By: Maureen K. Hall
I have no first memories of Yosemite. Yosemite was just always 'there' for me. I just knew that whenever we drove through the Arch Rock Entrance I felt that I was 'home'.
I was always deathly ill with carsickness on the way up to Yosemite. The roads in those days had every mountain curve in tack and very narrow. Some trips were better than others and I would avoid up chucking. I would have endured anything to get to Yosemite. When we reached Briceburg I knew the ordeal was almost over.
We would quickly drop down the mountain for the beautiful ride along the Merced River. It was always fun to see the train track remains across the river of the Yosemite Valley Railroad. My Uncle Bob worked on that railroad. The Railroad would take passengers to El Portal where the tracks ended. From there the passengers were taken on up to Yosemite by bus.
I was a very little girl when we started our years of camping in Yosemite. We always stayed the month of July. Our "camp" was not just a meager little camping layout. In those days there were very few people in Yosemite and we had our pick of where we would camp. Our very favorite spot was in Camp 14 on the meadow. From there we had a view of Camp Curry, Glacier Point and the Firefall. We almost had a home by the time our camp was put together.
My Dad surrounded our camp with 100 yards of 6 ft. canvas. We had rooms within our camp, complete with bedroom where our beds were set up. And I do mean beds. We had chain link bed-frames with mattresses, sheets and blankets. It was absolutely heaven for Earky and I to lie in bed after the Firefall and just look at the black sky with all the brilliant stars. We never tired of it. We "caught" many falling stars.
My Mother had a wonderful kitchen set-up. Dad had a huge 3-burner propane stove. My Dad also brought up standing cabinets that we stored our dishes, cookware and food supplies in. The cabinets stood on legs so they were off the ground. Dad always put a huge tarpaulin up over the kitchen area that protected us from pine needles dropping from the trees, etc. It also protected us from the summer storms that would roll in. When that happened we quickly picked up our beds and put them under the tarp.
In other words we were snug as a bug in a rug. If it rained we just played games at the picnic table. My Mother also had a Dutch oven. There are apple trees over in the parking lot at Camp Curry, which are still there today. We would go over and pick the apples and my Mother would make apple turnovers. Makes me cry to think about it. She was incredible my darling Mother. We ate like kings.
My Dad had to go back to work during the week, but he would come up on Friday with all our food for the week. He even brought up ice cream and all the fresh vegetables and fruit from our bountiful valley. We stored all this food in 3 huge ice chests. Dad hung one in the trees so that the bears could not get to it. It was covered with burlap, which we kept wet. A huge hole was dug in the ground and that housed a second cooler. The ground kept the lettuce and other produce quite nicely.
Dad came up on Friday night and left for Merced on Monday morning-reluctantly. Dad has his own business called "Service, Oil and Butane". He also sold appliances and we were lucky enough to get our appliances at cost. My Dad was beloved by all his employees and they worked for him for 30 years.
I must tell you about one of Dad's favorite pastimes. He would string a rope from tree to tree and then attach peanuts to small strings and hang them across the line. It drove the blue jays absolutely crazy, trying to get those impossible to-get-at peanuts. The blue jays would scream and fuss and my Dad would just fall off his chair laughing. I have to tell you it was a show. My Dad never tired of it and my Mother always said, "Oh, Earl".
We also had 9x12 rugs that were placed under the picnic table and rugs by our beds. We 3 girls had our household chores of getting the camp ready for the day by sweeping the rugs and straightening our tent. We could do it in jig time. When Dad and all of us got the camp set up the fun began. We would go in Dad's pick-up and come back with loads of clean pine needles. These we spread around the camp to keep the dust down. It worked wonderfully well. Two weeks into our month of July we would go get more pine needles. In today's Yosemite you cannot disturb a pine needle.
We had our bikes and we rode all over the Valley floor. One favorite spot was the Indian Caves. They don't even tell people about the Indian Caves now. You just have to know where they are. The caves really can be dangerous. We would see Chief Lema doing his Indian dances there. I was totally enthralled.
Another favorite spot was Happy Isles. Our very favorite thing to do was to hop the rocks. I think back now and know how lucky we are not to have broken our necks. We would also hike up to Vernal Falls. We hopped the rocks at the head of the falls to get across to the other side and the beautiful little beach that was there. If we had slipped and fallen that would have been 'all she wrote', because we would have been swept over the falls to our death. The thought never even occurred to us. It just wouldn't happen. Ah, youth. We didn't tell Mother about this 'trick' until we were grown up. She was stunned to silence, totally speechless at our stupidity.
We would also go over to the Government Center. They had a relief map of Yosemite Valley and the Back Country. I never tired of looking at it. I knew I would never get into the backcountry, as we were not hikers. I can remember one hike we did make up to Sentinel Dome and my Mother practically had to carry Marilyn back down the trail, which ruined Mother's knee and it was never the same after that. We didn't miss the hiking anyway. We ran full tilt all day long with gay abandonment. Such joyful abandonment!!
One of the fascinations of Government Center was the Indian squaw Maggie who would show us how the Indians cooked. She did not permit having her picture taken and so we honored her wishes. Wish we could have gotten a picture of her. I can see the Indian baskets still, where she put hot stones in the water and actually got the water to boil. She was then able to cook the ground acorns. We were fascinated. We would also go to the Government Center in the early evening to watch the evening Primroses open up. They were so delicate and gently beautiful.
"They," the National Park Service, decided the museum needed to be renovated. It was a travesty what they did to the museum and my first lesson in what total strangers, in power can do to something that is perfect. The relief map of Yosemite was gone, all the dioramas, gone. I think now of how they want to "redo" the whole Yosemite Valley and I could just scream. I hope it won't be in my lifetime.
What they have done that I thoroughly agree with is the reclaiming of the meadows and the shuttle bus system. The bus is free, open air, easy to hop on and off and takes you all over the valley floor.
We would be busy going everywhere and doing everything in the morning. Freedom!! How lucky we were. After lunch we changed to swim suits and headed for the river. We were 'water girls' and had wonderful long afternoons of swimming in the icy water. We could just run in and swim to the other side of the river. We would clamber up on the big rocks and sun ourselves like lizards. I can remember being very mean and running along the edge of the river kicking up the cold water on the poor people standing there trying to get the nerve to go in. I thought they were stupid. Can't believe that not only did I do that but insensitive it was.
A typical day for us was getting up around 9 a.m. for breakfast, household chores, and then off to the races wherever we wanted to roam in the valley. There was always Camp Curry, the Ahwahnee Hotel, Indian Caves, Happy Isles, Government Center or just taking time to sit and read our books. We would have lunch and then bee-bop on down to the river for the whole afternoon of swimming.
Mother always told us to be careful and we felt so sorry for her not coming with us. She didn't swim and so she would spend her afternoon lying in the hammock and reading. And we said, "Poor Mother". She loved every single quiet uninterrupted minute of it. I had gone to the Merced library and check out 20 books for her to read. The library made a special dispensation because they knew me by heart; I was an avid reader and read everything in the children's section on up. My Mother loved the books by Nora Lofts.
We would return home from the river and put on clean clothes. That was the routine. We put on clean clothes after swimming and those clothes were worn again the next morning. No automatic washing machines in those days. In fact, no machines anywhere. Mother would heat the water and use a washboard to scrub the clothes. They were hung up to dry.
There was no polyester in those days and the clothes were wrinkled. My Mother actually ironed our clothes with an iron that was heated on the propane-stove top. What a Wonder Woman. Our flannel sheets were washed weekly, also, along with all our towels. Gad and good grief!! We were so accepting of all she did that we just took it for granted. Mother had a huge tub that she filled with hot water. She would pull the canvas closed that made her boudoir very private. And so she would bathe in the beautiful mountain air and in privacy, as she was an extremely modest person.
We camped with several other Merced families. The Gaestels (who brought their own maid and cook) and the Bedesen's. And Mrs. Cole who would get up every morning and go over to the river at 5 a.m. to have her morning bath. Ugh!!! Can you think of anything more horrible than slipping into that icy river with no sun at that hour of the morning? Mrs. Cole loved it.
We would have dinner and then either go to the program that was held nightly in Camp 14 or the one held at Camp Curry. It was always a good program that ended at 9 p.m., when we would all anticipate the Firefall. It was truly the highlight of the day.
You could hear the call from Camp Curry up to Glacier Point. The call would go like this--- "Hello Glacier"-the answer back from 1400 foot up off the valley floor would be "Hello Camp Curry". The call would come through clear as a bell. Curry would then call back "Let the fire fall". And the answer from Glacier was "Alright". And then the stream of coals would be shoved slowly off of Glacier Point and the song "Indian Love Call" would always be sung.
I was always moved to tears and the song meant so much to me that I had it sung at Wes' and my wedding. The firefall would usually last 5 minutes. On the 4th of July we would be treated to 10 to 15 minutes of this glorious sight. This wonderful tradition was abruptly stopped in 1968 without discussion. The environmentalists were working at changing Yosemite that many years ago.
Dances were held nightly at the small auditorium at Camp Curry. All the young college workers in the Valley went to the dance. We had a wonderful time. After the dance was over we would then take our flashlights and make our way back across the meadow to our camp. With not a worry about being attacked, Mother was always waiting for us.
We camped in Yosemite during the war years and it is a little known fact that the Ahwahnee Hotel was turned over to the Navy for R&R for the wounded Navy men. I often wondered if those Navy men missed the ocean water during their stay at Yosemite.
One of our very favorite treats with Yosemite was to go on the "Burro Rides". The first thing we did on arriving in Yosemite was to go over to the stables and make our reservations for the rides. When we were little girls we rode the burros and when we were 12 & 13 we rode the donkeys. We would go to the stable and we got to pick out our burro to ride. Mother had packed a picnic lunch for us.
There were probably 14-15 kids on this burro ride. We started out from the stable and start up the trail to Happy Isles where we crossed over and came down the other side of the valley. We passed by Camp Curry and continued on up the Valley until we came to the area called Yellow Pines. We crossed the road and went over to the river where we climbed off our burros. We had worn our bathing suits under our clothes and we were able to swim and paddle in the river. It was wonderful!! There was always 1 man and 1 woman in charge of the burro ride. We ate our lunch and rested a short while then got on our burros for the return trip to the stables. We had to cross the river and that was just terrific. We went back down the trail by Government Center and the Ahwahnee Hotel. It was all too marvelous. We made sure Gary, Andy, Scott and Mona made this ride. I think the grandchildren went on the ride also.
One of the true stories of Yosemite is as follows: For years when you went to Yosemite when dusk was upon the Valley you would hear everyone calling "Elmer" The call was made over and over with people answering from different parts of the camp. There were so many versions about how this tradition started, but Earky and I know exactly how it started.
We had gone to Camp 14 one evening for the program. After the Firefall everyone was starting back to his or her camp. A little boy named Elmer was lost and a frantic mother kept yelling his name over and over again. All the campers got in the act of trying to find this little lost boy and everyone was yelling the name "Elmer". Elmer was found, but his name lived on. From that night forward Elmer was the game we all played. How that little boy must have hated it. We haven't camped for several years now, so I don't know if the tradition is still going on. It was up to at least 1995 and this event happened over 60 years ago.
There was so much wildlife in Yosemite during the years we camped. There were many deer, bears, raccoons, squirrels, and blue jays. We tried to be so observant of all the rules with the wildlife. The bears were plentiful and, truly, great entertainment.
In those days the garbage was handled very differently than it is today. There was a garbage dump close to Camp Curry. The bears did what comes very naturally and they would raid the garbage dump. My Dad would drive the car over to the garbage dump parking lot and turn the lights on. We could watch all the bears foraging for food. I remember, at one point, a bear climbed inside the incinerator and couldn't get out. The next morning they found bar-b-qued bear. (Not funny).
There were so many bears that they tried to move them to the other end of the valley. So, once again, we would drive down the Valley to Sugar Pine. The Park Rangers had established a bear feed area and put up huge lights across the river. The garbage was brought in and dumped. The bears and their cubs were fascinating to watch, particularly the darling cubs. They would chase each other and go scampering up the trees. We never tired of watching their antics.
I don't know when they made a concerted effort to get the bears off of the valley floor. I never heard of a bear hurting any human being. We would have them in the camp at night and would beat a pan and they would scamper away with no harm done. The raccoons were the little thieves and we had to guard against them. The story goes now about the bears. When a bear is particularly recalcitrant they tag his ear and take him up to the backcountry and turn him loose. Often the Park Rangers will find the bear already back on the valley floor before they can drive back down to the valley.
The Park Rangers were all our friends and they were educators. Often they were teachers having a vacation in the Park and conducting all kinds of seminars. I looked forward to a nature walk every year with Ranger Max Gilstrap. He was wonderful. He could whistle every birdcall and we would be able to stand with him in the forest as he "talked" to all the beautiful feathered friends. I never tired of Ranger Gilstrap. He had a tiny small moustache not unlike Hercule Poirot. Just not as fancy.
I will always associate the elegant sleek 1930-40's Mercedes Benz limousine with Yosemite Valley. Living in Merced it was very normal to see the forest green limousine picking up wealthy people at the Southern Pacific Rail Station. They would then be transported up to Yosemite for their stay at the Ahwahnee Hotel.
I often said to myself, "Someday I will stay there, also". It was the ultimate as far as I was concerned. And stay there we did. Several times.
When Wes asked me what I wanted to do for our 50th wedding anniversary, I told him I wanted to go to the Ahwahnee Hotel with our family. He said, "Are you sure?" He thought I might want another trip to Europe or a cruise. I only wanted Yosemite and the family. And my darling husband indulged me. We had befriended the Assistant Manager of the Ahwahnee Hotel and a year before our 50th Brett Archer helped us plan our Anniversary. We were able to reserve the whole JFK Suite area. When you look at the picture of the Ahwahnee you will see the balcony area. That is where we stayed for 4 days. I described it as God folding all of us in a rosy glow in His hands. Every minute was treasured and not to be forgotten.
Have you ever seen a long sleek white Mercedes Benz limousine of the 1930's and 1940's era? You see white stretch limos now but they did not compare with the elegance of the white Mercedes Benz limousine that was out-fitted with ice cream dispenser, milk, and bread. It would drive through the camps and people would run out of their camps to buy milk, ice cream etc. It was just too wonderful.
The young men were college boys who were working in Yosemite for the summer. College students always held the summer jobs. That included the garbage collectors, housemaids at Curry and the Ahwahnee. The Curry's established that rule when they developed Camp Curry. We thought these college boys were to die for. We were able to buy milk that came in waxed finished paper cylinder containers. These containers were the latest way to sell milk and we would use these milk containers to decorate our camp. We designed windmills and all kinds of things to make our camp the greatest. We also got moss covered tree limbs to decorate our camp. We were not satisfied until we thought our camp out-shined everyone else's camp.
We were determined to keep Yosemite a tradition for our young family. We made quite a sight driving up to Yosemite in our green Plymouth. Our little boys were---well---little. Gary was about 4 ½, Andy 2 ½ and Scott a year old. Our Plymouth was loaded to the absolute gills. We had a tent, cots; cooking gear, play pen, crib, food and all our clothes. (No Pampers in those days.) We were definitely the Okies on the move, but we didn't care. We sailed into Yosemite and had a wonderful time. I learned just how much work my Mother had done.
One day we drove up to Glacier Point so the boys could see the panoramic view. We started down the mountain and we lost the breaks in our car. Panic!! We stopped in the Bridalveil Falls campground close to Glacier Point for our brakes to cool. Wes took assessment of the situation and decided he could "baby" the car down the mountainside with the emergency brake and gearing 'way down'. It was a nightmare trip and we sweated every corner. Wes did it knowing he had his whole little family in that one car. We made it down to the valley floor and drove straight to the Government Center where there was a garage. The man looked at our car and said the brakes were definitely gone. He said a lot of weight had almost severed the brake line. That made sense to us!!!
We had another interesting story on this same camping trip. We had carefully saved our money so we could go out to eat one night. We were going to go to Camp Curry. We started getting ready about 4 p.m. Gary was the first little guy to be bathed and then dressed in white terry cloth shorts, white starched shirt with red polka dots & red bow tie and polished white shoes. Done-and he was placed on a chair. The same procedure and same outfit was completed with little Andy and he was placed on a chair. We completed the 3rd bath with same matching outfit for Scott and away we went to dinner at Camp Curry.
I think now, What in the heck was I thinking of---white shoes? White shorts? Starched shirts? Bow ties? All I can tell you is Wes and I thought we had the world 'by the tail'. We were so very, very proud of our boys who even at that age knew how to behave at dinner. A man came over to our table and in all seriousness said, "Do you know that what you have here is worth $3,000,000 dollars?" I thanked the man, but told him that kind of money didn't even come close to the treasure that our little boys were for us.
Glacier Point was one of the main attractions for everyone who goes to Yosemite Valley. For one thing, you can drive there and hike up there. We always made at least one trip up to Glacier Point and I always felt it must be a part of Heaven. There was a beautiful old Glacier Point Hotel there. Reminds me of the old hotel in Yellowstone. I'm convinced some wacko environmentalist burned it down the same time they stopped the Firefall. They wanted the area to return to its natural state.
We would camp every year in Yosemite with our boys. One year Wes hiked up the Glacier Point Trail with the boys and I followed in the afternoon by car with clean clothes and a picnic dinner. Wes and the boys showered at the Hotel. We watched them light the fire for the Firefall and then listened to the Park Ranger with the evening program before the huge mound of coals. When 9 o'clock came we were able to hear the call from Camp Curry and the Ranger answering down. It was thrilling. Then they very slowly pushed the coals off the edge of Glacier Point and we were right there to see the burning coals fall to the ledge below. The hot coals on the cold granite sounded like tinkling bells. Who would have known or guessed.
For many years we were in the Housekeeping Camp, on the river with our family, grandchildren and Earky, Arnie, Mona and Dustin...such wonderfully happy times and memories. It gladdens my heart to ask the grandchildren what vacations they liked the best and they always told me---Yosemite.
When the boys were a little older, Wes decided he wanted to take Gary and Andy on an overnight hike to Half Dome. Earky, Arnie and Mona were camping with us. Earky and I drove Wes, Gary and Andy to the trailhead at Happy Isles. Earky was having a double fit that I was going to let Gary and Andy go on the overnight with Wes and climb Half Dome. It was just too dangerous.
Wes started off with the 2 boys and we went to the stables where Mona and Scott went on a burro ride. Wes and the boys had a ball. They climbed past Vernal and Nevada Falls and on to the meadow where they made camp. Wes hung the food over a tree so that the bears couldn't get to it. They continued on up the trail to Half Dome. Wes said the boys did just super scampering up the backside of Half Dome. They spent some time on top and then made their way back down Half Dome and to there camp in the meadow by the river. It was dark and they were tired, but they had had a terrific time. After dinner they rolled into their beds with all the wonderful memories of a climbing feat with their Dad.
Yosemite will always be the ultimate place to be for me. My happiest days have been spent there all my life. Now, in this day and age, I am watching the environmentalists doing their very best to destroy Yosemite as we know it. They want to make Yosemite where only the elite can afford to go. They even want to take out the Heritage Bridges so the Merced River will return to its normal flow? So very, very stupid.
They think there are too many cars! I wonder if they have ever traveled in LA on the freeways. I wish they would take their ideas for improvement and go south. There are some days, yes, where the traffic is on overload, but for the most part Yosemite is still the quiet, beautiful, magnificent spot on earth that God has given us. I don't want to be around if they make some of these drastic changes to my beloved Yosemite.
I hope that whoever reads my story of Yosemite, comes away knowing a little more about one of the most wonderful places that God has given us.
Maureen K. Hall managed the chiropractic office of her son, Dr. Gary Hall for 16 years. She also served on the Modesto Symphony Board of Directors for 20 years and has been a member of the Symphony Guild for 40 years. She directed the Mothers of Note chorus for 24 years. Maureen also is a past president of the Townsend Opera Players.
Maureen recently celebrated her 82nd birthday, she remains active and still makes a point to visit her Yosemite every single year. She visits with her older sister Earleen, each week in Merced for an afternoon of Bridge with their lady friends.
Yosemite in the Spring with Photo Gallery - Yosemite in the Spring has never looked so good and been so wet and we have the pictures to prove it.
While the days of the evening Firefalls at Glacier Point (the Park Service Director ended the tradition in 1968) are a thing of the past, visitors have an opportunity to view the natural firefall at Horsetail Falls in Yosemite Valley in late February or early March. Happening only two weeks out of the year, the setting sun falls behind the vertical face of El Capitan, selectively lighting this waterfall with its orange sunset light. Find out more...
Updated June 4, 2010
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