Letting someone else do the driving on a tour of Yosemite National Park gives visitors a whole different perspective of the Sierra Nevada landscape.
As a tour guide for Discover Yosemite, Steve Cruikshank's workday begins at 5:30 a.m. and often doesn't end until 8 p.m.
He and the other Discover Yosemite guides know the area well. Several are mountaineers, capable of leading strenuous hikes in the wilderness; one or two are botanists; one guide is a professional photographer; and another is a retired state park ranger.
The one thing they have in common is the thrill of sharing the wonders of Yosemite with visitors.
In a park that's nearly 1,200 square miles in size, traveling with an expert enhances the trip. Cruikshank's specialties are short hikes, interesting trivia and history.
"Rockfall, fire, water and ice are nature's landscaping tools," Cruikshank informs those in the seats behind him. "Geological life is volatile, ever-changing. From one season to the next the face of Yosemite is altered, drawing visitors back time and again."
Last week along Highway 41 near Wawona, beautiful white blooms covered dogwood trees. Petite blossoms were just appearing on wild strawberries in the Mariposa Grove.
While hiking we also found mountain azaleas. Their fragrance is similar to honeysuckle. Among the giant sequoias, Cruikshank told of an elderly couple who rode with him recently.
"The last time they were here was in 1934. They had carved their initials on the Fallen Monarch. On this trip they wanted to find them, and knew right where to look."
Deli-style sandwiches appeared -- and disappeared -- during lunch at Glacier Point.
In between stops in the upper elevations and in the valley, passengers peered through spacious windows at vistas overlooking wide canyons and river gorges. A coyote loped through bear clover in the woods a few yards from the road. Small wildlife was also seen throughout the day.
By the afternoon passengers had gotten to know each other, and shared stories of other places they've visited.
Two couples on the coach were Emmitt and Rita Harrington and James and Joyce Richard, from Texas. They have been friends for years and spend many vacations together.
"We came to Yosemite in 1997, and fell in love with it," James said. "We decided then we'd have to come back."
The Harringtons and Richards all agreed that the tour was very accommodating and enjoyable.
Carl Roos of Midpines came away from the tour impressed at the guide's knowledge.
"I've always wondered about the glacial moraine in Yosemite," he said. "And today I learned how deep this valley once was. The history is fascinating."
Stopping at El Capitan Meadow, Cruikshank reminded passengers to grab their binoculars. Through the lenses, passengers caught close-up views of Cathedral Rocks and climbers on El Capitan.
Recently, Discover Yosemite was awarded the Certificate of Excellence with Trip Advisor, a travel website providing information, helpful tips and customer reviews about worldwide destinations. This award honors businesses maintaining exceptional hospitality, and is quite an achievement. Only 10 percent of businesses qualify, according to Trip Advisor.
When receiving the news, Dee Ann Smith, the owner of the tour company, said: "At Discover Yosemite we strive for excellence in every aspect, with our guests' experience in mind. We don't want them to walk away just satisfied. We want them to remember their day with us as exceptional."
On the website are brief biographies of the staff and guides, tour and event descriptions, stunning photos, plus all the information necessary for planning a memorable trip to the park. Go to www.
discoveryosemite.com to learn more.
Cruikshank sums it up like this: "When people come here, these are special moments in their lives. While driving around, getting to know them and taking their pictures, I get to be a part of their experience."
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.