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Yosemite Celebrates 150 Years

Posted by Mary-Frances Walsh on 6/27/2014
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Travel, Nature, Tauck, National Parks

yosemite pano

Half Dome, Glacier Point, El Capitan, Cathedral Rock, hundreds of wildflowers, the world’s largest living things (Sequoias) and the tallest waterfalls in North America are some of the incomparable sights that bring visitors from around the world to Yosemite each year. Thanks to the efforts of those who first began to think differently about how we as a people value Nature’s gems, Yosemite’s sights were preserved for all of us 150 years ago this month.

Everybody needs beauty… places to play and pray in, where Nature
may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.
” – John Muir

Exquisite Beauty & 150 years of protection
In the early 1860s, while the Civil War raged in the Eastern U.S., forces of change were brewing in the West – creating a new way of looking at lands of remarkable natural beauty. The “seeds of change,” as author and filmmaker Dayton Duncan has written, were taking root. They were given firm ground in which to sprout with Abraham Lincoln’s signature on the Yosemite Grant Act of June 1864.

yosemite videoThis legislation marked the first time that the federal government acted to set aside land for “inalienable public use, resort and entertainment.” Until that time, as Duncan points out, Congress had been in the business of giving away land to homesteaders, miners and railroads – to those who would put it to use. The idea of protecting lands from commercial development and preserving them for future generations was given a new sense of value. It came at a time in U.S. history when hope for peaceful beauty was sorely needed.

The Act set aside portions of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove’s big Sequoias as the nation’s first state park, to be administered by the State of California. It was not until 1890 – after the creation of Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872 (as Wyoming was not yet a state) – that Yosemite was made a national park. However, the groundbreaking concept of acting to protect a place of wild beauty for use by the general public remains Yosemite’s pride of place.

Some of the voices behind Yosemite’s preservation:

  • The Buffalo Soldiers, the African-American Calvary troops who rode hundreds of miles from their post at the Presidio in San Francisco (1890 to 1916) to seasonally patrol and protect the Yosemite Valley – building roads and trails, stopping poachers, and putting out forest fires.
  • Carleton Watkins, a San Francisco photographer who visited Yosemite in 1861. His striking Yosemite portraits established him as an early master of landscape photography and influenced Congress’ decision to pass legislation protecting Yosemite.
  • California Senator John Conness, who owned a set of Watkins’ prints. Conness laid the foundation for Congress’ adoption of the Yosemite Grant Act and may have shown political astuteness in gaining approval (with little debate) by referring to the Valley and Grove as “worthless” land.
  • John Muir, a Scottish-born Mid-Westerner who lived in Yosemite Valley on and off from 1868-1874, doing odd jobs and writing about the experience in newspaper articles. His writings helped to spread awareness of Yosemite’s beauty and of the need to protect this heritage for future generations.
  • Frederic Law Olmsted, the designer of New York City’s Central Park, who after visiting Yosemite in 1865, called it “the greatest glory of nature… the union of the deepest sublimity with the deepest beauty of nature” and served as a Yosemite park commissioner.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt, who having never experienced the West’s forests, went camping in Yosemite with John Muir for four days in 1906. Their campfire-side conversations convinced Roosevelt of the need to put Yosemite under permanent federal management, which led to its being named a national park that same year.

The Bracebridge Dinner:  a Yosemite tradition & a Tauck-Event first!

bracebridgeThe grand Ahwahnee® hotel, designed to attract the wealthy and powerful – and to further the goal of protecting the park through their influence – was completed in 1927. That December ushered in the hotel’s first Bracebridge Dinner, an event that has transformed The Ahwahnee Dining Room into the scene of an elaborate feast of food, song and yuletide fun for the past 86 years.

Based on Washington Irving’s tales of Bracebridge Hall, the dinner transports guests to Old England, where a glorious entourage of costumed singers and performers tell the amusingly irreverent story of Lord Bracebridge’s Christmas feast. Meticulous choreography, elaborate decorations, and a lavish 7-course dinner transform the 34-ft.-high ceilinged Dining Room into the manor’s Great Hall. The snow-blanketed Yosemite Valley serves as a backdrop. Featured on the cover of Life magazine in 1938 and called “the world’s premier Christmas Dinner,” by the Wall Street Journal, the event remains a unique and highly sought-after experience.

This December our guests on The Tauck Yosemite Event (December 13 – 18, 2014) will enjoy:
  • A two-night stay at The Ahwahnee®
  • Specially reserved seats at the 87th annual Bracebridge Dinner
  • Keynote address by Dayton Duncan, Yosemite at 150: From Tiny Seed to Might Sequoia
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