Yosemite in the Fifties: The Iron Age
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Yosemite's Iron Age was that critical span of years found in any adventure or exploratory pursuit, from ocean navigation to moon shots, when prevailing technology is a limiting factor. New gear and techniques are invented as needed, leaving pioneers to build the boat as they sail... it. Because the process builds off trial and error and dangerous mistakes, a creative renaissance can feel like a bunch of maniacs just winging it. Physical and psychological barriers, remote as the dome of space, must also be passed--by vision, willpower, courage, even recklessness. But the barriers will be broken. And at this crossroads of desire and technology bursts a geyser of narratives that since the days of Homer have shaped history and inspired humankind. Better than half a century after the first ascent of El Capitan, the deeds of Yosemite's 1950s-era Iron Age, are no longer viewed as climbs or mere adventures. Rather, they are assaults on the human barrier, pushing that much higher toward the moon, where Neil Armstrong took his giant step for mankind 11 years after fellow explorer Warren Harding crawled onto the summit of El Capitan. Of course as Marco Polo and Chuck Yeager would readily tell us, no adventure is a one-time affair. Discovering the Nile, breaking the sound barrier, climbing El Capitan and walking on the moon are all of a piece and fundamental to humanity. These are the exploits that animate the age-old quest into the unknown, and show us what we might accomplish in this world. For Yosemite in the Fifties, we've given the stage almost entirely over to the original source material, the first-person narratives, archive photos (artfully restored by Dean Fidelman) and memorabilia particular to the seminal ascents of the era. Every period has a footprint unique to its time and place. Later-day commentary is helpful to establish historical context, but it can never replace the source material for visceral power, emotion and beauty. Like light from a dead star, still visible today, word, image and design, when cast from critical angles, can reach across generations and resurrect vanished worlds. Put differently, Yosemite In The Fifties is fashioned not so much as a book but as a wormhole back to an enchanted time in the history of exploration, and a classic era of Americana now lost in time.
||17 Nov 2015
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