Yosemite Travel – Surf, Snow, Sea Birds, Eagles, Mountain Sheep and a Sacred Spirit

  • The meandering Merced River offers peaceful trout fishing
  • Giant trees, some 10 feet in diameter, can mesmerize visitors
  • High rock mountains offer an unmatched view, even more spectacular during sunrise and sunset
My better half and I smile at the spectacular mountains, many offer a sheer cliff-like face with a wind-blown waterfall mist that glisten at sunrise and sunset, providing hues of glimmering blue, orange and purple.  Forrest Fisher Photo

By Forrest Fisher
The spirit of reflection can provide a trail to the sacred territory. No matter where we travel in 2019, it seems many people say hello with a smile. In all goodness, I think this means it has been a great year in the outdoors and for all folks that enjoy our many special American freedoms each day, like cherishing nature and the simple wonders of the outdoors.

No politics. No special licenses. No extra cost.

All of that sort of thought took my better half and I toward a fresh look at our bucket list, it was getting dusty. Yosemite National Park had been on our list for a few decades, so we decided to “get there” this year to celebrate our 50th wedding year, it seems we needed a good excuse. The trip was two-fold, as it was also to visit our eldest grandchild, Kiley Voss from East Aurora, NY, who is now a Park Ranger there.

We flew into San Francisco, headed for a stop to a remote Pacific Ocean beach and we enjoyed the exhilarating sound of the surf – there were pelicans and sea birds screeching out conversations too. About four hours later we arrived at the park and checked into a nearby hotel to prepare for this highly anticipated Yosemite visit.

There was no wifi signal, no phone signal, and no email. Wow! What a vacation!

The next day we drove 12 miles from the hotel to the Yosemite National Park entrance gate and it felt like the year might have been 1850. No development here.

There were sharply rising mountains made of granite that rose toward the heavens along both sides of the single-lane, very narrow, but paved road.

The Merced River slowly ambles westward along the road, comprised mostly of snowmelt runoff (in September!) from the high mountains in the distance. The river thrives with abundant native rainbow trout and a healthy population of stocked brown trout. We watched an angler or two casting a fly line, it was hard to keep our eyes on the curvy road.

As we proceeded past the gate, the narrow roadway led into a much wider valley with meadows and giant trees, some of them more than 10-feet in diameter. We were astonished to see all of the giant Cedar trees and Ponderosa Pine, Sequoia, Sugar Pine, magnificent Black Oak, aromatic Cedar, and other tree species.

Then suddenly as the roadway opened up, there on the left was El Capitan, the name of a magnificent rock mountain. It is a sheer vertical cliff-like rock structure of solid, polished granite that rises to more than 7,500 feet. Straight ahead was another mountain, “Half-Dome,” more than 8,800 feet high, and then many other similar mountains all around us, many with Indian-based names converted to English. Frankly, we were astonished and speechless. It was that beautiful.

Yosemite Valley is indescribable, beautiful, unimaginable, magnificent, a place where God and the spirit of man and life may exist for all time. I felt that.

That was my first impression upon taking a drive to the place they call Yosemite Village, located in the central east side of the 1,176 square mile park of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains of California.

The Yosemite Visitor Center is one of few places with Wifi service in Yosemite Park, it is located near El-Capitan mountain in the park.  Forrest Fisher Photo

Our granddaughter introduced us to a Native Indian guide that conducted tours for the Indian Museum there. He was humble, and a very knowledgeable gentleman of the local wilderness and ways of the land. His name was Ben Cunningham Summerfield and he shared tales of the earliest inhabitants of the park, the Miwoc Indians (pronounced Me-Wuk).

Our Native Indian guide, Ben Cunningham Summerfield, was a humble and knowledgeable gentleman of the local wilderness and ways of the land. Forrest Fisher Photo

Locally, he said, “The Miwoc were called Awahnichi and they were the Indian people that lived in Awahni.”

From other sources and from my novice understanding, the people of the Awanichi there were referred to as Yohimite or Yohometuk, the converted language meaning “some of them are killers.” Hence the name Yosemite was born from those terms when the Euro-Americans came to the area during the gold rush era of 1849.

Ben said to us, “They found no gold but did disturb the nature and the people of the valley.”

Standing next to a rustic example, Ben explained, “The Awahnichi lived in sturdy roundhouse structures made of pine or cedarwood, lashed together with grapevines and uniquely covered with a thick roof made from dead incense cedar bark, some of the roofs were additionally covered with earth.”

This history was also documented by a late Miwok lady, Isabelle Howard Jimenez, who passed away in 1996, though her sharing of Native information was recorded with her permission and is now available in a free booklet provided by the Yosemite Conservancy. Some of it is shared in this story as provided by Ben. Ben’s stories and tales were notable and mesmerizing., and unforgettable. And there were many.

We so relaxed at watching soaring eagles, circling hawks, many other tree birds, and a gray fox stalking his way through the Yosemite woods, and more. Other visitors that we met at the visitor center were coming in off the hiking trails, everyone seemed to have a smile embedded in their chin. any shared sightings of black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, mule deer and other critters of the Yosemite wild.

Kiley Voss, a Park Ranger at Yosemite National Park in northern California, explains the nature of Yosemite during daily, 2-hour, tram tour events. Forrest Fisher Photo

Among touring highlights, the Park Service offers a 2-hour long tram tour that provides visitors with a 20-mile journey around the Park. Visitors will discover the nature of birds, fish, and wildlife, and trees that are at home in the park, the mountains – their names and geology, the great places to stop for a photo and restroom stop, the history of the park and much more.  Our granddaughter was the host for one of the tours that we took, of course, we were impressed with her complete knowledge and descriptions of all things Yosemite. She even spotted mountain climbers scaling the face of El Capitan. The tram stopped, everyone took pictures of these adventurists suspended about 3,000 feet up the sheer cliff face of the mountain…sleeping on a rope sling. I just thought -WOW! I once considered that treestand hunting might be dangerous.

My better half, Fern, was disappointed at NOT seeing even one bear, but our granddaughter explained, “They’re just not out in the open and along the highways at this time of year, they’re getting ready to hibernate.”

The multiple peaks, snow-covered mountains, snow-melt streams and Yosemite Falls – crystal clear water, rising trout slurping flies from the surface of the Merced River at dusk, the options for hiking and biking amidst all this beauty…simply amazing, to state it modestly.

The Merced River offers clean, pure, snowmelt flow through quiet waters and quick rapids, some areas filled with trout, from the Yosemite mountain tops to the Pacific Ocean. Forrest Fisher Photo

In Yosemite, there is no hunting allowed for specific management reasons (hunting is controlled and conducted by official Park personal for invasive species), fishing is allowed, but like many places, some special rules apply.

For us, this was a trip of a lifetime.

Not judging, but as we entered San Francisco for our air-lift home, we realized the life we love is certainly not in the big cities, but it definitely is in those mountains about four hours away.

Yosemite was unforgettable.

I think God lives in the church of His mountains there. It is a sacred place.

First Moments in Costa Rica – A Student Adventure

The front porch at the student center provided peace, quiet and tropical jungle at our footsteps.

  • Tropical Rain Forests, Ecology and Coffee
  • Endless Valleys, Lush Flora, Warm Climate Fauna
  • Chalupas, Refried Beans, Pico de Gallo, Guacamole, Gallo Pinto…Delicious Food
The lush mountains of Costa Rica offer uninhabited jungle,  small villages and pristine, clean air.

By Kiley Voss

The word “surreal” had been in my vocabulary several few weeks before leaving the United States. As the plane slowly descends, the mountains seem different somehow. They are seemingly more majestic, if only in the way rolling hills covered in trees can be, some partly covered by a few white puffy clouds, adding to the effect.

August 27th, 2018 – Day 1: This day had probably been one of the biggest leading-up-to-days of my entire life. All of the researching, applications, paperwork, scholarships, doctors, farms, preparations and packing for almost one year has led to this day. Success! Here I am in Costa Rica!

Studying Conservation Biology at SUNY ESF (State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry), I have used the second to last semester of my senior year to complete a study abroad program for three months in Costa Rica, taking classes and getting hands-on learning. The School for Field Studies (SFS) title of their program is Sustainable Development Studies, with classes in resource management, tropical ecology, environmental ethics and directed research.

Arriving at the SFS Center, after the bus took all 22 of us students down winding roads, through hills and valleys of lush emerald green flora, passing vibrant-colored one floor houses, cattle and dogs…and people in cars and on motorbikes, we saw our home for the next three months. It was located at the very end of a road just before the level land drops off into a valley.  The Center is more plants than buildings, with orange trees and mango trees, a pollinator garden, greenhouses, vegetable beds and composting areas (to make affordable mulch).

Driving in Costa Rica offers the exciting view of high-rising mountains and rolling hills galore.

Touring our new home briefly, we find the outdoor classroom, where in a few moments we will be having dinner. Dinner will always be served in the dark, as the sun sets at 5:30 p.m. and dinner will always be at 6 p.m. Wearing our rain boots, which is required of all of us after dark to protect ourselves from possible venomous snakes that are on our Campus Center, we head to the open classroom. We get our first taste of Costa Rican food as we make our own chalupas, an open-faced hard tortilla, in a buffet line style, with options in order of meat, refried beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole and shredded cheese.

I’m still in awe. I can’t believe I’m actually here! There are so many noises that I hear outside my shared bedroom, that I don’t know if they are bird or monkey or insect, and that’s the weirdest, but most exciting thought! I am so used to hearing birds, mammals, or insects back in New York that I can place to the species if heard that this is a whole new world.

August 28th, 2018 – Day 2: Waking up with the sun at 5:30 a.m. today gave me time to journal on one of three hammocks we have on our dorm front porch, as well as two swinging chairs and rocking chairs. It was the absolute best. So peaceful. Time to think with nature. Looking out into the trees surrounding our view, I saw two hummingbirds and two ground birds, while hearing a variety of sounds that for the life of me, I can’t place.

Our front porch at the Campus Center provided the peace and quiet of nearby tropical forest. 

At 7 a.m., the breakfast bell rings, and the aroma of unknown food lures us to the kitchen. We find that the kitchen, which is at the very edge of the center and the hill that it sits upon, offers a beautiful overlook. Breakfast was absolutely delicious, a mix of rice and beans (which I would later find out is called gallo pinto), scrambled eggs and fried plantains, which are, put simply, a bigger form of a banana.

The kitchen window provided a bountiful view of our backyard.

Getting a tour of the farm, after learning about the cucumbers and peppers that are grown in the raised beds, one of the students spots a small brown body low on an orange tree. Looking more closely, we realize it’s an owl! I run quickly back to the dorms to grab my camera, and later learn it was a little Ferruginous pygmy-owl! An avid birder, this is a huge find because:

  1. Birds of prey are always harder to see in the wild than sparrows, finches, or other herbivore/omnivore birds are.
  2. An owl seen during the day is a rarity.
  3. After looking up the range of the species, I realize I would have never had the chance to see it in the northeastern U.S.
A common owl of tropical lowlands, the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is often seen during the daytime (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

This is the first time I have ever seen this bird and it may be the last. Thankfully, this bird’s “pinging” sound will be heard from our dorms all throughout the three months, I will later discover.

We continue on our day, learning about our home, this new country, and getting to know one another, getting our first glimpses at what life will be like here.

First thoughts of Costa Rica?

A grand adventure full of firsts, but I already know I’m going to love it here!