Dean M. Chriss
Nevada Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Yowihe, Ahwahnee National Park, California

(Click image to enlarge)

Yosemite National Park was undoubtedly the most beautiful and photogenic place I have ever visited. The scale, form, proximity and proportion of its enormous and reflective granite features, all punctuated by large waterfalls, is truly astounding. In this photograph the Merced River drops 594 feet (181 m) over Nevada Fall. It is located next to a soaring granite dome called Liberty Cap, which is seen in the upper left of this photograph. Nevada Fall has a unique shape, with the water free falling for about the first third of its height before impacting a steep slope. This mid-fall impact creates a turbulent, whitewater appearance in the water and produces a great deal of mist that covers a large area. This led to its current name Nevada, which is Spanish for "snowy". Nevada Fall was originally named Yo-wy-we, signifying the twist or squirm of the falling water, by the indigenous Ahwahneechee people living in the valley. The first non-natives to enter the Yosemite Valley, which was named Ahwahnee, were members of the Mariposa Battalion led by Lafayette Bunnell. They named the valley Yosemite, and gave non-indigenous names to all of the valley's features including this waterfall. The Ahwahneechee were undoubtedly overjoyed with the new names and the takeover of the paradise they called home, but the worst was yet to come.

The incredible beauty of Yosemite caused it to be America's first national park to become severely overcrowded. I visited the park three times before it was first closed due to overcrowding in June of 1993, and twice between then and 1999. Two of those visits were in spring, two were in winter, and one was in autumn. Autumn colors in Yosemite Valley are nice but the waterfalls are either dry or reduced to a trickle. It was my least favorite season. Winter is much nicer, but much less comfortable, and many features are inaccessible due to snow. On one visit there was a four foot (1.2 m) snowfall on my first night. After finding my vehicle, digging it out, and installing tire chains (which everyone is required to have), the valley was absolutely stunning. But spring, when the waterfalls are at or near their peak flow is by far my favorite season in Yosemite.

I'd love to go back, but the Yosemite I knew no longer exists. Pine bark beetles, fire, and severe drought, all fueled by climate change, have browned the forests. Traffic jams, reservation requirements, the need to use busses to move within the valley, and the unimaginably massive crowds make it a place I no longer want to experience. I am very fortunate to have visited when I did.