One of my favorite Yosemite memories comes from my childhood. One summer evening I was playing outside with my friends, when all of a sudden my dad bounded out the front door and piled us all into the back of his new Ford pickup truck. When we asked where we were going he simply replied, “Off on an adventure.” We eventually ended up in Yosemite Valley, where we waited in anticipation for what my dad only described as a “magical” moment.
And then it happened. I wasn’t sure exactly what had transpired, but I still recall seeing what appeared to be a glowing waterfall tumble down over the mountainside. And then it was over. “That was the Yosemite Firefall,” my dad triumphantly declared. I jumped up and down and enthusiastically screamed, “Do again!” And in a way we did, as we returned to see the Firefall every Friday that summer.
And for those of you who aren’t familiar with this vintage Yosemite event, it had absolutely nothing to do with a waterfall. Quite the contrary. In days of yore the folks up at the Glacier Point Hotel routinely lit up a bonfire every evening, and then scooted the embers over the cliff at precisely 9:00 p.m. It was a sight to behold, and it also made a magnificent grand finale for the Camp Curry nightly campfire program in the valley. Years later the practice was outlawed — for obvious reasons — but I’m pretty sure John Muir was rolling over in his grave while it continued.
Several years ago I shared the story of the Firefall with a younger colleague at a conference. She looked at me like I was crazy. “No seriously, it happened,” I affirmed, “Google it.” A few weeks later she e-mailed me and told me that indeed she had Googled it and was amazed to find out that my story about the Yosemite Firefall was correct. She was also quite horrified about the whole practice. My one-sentence reply to her was simply, “We’ve come a long way baby.”
And we certainly have.
Not only do we no longer throw piles of burning embers off Glacier Point, but we’ve also come a long way with access in all three of the parks covered in this book.
For example, for many years the trail to Lower Yosemite Fall was rated as “accessible with assistance”, but to be honest most wheelchair-users and slow walkers needed a heck of a lot of assistance to make it up the last patch of that steep slippery trail. That all changed in 2005, when a new accessible trail to Lower Yosemite Fall was unveiled, and I was thrilled to be at the dedication ceremony. I remember telling Mark Wellman that day, “We’ve come a long way baby!” And again, we certainly have!
And that’s one of the reasons I wrote this book– because we have come a long way. I want to let people know that despite the rugged terrain, there have been many access upgrades in the parks, and today there’s no shortage of accessible trails, attractions and lodging options in Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Plus, it’s also nice to have all this access information at your fingertips.
Another reason I wrote this book is to give folks more accessible lodging choices. Staying inside the park is the optimal choice, but sometimes that just isn’t possible, as these properties book up quickly. With that in mind I’ve also included properties in neighboring communities, and in the adjacent national forest. And I’m happy to say that these choices have recently expanded, thanks to the 2016 opening of the new Rush Creek Lodge, near the Big Oak Flat entrance. It’s a beautiful property, with a great location and top-notch access.
I also wrote this book because I realize the importance of updated information. The internet can be a blessing or a curse, as there’s a lot of information out there, but in my experience, some of it is quite dated. That’s why I visited every site covered in this book — some more than once.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about the scope of the book here. To be honest, I broadened it a bit after I sat back and thought about people’s travel habits. At first the book was just going to cover Yosemite, but I soon realized that many people entirely overlook Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks when they plan a Yosemite visit. Granted I spent an extra month on research in order to include those two parks, but I felt it was well worth the effort, as both parks boast an impressive collection of accessible trails, attractions and lodging options. So don’t miss out on these two gems of the Sierras — either on their own or in conjunction with a Yosemite visit.
And although Sequoia National Park is famous for its giant sequoias, it should be noted these magnificent trees can also be found in Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks. The National Park Service also took notice of this when they chose a giant sequoia to appear on their arrowhead logo. This was done because of efforts in all three parks — the second third and fourth national parks in the system — to protect the giant trees.
Even though I love to reminisce about my childhood in Yosemite, I still enjoy visiting this California treasure today. In fact I have a home in the Sierras about halfway between Yosemite and Sequoia, so I’m in a prime position to explore all three of the parks covered in this book. I’m also in the perfect location to keep up with changes in these parks, and that’s exactly what I plan to do. And I’ll be posting those changes on the book website at www.barrierfreeyosemite.com/updates/; but don’t hesitate to contact me if you spot something that I miss. And be sure to check the website for the most updated access information before you hit the road.
Have a great time in these three national parks! And drop me a note to tell me how your visit went.
We really have come a long way! And I’m thrilled to have witnessed the evolution.