Half Dome–an inspiration point for a flatlander in 1976

Half Dome 04After my sophomore year at University of Nebraska at Omaha, and much against my father’s objections, I hitchhiked from Omaha to California to try out my new Raichle hiking boots. Were they better on granite than on campus concrete?

Besides, after so much hullabaloo about Yosemite Valley in physical geography class, I had to find out about the place for myself.

I carried my little camera and two rolls of Instamatic film for the whole trip, which included stops at the Grand Canyon (my first Steller’s jays), Los Angeles (Uncle Chuck and Aunt Helen let me use Greg’s bike on a jaunt to the L.A. County Arboretum), sleeping near ice plant on the beach at Carpenteria, and up the coast to San Francisco (alas, I may have interrupted my Aunt Sharon’s plans for a wine-country weekend with her friends).

Arriving in the national park and learning of the chainway, I knew what had to happen.

With so few frames for so many thousands of miles, I was very conservative and took about six pictures during the hike.

There might have been one more, had my wits been about me. Early on, while still down in the forest, I saw my first bear. After nearly lifting off the ground in terror, I realized it didn’t care about me at all as it crossed the trail ahead, and then I became bold and chased a short way into the trees. Alas, my shutter captured no snarling pose. The bear had disappeared.

You see the chainway in both photos. I can’t say who the people are. The girl could be Tamara McKee. Tamara was from Santa Barbara. We sat atop the dome, quite alone together, talking about ourselves and school and I’m sure she heard me describe the glories of Nebraska because I always tell them. Few people realize the highest point of elevation is Panorama Point at 5,424 feet above sea level.

One or the other of us must have brought a notebook, for we even exchanged addresses.

I still have the letter she wrote at summer’s end. She was just learning to type; capitals were a big struggle.

She had spent a month in the park. “I was going to stay a week longer but a sprained ankle forced me home.” After a brief respite, she went to see friends in San Diego, helping them to build a sauna and pool.

It’s unclear how much physical toil was involved.

“After roughing it in the mountains it was fun to lounge around a country club and be pampered even if this family doesn’t exactly pamper anything. They are very rich, very disciplined, and tons of fun.”

Hmm. My family had no friends like that, although around 1966 we did once visit friends of friends who had not only a backyard pool but also a color TV in their den.

While I was still Domed-up–maybe Tamara had climbed down alone–two fighter jets rushed through Yosemite Valley about 1500 feet below my feet, a most impudent disruption of the tranquility. Yet there was no outrage as far as I could tell, not even from a crow. Maybe someone in park headquarters got on the phone to D.C. and squawked, but I never heard the outcome.

Were the pilots demoted to Cessnas?

And whatever happened to Tamara McKee of Santa Barbara?

Half Dome 01

The trip home was rough. After a greasy night’s sleep under a sagebush near Cove Fort, Utah, I got a ride from a guy in a Ford Galaxie who went 45 mph all the way to Denver and hardly said a word the whole excruciating time.

Three Denver dudes took me as far east as the town of Brush. They may have gotten me a little stoned, and I remember, after being asked how many people lived in Omaha, saying 500 million when I meant thousand. When speaking of Omahans, it’s hard to keep the zeroes straight.

I slept on a picnic table in the Brush town park. In the morning it was a seat beside a merry Nigerian in ’63 Olds that kept merrily boiling over. But he delivered me to the door of my parents’ house. Coincidentally for an Olds, that’s 442 miles according to Google Maps.

I was a two days late for summer school but ended up having a good course in 19th-century Russian novels in English. Around the time Tamara’s letter arrived, I’d decided to transfer to Lincoln to complete my degree and never had to worry about parental objections again.

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