They call it God’s living room, and even as a global traveller I was struck with awe, wonder, and heart-stirring joy at seeing such beauty.
Yosemite National Park is a landscape of extraordinary glacier-sculpted mountains, miles of glistening tree-covered slopes and is home to black bears, Sierra Nevada red foxes, and mule deer.
The range is 1,200 square miles and some of the giant sequoia trees are more than 3,000-years-old, sprouting from the ground before Columbus sailed for the Americas.
Jews came to Yosemite in the mid-1800s Gold Rush as prospectors and to provide goods and services for the miners. There is even a Jewish summer camp, Tawonga, held just outside the park for nearly a century.
Obama chose Yosemite as the backdrop for his speech calling for action on climate change, standing in front of one of the most breathtaking backgrounds during his time in office.
“There’s something sacred about this place,” he said, “and I suppose that’s why the walls of this valley were referred to as cathedral walls, because here at Yosemite we connect not just with our own spirit, but with something greater. It’s almost like the spirit of America itself is right here.”
My daughter Lara and I stayed at Tenaya Lodge on the outskirts of the park, perfectly situated for hikes as well as for unwinding after all the exertion and exhilaration.
So many families come from the other side of the world to stay here and visit the park, which draws four million travellers a year.
Tenaya is a self-contained world of slick organisation, outdoor terraces, plunge pools and secret places to rest and be cared for.
Hugely welcoming, staff park your car and will help organise every step of the way. We had a top-class dinner at its Sierra restaurant on the patio under the warm ruby sky, before joining the torchlight hike into the gloaming.
Looking up at that glittering, silent landscape, the air pungent with leaves and earth, we saw stars as they really are away from the cities, a vast canopy of twinkling silver and white ribbons dominating the night sky.
The drive through Yosemite meanders past a choice of more than 100 hikes. We stopped randomly to do the Mist trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls. I’ll never forget it, the growing scope of the views, thundering water cascading down the smooth granite, rainbows arched over pools, and the exhilarating, steep, but deeply satisfying climb.
It lifts you out of yourself into a magic sense of well-being. You feel reconnected with some primeval sense of how the continent was a long time ago.
From the towering rock face of El Capitan and Glacier Point, to the rushing waters of the Merced River, Yosemite embodies everything that is free and inspiring about the American West.
We drove to nearby Miller’s Landing on Bass Lake – five miles long and surrounded by colourful clapboard houses with their private decks and boats.
The restaurant and general store was playing country music, offering the biggest burgers and salad imaginable, boat rental and fishing tackle. It’s the real outback with a John Wayne feel.
With that in mind, Lara and I hopped on a jet ski, helped by real-life Wayne in a cowboy hat with the whitest teeth (I kid you not). We sped around the lake keeping 100 yards away from swimmers, and later canoed among the reeds and swam in the incredibly clear, clean water.
There is even a touch of high glamour in this extraordinary part of the world, Erna’s Elderberry House attached to a European-style small, chic hotel, Chateau du Sureau.
It was almost surreal to eat there, on the outskirts of the small, remote mountain town of Oakhurst with its wide streets and country people.
After a tough day hiking, it’s the other extreme, looking out to the illuminated fountains, manicured lawns, while choosing from the extensive wine list and five-course tasting menu.
Bond baddie, Christopher Waltz, who plays Blofeld, was there, and celebs regularly hide away among the opulence.
Yosemite, 200 miles east of San Francisco, rates as one of my wonders of the world. We went in summer, but there is also the allure
of the bizarre, unique, natural Firefall, an amazing spectacle which only happens mid-February.
It’s described as one of those electric moments when the setting sun hits Horsetail Fall at just the right angle, and sets ablaze the upper reaches of the waterfall.
For those who have witnessed it, the sun shines a stunning array of red and orange, dripping like phosphorescent molten lava down the rock face.
Where to stay:
Sharon and her daughter stayed at Tenaya Lodge, Yosemite National Park. For the latest deals and rates visit www.tenayalodge.com. Sharon also enjoyed water sports at Miller’s Landing, Bass Lake, millerslanding.com and dined at Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant, chateausureau.com