Yosemite Voices 3: Scenic Vistas Transcript


Ranger Bob Roney: Podcasting from Yosemite Valley - It’s Yosemite Voices.




Man: Vista would be view. Spectacular, beautiful, awesome

Man 2: Hermosa (Spanish)

Man: Hermosa


Man 3: You know people started waving the red flag and saying, “Hey wait a minute. What’s happening to views here? You can’t see anything all we have here are…


Woman: We are hoping to hear from the public, and there’s a lot of ways people can reach us and let us know what they’re thinking…



Ranger Roney: Yosemite Voices is a series of audio podcasts intended to provide insights into the natural and cultural history and management of Yosemite National Park. We also explore the lives of and lifestyles of the people who live and work here.



Ranger Roney: Welcome to Yosemite Voices. It’s Tuesday afternoon on the tenth of February and I’m standing here at Tunnel View looking at an incredible view of Yosemite Valley. This is the viewpoint below the tunnel along the Wawona Road, which enters the valley from the south. It’s been a beautiful day here. The trees are still holding the snow that fell yesterday. The stern face of El Capitan stands on left side of this incredible vista. On the Right, Bridalveil Fall spills lazily from its hanging valley. In the distance Clouds Rest, rising to nearly ten thousand feet is clothed in snow. Yosemite’s signature icon, Half Dome, also capped with snow, sits to the right of Clouds Rest. From here, I can also see Sentinel Rock, Sentinel Dome, Cathedral Rocks, and Leaning Tower. Dappled sunlight floats across the scene as clouds drift across the sky. This view is spectacular! Today we’re going to talk about views, how they’ve changed, and what we’ve done over the years to maintain them.

Some people call this inspiration point. It’s the most recent of a line of inspiration points that began high up on the mountain behind me. Historically, the first Inspiration Point was along a trail up there. When the wagon road was built back in the eighteen seventies, Inspiration Point moved down the mountain with the road and the original appeared on the maps as Old Inspiration Point. Tunnel View is now the “inspiration point” on the route into the valley.

A civilian militia called the Mariposa Battalion entered the valley near here on an expedition to rid this part of the sierra of Indians. Among those first non- Indians was a man named Lafayette Bunnell. He wrote of his first experience upon looking into Yosemite Valley from near here.

None but those who have visited this most wonderful valley can even imagine the feelings with which I looked upon the view that was there presented. The grandeur of the scene was but softened by the haze that hung over the valley, —light as gossamer—and by the clouds, which partially dimmed the higher cliffs and mountains. This obscurity of vision but increased the awe with which I beheld it, and as I looked, a peculiar exalted sensation seemed to fill my whole being, and I found my eyes in tears with emotion.

Ever since Bunnell’s first view, millions have been inspired by views of Yosemite. Scenic vistas can be life changing. My first view of Yosemite Valley back in nineteen sixty-seven surely was. About a month ago, as the full moon rose, a life-changing event occurred here. I happened to be standing nearby when it happened.


Man: We’ve been together for a while now – and I can’t imagine life without you. As I’m for a loss of words. So, will you marry me?

Woman: Yes!

Man: I’d been walking all over the valley looking for a place to propose, and when I saw the moon come up – this was the best place to do it. You can see the entire valley from here, under moonlight.

Ranger Roney: All day long you’re walking around the valley wondering where you were going to do it, when you were going to do it. Were you nervous about it?

Man: Yes. I couldn’t find the right words.

Woman: He kept on shaking his leg. I’m all, why are you so nervous?

Man: I kept trying to find the right words and everything else. They just were not coming.

Ranger Roney: That’s amazing. What did you think was up with him?

Woman: I don’t know. He just seemed really nervous. The leg shaking thing - I’m all – What’s wrong? He’s all – Nothing. I’m fine.

Ranger Roney: Was it romantic?

Woman: Oh yes. With the moon it was perfect.

Ranger Roney: Thank you so much for sharing that moment with us.

Man: No problem


Ranger Roney: Now there’s a very special vista down on the valley floor. I’d like to take you there.


Ranger Roney: This viewpoint is called Valley View. It’s easy to miss because it’s on the way out of the valley and the view is behind you as you drive by. We’re alongside the Merced River, which makes a lovely foreground to the view and great background sound track. Across the river I see a wide-open meadow lined with conifers. Two massive rocks frame the scene with El Capitan on the left and the Cathedral rocks on the right. Bridal veil drops over the cliff below the cathedral rocks. If I crane my neck to the far left, I can see Ribbon Fall dropping sixteen hundred feet. This vista is more intimate that the vast expanse seen from Tunnel View. I remember when you could see half Dome and Clouds Rest clearly from here. Today I can just make out their shapes through the trees rising above the far end of the meadow across the river. Behind me, there’s a sign indicating the high water line from the Flood we had here in nineteen ninety-seven. That flood affected the view here. In the years following the flood, vegetation grew into a thicket that obstructed the view. Crews cut the vegetation back and once again people can enjoy the view.

I want to take you to another vista point further into the valley.


Right now we’re passing the turnout for the Three Brothers. I can see them playing peek-a-boo through the trees but there is no clear view of them. The Viewpoint I want to tell you about is further up in that turnout with the two large cedar trees in the middle.


Ranger Roney: Back in the nineteen thirties, the US postal system issued ten stamps celebrating the national parks. The first stamp, was released on July sixteenth nineteen thirty-four. It pictured a view from here. You can easily find a picture of that stamp on the Internet. On that stamp, you can see the entire profile of El Capitan all the way down to the base. A few trees are silhouetted against the massive stone face, but they cover very little of El Capitan. Victoria Mates, one of my colleagues, told me about her experience with this view.

Victoria Mates: One of my duties here has been to Manage and create and install interpretive exhibits. And that includes the wayside exhibits in the park. And after being here for a year…

Ranger Roney: Now the waysides those are the signs that people...

Victoria Mates: Yeah. Those are the ones you see along the side of the road, on the side of the trail. They’re generally about two feet by three feet and at an angle. They generally interpret the scenery that you’re looking at. So one of the qualities of the wayside exhibit is that it helps interpret the place that you’re standing in. and I started to recognize when I started to inventory the waysides that you could no longer see the resource that was being described. For example there’s a pull out on Southside Drive we call the North American Wall Pullout. And there’s an exhibit that interpreted the North American Wall of El Capitan. There were some trees that had grown up and you couldn’t see the North American wall from the wayside. So we made the decision to take the wayside out because it was no longer relevant.

Ranger Roney: You couldn’t move the wayside to another part of the parking area?

Victoria Mates: There weren’t any clear gaps between the trees and beyond that there weren’t just the big trees. There were lots of seedlings and brush and other plants that were growing up in those areas.


Ranger Roney: One of the Indians Lafayette Bunnell helped remove from Yosemite Valley was a young girl named Totuya. Totuya was ten or twelve years old at the time. And once taken away by the Mariposa Battalion, she would stay away from her mountain home for over seventy-five years. In the Late nineteen twenties, an old woman named Maria Lebrado Ydrte came to the attention of some ranger naturalists and the museum librarian. As it turned out Maria, who was living in the mountains near Mariposa was in fact To-tu-ya. In nineteen twenty-nine she visited Yosemite Valley for the first time since her childhood. During her stay she commented about the state of the valley. Shaking her head, she said, “Too dirty; too much bushy - Ahwahnee too dirty bushy. To her eyes, the valley had become overgrown with shrubs and trees.

At about that time, another woman was visiting Yosemite. And she would not return for fifty years. In the 1970s she approached a young ranger with a question. She asked what had happened to the valley. “Ranger, you can’t see the views. When I was here fifty years ago there were beautiful views of all the rocks and waterfalls. Now you can’t see the views for all the trees!”

I was that ranger and I didn’t know what to say. I had only been working here for a few years, and I was totally inspired by the views. I do remember, though, a particular tree along the trail to my tent cabin near Yosemite Village. It was about four feet high, and I remember running home for lunch one day, and in my exuberance, I jumped over it. At the time I thought to myself, “When I have kids, I’ll bring them over here and show them the tree I jumped over. Today that tree is sixty feet tall, and doing its part in hiding the scenery for which this park was originally set aside.

Victoria Mates: Tunnel View is another example of a place that was once a broad sweeping vista and the trees had grown up to obscure the view. And now the trees have been removed so now the view has been restored. It used to be that whenever a tour bus, or a tram, or a large tour group would be congregated in that area, they were all jockeying for the sweet spot. There was one area where you could get the money shot if you were a photographer. It was between some trees. There wasn’t a terribly wide sidewalk there. And so you would see just clumps of people in this one area because that’s where the most stunning view – or the most holistic view of the valley was that you could get through the trees. Now that the trees are clear there is a much more wide place where people can view that scene from several dozen angles rather than just that one.

Ranger Roney: Any kind of controversy over that?

Victoria Mates: There were quite a few people who would like to have seen the trees to stay. Of course there are two sides to every argument. There are also many people that are thrilled that that view has been restored.


Ranger Roney: Had you been here before they cut the trees?

Man: Is that what they did? ‘Cause I thought I remembered more trees being in the way. So they cut them huh?

Ranger Roney: Yeah they cut quite a few.

Man: It was hard. There were only a few spots you could shoot from. Them I’m going, “Man it seems there’s more room you can shoot from now.”

Ranger Roney: What do you think of the view now that the trees have been cut?

Woman: I like it. It seems expansive. The grandeur, the size seems bigger. It’s like you cant touch it. It’s huge.

Man: Yeah cause it used to be hard. There was only a couple little spots you could shoot from. Everybody was fighting over them.

Man 2: Una vista hermosa espacular. Vista would be view.

Ranger Roney: Yes

Man 2: Spectacular, beautiful, awesome…

Ranger Roney: Hermosa.

Man 2: Hermosa say.

Ranger Roney: now what did you say?

Man 2: (repeats question in Spanish)

Woman: Hermosa! Very nice!

Ranger Roney: Bonita?

Woman: Muy bonita!

Man 2: Muy! Bonita!


Ranger Roney: I spoke with Brian Mattos, our park forester about changes to views in Yosemite. When we set aside Yosemite Valley it was mostly open. Now it’s mostly forested. What happened?

Brian Mattos: Well a lot of things happened. Probably one of the biggest things would have been the cessation of regular burning by Native Americans. And then when Europeans got settled in here they decided there were too many mosquitoes the wanted to lower the water table. The blasted the terminal moraine down by Bridalveil…dried things out so trees could more successfully invade the edges of what had been wet meadows. Or even the open woodlands that were there that didn’t have a lot of trees in them. Then further draining of the meadows through ditching, and then there’s been tree planting, and probably all these activities had good intentions but comprehensively they changed the landscape.

Ranger Roney: Landscape architect with Yosemite’s division of Resource Management and Science, Brian Chilcott had this to add.

Bryan Chilcott: You know, you look at the oldest photographs from the 1050s the 1860s and, of course, you see more of an oak savannah type of landscape in the valley – a lot of wet meadows and a lot of openness, a lot of open views and every decade since then the conifers have succeeded the oak savannah and now we have mostly a mixed coniferous forest in the valley. You know, people started waiving the red flag and saying, “hey wait a minute. What’s happening to our views? We can’t see anything. All we have are these conifers. The oaks are disappearing. Everything’s a mess.

Brian Mattos: We’ve had piecemeal efforts. We had a complaint about the San Joaquin Overlook in the Road Guide but you can’t see the San Joaquin Valley anymore. So there was a very narrow scope project to open just a scant corridor where you can stand in one place and see a little slice of the San Joaquin Valley again. As I mentioned Hutchings View and what was called the main viewing area over on the lodge side was re opened during the Yosemite Falls project. We did some vista – reestablishment really maintenance at that project, but we haven’t put together any programmatic plan.

Ranger Roney: …But we are now. Yosemite’s Chief of Resource Management and Science, Doctor Niki Nicholas explains.

Dr. Nicholas: We’re now working on Yosemite’s Scenic Vista Management Plan. The purpose of this plan is to guide management actions by the national park service to protect and restore Yosemite’s historic viewpoints and, of course the natural processes that created them. We also want to preserve the historic and cultural settings in which the viewpoints were established.

I think that most people when they come to Yosemite National Park just are just awed or stunned by the views that they see and they look up and see these amazing granite rock faces and Because of past management some of those vistas and viewpoints aren’t even visible anymore.

Brian Chilcott: My responsibility has been mostly in a technical capacity where I’ve been doing a lot of the background research in the archives. But I’ve been in the field documenting a lot of documentation of historic viewpoints and documenting vegetation encroachment in the valley. Looking at historic pictures and getting them side by side with current pictures to be able to compare differences.

Ranger Roney: I asked Brian Mattos what sort techniques we might use to rehabilitate and maintain views.

Brian Mattos: Well you really can’t beat the chainsaw for the expediency of opening up a small vista. In the longer term and certainly on a landscape scale, prescribed fire a lot the native Americans used… well what we call prescribed fire. But regular burning to keep views open…

Brian Chilcott: We can’t preserve every view. We can’t just run around willy-nilly and deciding where we’d like to see something from and start removing trees.

Ranger Roney: The 1980 General Management Plan says we’re to let natural processes prevail. How does taking out shrubs and trees out to restore a view people were getting a hundred years ago reconcile itself with that?

Bryan Chilcott: Well the first thing that everybody needs to understand is that the landscape in Yosemite Valley in particular is not really natural. Processes that would have moderated succession in the valley were cut off when the fire suppression began a long long time ago. So the views were a byproduct of a different landscape. Before moraines were removed, before ditches were dug, before meadows were tilled and planted. The lowering of the ground water table subsequent to various forms of hydrological manipulation and the suppression of wildfire are two major ecological processes that were changed.

Brian Mattos: So the public will be involved first during our scoping. We will have it featured at an open house.

And try and get messages for the public to send in their ideas. What are their favorite vistas? How should we be managing them? So scoping is coming up soon. We want to hear from them.

Ranger Roney: Great. What does scoping mean?

Brian Mattos (laughs): Scoping is just the term that says, “Hey, here’s our idea. What do you think about it?”

Brian Chilcott: I think having a plan helps to get everybody together to talk about what needs to happen. And to formulate it in such a way that it happens with everybody’s good graces and in a sensible timely manner.

Dr. Nicholas: We are hoping to hear from the public and there are a lot of ways people can reach us and let us know what they’re thinking. We’re accepting emails. We’re accepting letters. We are having posters put out at open houses. We are going to have walks around the park where we’re going to ask people to come and give us comments during those walks. Anyway people want to comment on this proposed plan, we want to hear from people.

Ranger Roney: If you’d like to participate in our planning efforts, the public scoping period is from February 12th to March 20th. For information the best place to go to is our website, www.nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/vista.htm

If you want to comment by mail, address them to:


Attn: Scenic Vista Management Plan

P.O. Box 577, Yosemite, CA 95389

The phone number is: 209/379-1365; our fax number is: 209/379-1294

Well that’s it for today’s Yosemite Voices.

In the meantime remember Yosemite is YOUR Park. We’ll stay here and take care of things until you return.


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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