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Year in Yosemite: Winter? It's All Downhill From Here - Explore

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Year in Yosemite: Winter? It's All Downhill From Here

The Merced in fog

There are people in this world whose entire day can be dictated by a morning ritual that starts with stepping on a scale. Numbers up? Bad, sad mood. Numbers down? The world is a wonderful place. Same for those who start each day by looking at the stock market. Numbers up? Good day. Numbers down? Not so fine. Me? Ever since we moved to Yosemite National Park, my ritual goes like this—get up, make a cup of coffee, turn on the computer and read Yosemite’s Daily Report. Put out by the park service for Yosemite employees, it always starts the same way—with the weather report. And like the scale and stock market watchers, my mood is dictated by what I read, but in the opposite way. Numbers up? I’m elated. Numbers down? My mood is bad and sad.

This being November, each day I look, the numbers are headed in the wrong direction. We live in California after all, home to palm trees, sunshine, year ‘round tans (natural and otherwise) and surfers. I don’t remember the Beach Boys crooning anything about ice, snow, hail and sleet. Yet starting about now, that’s just what Yosemite’s tiny population of year ‘rounders and its visitors can expect.


The first year we lived here, in the blush of new-found love, the winter didn’t bother me, even a ten-day power outage brought on by wet snow and blowing winds seemed romantic in a Little House on the Prairie way. (Okay, it was romantic for about the first four days, then it was just a pain). By the second year, the snow, ice and freezing temperatures were something I put up with, fairly successfully. By that time, we’d acquired a generator; two used all-wheel drive Subarus, heated mattress pads for our beds (for those lucky days when the electricity in our home actually worked), and the good sense to leave the park for warmer climes when we had another weeklong power outage.

This year, neither my husband nor myself have the stomach for winter, with its freezing temperatures, power meltdowns and dangerous driving conditions. We’re in sunny, warm Southern California as I write and the thought of going home chills us. Truth be told, we’d stay here if we could, but we’ve got a problem.

We moved to Yosemite National Park more for our daughter than ourselves. At the time, we couldn’t imagine a better experience for a child than going to school in a national park. And we were right. Everything about our time in Yosemite has improved our daughter’s life. She’s happier, more adaptable and more curious. She has core values we value. And, having had to make a life in a place with few, if any, kids her age, she’s friendly, out-going and pretty accepting of kids of all ages (considering that she’s ten, and like most children, wants the world, and her friends, to fit her picture of the way things should be).

She’s also over the moon about snow. If she were in charge of the weather, winter would be ten months long. When we first came to look at Yosemite as a serious place to settle, the teacher at the local school told our daughter that she had two goals for her—to learn to love math (the bane of our daughter’s existence) and for her to become a good skier. By the end of the first year of living here, both those goals had been met. And winter, with its snow-covered hills for sledding and snow-covered mountains for skiing, had become our daughter’s favorite time of year. So we’re staying put.

One of our neighbors, a woman who has lived inside Yosemite Park for over twenty years, once told me it was the winters that broke people. If they moved away, it was the weather, more than the isolation, that drove them away. Third year in, I can believe it. I grew up in Minnesota. I know about cold and snow. I also know that I live in a state that provides a choice. Unlike major parts of America, one can live in California one’s whole life and never have to drive on ice or shovel a walk.

Still, when I’m sitting in Southern California traffic and looking out over miles and miles of seemingly mindless development, the picture I conjure up to calm my soul is not Yosemite in summer, or even spring with its wondrous waterfalls and budding growth. No, it’s a day last winter, when in a storm, we drove along roads bordered by trees so thick with snow that all color had faded to black and white by mid-day. It was, and remains, the singular most beautiful landscape I’ve ever seen. Sitting, as I do now, at the beach in Southern California, I know that’s quite a statement. But it reminds me that indulgent parents that we might be, life is often best when seen through the eyes of a child.

-- Jamie Simons/Photos by Jon Jay

In May 2009, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Jamie and her family have since lived in the park. Check out all of her blog articles by clicking here.

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