Denali is not just a GMC SUV

Denali was around before General Motors existed. Denali was ancient before President McKinley was born. Denali had its name before this land was called America. As the highest mountain peak in North America, Denali is the rightful name of the Great One.

Denali
Denali

Why then are Ohio Republicans fuming at the renaming of Mount McKinley? Simply because William McKinley was born in Ohio. Why are others complaining about Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell changing the name of Mount McKinley to Denali? Simply because she’s a member of President Barack Obama’s administration and some Americans will grasp at any excuse to criticize Obama, no matter how illegitimate.

Renaming the mountain Denali is an illegitimate complaint. “Denali” is the Athabaskan word meaning “the great one.” Native Americans living on the flanks of Denali gave the mountain that name long before any non-indigenous American ever laid eyes on it.

Then in 1896, a gold prospector from Seattle named William Dickey saw the mountain and was understandably inspired by it. He returned to the lower 48 states the following year and published an article in The New York Sun about the mountain calling it “Mount McKinley.” That was the first most Americans had ever heard of the mountain and they had no idea that it was actually named Denali.

But the mountain was not given its new name to honor President McKinley. He was not even president when it was first called by his name. McKinley had just been nominated to the Republican ticket for the presidency when the gold prospector named it after the presidential candidate because McKinley supported the gold standard. In fact, McKinley never set foot within a thousand miles of the mountain.

Some people say that it was dishonorable to change the name of the mountain back to Denali. But Alaskans and Native Americans from the region thought it was dishonorable to name it Mount McKinley in the first place. They have been lobbying to get the name officially changed back to Denali for decades. The Ohio delegation has been blocking those efforts by continually introducing legislation to keep the name Mount McKinley.

However, Congress passed a law in 1947 stating that the Secretary of the Interior shall “provide for uniformity in geographic nomenclature and orthography throughout the Federal Government” (i.e. specify the official name for geographic features in the USA). Renaming Denali was not President Obama running an end-around Congress. It was Sally Jewell exercising the function that Congress authorized her to perform.

Now its traditional name has been restored to Denali. No, I’m not talking about the SUV—I’m talking about one of the Seven Natural Wonders of North America. The Great One once again has a name befitting its grandeur.

All Access Pass to Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is a secluded wilderness with sheer granite cliffs and rapid whitewater. These same features that make it spectacularly beautiful might also make you think it’s an inhospitable place to visit for someone with significant mobility limitations. Well, think again because it’s surprisingly accessible to the traveler with a disability.

View of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point
View of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

I recently returned from my first trip to Yosemite since I was a young boy. While there are many different types of disabilities to adapt travel to, I’ll keep this article focused on what a quadriplegic visiting Yosemite will encounter. First of all, it will keep the article shorter but, more importantly, I can speak from my own experience.

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake

The first night, we stayed at the Yosemite Gateway Inn, some 45 miles outside the park. By any standards, it’s a quaint and comfortable hotel with reasonable fees, so I would recommend it to anyone staying in Oakhurst. But it also offers excellent wheelchair accessible rooms.

The disabled person parking space is adjacent to the room we stayed in. It has a crosshatch area big enough to accommodate a side entry and a ramp to the walkway. The entry to the room has no lip at the threshold and a wide doorway. Inside, there’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair around the beds. The bathroom also has enough space to easily turn a wheelchair around and a large, curbless (or “roll-in”) shower. The sink has no cabinetry beneath it so there is room to roll your knees and lap up underneath. The toilet accommodates a commode wheelchair.

Access Pass
Access Pass

The next morning, we headed to the park. Although most visitors pay a nominal fee for a seven-day permit to access Yosemite, the National Park Service offers an “Access Pass” to visitors with a permanent disability. To qualify, I showed my disabled person parking placard and signed a form affirming my disability. There is no charge for an Access Pass and it permits the holder and a companion unlimited entry to any United States National Park for a lifetime.

Mariposa Grove
Mariposa Grove

Just inside the gate to the park is a parking area where most people who want to visit Mariposa Grove have to park, then they have to hike a couple of miles up a paved service road to get to the grove. But the park service allows vehicles transporting persons with disabilities to drive the road. Upon arriving at the grove, there are parking and restrooms that are all wheelchair accessible. From the parking area, there is an unobstructed view of a grove of Giant Sequoias—the largest species of trees on the planet.

Bridalveil Fall
Bridalveil Fall

One of the first landmarks you’ll visit after entering Yosemite Valley is Bridalveil Fall. While the trails to the base of the falls are not wheelchair accessible, there is disabled person parking both in the lot near the base of the falls as well as in the lot on Southside Drive. There is an impressive view of the falls from either parking area.

El Capitan
El Capitan

Likewise, there is no wheelchair accessible trail to the base or top of El Capitan. But as the most imposing feature in the Yosemite Valley (and the largest granite face on the planet), there are breathtaking views of it from many accessible locations around the floor of the valley. Park just about anywhere within view of El Capitan and look up…and up and up. Your view of it will be every bit as awesome as that of any able-bodied person in the park.

The Ahwahnee Hotel
The Ahwahnee Hotel

We stayed at The Ahwahnee Hotel while in the Yosemite Valley. The wheelchair accessibility of the parking and the entry made me feel good about my choice of lodging. Unfortunately, the room immediately dispelled me of that notion. The beds were luxurious—too luxurious. With thick pillow-tops on both sides of the mattresses, they ended up too high to easily transfer into from a wheelchair. The sink in the bathroom was beautiful English porcelain certain to appeal to the classiest able-bodied guest but the ergonomics were all wrong for me. It was not easy to roll my legs underneath and the top of the counter around it was too high and rounded for someone with a manual impairment to deal with easily. The shower was curbless but it was tight with only front access, so a caregiver cannot easily assist. The toilet was taller than normal, so my commode chair could not access it. Lastly, although the hotel is noted for having beautiful views from almost every room, the wheelchair accessible room we used had no view at all from the windows.

Wheelchair accessible hotel room
Wheelchair accessible hotel room

In all fairness to The Ahwahnee Hotel, it’s a first-class resort that I would recommend to any able-bodied person visiting Yosemite. Plus, the staff bent over backwards to accommodate me by, for example, bringing a thinner mattress from the lodge up to our room. Nonetheless, I do not recommend the wheelchair accessible rooms at The Ahwahnee Hotel for a quadriplegic.

Yosemite Falls signage
Yosemite Falls signage

The next day, we visited Yosemite Falls. The signage made it easy to find the wheelchair accessible trail all the way to the base of the fall. The National Park Service clearly went to great lengths to make the trail accessible while still blending in well with the natural surroundings. The force of the falling water is so strong that it creates a brisk wind and heavy mist in the air at the base of the falls, so bring plenty of layers of clothing with you if you chill easily, even on a warm day.

Lower Yosemite Fall
Lower Yosemite Fall

For a close-up view of Half Dome from its base, visit Mirror Lake. The service road to the lake is closed to most traffic but they permit vehicles transporting persons with disabilities to slowly drive it with the hazard lights blinking. At the end of the service road is wheelchair accessible parking and bathrooms. From there, a paved trail traverses a few hundred yards of the lake’s shoreline. Once the paved trail ended, I continued down the foot trail. I was surprised to find that I was able to continue down the Mirror Lake trail well over a half mile in my wheelchair without any assistance. Had I not discovered that the charge on my battery was running low, there’s no telling how much further I could’ve ventured into the woods.

Glacier Point signage
Glacier Point signage

On our way out of the park, we drove to Glacier Point. The parking area has wheelchair accessible spaces and restrooms. From there, it’s a quarter mile to the viewpoint overlooking the Yosemite Valley. The signage directs you to the paved trail through the woods with switchbacks so that it’s not too steep for a wheelchair. At the end of the trail, you can roll your wheelchair right up to the edge of the cliff and look down over the Yosemite Valley or have a photo taken of you with Half Dome over your shoulder.

Half Dome
Half Dome

Granted, you can’t go everywhere in Yosemite using a wheelchair. Nonetheless, you can access much more of it than you’d expect, so don’t let concerns about wheelchair access stop you from visiting Yosemite National Park. And the National Park Service deserves recognition for the thought, effort, and cost they’ve obviously put into making it as accessible to visitors as possible.

Evidence for evolution reinforced

People who do not believe in evolution had some seemingly sound arguments against the theory. Unfortunately, those people now have two fewer legs to stand on. Two arguments commonly used against evolution have now been refuted.

One of the widely known arguments is the watchmaker analogy. It says that the complex inner workings of a watch could only come to be through the act of an intelligent designer. Therefore, as with a watch, the complexity of a given life form could only be created by intelligent design.

It turns out that evolution is a blind watchmaker after all. A doctor of molecular neuroscience wrote a computer program that emulates the process of natural selection using the component parts of a watch. He found that a functioning watch could, in fact, evolve from its independent parts without any intelligent design.

Another argument commonly posited is that no fossil evidence has been discovered that shows one species evolving into another. People who ascribe to this argument postulate that, considering the countless species that have existed on this planet, there must be abundant fossil evidence of this speciation if evolution really occurred. Since there is no such evidence, there has been no evolution.

It was long assumed that man had to look into fossil history for evidence of speciation since written history is too short to observe a species splitting into two separate species. It turns out that mankind need not look back tens of thousands of years for evidence of speciation—they need only to look to the Galapagos islands. The birth of a new species has now been witnessed by scientists. A husband-and-wife team of biologists have witnessed that elusive moment when a single species of Galapagos finches split into two separate species within what turned out to be a surprisingly short period of time.

Proponents of Intelligent Design now need to postulate two new arguments against evolution.

America’s lifeblood slips away

As of yesterday, Los Angeles set a record for the least rainfall in any year since records have been kept. Yet it seems as if no one is alarmed. In past Southern California droughts, the media was full of appeals to the public to conserve water. This time, there’s not a word about it, and Californians are watering their lawns in midday, ‘sweeping’ their driveways by spraying water, taking long showers, and denying the dangers of global warming.

It’s not just Los Angeles that’s in a drought. One-third of the continental United States is in a drought that has been drying out the West for almost a decade. Even the Southeast, which is normally a relatively wet part of the country, is mired in drought.

Pier sitting on dry lake bed
Lake Okeechobee in Florida at all-time low water level

Should Americans be concerned about these conditions? They should if they like their current standard of living. Meteorologists are warning that conditions similar to those which led to the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s are again in place in the 21st century. The Dust Bowl lasted more than a year and was so severe that it left over half a million Americans homeless (at a time when the population of the country was much smaller than it is now), and it played a significant role in prolonging the Great Depression.

Americans need to wake up to the threat that drought is posing to the country. Water is the lifeblood to so much of what we take for granted in our everyday lives. People in the effected areas of the country need to change their habits and conserve water, and all of America needs to take action to mitigate global warming so that drought does not become a permanent fixture in our homeland.