Camping In The Yosemite

The most independent and least expensive way to see the Yosemite Valley is to camp there, and every year thousands spend their vacations thus in this enchanting wonderland, seeing its magnificences as the dweller within hotel walls can never hope to see them. Along the sunny meadow lands skirting the Merced River as well as in the shady pine woods, both below and above the little village of Yosemite, are hundreds of camp sites absolutely free to visitors who may wish to pitch their tents upon them, subject only to certain simple regulations imposed by the United States Government. Water is dipped out of the near-by river, clear and cool from the snow-ranges of the High Sierra, firewood may be gathered in the woods of the valley, and provisions may be had from the village store, if the camper has not brought his own. Entire camping outfits from tent to frying-pan (though exclusive of linen) may be hired in the valley at a reasonable charge—fifteen dollars per month would amply cover the rent of such an outfit for two persons; but most campers bring their own, for your Californian dearly loves a vacation by camp-wagon, and if he lives anywhere within a radius of a couple of hundred miles of “the Valley,” he is apt to make this trip several times in his life.

There is a butcher in the village, and a general store; good milk, butter, bread and eggs may be procured, and from the Indians one may occasionally buy chickens, fresh fish or wild strawberries. Prices in the Yosemite are about one-fourth higher than in the large towns, owing to the expense of transportation. Deliveries of goods are made to all campers by the store wagon. Our expenses for the best obtainable food supplies during the two weeks of our stay were $14 for two—a weekly average of $3.50 each person, or less than one day’s expenses would have been at the hotel.

The time of our visit to the Valley was the middle of June, at which season we found the nights cool, but the days were warm enough for thin summer clothes. On the horse-trails women are expected to ride astride, and if one has not a riding habit, a skirt sufficiently full to admit of this requirement should be taken. There is practically no rain from June to October; but in case of a possible shower and chiefly as a protection against dust, women will find a light rain-coat desirable. No firearms are permitted in the Valley, and no trapping or hunting is allowed; but trout fishing in season is permitted, and at times is fairly good.

All the Yosemite trails are free to pedestrians, and are kept in good order for climbing. Our own experience leads us to conclude, however, that owing to the fatigue consequent upon making the ascent of the precipitous walls of the Valley, it is a wise economy for all but the very vigorous to pay for animals to carry them. The trips to Glacier Point, to the head of Yosemite Falls, and to Vernal and Nevada Falls, are the three regulation ascents of the Valley walls which most visitors make, and they should all be taken by the camper. Each requires a day for its accomplishment, and no guide is needed for any one of them, as the trails are perfectly plain and safe. Mirror Lake at the east end of the Valley and the lovely Bridal Veil Falls near the western end, are also unforgettable sights not to be missed. Each may be visited in half a day. As there is no climbing, the walks to these two points through the woodlands and flowery meads of the Valley floor, will prove delightful jaunts.

These five excursions need not here be dwelt upon in detail, as they are in the province of the conventional sightseer—to whose class this book does not profess to cater. But there are some longer trips to be taken, with which one’s Yosemite camp life may well be varied. For these more extended outings it will be needful to engage a guide, who will be furnished by the stableman from whom the animals for the trail are procured. And in passing, let it be said that your happiness on these rougher trips depends largely upon your limiting the party to yourselves and your guide. The chances are ninety-nine in a hundred that any stranger included from charitable or mayhap economical motives, will develop qualities that will cause you to wish him in Jericho before you have been out half a day.

Among these trips there is for instance, that to Cloud’s Rest, eleven miles distant, which is possible of accomplishment by the energetic within a day, if a very early start be taken; though a better plan for the lover of easy stages is to arrange to camp over night and return the next day. Cloud’s Rest peak is close to ten thousand feet above sea level (six thousand above the Valley floor) and affords a superb bird’s-eye view of the Valley, as well as a glorious outlook along the High Sierra. On the re-turn, a short side trip of a few hours may easily be made by means of a trail diverging near the head of the Nevada Fall, into the sequestered vale known as the Little Yosemite.

Twenty-five miles by trail northeastward from the Yosemite are the beautiful Tuolumne Meadows at the head of the Grand Cañon of the Tuolumne River and in full view of the High Sierra which rises to the height of a mile above them. For a comprehensive variety of Sierra mountaineering experience in comparatively small compass, this trip is one of the finest out of the Yosemite. The trail takes in the lovely glacial Lake Tenaya; while a few miles beyond the Meadows, Mount Dana, one of the loftiest peaks of the Sierra Nevada, offers a comparatively easy back to clamber upon and look down on the wonderful mountain scenery of this part of California. A week is none too much to allow to this trip, which—to quote the words of John Muir, whose classic book “The Mountains of California” should be part of your baggage, whatever else you leave out-will lead you “through regions that lie far above the ordinary haunts of the devil and of the pestilence that walks in darkness.” If, how-ever, you are too limited in time to allow yourself to steep leisurely in the subalpine glories, it is quite possible to make the round from the Valley and back without undue fatigue, in four days.

We had been camping in the Yosemite for over a week before we became acquainted with its Indian life. This is so unobtrusive a feature of the Valley that the conventional tourist “doing” the Valley in three or four days will hardly know of its existence at all; for one may almost count upon one’s fingers these present-day descendants of the once numerous and proud race that formerly dwelt here.

The quest of wild strawberries one June day led us well over toward the base of the northern wall of the Valley, and there close by some black oaks we caught our first sight of a Yosemite chuck-ah. This is an outdoor receptacle for storing acorns—in shape like a huge hamper, and made of branches and twigs closely interwoven. It is mounted on four posts that lift it several feet above the ground, and hold it thus out of the reach of ground-dwelling rodents, while a covering of thatch or bits of board and old cloths protects the contents from the weather. Three of these odd looking objects stood in a row, and penetrating the thicket beyond them, we came upon the present homestead of old Francisco and his wife and Wilson’s Lucy—,an unpicturesque frame shack near a great oak tree and within sound of the rushing waters of Indian Creek as they bound down out of Indian Cañon to join the Merced River. Wilson’s Lucy made baskcts, it appeared, for we got a glimpse of a partially finished one over which she had hastily thrown her apron when we unexpectedly broke in upon her seclusion. Old Francisco was frankly basking in the sun; his working days were over, and rheumatism had him by the legs. He was a little, wizened old man, with a cheerful outlook upon life for all, as we afterwards found, quite content to let others run the race though he could not.

He responded smilingly to our salutation, and entered briskly into conversation,, marshalling his little stock of English into all sorts of queer combinations. From him we learned the name and uses of the chuck-ah, until then an enigma to us, and he expatiated upon the merits of acorn meal, the way of preparing which from the bitter acorn he endeavored to explain, but the method of manufacture as set forth in his pigeon English was more than we could follow. He did, however, make plain the be-ginning of the process by convoying us a short distance through the chaparral to a great, sunny, flat-topped granite rock, pitted with a score or more of small depressions or mortar holes, which it seems the Indian women of past generations had worn, beating acorns there into meal with granite pestles. In this way the fruit of the oak was reduced to flour, but bitter and unpalatable as the original nut. The endeavor to tell how by some system of leaching, this bitterness was subsequently extracted, was the rock upon which old Francisco’s limited stock of English met disaster. After several ineffectual at-tempts to clarify the subject, he finally laughed pleasantly, and remarked :

“You no savvy?”

Then changing the subject, he inquired affably: “You got some match?”

I proffered him a box of them—always an especially acceptable gift to the old-time Indian, who remembers the days when fires were arduously kindled by rubbing sticks of wood—and old Francisco put it in his pocket with a look of satisfaction. Then sitting down in the sunshine, he looked up and watched the cumulus clouds float up from behind the Valley wall out into the blue heavens. Thus resting from his labors, we left him.

The able-bodied men and younger women of the Yosemites, find employment at day’s labor at the hotel, the livery stable, and with resident white families; while the older women attend to the household duties of their rancherias, and at odd times make baskets for sale to the tourists. Like all the California Indians, this remnant of the Yosemites entirely lack the picturesqueness which is so notice-able a feature of the red men in their native estate to the east of the Sierra Nevada. Nevertheless the reason for their being in the Valley at all at this day, lends a certain romantic interest to their presence. Their story is briefly this:

Shortly after the discovery of gold in California, the Sierra foothills were overrun with a more or less lawless horde of white gold-hunters, who treated the resident Indian in the usual cavalier manner of the frontier. His hereditary rights ruthlessly trespassed upon, and himself cheated right and left in trade, the red man finally retaliated, stole horses and set fire to miners’ cabins. Bloodshed followed and the Government was appealed to, to rid the earth of “the marauding savages.” Then ensued an Indian war resulting, of course, in the defeat of the Indians, and the transference of all the survivors of the foot-hill tribes from their native homes to a Government Reservation near Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley.

The Yosemites, dwelling in the mountains, were not so easily handled, and it was in pursuing them to their Sierra fastnesses that in 1851 a company of white soldiers discovered the marvelous valley which the world still calls Yosemite. These Indians, too, however, were eventually captured and carried to Fresno; but life in a lowland reservation proved so much of a hardship to the mountain-bred tribes, that at the expiration of a few years of misery, disease, and induction into frontier white vices, the remnant of them begged to be allowed to go back and live in their old home, promising to be self-supporting and in no way to molest the white population. Their petition was mercifully granted, and during the half century that has elapsed since their return to the land which was the cradle of their race, they have faithfully kept their promise. They have accumulated no property, they have dwindled in numbers, but they have been free—they have kept the faith of their fathers. Under the slouchy clothing of metropolitan sweat-shops, in which their bodies are clothed, something of the old proud spirit still burns.

“Why don’t you work for me?” a man who had little respect for Indians, but wanted laborers, asked Yosemite Tom one day. “You work for George Smith. Isn’t my money as good as his?”

“Yes, me work for George,” the old red man replied; “when George have pie, me have pie; when George have cake, me have cake. You say, ‘Any-thing good enough for damned Indian.’ “