I am only a occasional pilgrim to Yosemite National Park.

I know families who go every year, as well as a young woman who spent a summer working in a High Sierra camp. Those folks know Yosemite much better than I do.

And yet, I have lived long enough to create some lasting memories of this vast High Sierra wilderness, with its hidden valley nestled beneath the towering icons of Half Dome, El Capitan, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls. In fact, I’ve collected a memory for each decade of the last half century.

The Child – As a boy in the early 1960s, I remember staying in a Curry Village tent cabin. At night, my family watched the Yosemite Firefall, a fiery version of a waterfall as burning embers were droppped 3,000 feet from the top of Glacier Point. (I’ve read that this summer tradition of nearly 100 years ended in 1968.)

The Young Man – In 1976, I rode my horse alone from Pinecrest Lake on Highway 108 to the northwest corner of the park and then south from Dorothy Lake to Hetch Hetchy. I was hosted one rainy day and night by a back-country ranger at his cabin near Wilma Lake. We played cards, and he baked fresh brownies. It was a welcome reprieve from what would have been a soggy day and night in a plastic tube tent.

The Newlywed – In 1980, my new bride Carol and I spent a night that autumn at the Ahwahnee Hotel. We booked both a hotel room and a dark-paneled sitting room with fireplace. The sitting room seemed so much nicer that we spent the night there. We could only afford one night, which at $120 for both rooms seemed a bit extravagant. But now we’re happy we made the memory.

photo by John Burgess, Press Democrat

The Reporter – In January 1997, historic flooding destroyed roads and facilities, closing the park. Photographer John Burgess and I traveled there to tell the story of the effort to reopen Yosemite to the public. During our visit, the only people in the park were Yosemite staff members and construction workers. I wrote a story and John took an amazing photograph of Yosemite in winter.

The Dad – In 2000, our family camped in summer at Tuolumne Meadows on the road to Tioga Pass. We hiked to the top of Lembert Dome overlooking the immense green meadow and the surrounding granite peaks. My daughters played in a cold, clear stream. Near sunset, I showed them how to skip rocks in the Tuolumne River.

A few weeks ago, Carol and I returned to Yosemite. She wanted to see the waterfalls, which haven’t flowed so strong in summer for many years. There among the throngs, with the white water tumbling down, I was reminded what a wonder Yosemite is. There remains so much that I don’t know about this iconic national treasure. But I’m grateful for each pilgrimage that I have made there.

Here is a 25-second clip of Yosemite Falls shot July 30, 2011:

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