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Being so close to Yosemite is a blessing
I have relatives who are "jealous" that I live in a location that is hours from perhaps the greatest natural wonder in the world, Yosemite National Park. I confess that years of living as a flat lander in a relatively uneventful valley has its reward in being only a half tank from this sublime wonder. We're so close that on a clear day - they are rare - one can see Half Dome with the naked eye from Keyes Road.

It seems too good to be true to be so close to this jewel.

Last Saturday my wife and I left the house a little after 9 a.m. and were there well before noon. The normal Saturday crowd was clogging sections of the Valley road and I grumbled at how first-time visitors were backing up traffic near Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan and later Yosemite Falls. I'm astounded at the various international accents and languages spoken by visitors. People from across the globe quietly slip through our Valley as they make the pilgrimage to this 4,000-foot-high valley known for its immense beauty, cascading waterfalls, granite monoliths, lofty snow-capped cliffs and varied wildlife.

After lunch at Curry Village, we ventured off across a raised meadow boardwalk and struck out on a trail where people became fewer and fewer. The Merced River was flowing fast and wide and the dogwood blooms were popping. A wisp of fragrance of sun-warmed forest humus hit my nose and suddenly I was 13 and on my first forest exploration with buddies.

It always does my soul good to visit Yosemite. Maybe others throughout the world yearn to see it for the same reason. It's just as beautiful today as it was when I was a kid and probably since white man first entered it in 1849.

Years ago I spoke to someone living out of the area who was under the assumption that Yosemite was both too crowded to visit and that it's natural beauty was damaged by people. Media hype, for sure.

I balk, too, when I hear naturalists claim that people are destroying the park. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yet the Park Service has slowly choked off public access over the years. There are countless meadows closed to pedestrians, roads closed to cars and abandoned campgrounds. When grand old hotel burned, they weren't replaced. Consider that hay was being cultivated on the Valley floor over 100 years ago, large hotels dotted the Valley, people were driving through massive trees and pushing burning embers off of Glacier Point as late as the 1960s. While the elimination of these practices was probably a good thing - the firefall was eliminated because people were trampling the meadows at night to get a good view - the Park Service comes up with more onerous rules.

I was one of the thousands who enjoyed an annual climb to the summit of Half Dome until the Park Service decided - in light of sporadic climber deaths - to implement a new permit process. At first the permits were required for weekends until they found that weekday hikes spiked in numbers. Now a permit is required, on a first-come, first-served basis, for any day. The problem with the system is that the $1.50 permits go like hot cakes within minutes of being released and people are now scalping them like concert tickets. I've been unable to get one.

I understand that the Park Service wanted to thin out the crowds on the cables. The deaths were a result of carelessness, impatience and stupidity, not necessarily numbers of hikers. The service could have just as easily taken up my suggestion of drilling a more parallel holes and adding a new string of cable for an up lane and a down lane for safer maneuvering. They opted for an aggravating bureaucratic process.

Don't get me wrong. I would be mortified to see anyone die on a rock but I'm not sure the U.S. government bureaucracy has eliminated the problem. As heavily visited as Yosemite is - as well it such be - people will unfortunately die scampering on rocks or falling in raging waters. It's a place of nature and we're willing to risk the hazards of being there and exploring it.

Yosemite is our park. We should all make a point to get up there more often.

How do you feel? Let Jeff by e-mailing him at