YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — Tourists seeking to capture one of the most photographed scenes on Earth — the long look past Yosemite Valley's granite icons to Half Dome seven miles distant — no longer have to dodge cars to do it.
A $3 million redesign of the viewing area where tourists emerge from the Wawona Tunnel to the vista that provided Ansel Adams one of his trademark photographs has created a destination worthy of its surroundings.
"This is money well spent, it looks like to me," said Gary Galloway of Pickford, Mich., after posing his family on the granite block retaining wall for a Christmas card shoot with Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks and a glimpse of Half Dome.
Before the five-month redesign, tourists stopping at the Tunnel View Overlook navigated an uneven lot paved atop the millions of tons of granite riprap blasted from the two-lane tunnel beneath Inspiration Point. There was no disabled access, and a five-foot-wide sidewalk at the vista's edge forced photographers to stand in the driveway to capture posing loved ones.
It wasn't safe given that drivers entering the lot after a mile shrouded in tunnel darkness were distracted by their first glimpses of Yosemite Valley. Neither was it a fitting foreground to the expanse carpeted by incense cedar and framed by sheer granite cliffs that is one of the world's most beautiful views.
Now a 15-foot-wide viewing area separates tourists from cars with a low wall of freshly quarried granite, offering ample setup for tripods. A redesigned and landscaped parking lot, a bronze relief map of Yosemite Valley and signs explaining how glacial forces carved it greet as many as 7,000 visitors a day.
The 3,450-square-foot overlook also offers a glimpse of the Merced River, whose prehistoric meandering formed the glaciers' path.
"This view really is what Yosemite is about," said Park Superintendent Mike Tollefson, as he checked work ahead of the dedication Friday by Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne.
The renovation is the first in the nation completed under the Centennial Challenge, a public-private partnership to repair and rebuild the areas where most visitors form their impressions of national parks.
Members of the nonprofit Yosemite Fund raised $1.8 million for the overlook, parking lot and the realignment of the Inspiration Point Trailhead. The group picked the overlook for its 20th anniversary project because the view forms its logo, said President Bob Hansen.
"Our members believe that Yosemite has given them so much, so it's nice to give back," he said.
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