Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, March 17, 2016



Lots of our readers have been asking the DUNER BLOG about the crazy name-changing at Yosemite National Park. Let's sort this mess out!

What names are being changed? Two historic hotels and a campground complex are at the center of the controversy. The Ahwanhee Lodge (opened in 1927) is now the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. The Wawona Hotel (1876) should now be called the Big Trees Lodge. Finally, Curry Village is renamed as the Half Dome Village. We're sure this would have angered photographer Ansel Adams. When he stayed at the Ahwanhee, he marveled at the "luxury harmoniously within a forest." See, the 30,000 feet of timber conceal the 5,000 tons of granite and 1,000 tons of steel. He also enjoyed the tuxedo-clad pianist who performed nightly at the Grand Dining Room.

Why the sudden switch? This is California, which is all about two things: Lucrative business contracts and High-priced litigation. This one begins back in 1994, when the coveted concessionaire contract was up for renewal. Delaware North won and signed an agreement with the US Park Service to run Yosemite's public resorts. During this period, the company trademarked the three names in question, citing protection of retail profits. Now, to the present: Last year, service giant Aramark outbid others and was granted the new contract. Dejected, Delaware North refused to relinquish rights to the cherished names. Basically, Aramark was forced to manufacture the new titles until the court case is resolved.

Where do the words Ahwahnee & Wawona come from? American L.H. Bunnell of the Mariposa Battalion first mapped the region in the year 1851. Here's the situation: The peaceful Miwok tribe allied with the US Army. Their goal was to chase the Yosemite People out of the valley and open it up to white settlers. (Yosemite is Miwok for "People who kill.") They succeeded and Bunnell began naming sites. The valley itself is called Ahwahnee, Miwok for "Large River Bed." Similarly, Wawona means "Big Pine Tree." Which brings us to another question: Why would the US Patent Office allow a company in Wilmington, Delaware to copyright common words in a native American language?

Will the nasty spat ever be resolved? Currently, Aramark is forced to cover the historic signs with vinyl new ones barring the new, horribly unpopular, monikers. (Except for the granite Ahwanhee sign, which was stolen before it could be defaced!)  Anyhow...this is California...so it all comes down to MONEY. Delaware North demands $51 million to relinquish rights, not the paltry $3 million offered by the Park Service. Until a compromise is brokered, expect more posturing from both sides.

Just how embarrassing is this to California? Not as bad as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but still close. It's more evidence that greed controls the state and not common sense. Could you imagine the Eiffel Family suing France, demanding payment for the tower's naming rights? Despite this acrimony, there are some positive outcomes. Aramark won the concessionaire battle because they have ambitious plans to improve operations at Yosemite. $100 million dollars to be exact. They will reinstate the once wildly popular ice skating venue at the foot of the waterfall. A hipster-friendly wine and panini bar and a sourdough bakery are also coming.

But most importantly... Yosemite is all about NATURE. And the wet El Nino storms mean this year could be highest volume in the falls EVER!

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