October 24, 2020

Virtual Trip to 1940s Yosemite National Park–The Ahwahnee Hotel (completed in July 1927), 10/18/2020 (watercolor and Intense pencil on watercolor paper)

This week’s virtual group sketching trip was courtesy of me—one CA girl! Before we got together to actually sketch I presented an idea to our leader. I told her I was interested in hosting a virtual tour of Yosemite’s floor of the valley. But there was more to the idea in that I also planned to engage my time machine and take us to 1940’s Yosemite—even before I was born. You might well ask, how is that even possible? Well, as all of this would be virtual anyway, anything’s possible, right? My mother’s father (my maternal grandfather) was the plumber for Yosemite Park and Curry Co during WWII. And even though I wasn’t there to experience first hand what it was like to live in Yosemite during that war, my mother, aunt and uncle were, and they certainly told my brothers and I their stories. Sadly, I never heard directly from my grandmother or grandfather about life there at that time. My grandmother died before I was born and my grandfather died before I was 2. But based on what my mom and her siblings reported, plus a couple perfect Yosemite photos I found online, I think I did a satisfactory job. Who really knows what it was like, none of us were really there. And last Sunday morning we traveled to wartime Yosemite for some much needed virtual away time of sketching. If you think about it, any recent photo of Yosemite taken without cars or people will show you exactly what it looked like in the 40s. In fact, if you take away all the buildings and roads (even what was left of the Indian Village in 1940), the floor of the valley has looked exactly the same for at least the last couple million years. Amazing, right?

Not sure I’m inclined to just retell last Sunday’s previous generations stories in this post. As I look once again at my sketch of the Ahwahnee I am now thinking of jumping forward in the time machine and going back to when I went there as one young CA girl. We didn’t go there a lot, but I vividly remember tent camping and staying at the lodge. OK, maybe I’m inclined to tell a few of the old stories related to the Ahwahnee, but I will be sure to share some of my own as well. My mom remembers it fondly as this grand place where the “swells” stayed and where the Bracebridge dinners were held (not during the war years) and Ansel Adams was the squire for those dinner show evenings. She also spoke of the US Navy leasing the hotel as a kind of hospital for injured sailors who were sent to the Ahwahnee to recuperate during WWII. It’s actually kind of hard to imagine transporting the sick and wounded on that road into Yosemite valley. I’ve been on the road from Oakhurst to the park’s entrance, as well as the one from Mariposa. Neither road is a straight shot, but each has many twists and turns. I think I’ve always preferred the road to and from Mariposa as it goes along the Merced River and there have been some years when I remember seeing dogwood trees in full bloom. I don’t think my mom or her siblings ever ate or stayed at the Ahwanhee until they were all adults. I certainly have no memory of setting foot in there when I was young. It has always been pretty fancy and we were usually pretty grubby from camping. I do remember one visit to the nearby gift shop when Rock Hudson was spotted. I have to admit I was nonplussed with the thought if seeing him walking around as I was busy combing the shelves for the perfect souvenir. But there was quite a bit of chatter all throughout the store and my mom was definitely distracted and not really focusing on what I was trying to show her. Of all the nerve! 

I fondly remember camping in the Yosemite Creek Campground with my family and my uncle when we were pretty small. I remember my uncle thought it a good idea to put the cartons of milk we had brought with us in the cool water of the creek that flowed near our campsite and tents. I also remember waking up that first morning with all the milk gone and each carton showing the clear marks of a bear’s claws. I don’t remember feeling afraid at all, but kind of in awe at the sight of the jagged marks on the cartons left behind by the bears. Thinking back now I can’t believe my uncle did such a dumb thing! He and my aunt didn’t even have a tent and were sleeping in cots “under the stars”—not that a tent would have protected us at all if a bear wanted to get inside where we were. At least my mom knew enough to not let us even have the tiniest bit of food in the tent. Unlike my uncle, she seemed to remember that Yosemite has always had bears!

Virtual Trip to 1940s Yosemite National Park–Curry Village with dogwood in bloom and spring snow (If you Google “dogwood blossoms at Curry Village” you’ll see what this spot looks like in color.) 10/18/2020 (pen and ink on watercolor paper)

It’s funny, but for the second sketch I gave the group a choice between a higher altitude (7200 feet above sea level) heady shot of Yosemite valley from Glacier Point as well as a more down to earth intimate shot of Curry Village taken in spring when the dogwood trees were loaded with big fat and fluffy blossoms. Hands down, my 30 virtual travelers almost unanimously chose springtime in Curry Village. The photo gave us quite a spectacular vision as there had been a late spring snow and the surrounding conifers were lightly dusted with powdery white and all around were countless white dogwood flowers in full bloom. This blooming vision immediately put me in mind of my mom. One of the memories she often shared about living in Yosemite were the dogwood trees in bloom in spring. Native CA dogwoods are all over the floor of the valley as well as all along the road from Mariposa. So, for this virtual part of the journey I will dedicate it to my mom, with only her longer ago story to tell. I can only imagine the visually stunning treat she must have seen looking out of the school bus window as she went back and forth to school each day in spring. 

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