 1935. In 1954, the day lodge was enlarged by adding another building with a breezeway in between. The lounge area originally contained a large open fireplace with cast iron panels of skiing figures mounted above. The panels were designed by Robert Howard Boardman, who also designed the wildlife mural in the Mural Room at The Ahwahnee. The fireplace has since been removed, but the panels are now installed around the fireplace in the Mountain Room Lounge at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls in Yosemite Valley. Ski races continued to be hosted at Badger Pass during the 1950s and 1960s, though today only the Silver Ski race is hosted by the Yosemite Winter Club. In 1965, National Park Service approved the installation of chair lifts for the first time and the Badger Pass Ski House was renamed the Snowflake Day Lodge.

With all of it’s storied history, today’s winter visitor still finds Badger Pass Ski Area an uncomplicated place to take the family for a day of snowy fun in Yosemite. Snowboarders join skiers on the slopes and and a snow tubing hill has been added for the park’s youngest visitors. Equipment rental is available at the rental shop along with souvenirs and apparel at the ski shop. The free shuttle bus from Yosemite Valley provides daily transportation for lodging guests and private vehicles will find plenty of parking. Dine on the sun deck or inside the day lodge at the Skiers Grill or upstairs in the Snowflake Room. Rent lockers for your gear by the day or the season. Cross-country skiing is an option, along with snowshoeing, and rental equipment is available at the Cross-Country/Nordic Center. Groomed cross-country trails originate at Badger Pass and continue down the Glacier Point Road to the terminus at Glacier Point – one of Yosemite’s most spectacular views now covered with snow! If the 10 mile ski to Glacier Point is enough for one day, you can opt to stay overnight at the Glacier Point Ski Hut and cozy up to the fireplace while the hutkeeper prepares dinner. You won’t need to ski to earn your keep and enjoy winter in Yosemite Valley at The Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and Curry Village. Take advantage of great winter lodging deals like Stay Two Ski FREE and Stay ‘N Play.

 

 References:

1. Magic Yosemite Winters by Gene Rose

2. Mountain Dreamers: Visionaries of Sierra Nevada Skiing by Robert Frohlich

3. Yosemite’s Innkeepers: The Story of a Great Park and it’s Chief Concessionaires by Shirley Sargent

The History of Ice Skating in Yosemite

ice rink sign

historic ice rink 1933With its lofty location in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, Yosemite National Park has always been a popular venue for winter sports. Today you can ski, snowboard, snow tube, snowshoe and cross-country ski at Badger Pass Ski Area and ice skate at the Curry Village Ice Rink. But both Badger Pass Ski Area and the Curry Village Ice Rink are some of the oldest facilities in Yosemite with a storied history. Though ice skating on the Merced River had always been a popular winter activity in Yosemite Valley when the ice was solid enough, the first ice skating rink in Yosemite National Park was built in 1929 in reaction to the news that Yosemite was being considered as the location for the 1932 Winter Olympics. As the coldest area in Yosemite Valley with little direct sun in winter, the ice rink was naturally located at Curry Village. The original 60,000 square foot rink was built where the Curry Village parking lot – both paved and dirt – stands today. Ice skating was taking place in this same spot before the construction of a formal rink by flooding the parking lot with water each night that was then ready for skating by morning. Once established, the Curry Village Ice Rink was considered the premier ice skating center in California with its stunning natural setting and the support of the Yosemite Winter Club.

historic hockey

Hockey: Oakland American Legion vs. the Yosemite Winter Club

Not only was the rink used by park visitors, but also hosted speed skating races, figure skating exhibitions, curling, hockey games and winter carnivals. The first “Fancy Ice Skating Carnival” took place in 1928, the year the Yosemite Winter Club was founded. In 1931, the San Joaquin Valley Sierra Winter Sports Carnival also employed the Curry Village Ice Rink with curling matches and a tug of war competition on the ice. By 1933, the annual California State Figure Skating Championship took place in Yosemite entertaining grandstands filled with onlookers as colored glass candle holders set into the snowbanks surrounding the rink created a festive atmosphere. Hockey was a popular rink sport throughout the 1930s, and players included professional teams and collegiate exhibitions.

ice rinkMoved from its original location, the current ice rink at the Curry Village Recreation Center was built in the 1970s at the location of the former Curry Village Garage – a structure that was destroyed by an arson fire. Often cited as one of the world’s best ice rinks by travel magazines, today’s rink includes a skate rental program, a large warming hut for skaters to stow their boots and a fire pit to warm their toes. From November to early March, Delaware North at Yosemite operates the ice rink with a staff that maintains safety for skaters and the condition of the ice with a zamboni. Curry Village Ice Rink is open daily for several day and evening skating sessions, conditions permitting.

$11.00 per adult, per session
$10.00 per child, per session
$4.50 for skate rental

For more on the history of ice skating in Yosemite see “Magic Yosemite Winters” by Gene Rose.

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.

 

 

 

 

A Short History of the Oddly-Named Housekeeping Camp in Yosemite

Housekeeping Tent at Camp 16 from the Yosemite National Park Research Library

Housekeeping Tent at Camp 16 from the Yosemite National Park Research Library

Located on the Merced River in Yosemite Valley with an unusual name, Housekeeping Camp straddles the line between camping and hotel accommodations and inspires fierce loyalty among park visitors. With amenities not usually found in campsites such as three walls, a canvas roof, beds, electrical lights and outlets, as well as standard amenities of picnic table and campfire ring, Housekeeping Camp is perennially popular with visiting families. Many of these families return year after year to the same units for easy access to the Merced River’s sandy beaches and activities like rafting and swimming. By examining the origin of Housekeeping Camp and its odd configuration and designation, it is apparent that this particular type of Yosemite accommodation has had great influence on the evolution of national park campgrounds as we know them today.

In the 1860s, after the signing of the Yosemite Grant by President Abraham Lincoln, the State of California administered Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove as precursor to the establishment of Yosemite National Park. The state instituted the designation of numbered camps in Yosemite Valley to indicate where visitors were setting up camp during their visit. By 1878, the idea of a public campground had taken hold and The Harris Camp Ground located near the present-day hotel, The Ahwahnee, was the forerunner of the current configuration of a national park campground. By 1918, a map of Yosemite Valley indicates Camp 19 as the first Housekeeping Camp and by 1920, the park concession was charging a fee for supplies to be provided to campers who needed equipment. Visitors who brought their own went to the free campgrounds, and visitors who rented supplies stayed in a “Housekeeping Camp” – meaning you kept your own house with no maid service.

From the “1920 Guide to Yosemite” by Ansel F. Hall:

“The Housekeeping Camps Department supplies all kinds of camping or outing equipment at very reasonable rates…About twenty camp grounds have been prepared for the free use of the public by the Park Service. Water is piped to these localities and a sanitation system provided for. Applications for camp sites should be made at the National Park Service office in Yosemite Village. Those without outfits, who desire to establish camps, may arrange at the Housekeeping Camps Department of the Yosemite National Park Company (at Camp 17, a quarter mile east of Sentinel Bridge and north of the river) to rent all necessary equipment. This will be delivered and set up ready for occupancy. It is advisable to arrange in advance for the outfit desired.”

Housekeeping Camp was indicated at its present location as Camp 16 on a map in 1921 and remained designated Camp 16 until the 1970s. In 1923, Yosemite’s most influential concession operator, the Curry family, established Yosemite’s first lower-cost Housekeeping Camp with unfurnished lodging and no meals. This iteration included 10 units and was located in the current employee housing area known as Tecoya dormitory at Yosemite Village. In 1943, a Yosemite park map stated that Housekeeping Tents at Camp 16 come completely furnished from $2.25 daily and $10 weekly – what a deal! Ten years later, Housekeeping Camp was no longer considered a Yosemite campground, instead being listed as accommodations similar to Curry Village tent cabins. Amenities such as laundry facilities and a store were also available by the 1950s.

Yosemite’s housekeeping camps were the beneficiaries of the Mission 66 program where significant funds were invested in the infrastructure of national parks from 1956 to 1966. As a result, in the 1960s, the units were constructed as we know them today with concrete slabs. Two units were built back to back as a duplex. The dividing walls and two side walls were concrete slabs mixed with a conglomerate of Merced River stones. The ceiling, front walls and two side walls were canvas with a nylon fly for protection from sun or rain. The patio kitchen was furnished with a wood-burning stove referred to as a ‘sheepherder’ stove. This experimental design for improvement of guest accommodations in Housekeeping Camp was developed with much thought by Yosemite Park & Curry Company’s Gordon Warren, responsible for the construction of the new units, and architects from the firm Spencer and Lee, among others. In 1964 the ‘laundromat’ building was added to house coin-operated washers and dryers, along with a new shower house.

By 1976, the rest of the campgrounds in Yosemite were operated by the National Park Service. As the only remaining example of a ‘housekeeping camp’, Camp 16 was renamed accordingly and continues to be known as Housekeeping Camp to this day. Sometime in the 1990s, the old sheepherder stoves were replaced by campfire rings. Over time, the number of units have been reduced and the current Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan calls for the removal of more. But for now, you can enjoy 266 units in the heart of Yosemite Valley for a camping experience without all the gear. Housekeeping Camp opens for the 2014 season on April 17th and still offers supplies in the form of bedpacks consisting of 2 sheets, 2 blankets and 2 pillows rented for $2.50 per night – subject to availability. Make reservations online or call 801-559-4884 to speak with a reservation agent.

Housekeeping Camp River Units

Housekeeping Camp River Units

Housekeeping Camp Front Office and Store

Housekeeping Camp Front Office and Store