Too-nu-yah:  The Enchanted Valley of Yosemite, a historical novel by Albert Leo


Ever since its discovery by white men in 1851, Yosemite has been in danger of being 'loved to death.' By far the most common complaint from today's visitor is that the valley is too crowded. Most visitors wonder what it would have been like to view it as the Native Americans first saw it. This book gives the reader a chance to see it that way--through the eyes of a fictitious couple that explore the valley nearly a decade before the Mariposa Battalion 'discovers' it. But the accompanying photos, many taken in the peak year of 1996 when Yosemite had 4.2 million visitors, show it much as it must have looked to the Ahwahneechees. It does take a little time and effort to capture views of Yosemite in its pristine state, but it can be done--perhaps not on a bus tour, and not on a single trip or even in a single season. Like wooing a shy maiden, one must be patient and persistent to fully savor the beauty of Yosemite. Anyone who has done this cannot help but admire and respect the efforts of the early preservationists, Olmsted, Muir and the Sierra Club and now the Yosemite Association, that made it possible for so many millions of people to have their lives enriched by visiting this enchanting valley.

Too-nu-yah: The Enchanted Valley of Yosemite is a large (8" x 10"), coffee-table quality, 344 page softbound book, published by Dragonflyer Press. It contains several pages of beautifully reproduced full-color photographs, along with many black and white photos, sketches and maps. All of the Yosemite photos you see on this site (and many others) are in the book. Many of them appear on the DVD as well. The photo below appears as a two-page centerfold:

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View

After spending his early years working with thoroughbred horses on a Maryland estate, young Jeffrey Kirtland looks for adventure in training wild mustangs on ranches in northern California during the exciting decades of the 1840s and 1850s. He saves Latta, son of Chief Tenaya, from a lynch mob and is welcomed by the Ahwahneechee tribe that lives in Too-nu-yah, a beautiful valley deep in the Sierra Nevada. Later, on Rancho Esperanza, Jeff helps train a spirited red stallion for the owner's daughter, Marie Elena Estadillo, and they fall in love. Too-nu-yah: The Enchanted Valley of Yosemite is the story of Jeffrey and Elena's lives, their love, their heartaches, and their adventures together. Along the way, they are swept up in the excitement and turmoil of the Mexican civil wars, the Bear Flag revolt, the Gold Rush, and the Mexican-American war that joins California to the Union. They also encounter many important historic figures of the time, including James Savage, General Vallejo, John Muir, Chief Tenaya, and John C. Fremont. Underlying it all is the story of their love affair with their own private Eden. In later years it would come to be called Yosemite, but to Jeff and Elena, the first white people to explore it, it would always remain their Enchanted Valley: Too-nu-yah. You can find a short excerpt from the novel by clicking here.

The Yosemite Grant

Many of the characters and events related in this book are historical, and the sources are given in a section of Notes following the Epilogue. The two most invaluable sources were: The Yosemite Grant, 1864-1906: A Pictorial History by Hank Johnson and General Vallejo and the Advent of the Americans by Alan Rosenus. Some of these events have, of course, been slightly altered to include the fictional characters, but in such a way as to leave their essential nature unaffected. For instance, volunteers to rescue the Donner Party were recruited from Napa Valley and could have included a rancher like the hero of this novel, Jeffrey Kirtland. And, on his arrival in California, John Muir did proceed to the Sierras by way of San Juan Bautista and Pacheco Pass, and he noted the profusion of wildflowers. He may well have met someone like Jeff and Elena there.

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