YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. – Billie Holiday once sang, “In my solitude, you haunt me. With dreadful ease, of days gone by.” Her lyrics were apt for the experience of seeing a nearly empty Yosemite National Park due to the recent government shutdown.
I’ve only visited the park on two occasions in my life and each time was filled with beautiful scenery — and thousands of fellow visitors joining me for the experience.
This time the views were still in place, but human contact was few and far between.
The park had allowed visitors who were already there at the time of the shutdown an extra 48 hours before they had to vacate. Many left on the first day. A few stayed until the final minutes.
That was the case for Stephen Kostelec of El Cajon, Calif., who was working on a sketch of Half Dome seated on a fence on the Yosemite Valley floor. It seemed he had the park all to himself. The sidewalks were devoid of hikers and passing cars no longer ruined the view.
A woman walked a lonely path with trees as her only company. Curry Village was a sea of mostly empty tents. The Valley Floor Tour shuttles stood idle without a rider in sight. No traffic made its way through the usually well-traveled tunnel that leads to Yosemite Valley. And the famed Ahwanhee Hotel seemed nearly vacant except for a woman reading a newspaper in the lounge area.
With the lack of human presence, a deer seemed emboldened to take a shortcut to an open field that passed a bus stop.
With little human contact, I found my own shadow being the subject of one of my photographs, along with the shadow of a tree cast on an empty road that would have been a precarious image to make in the past.
It was hard to believe that more than 3.5 million people from around the world visit Yosemite each year and it seemed at times I had the park all to myself.
As the sun set, even the famed overlook was devoid of people, leaving a perfect view and an informational plaque with just one to inform.
With many hoping for the shutdown to end, allowing Yosemite to once again open its gates, Holiday’s words add a wonderful reminder of visits past.
“In my solitude, you taunt me. With memories that never die.”
Story and Picture Credit: (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles Times) Stephen Kostelec of El Cajon, Calif., sketches on the deserted Yosemite Valley floor due to the recent government shutdown. Visitors who were already staying in the park were allowed to stay until Thursday afternoon. Kostelec, a longtime visitor to Yosemite National Park, said the visitors he encountered were trying to make the best of their short stay in the park.