Yosemite Amusement Park

The day after our trip to Bodie, we spent the entire day on June Lake. Then…

It happened. A conversation with Joyce that was similar to the one I had with my son, Joe, in June of 2003.

As a high school graduation present, Joe wanted to go camping in the Sierra (great kid!). After spending a day up in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, were sitting around the campfire and he asked why I had never taken him to Yosemite. I told him we were right next to it and could visit it, or did he mean the Yosemite Valley of Half Dome, Bridal and Yosemite Falls. He said, “The later.”

So I described to her, as I did to Joe 11 years earlier, about my first and only visit to Yosemite prior to 2003.

It started in the spring of 1971. Out of the Air Force, money in the bank, and no responsibilities or commitments. The decision was made to go backpacking for a while. No real plan. Just hike around for a few months. I figured around 6 months, which would be about the time it starts getting cold in the high country. 

Arriving in Kernville in April, a couple months were spent wandered around the Southern Sierra waiting for the snow to melt enough to climb Mt. Whitney. [Just so you know, there was no permit system in place so I could go anywhere I wanted]. My only maps were a couple of the large US Forest Service maps. Eventually made it to Whitney and hiked to the peak. Once back down from the peak a plan was need (aside from going town into the town of Lone Pine to pick up more food). Looking at the map, there was a trail, named The John Muir Trail, that went all the way too Yosemite Valley. Never heard of the trail, but it seemed like a nice hike. And that’s what happened. 

Eventually arrived at Tuolumne Meadows and the final leg down to Yosemite Valley began. But I couldn’t finish the trail. I was almost there but the smog, cars, buses, and huge crowds stopped me. It looked like the parking lot at Disneyland; not worth the price of admission for an E ride.

So I turned around and walked back to Kernville — not taking the exact same route. It was on the return leg that I first visited June Lake, walking there for supplies. 

Joe and I did visit Yosemite Valley back in 2003. It was worse than I thought it would be, with unbelievable crowds. But I kept that to myself and enjoyed the time with my son.

Even after the story, Joyce still wanted to go. So we went mid-week on a Wednesday, which I figured would the least busiest day of the week. If that is true, I can’t imagine what a the weekends are like.

Gassing up in Lee Vining we headed up Hwy 120, also know as Tioga Road, or Tioga Pass Road. Not too much traffic and we were soon at the entrance gate, with a long line of cars in front of us. An omen.


We presented our America the Beautiful Pass and got in for free. We quickly saw a sign that  said, “Road Construction Delays Up to 20 Minutes.” Must have been I rock slide, I thought. Then I started seeing the dreaded survey stakes. Obvious to me, having worked in construction, the road is being widened. Crap. Not crap for the numerous delays we would encounter, but crap they are making it faster for even more vehicles to get to the amusement park in Yosemite Valley. Now why do I call it an amusement park?

In the mid 70’s I did a little research about The Valley  and what I thought was its destruction; and I found that the Curry Company, founded in 1899, gains a concession contract from the NPS to build and operate Camp Curry, which is now known as Curry Village. Their competition in Yosemite Valley was the Yosemite Park Service Company who obtained a 20 year concession contract in 1916. Already people with pull were trying to take advantage of our wilderness, with the cooperation of the Government.

The Curry Company lobbied for expanded concessionaire operations in the Park. Park administrators decided to limit the number of concessionaires and in 1925 gave it to one company, the Yosemite Park and Curry Company, which was a new company formed by the merger of these two concessionaires. How’s that for political pull?

Okay, hold on to your seat and I’ll share the rest of the saga…

In 1973 The Yosemite Park and Curry Company was purchased by a company named MCA, Inc. You might recognize them by their name when they reorganized in 1996 — Universal Studios — yep, the amusement company.

In 1993 Delaware North Companies (DNC) became the primary Park Concessionaire. This company runs/owns sport franchises, casinos, race tracks and other amusement destinations.  This year Delaware North will pay $33.6 million in fees to the NPS for their operations in Yosemite.

In Yosemite, DNC operates hotels, service stations, sightseeing tours, shuttles, restaurants, other recreation activities, stores, interpretive programs, and more. This isn’t about wilderness, its about big business, and the NPS has sold Yosemite’s soul to the amusement industry. Many years ago, before most of my readers were born, Edward Abbey called this Industrial Tourism.

Back to our story.

We finally made it to the valley. And I took a few obligatory pictures.

It was full of cars, buses, RV’s, buses, and people, people, people.


Of course it is full — it’s a freakin’ city. Heck, the Rangers wear vests that say Traffic Control and direct traffic. I will never, ever go back unless they take my advice and turn it back into wilderness.

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