President Obama’s arrival at Castle Airport on Friday and visit to Yosemite National Park with the first family this weekend is the talk of the Sierra, with residents and visitors expressing interest in his visit.
Bee staffers are reporting from Valley and Sierra locations, including Yosemite, on preparations and reactions to the president’s visit. Check back for updates of this story.
Arrival of Air Force One at Castle Airport
8:56 p.m.: Monique Dominguez, 30, of La Puente, a city in Los Angeles County, got close enough to see the president and first family wave as they exited the Marine One helicopter.
Dominguez comes to Yosemite with her family every year and was shocked to learn Obama was coming during her visit. She saw Secret Service personnel around the park all week and wondered when exactly he would get here.
“It was like an adrenaline rush,” she said after the helicopters landed.
Dominguez wasn’t sure whether Obama would acknowledge the bystanders, but she said he got on a rock and gave everyone a little wave.
It was Dominguez’s first time seeing a president in person. She said she loves Obama, especially because he is so family-oriented.
Dominguez also appreciates his initiative to conserve natural lands.
The yearly Yosemite trip is a time of peace and relaxation for her family. “We build a lot of memories.”
“By the time I have children, if he preserves all the national parks, I’ll be able to pass this on,” she said.
8:46 p.m.: Paul Cranfill stood along the front of park service housing bordering the meadow that Obama’s helicopter landed in. Cranfill worked at the Ahwahnee Hotel last year and was back in Yosemite on vacation.
He almost left after he found out Obama was coming, given how busy it made the park, but stayed for the rare opportunity.
“It’s just a unique opportunity that escalated really quickly,” he said. “It went from just another night to watching four or five helicopters.”
Cranfill wondered whether Obama will be “an average tourist” – the type that does hikes such as Lower Yosemite Fall – or if he would challenge himself with a harder hike like Half Dome.
Four helicopters landed in the meadow around 7:45 p.m. After Obama, his family and the crew filed out, the helicopters took off again.
Cranfill snapped photos and watched until they disappeared into the sky.
The last helicopter took off, leaving a deafening quiet.
“That was so satisfying,” Cranfill said.
Other bystanders chimed in. One resident said, “That was awesome.” A park ranger noted, “That’s definitely the biggest aircraft that’s ever landed here.”
8:38 p.m.: “It’s exciting that he happens to be here the week we were coming,” said Amy Rosd, who was waiting with a large group of family and friends along Northside Drive for the president’s arrival before the road was closed. Ross arrived last Sunday from Sonoma County.
During a hike Wednesday atop Glacier Point, she and her family watched as helicopters made practice landings in the meadow. “They had these little orange cones out there where they set down.
Ross described herself as a fan of President Obama, “but if you asked my mom, she’d tell you no.”
8:18 p.m.: Shemar Cunningham of Jamaica was among a group of close to 100 people who gathered in front of a string of Park Service houses bordering the meadow where President Obama’s helicopter landed.
Cunningham says Jamaicans love Obama.
“They think he is their president as well,” Cunningham says. “They look up to him so much.”
The 20-year-old, who has been working in housekeeping in Yosemite Valley for three weeks, says of Obama: “I love him, he’s cool.”
What should the president do during his Yosemite visit?
“Chill,” Cunningham says with a smile.
8:12 p.m., from the pool report: Marine One and the air convoy flew over a breathtaking landscape (rocky mountains, waterfalls, large forests) before landing at the Ahwahnee Meadow landing zone (an open field) in Yosemite National Park, with the Half Dome lit by the sun in the backdrop and the moon detaching itself from a pristine blue sky.
Maybe one of the most beautiful Marine One landings ever.
First Family emerged from Marine One at 7:54 walking slowly in the high green grass.
POTUS waved at a crowd gathered a bit further under the trees that could be heard shouting to welcome him.
He shook hands with National Parks rangers before getting into the Beast.
Motorcade is rolling.
8:04 p.m.: Park employees were able to watch the arrival of Marine One on Friday evening from their backyards facing the meadow near the Majestic Hotel. The presidential helicopter was preceded by two large copters carrying sharpshooters and the traveling press corps.
Many of the workers excitedly captured the president’s arrival on their smartphones, but would not talk with reporters – under orders from the park and its concessionaire.
7:56 p.m.: Cheers for @POTUS on his arrival @YosemiteNPS
7:49 p.m.: President Obama and family have landed in Yosemite Valley.
7:42 p.m.: The crowd of around 20 at Castle Airport had ballooned to well over 100 by the time the president’s plane touched down. Because the event was closed to the public, many huddled near a barbed wire fence to try and catch a glimpse of the first family.
Ray Crawford wasn’t able to see the president, but he was still glad for the opportunity to be in the same location as the commander-in-chief.
“It’s the opportunity to see a president – well, possibly see him,” he said with a laugh. “How often do you get that?”
Crawford wore a jungle green hat with the words “Vietnam Veteran” written in yellow on the back. He served with the Army from 1965-70.
“Five years in the service, and I never got this close to a president,” he said. “Johnson was in Saigon once, but I was out in the woods.”
Qutresa Hogges and her 8-year-old niece, Kennedy Tyler, also couldn’t find a crack in the fence to see the Obamas. She rushed over after her shift at a nearby Costco.
“This is an amazing thing to see – even just the helicopters taking off,” Hogges said. “It gives you hope. When you see something like this happen on TV, it seems unattainable. But here we are.”
7:40 p.m.: Police vehicles w/ lights flashing block roads leading to meadow near Majestic hotel.
7:31 p.m.: In a call to The Bee, U.S. Rep. Jim Costa said he spoke with the president and first lady on the receiving line. He said he reminded Michelle Obama that she gave the first-ever commencement speech for UC Merced. Unlike her last visit, when the weather was warm, the Sierra evenings would be quite cool and she might want to use a UC Merced sweatshirt that he handed her. “She got a kick out of it.”
Costa said he told the Obamas that they picked a perfect time to visit what naturalist John Muir called “perhaps Mother Nature’s greatest cathedral.” President Obama said he has never visited Yosemite, and always wanted to, and Michelle Obama said the family is “going to hike all over the park as much as we can.”
In the short conversation, Costa said he talked to Obama about the need to fix California’s broken water system, that actions taken today “avoided a train wreck in terms of the limited water allocations that were made in April.”
If that doesn’t materialize, Costa said, he promised Obama that he’d be in touch with the White House.
In addition to the sweatshirt, Costa gave the president a copy of Friday’s Fresno Bee, which featured stories and a front page photo about his impending visit to Yosemite.
From the pool report: At 6:56 p.m. local time, Air Force One landed at the Castle Airport in the Yosemite Valley, CA. The president and Malia emerged from the plane followed by Michelle Obama and Sasha. The two daughters headed quickly to Marine One while POTUS and FLOTUS chatted on the tarmac for a few minutes with greeters (per WH), US Representative Jim Costa, Chairwoman Claudia Gonzales, Chuckchansi tribe, Supervisor Hub Walsh, Merced County
7:20 p.m.: The area along Northside Drive at the meadow near the Majestic hotel in Yosemite Valley has been cleared of the crowd that was gathering earlier this evening. Southside Drive, normally a one-way road, has been set up for two-way traffic for the presumed closure of Northside Drive.
7:18 p.m.: Marine One helicopter takes off from Castle Airport with first family aboard. Four Chinook helicopters are in the air also.
7:12 p.m.: First family is dressed for weekend in Yosemite, in casual clothes. Michelle Obama is wearing a tartan plaid sleeveless top, black pants and tan sneakers.
7:09 p.m. President Obama, wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha have walked off Air Force One and are greeting officials at the foot of the stairs, including Congressman Jim Costa.
6:01 p.m.: ...He says that @POTUS typically speaks at a “friends and family pen.” No such thing here. Just 25-ish media members standing on a flatbed.
5:59 p.m.: Secret Service does not expect @POTUS to speak once he gets off plane.
5:52 p.m.: Meanwhile, Marine helicopters are on the ground at Castle Airport, waiting for Obama’s arrival.
5:49 p.m.: Robert Preston, 50, of Los Angeles rode by the set-up area at Cook’s Meadow on a bike with his 11-year-old son. He and his family vacation in Yosemite every year and found out earlier this week that the president’s visit would coincide with theirs.
Preston said he feels a bit stuck, unable to adequately plan sightseeing trips within the park because employees haven’t been able to give out much information about roadblocks and high-traffic times during Obama’s stay.
“Everyone says, ‘We don’t know,’ ” he said.
Still, Preston loves the idea that the president is acknowledging the importance of national parks. He wishes the public was invited to hear Obama’s remarks Saturday.
With or without admission, Preston plans to get as close as possible. He said he and his family will stop by the meadow by 9:30 a.m. Saturday for a chance meeting.
“To be this close to a president of the United States, to see him in person … it’s what he learns in school,” Preston said, pointing to his son.
Preston’s son, Kyle James Preston, said it’s amazing to be in the right place at the right time.
“It’s like a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said.
Kyle supports the president’s effort to get students into national parks. He said he’s lucky to see Yosemite every year. “Some people don’t even get a chance to go someplace like this.”
5:46 p.m.: Chris Geiger, a Clovis wedding photographer, is worried about getting to a wedding he’s been hired to shoot Saturday at the Yosemite Valley Chapel.
In observing video feeds, he said, it appears the parking lot used for the chapel will serve as media parking. The church, he said, can’t reserve parking.
“The reporters are set up so close to the church, so you can imagine there’s that much less parking,” Geiger said.
The park is typically crowded during the summer, but the president’s visit may keep many of the 100 attending the wedding from getting into the Yosemite Valley. The bride and groom, he said, are staying in the park overnight.
“They’re telling us it’s possible the park may close and they may not let in more park guests after so many come in,” he said.
He and the minister are going to Yosemite early Saturday because it’s near-impossible to book a room in or near the park this time of year, Geiger said.
5:42 p.m.: A Marine helicopter just flew overhead toward Cook’s Meadow, near Sentinel Bridge. A big crowd of people are assembled near Ahwahnee Meadow.
5:36 p.m.: At the speech set-up area, Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams” is being played on the sound system. Warm-up for tomorrow?
4:47 p.m.: President Obama will speak on Saturday with a glorious backdrop – Yosemite Fall, upper and lower. More than 200 white folding chairs are being set up in the Sentinel Bridge parking area, facing Cook’s Meadow and Yosemite Village, looking toward the waterfalls. Whereas a parking area has been roped off, the meadow and road are still open.
4:34 p.m.: About 20 people gathered on the sun-baked asphalt against the barbed wire fence at Castle Airport (the former Castle Air Force Base) on Friday afternoon, all hoping to get a glimpse of President Barack Obama as Air Force One lands.
Teresa Jimenez brought her three godchildren for “a picnic to come and see the president.” The group brought sodas and a basket of strawberries, which the three boys nearly devoured in minutes.
“You don’t have to eat them all in one sitting,” Jimenez said just before 4:30 p.m.
Jimenez said she wanted to bring her godsons and daughter to the old base because she likes Obama.
“I was taught to respect the presidency,” she said, holding up a sign that read “Welcome President Obama.” The back side of the sign reads “love ya.”
Elijah Lopez, 11, said he wanted to come with his godmother to see the president “while he is still in the Oval Office.”
“He is the first black president, and this is a part of history,” Elijah said.
Behind the chain-link fence, three Army helicopters await the president’s arrival. He will travel to Yosemite National Park by helicopter once Air Force One lands. It is expected to land around 7:15 p.m.
4:11 p.m.: The Obamas have been invited to partake of s’mores tomorrow night by one Yosemite camper, according to this Instagram photo of the invitation pinned to a park bulletin board.
3:58 p.m.: CHP traffic seems heavy, however.
3:50 p.m.: Unusual for a Friday afternoon entering Yosemite? Almost no traffic.
2:19 p.m.: While eating at South Gate Brewing Company on Friday, Rhonda Salisbury, chief executive director of Visit Yosemite Madera County (formerly named the Yosemite-Sierra Visitors Bureau), said she is going to Obama’s speech Saturday with a gift to the president from South Gate’s owners: a T-shirt from their brewery and a growler of Deadwood Porter, because they heard Obama liked to brew beer.
“I’m very excited,” she said of his visit. “When do you get the opportunity to see the president of the United States? Whether you believe in his politics or not, the office is so honorable –and seeing him in Yosemite, how powerful is that!? It’s so majestic.”
Eating lunch with Salisbury was a French tour guide who will also be in Yosemite Valley tomorrow. Pauline Richard only heard of the president’s Yosemite trip on the news this morning.
“It’s quite a good surprise,” she said. “We are pretty excited. … He’s quite popular (in France). I would say he’s more popular than our president.”