An overview of Yosemite’s past as a national park and as a part of American history.
In this nonfiction book, Binnewies (Palisades, 2001), a former superintendent of Yosemite National Park, juxtaposes a memoir of his years spent managing the park beginning in the late 1970s with a broader history, beginning with the first European-Americans to reach the area in the 19th century. The book follows early fur traders in their explorations of Northern California, as well as later generations of settlers, and doesn’t hold back from depicting the violence they perpetrated against displaced Native Americans. As Binnewies tells of settling into his management role in the ’70s, he also moves into an account of the first efforts to protect the region near the turn of the last century, with Sierra founder John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt playing parts in the story and the arrival of a Locomobile in 1900 presaging battles over parking lots in the late 20th century. In one of the book’s less-effective sections, Binnewies tells of how he was forced out of the superintendent’s office prematurely. Then he brings the park’s story to the present, making controlled burns, land management, and the balance between conservation and commerce intelligible to the lay reader. The writing is frequently as vivid as the book’s illustrations, which include photographs of climbers on the side of El Capitan and Binnewies, in 1983, escorting Queen Elizabeth II through the park. At one point, workers who ran afoul of a trail boss are colorfully described as “bruised by an avalanche of blue syntax of artful construction.” The author also does a solid job of reminding readers that Native American culture is a vital part of modern Yosemite: “there was nothing hushed and disappeared about its native residents; they were right there, living.” Despite his forthright assessment of the challenges currently facing Yosemite and other parks, Binnewies leaves readers with a sense of optimism.
A solid, engaging history of a venerable institution.