Wonders of a Closed Yosemite in Quarantine
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Three months into Yosemite’s park-wide closure for Coronavirus quarantine, the old philosophy rings.
For the first time since natives were its only humans, Yosemite Valley is hosting its majestic springtime performance for the locals alone.
Before Yosemite was called Yosemite, before tractors cut veins into the valley and bus loads of outsiders began coursing in, the region was void of humanity’s mark. Grizzly bears—a population since hunted to extinction in the area—outnumbered tourists. The area’s only people, the Ahwahneeche, made home in the valley’s immaculate wilderness, one where a tree could fall, in theory, without making a sound.
Today, the views around Yosemite bear (pun intended) closer resemblance to the Ahwahneechees’ home than the park has yielded since its first roads were paved. In the three months since quarantine began, spring in the valley has occurred without exploit.
So, what happens when Yosemite’s springtime marvels—typically the lure of more than a million visitors each season—occur without anyone watching?
What would visitors see in the absence of their own chaos?
A thundercloud explodes beneath Upper Yosemite Fall, pluming mist and reaping rainbows. Does it roar louder when visitors aren’t listening? Photo: Robert Bohrer
Wildflowers unfold in their ephemeral performance, prisms of chemistry unfurling color that stipples the valley from Stoneman to El Cap meadow and beyond. Does the Indian Paintbrush feel ugly without its admirers? Photo: Riley Cox
Steel cables lay limp on Half Dome’s mighty shoulder, abandoned guard rails of the typical summertime superhighway to its peak. Do the marmots have trouble getting down?
Squirrels and marmots frolic along a footprint-free Mist Trail, unalarmed by the usual droves of heavy-breathing hikers. Are they hungry without feeding hands? (Reminder: don’t feed the animals.)
Mule deer traipse through Curry Village without witness of gathering crowds. Are they getting camera shy? Photo: EB Adventure Photography
El Cap towers into thinning air, void of climbers. Does it blush pink, embarrassed in its nakedness without ornaments?
Black bears poop in the woods.
…does it smell?
These questions will never be answered for sure, and that’s perfectly OK. The beauty is in their wonder alone, a small, silver lining to this bizarre quarantine that gifts nature peace and quiet.
While the Yosemite of the Ahwahneechee existed just a few lifetimes before now by man’s count, it was only a fraction of a lifetime ago for the park’s ancient trees. Even less for the granite. If there is an unquestionable truth, it’s that whether we’re watching or not, Yosemite will always be the land of wonder.
–Michael Misselwitz, Lasting Adventures guide