Friday, May 05, 2006 | (An eight-hour drive to the north, Yosemite waterfalls nearing peak)

A travel advisory:

Those forever astonishing waterfalls are thundering down the sheer granite walls of Yosemite Valley. The snowmelt of the vast high country above the valley will sustain the falls into late summer. They offer an unforgettable scene that Ansel Adams and thousands of lesser photographers have memorialized. For those of us in thirsty San Diego, at the end of California’s water lines, it’s cozy to know that some of this annual orgy of water will find its way to San Diego, an eight-hour drive to the south.

For any skeptic still deriding the scarcity of roots and tradition in California, this most-visited national park remains the ultimate treasure garden. Old mountain traditions are honored here through nightly campfire lectures by rangers, most often at Yosemite Lodge. There’s an historical museum and a gallery of Adams’ photographs. An unscheduled surprise this past week was an hour spent listening to the matriarch storyteller Julia Parker, a member of the indigenous Miwok tribe. The Miwoks inhabited Yosemite long before John Muir arrived and, stunned by its primitive beauty, helped to launch the environmental protection process that eventually became the National Park Service.

In recent years, crowd control has become a contentious issue for Yosemite. There’s a $20 car fee at the entry gate. Along with stricter traffic patterns, that are intended to urge you to lock up your car against the bears (leaving behind nothing that even looks like a paper sack of food, the doorman warned at the Ahwahnee Hotel) and ride-free (hybrid) shuttle buses in the valley when needed. We used them last week, hopping on and off at the base of the falls. Staying at motels just outside the park can be less expensive. As visitors multiply, a fortuitous flurry of attractive motels has appeared along highways leading into Yosemite.

Yosemite’s fabled high country, where one must come to trust a mule not to misstep along narrow trails that overlook the valley, remains inaccessible at this writing because of snow and ice. That may not change for many weeks. Get your updates from www.nps.gov/yose/planning.

(And why do I care so much? Some years ago, my bride Judith chose the lovely little Yosemite chapel for our wedding. Everything about it was right, and still is.)

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