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.

Pairing Food with Wine: The Art of Creating the Vintners’ Holidays Menu in Yosemite

Each fall, wine enthusiasts gather in Yosemite for Vintners’ Holidays at The Ahwahnee and enjoy educational wine tasting seminars and a chance to meet some of California’s most esteemed vintners. Part of the event includes a five-course gala dinner that highlights the wines of the featured vintners. Since the wines are the star, The Ahwahnee’s executive chef, Percy Whatley, crafts the menu around the wines being poured — not the other way around. Read on to learn more about Percy and how he goes about developing the delicious Vintners’ Holidays menu.

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Q: How long have you been creating the menu for the Vintner’s Holidays Gala Dinner?
A: Since I was given the opportunity to lead the kitchen in 2005.

Q: For the Vintners’ Holidays Gala Dinner, you are creating the menu based on the wines that will be served. How does this work?
A: With Vintner’s Holidays, the winemakers give us information about the wine that they plan to pour for the gala meal and we solicit any feedback that they may have regarding what types of food and flavors pair well with the wines. I take that information and create the particular dish for that wine with their expert feedback. Usually the information is specific with regard to a particular ingredient, such as Lobster with a Sauvignon Blanc. This gives me the ability to put some of my personal finesse into the garnishes and other flavor profiles to enhance the wine and food experience. It really is a lot of fun.

Q: What are you looking for when pairing food and wine?
A: There are subtleties in wines that need to be found and engaged with when writing the menus for these dinners. Many of these subtleties are typical of the various wines being poured. Some may be a little more acidic than typical, or tannic, or more “oaky,” or more malo-lactic (buttery). Some wines are blended and are not typical at all. But overall, I am looking for the right degree of lightness or richness to a dish compared to the wine being poured. The garnishes in the dish should complement the center of the plate as well, which in turn will complement the wine and the layers of flavors within the wine’s body.

Q: What are a few of your favorite wine and food pairings?
A: Lamb with Zinfandel, scallops with Pinot Gris, pork belly with Pinot Noir, light buttery pasta dish with Chardonnay. There are a number of other international wines that I like a lot, Albariño, Barolo, Lambrusco, Valpolicella, Vinho Verde, and Malbec to name a few.

Q: Do you think wine is better served with food? Why?
A: Red wines definitely need food, otherwise your palate is tired after one glass. White wines aren’t as tannic and can be enjoyed without food, but food helps your palate process the sensory overload that happens when you drink wine. Whether it is a canapé of pate with your glass of Merlot, or a caviar blini with your sparkling brut, those little bites of food create an entirely different experience on your palate vs. just drinking the wine.

Q: Can you share a few tips on pairing wine?
A: Keep your food simply prepared without overcomplicating the preparation of it. If it is a steak, then simple salt and pepper seasoning, seared or grilled to your desired temperature, and rested well. Enjoy it with wine that is the right temperature, not too cold, not too warm. Let the wine sit in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing it so you can really get the subtle flavors of the wine. Do this before your first bite of food, then take a bite and repeat.  How was that second sip of wine?
What is most important is to drink wine that you like because if you like it, it is a good wine. Then have food that you like with it. Generally this is what makes a good pairing, especially if you enjoy it with family and friends — that is the true joy of good wine and food!

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To taste Percy’s wine and food pairing yourself, join us for Vintners’ Holidays in Yosemite in November or December.

Vintners’ Holidays in Yosemite: Managing the Wining & Dining at The Ahwahnee

If you have ever attended Vintners’ Holidays at The Ahwahnee in Yosemite, pat yourself on the back for choosing one of California’s most treasured landscapes to do your wine tasting. Napa Valley notwithstanding, Yosemite Valley offers the National Historic Landmark Ahwahnee hotel as one of the premier venues to taste California wines. Each fall for the past 35 years, California vintners have gathered in Yosemite National Park to share their knowledge (and their wine!) with park visitors. For the past four years, Kathy Langley has managed the Vintners’ Holidays event for The Ahwahnee, and as you may imagine, she really enjoys her work! Kathy shared her views on the event in the interview below.

Q1: How many years have you been involved in planning the event?
A1: Four years as the Food & Wine Events Manager [Kathy worked many years as a concierge at The Ahwahnee involved in the events prior to becoming the manager].

Q2:What makes The Ahwahnee a venue that a wine lover must check out at least once?
A2: Enjoying wine is a good thing. Enjoying wine in Yosemite is a great thing!

Q3:What do you look for when looking for speakers to present their wines?
A3: A variety of wines, grape-growing regions, and personalities

Q4: Do you have a certain session you are looking forward to and what do each have to offer guests?
A4: That’s really a difficult question to answer as each session has something unique to offer. However, at Session 4, Joy Sterling of Iron Horse Vineyards will be pouring their Summit Cuvee in honor of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s ascent of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite. Kevin is a Sonoma County boy, born and raised.

Q5: What is your favorite part of the event?
A5: Getting the first of six sessions started. That’s really seeing the fruits of my labor come to life!

Q6: Do you have a certain wine that is your favorite?
A6: The one in my glass!

Q7: What special memories do you have attending and help organizing the event? A7: Getting to know the vintners and their families. I’ve had the privilege of seeing their children grow up over the years of their visits to Yosemite for Vintners’ Holidays.

Q8: How does the executive chef at The Ahwahnee make it over-the-top when pairing food and wine?
A8: Chef Percy Whatley has an amazing palate and is a real wizard at pairing. The vintners agree, in that their comments with regard to the pairing of the wine is typically, “He nailed it!”

Q9: What makes Vintners’ Holidays different from other wine events?
A9: The opportunity to meet the actual winemakers and proprietors of the wineries. There are very few events that feature the actual winemakers.

Q10: How does the scenery and The Ahwahnee’s history add to the venue?
A10: Tasting seminars are held in the Great Lounge – what a spectacular place to sip wine! Most events of this type are held in hotel banquet rooms – not exactly a warm and fuzzy place to be! Here you sip…look at Half Dome…sip again…look at Yosemite Falls.

Q11: Why do you think it has continued all these years?
A11: The combination of wine and Yosemite with The Ahwahnee as the event venue is pretty hard to beat. Over the course of two or three days, guests run into the vintners in the bar, elevator, hallways, etc. That kind of access is not common at wine events.

Q12: What do you have to say about the judges and speakers this year?
A12: With Peter Marks, Evan Goldstein and Dan Berger, there is plenty of history in Yosemite. They have all participated for a number of years. Fred Dame, who some may recognize from the film “Somm“, was a moderator in the early years of Vintners’ Holidays and returns this year, as he did in 2014.

Q13: And anything else you would like to add?
A13: I can’t wait for the event!

When It Rains, It Spores! Mushrooms in Yosemite

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My name is Gena Wood. I work as a naturalist and historic guide for Delaware North at Yosemite. Part of my job is helping people understand the natural world (and hopefully fall more in love with it).  In my short time on this planet I’ve realized one of the most misunderstood (and feared) life forms is fungus. I’ve also realized one of the most of important and exciting life forms also happens to be fungus!

Now that rain (and snow!!) has started falling in Yosemite National Park we are not only seeing Yosemite Falls flowing again, we are seeing the  fungus among us: mushrooms!

What are mushrooms? Mushrooms are the fruiting body of mycelium, found underground. Imagine mycelium being the tree and the mushroom as the fruit growing on this tree. But don’t be fooled; mushrooms are not plants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Similarly to humans, mushrooms cannot make food from the sun. Mushrooms are often parasitic, breaking down plant material, like rotting wood. Mushrooms play a very important role ecologically as our decomposers, keeping our forests healthy. But that is not all! Most plants actually depend on that underground mycelium to help their roots get water and nutrients.

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Turkey Tails

Mushrooms wait until the right conditions to show their fruit, those conditions are usually from rain. The rain can be a promising sign for mushroom activity. Rain also helps mushrooms spread their spores. Spores are similar to seeds, helping the mushrooms disperse. Each species of mushroom has a different time of year you can find them, which makes mushroom hunting a year-round activity!

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Oyster Mushrooms growing on a dead Cottonwood, along the Merced River

Most mushrooms grow on rotting wood or in the soil. What they grow on is helpful for learning how to identify mushrooms. Identifying mushrooms can be a challenging, yet rewarding experience. Many mushrooms are not edible, most of them won’t kill you either. If you aren’t 100% positive, then don’t eat them. Learning what mushrooms you can and cannot eat takes time and experience.

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Honey Mushrooms- found only on wood.

Walking around the woods to find mushrooms isn’t just for those who eat mushrooms, but also for those that appreciate their beauty. Many times I walk away empty handed after a mushroom hunt. I never walk away disappointed though. Some of the most beautiful mushrooms are just for looks. I am always amazed at the variety of colors, shapes, smells, and sizes.

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Yosemite Valley is full big things to look up at, sometimes you need a reminder to slow down and notice the small things. Have you noticed mushrooms growing in Yosemite?

All photos were taken in Yosemite Valley on December 9th and 10th by Gena Wood.

Though visitors are not allowed to take anything from Yosemite National Park, they are welcome to forage for mushrooms strictly for personal consumption – similar to fishing. However, we discourage any but the most knowledgeable from eating mushrooms foraged in the park.

A Change of Pace: Autumn in Yosemite Valley

I tried to hold onto summer as long as could. I tried to deny that summer would ever leave me. But the truth is upon us: summer is gone and autumn is here to stay, for a while.

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The magnificent Milkweed, spreading its seed for next year.

The nights are cooler, the days are shorter, the Big Dipper is hiding behind the granite walls, and not only are the leaves starting to drop but also the number of visitors. Yosemite Valley seems to be a bounty of endless beauty with each passing day and change in season.

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A large Black Oak, behind the Ahwahnee Hotel.

Although Yosemite is  well-known for its evergreen trees: Giant Sequoias, Pines, Cedars, and Firs, Yosemite does host a variety of deciduous trees as well. From Oaks, to Maples and Dogwoods- these trees give us our fall colors. Some trees seem to burst with excitement and color as fall creeps in, but what causes these changes in color each year?

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Black Oak leaves, showing their range of colors.

This change of color is due to a breakdown in the green pigment found in leaves: chlorophyll. Chlorophyll helps the leaves make their food and when that breaks down, other pigments start to show their true colors. Depending on the climate and type of tree determines what colors will be present. The colors range from red, orange, yellow, brown, and even purple!

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Sugar Maple, across from the Chapel.

Although I was sad to let summer go, I welcome autumn with open arms as I enjoy the cooler and more colorful days headed our way. Yosemite National Park, you truly do inspire me everyday.

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Vine Maple, near the Yosemite Lodge.

Written by DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite interpretive guide Gena Wood. All photos were taken on October 10th, 2014 by Gena Wood. Come see Yosemite National Park in autumn for yourself!

 

Gallery

Where to See Fall Color in Yosemite

This gallery contains 9 photos.

Though not as brilliant as New England’s fall display of changing leaves, Yosemite National Park offers plenty of autumn beauty thanks to big leaf maple, dogwood and black oak trees. Fall itself can be changeable as a season, since turning … Continue reading