Treasures in the Park (bus shelters, Yosemite National Park (CA), USA)

Most visitors go to Yosemite National Park, America’s first, to admire the dramatic granite mountains including El Capitan and Half Dome. They also go for the many waterfalls, notable amongst which is North America’s tallest, Yosemite Falls. They go to hike, climb, commune with nature and experience wilderness. But the beauty of transport readers will find some other attractions, in the shape of some attractive and sensitively-designed bus shelters. You might be in a tiny minority, but I assure you it’s worth it. Look:

Bus shelter at Yosemite Falls bus stop, Yosemite National Park (May 2014). By Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr set.
Bus shelter at Yosemite Falls bus stop, Yosemite National Park (May 2014). By Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr set.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service has gone in for bus transport in a really big way at several of the national parks in its care. To try to retain some semblance of peace and tranquility at such parks, it is aiming to make use of its shuttle bus networks a mainstream choice for visitors.

This is a pretty brave move for a body which is part of the government. In America, buying a bus ticket is usually viewed as a last resort distress purchase for those with no other choice. The idea that the government (about whom many Americans are deeply ambivalent) is trying to persuade car-loving, independent-minded Americans to embrace that most (yikes!) socialist of concepts, mass public transport, is quite delightful.

I’m not knocking, you understand. I love America and it’s not like the UK has the moral high ground. Scratch the surface of social attitudes here and you’d find the same views towards bus transport (and government) prevalent amongst the majority of people. Despite the warm words of politicians both national and local, very few of them actually do anything positive to make bus travel more attractive or socially normal. Outside of London, those of us who actively choose to travel by bus are regarded as slight, but not exactly charming, eccentrics.

So, back to the bus network of Yosemite National Park. Comprising approximately 20 bus stops in a sort of squashed peanut shape, the route is operated by a fleet of shuttle buses which run every few minutes. They serve the main campgrounds, hotel, visitor centre, car parks / parking lots, and key viewpoints. They’re also free, except inasmuch as you pay an entry fee to the park which helps fund their operation. You can’t do better than that, really.

Yosemite National Park shuttle bus. Photo by Doug Barber [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page. This is a slightly gratuitous picture of a bus, but I needed to break up the text a bit.  However, it's worth noting that the log construction of the bridge is similar to that of the roof on the Yosemite Falls bus shelter.
Yosemite National Park shuttle bus. Photo by Doug Barber [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0] via this flickr page. This is a slightly gratuitous picture of a bus, but I needed to break up the text a bit. However, it’s worth noting that the log construction of the bridge, resting on rough stone piers, is similar to that of the roof on the Yosemite Falls bus shelter.

Using buses as a modal switch tool at an environmentally sensitive location is a perfectly sensible public transport operation in its own right, but just in case any readers think that free buses aren’t ‘proper’ public transport, I should point out that several of the bus stops are also served by YARTS. Yosemite Area Regional Transport System runs proper buses (gigantic coaches actually) between Yosemite National Park and Merced, some 80 miles away and the location of the nearest Amtrak station. They run to a timetable, shockingly punctually given the length of the route, and you have to buy a ticket to travel. So there.

The bus shelter at the top of this article is the one at stop 6, Yosemite Falls. Thanks to its proximity to the Falls, this is one of the most popular stops on the shuttle bus network, so a large shelter is needed, and what a shelter it is. Standing on six legs with a veneer (over what I assume is a steel frame) of unfinished stone blocks quarried from nearby, the asymmetric pitched roof is supported on log trusses, which in turn rest on three massive logs running along the length of the shelter. The roof is finished with wooden shakes (rough-finished shingles) with tongue-and-groove planking to the underside, and there are wooden benches underneath. The roof does a very good job of keeping the sun off on hot days; it’s easy to get burnt at Yosemite in the summer and shade is important when resting. That said, the climate at Yosemite can be temperamental, changing from hot sun to heavy rain with alarming rapidity, and the shelter keeps rain off its users too, though to be honest you’ll probably have got soaked through on the walk to it. Still, it’s nice to sit under cover while you’re waiting rather than getting any wetter.

Bus shelter at Yosemite Falls bus stop, Yosemite National Park (May 2014). By Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr set.
Bus shelter at Yosemite Falls bus stop, Yosemite National Park (May 2014). By Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr set.

Not only is this bus shelter very attractive to look at, it also suits its local environment perfectly. It is built of the same materials as many of the other buildings in the park, and like those, it is made from the materials which can be found all around, stone and wood. As such, it eases comfortably into its surroundings rather than looking like a cheap afterthought.

Yosemite Falls bus shelter was designed by San Francico-based architecture practice Hamilton + Aitken as the prototype for a ‘standard’ National Park Service bus shelter, which has since been deployed at other national parks like Grand Canyon and Glacier. The firm hasn’t really received enough recognition for this small but important piece of highly successful transport architecture, which works extremely well in some of the most environmentally sensitive locations in America.

Meanwhile, less high-profile bus stops at Yosemite also have attractive shelters that would put to shame many that can be found on high profile urban networks. Here is the shelter at stop 9, Valley Visitor Center. This time it’s an all-wood structure with four legs and a wooden truss at each end of the roof:

Bus shelter at Valley Visitor Centre bus stop, Yosemite National Park (May 2014). By Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr set.
Bus shelter at Valley Visitor Centre bus stop, Yosemite National Park (May 2014). By Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr set.

Meanwhile, the shelter at bus stop 13B, Curry Village, is also perfectly matched to its location. Curry Village is the site of Yosemite’s tent cabins, wood-framed permanent tents with fabric coverings. So what could be more appropriate than a cantilevered wood-framed bus shelter with a fabric covering? This is one of the bus stops served by YARTS as well as the park’s shuttle bus:

Bus shelter at Curry Village bus stop, Yosemite National Park (May 2014). By Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr set.
Bus shelter at Curry Village bus stop, Yosemite National Park (May 2014). By Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr set.

Some of the bus stops at Yosemite have no shelters at all, however. While bus stops in general are simply too numerous for all of them to have their own shelter, and sites don’t always have enough space to fit one in, I always think it’s a mark against a bus stop for it not to have one. However, there are exceptions. This is bus stop 8, for Yosemite Lodge, where there is only a bus stop flag, an information sign, some lighting bollards, and some benches. (I say ‘only’, even though that level of provision is more than you might find at a great many bus stops.)

Yosemite Lodge bus stop, Yosemite National Park (May 2014). By Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr set.
Yosemite Lodge bus stop, Yosemite National Park (May 2014). By Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr set.

With a view like that though, sometimes you just don’t want a bus shelter getting in the way of it.

how to find Yosemite National Park’s bus shelters

follow this link for the location of the Yosemite Falls shelter. The others are close by.

references and further reading

The National Park Service’s Yosemite public transporation page, here

Hamilton + Aitken’s project page on the Yosemite National Park bus shelter, here

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