Awesome Yosemite

Vacations & Travel

I visit Yosemite with the best possible guide. Leroy Radanovich has been a park regular longer than I’ve been alive. His first visit was in the 1930s as a young boy. As a teenager he took his first job, in 1948, clearing up after visitors. He later spent time behind the wheel of a park tow truck hauling tourist vehicles out of trouble.

Over the ensuing 59 years there’s few tasks Leroy hasn’t tackled and hardly anywhere within Yosemite he hasn’t been, whatever the season. He has stirring tales of downhill skiing at Badger Pass, cross-country ski expeditions and lengthy hikes made in spring, summer and autumn. The park has 1300km of hiking trails, covering all manner of terrain.

Yosemite is one of America’s favourite national parks, famous in particular for the towering rock formations and wonderful waterfalls within the Yosemite Valley, four hour’s drive east of San Francisco. The valley attracts nearly four million visitors a year so, in the height of the tourist season from May to September you can imagine how crowded it gets. To help cope there’s a shuttle bus running a continuous loop in the valley.

Fortunately Yosemite is open year-round and each season offers unique attractions, so it’s easy to plan your visit and avoid the crush. And although the valley is undisputedly spectacular, it represents a mere fraction of Yosemite’s 3,100 square kilometres. Make sure you plan some time in the vast wilderness that comprises 95 percent of the park.

Leroy’s knowledge about Yosemite is second to none. He also owns a mother lode of historic photographs, a legacy of his work as both local historian and commercial photographer. The photos document early exploration, mining history and the development of the park itself. Many of the large prints now gazing down from the walls of Yosemite’s grand Ahwahnee Hotel are from his priceless collection.

Leroy qualified as a pharmacist but after inheriting some Hassleblad cameras from his father he quit that career, “and never had another headache,” he says with a broad smile. For the next 30 years he and wife Ellie ran a successful photography business in the small town of Mariposa in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Many a wedding was shot with Yosemite’s grandeur as backdrop.

Now 74, Leroy is tourism director for Mariposa County, a task done for love rather than a need for work. He was eager to show me his outstanding “backyard”. As keen photographers we both had similar purpose and I soon discovered his lifetime of experience meant Leroy knew all the right places for the best angles.
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