You may not give much thought to the names of our most prized and iconic American gems, especially those in the National Park Service. That is, until those names are taken away! Think about your favorite hotel – whether it’s a Hyatt or in this case, the Ahwahnee. If that name were gone, what would it mean for your memories, postcards, all of the experiences surrounding that name? This year, as we say Happy Birthday to the National Park Service, we say Happy Trails to a few names near and dear to travelers and locals alike.

Ahwahnee Hotel Yosemite National Park

Photo Credit: Flickr / Travis Wise

For many of us, the name of the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite is as much a part of your nostalgia from family trips of yore as Half Dome or El Cap are to the park. This year, in a sad anti-tribute to the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Yosemite will say goodbye to the Ahwahnee moniker (as well as Curry Villages and Wawona Hotel) and begrudgingly welcome new names for some of the properties under contract in the park boundaries. Not too many folks are happy about this little piece of history changing.

Ahwahnee No More

A concessionaire allegedly “purchased” the rights to the name of the hotel (and several other lodging options in Yosemite National Park) which will be pulled from use come the end of their contract, February 29th, which is not up for renewal. Contracts for public lands services are decided by collecting bids, lowest bid wins. Delaware North, the current contract holder did not get the bid for continuing service but they aren’t going out without a fight (for the name anyway) and no one seems very happy about the changes on the horizon as a result.

The name of the rugged, regal lodge that is the first image (and name) that pops into my mind after I am asked where to stay when visiting Yosemite is Ahwahnee. Derived from an indigenous tribal name, Ahwahnee is as much a part of the park as the craggy terrain and behemoth granite walls that greats like John Muir, Ansel Adams and passionate rock hounds of the climbing revolution like Warren Harding were inspired by gazing upon.

Curry Village Yosemite

Photo Credit: Flickr / Simon Davison

People have become very attached to a name that has been irreparably ingrained into the history of one of the most popular national treasures America has to offer.

The name invokes majesty and grandeur — without ever seeing a picture of the hotel, and not having the almighty Google to seek out answers, I remember hearing stories from my grandparents and the vivid picture that was emblazoned in my mind of what an incredible place Ahwahnee must be with bustling uniformed servers and guides and stonework and pillars with the daunting backdrop of famous rock formations, peaks, and sheer cliffs behind. I was hooked before I laid eyes on the beautiful architecture that would lead the way in aesthetics of park infrastructure.

The Change Ahead

Well, all of that rich, nostalgic history of the quintessential family California road trip is about to under take a massive overhaul. Ahwahnee will only be the stalwart sound heard when travelers hark back to the “good old days.” Starting March 1st and henceforth, Ahwahnee shall be known as “The Majestic Yosemite Hotel.” Some how, by putting majestic in the name the great hotel loses all majesty. Words can no longer do this hotel justice as it is stripped of the name of legend and lore. Along with Ahwahnee, Curry Village and the Wawona Hotel will also lose their familiar names — trading them in for titles like Half Dome Village — which is at least a little more respectable sounding and Big Trees Lodge (I’d have went for Mariposa) Other changes include: Yosemite Lodge at the Falls changes to “the Yosemite Valley Lodge.” Beloved Badger Pass Ski Area not raise the bar of creativity, settling for “Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.”

Locals have reportedly been speaking in disgust and outrage, questioning whether or not this is even a legitimate claim and conjuring ideas of petitions to stop the re-naming before it even happens. Word from the Park itself is that the change will happen March 1st of this year. I guess the question on everyone’s mind is this: will it matter? For me — heck yes it matters! Just think of all of the memorabilia, the guide books, the maps, the old tattered photographs, and countless other items that are printed with the original names upon them—how wasteful! My guess is losing the bid for a national icon likely made for a bitter ending to a longstanding contract and this could be a last ditch effort to either make a stand OR make some money. Either way, it’s the people, the environment, and our history that pay the price here. It might have been a fun public call for ideas to have a vote on the new names – residual ripples of the change are sure to be felt for at least a few seasons — hold on to those threadbare t-shirts from your childhood family trip!

Have you been to Yosemite? The Ahwahnee Hotel? What do you think about the name changes?