Ahwahnee Stories

Our quarterly board meeting yesterday prevented me from driving up the newly opened Tioga Road and exploring the high country this weekend, yet I didn't mind too much. A group of talented people dedicated to Yosemite sits on our board. Unlike corporate board meetings where the focus is on maximizing shareholder value, our meetings reinforce our ongoing commitment to the park.

Christy Holloway, our chairperson, has been active in the environmental field for decades and has many landmark accomplishments under her belt, especially her work with Peninsula Open Space Trust. Malcolm Margolin has been a one-man artistic force for California since he founded Heyday Books in 1974, publishing a diverse list of books on California history, natural history, and Native American Studies, as well as an array of poetry and prose. Gerald Barton owns and operates the largest walnut ranch in California. I could fill a book with a list of accomplishment by our board members, but I'll summarize with the observation that our meetings are lively, productive and never lack for interesting conversation. The question displayed in the NPS Interpretive conference room in Yosemite, "Is it in the best interest of the park?" gets posed over and over again as our board makes decisions.

Our meeting was held at the grand Ahwahnee Hotel, and since I couldn't hike, I thought I'd pass along some anecdotal stories of the Ahwahnee. If you get chance, try to attend one of the interpretive history walks given at the Ahwahnee when you visit the park. Julie Miller, a former park ranger and YCS Interpreter, presented a wonderful session that I was lucky enough to be able to attend, filled with fascinating and fun stories.

Let me dazzle you with a few fun facts I learned on my walk with Julie.

Did you know that the original design for the hotel called for the entrance to circle around the dining room and end up in what is now the Indian Room bar? Just ten days before the hotel's opening the flaw in this design was exposed, with the noise and fumes of the delivery trucks causing discomfort to the guests in the rooms above. Imagine changing a major part of the design in just ten days!

During World War II, the Ahwahnee became a convalescent hospital. Furnishings and artwork were moved into storage to make room for the troops.

Despite its rustic appearance, most of the exterior at the Ahwahnee is not wood. In order to make the hotel fireproof, concrete molds were used for the siding and beams, complete with a saw mark design for authenticity!

And, yes, like all old hotels, the Ahwahnee does have a ghost story. But you'll have to go on one of Julie's walks to hear it -she tells the tale much better than I could.