The Experts' Guide To The World: California


It's a shame that Ansel Adams was never really sold on the virtues of colour photography, because I'm not entirely sure that his black-and-white landscapes ever quite managed to capture the full, breathtaking extent of the sensory bombardment that awaits a visitor to Yosemite during the months that locals call the Fall.

For a brief period that starts in early September, when leaves start to turn, and ends when the first dump of snow shuts the winding Tioga Road, by which you access the national park's eastern highlands, there can scarcely be a more gorgeous place on earth than this famous corner of California's Sierra Nevada.

To Adams, who first set foot there in 1916, Yosemite's unique landscape summed up the infinite majesty and promise of the American West – and his pictures of its huge walls of granite, endless forests and staggering vistas reflected in mirror-still alpine lakes showcased the untapped possibilities of the photographic art form.

To you or I, Yosemite's charms are these days an open secret. As a World Heritage Site, half a day's drive from California's two biggest cities – San Francisco to the west, Los Angeles to the south – the park, which measures roughly 1,190 square miles, welcomes almost four million visitors each year. That equates to roughly 11,000 people a day, which in turn makes for truly awful traffic jams. But head there after the chaos of holiday season, when crowds have thinned and the climate is less hospitable, and you will sometimes get a sense of the peaceful seclusion Adams must have felt when he first clicked his shutter on the face of El Capitan or Half Moon, the great walls of rock that are the subjects of his best-known landscapes. As you hike a secluded trail, or cast a fly at a wily trout, the modern world seems like another country.

The place to stay is Yosemite Valley, the park's spiritual heartland, accessed via one of the world's most scenic sections of road. If you can afford it, take a room at the Ahwahnee Hotel, a historic (and historically expensive) pile near the eastern end which over the years has hosted everyone from the Queen and Prince Philip to JFK and Charlie Chaplin. If you can't afford it, rent one of the National Park Service's wooden huts. Or for the full outdoors experience, camp.

There are endless trails to walk, peaks to conquer and waterfalls simply to gawp at. If you're into rock-climbing, or want to learn, then the Valley can be loosely described as a mecca. In the evenings, a setting sun turns the cliffs golden, and you can see the hardiest climbers bedding down for the night in tiny bivouacs, which dangle over impossible precipices, hundreds of metres above the valley floor.

Like all the best destinations, Yosemite's greatest charms are often harder to find, however. A couple of hours' drive north of the Valley, along winding roads lined by mighty trees in autumnal bloom, is Tuolumne Meadows, a sub-alpine expanse of grassy fields, broken up by occasional granite peaks and domes. Here, where the air is thin (you are at over 8,500ft), is unspoiled backcountry. The trails are empty, and stretch for days.

Whenever I hike along the Tuolumne River, which meanders prettily through these uplands, I think of the words Adams used, in perhaps his most famous quotation, to describe Yosemite. The park, he said, is "always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space". He was speaking the language of cliché, perhaps. But the place lives up to it.

Guy Adams is Los Angeles correspondent of The Independent

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral