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A 'fundamental conundrum' at Yosemite

August 15, 2011 | 11:31 am

Beautiful -- and hazardous

As Yosemite's rivers swell with record snowmelt and its trails fill with sightseers, somewonder whether the amusement park-like atmosphere in Yosemite Valley are giving some visitors a false sense of security.

"It's a fundamental conundrum for the Park Service that the danger in nature is part of the appeal," said Andrew Kirk, an environmental history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "One of the reasons the parks exist and the public has supported their preservation is that they offer a unique experience for people to have a close encounter with some really raw, natural forces that are inherently dangerous."

The majority of search-and-rescue calls at Yosemite come from one corridor: the popular Mist Trail, where on summer weekends up to 2,500 hikers a day plod 11/2 miles up a steep, paved footpath and a mist-slickened rock staircase to the top of Vernal Fall.

--Tony Barboza

Photo: Visitors to Yosemite National Park stand behind the safety railing at Vernal Fall. Last month three young hikers from a Modesto-area church group were swept over the edge of the 317-foot drop-off after ignoring warning signs and climbing over the railing. Only one of the bodies has been recovered. (Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times / August 15, 2011)