Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts from Jeff Gates, the New Media Lead Producer for the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Managing Editor for its blog, Eye Level. Jeff is on a family vacation, which sounded like a great excuse to publish his trials and tribulations from the road. You can read Jeff’s first post, second post and third post here.
The highlight of our my Yosemite visit is obvious. Ah, technology and the great outdoors. It couldn’t get any better. My email message documenting the event: “We are blissful at this altitude. What more can I say?
Well, my wife tells me perhaps just a bit more. We spent two days in the park. We started planning this trip back in April but that was already too late to book a room at the famous Ahwahnee Lodge in the Valley. So we spent our two nights at both the eastern and western edges of the park (in Lee Vining and Mariposa). And while we are not known as the All-American Outdoor Family, we did take a few day hikes in both Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley. While we didn’t stay at the Lodge, one morning we ate breakfast in its wood-beamed dining room. From there it was an easy one and a half mile hike to the foot of Half Dome.
As we were hiking towards that famous mountain, about half way up the trail we suddenly came upon a cryptic message spelled out in twigs on the ground. It said “WASHINGTON BEAR” with two arrows pointing north. Did the writer mean to really say “Hey family from Washington, DC, there’s a big black bear over there.
Leave now if you ever hope to return to the bedrock of Western Democracy. Was this message meant for us? I started thinking about the last time I was in Yosemite. Years ago, with my friends Bob and Ellen, I had hiked to 11,000 feet where we camped in a small meadow near a waterfall. We had gone from sea level to 11k in a matter of hours.
And the scenery’s Arcadian beauty provided no antidote for my resulting altitude sickness. I was cold and sick. And in the middle of the night a bear ATTACKED our campsite. Yes, attacked. He was after our food, the food we had not so carefully hung off a large tree branch because we were too cold and too tired to do as the rangers had warned us we must do.
It was a night we still talk about (ask our friends who have put up its retelling all these years); although, the trajectories of our individual tellings have gone off in quite different directions. This cautionary sign brought back that night as if it was yesterday. Would history repeat itself?
A few feet later we came upon what looked to us (the Not All-American Outdoor Family) like bear scat! We wondered if we’d make it to our next vacation stop, Gilroy’s annual Garlic Festival. The scent of garlic seemed so much more pleasant than what lay before us and we listened for any sign of a large animal ahead. When we heard a rustle in the leaves along the path we froze.
Suddenly, from behind a large boulder came a horse. Its rider told us we were on the horse trail leading to Half Dome and that we might find it easier to use the paved path just a few yards to the south of us. Looking through the trees I saw bicyclists and day hikers (more Not All-American Outdoor Family types) walking towards the mountain without a care in the world. They were oblivious to our twig warning.
My nine year old was the first to connect the scat with the right animal. She was quite pleased with her deductive abilities and the fact that she was the only one in the family to use them. We still don’t know who made the twig sign or what it meant. But we’re sure it was meant for us.
Coming up next: Jeff and family at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.