Friday, April 5, 2013

Early Spring in Yosemite Valley

When  things get too busy, sometimes we feel like we need to get away for a few days – Spring break was the perfect excuse!  Judy and I found that it was possible to reserve a tent cabin in Yosemite Valley for 3 nights last week– and we jumped on it. This time of year – spring is just emerging in the valley – the crowds are small – and the waterfalls are at their peak.  There are still patches of snow – but new buds are emerging.  There are some trails that are just too hot  (and crowded) to enjoy in the summer time – but now they were a delight.

A brooding half dome - late evening - cloudy
Most all the people who stay in the unheated tents gather in the evenings  in the  rustic lounge.  There is a big warm fire in the stone fireplace, and plenty of comfortable chairs and couches.  It is conducive to starting conversations with strangers and making new friends.  Yosemite valley draws such an international group of visitors – It is a veritable gathering of world cultures…  It is a place to share Yosemite adventures and to learn about excursions yet untaken. 

Yosemite falls from "half way up"
I have explored most all the trails and byways of Yosemite Valley– but each visit brings surprises.  While Judy read a good book I set out on the first morning on a modest trek… The mighty Yosemite falls has two levels – there is a flat trail to the base of the lower falls and a moderate steep hike to the base of the larger falls.  The trail was cool and pleasant – there were Ravens calling and little brown birds that I couldn’t identify… there were quite a large number of millipedes more than 4 inches in length with rhythmic leg motions that ran the length of their bodies.  But was specially interesting to me was the emergence of new life in each small seep or meadow… the winter is past…

Base of Yosemite falls, ice mass, mist....

The trail is an engineering marvel in itself – with steps and inset granite stones marking all the difficult stretches… Probably this work goes back into the 1920’s…After a steep climb 2 hour climb there is a long traverse above the rocks to a corner that turns back toward the falls – and suddenly – there it is – A great free falling of water, hurling great clouds of mist into the air…

Ice mass at base of Yosemite Falls - composed on frozen mist.... See photo below to get a sense of the size!
 The freezing temperatures of winter have created a massive body of ice at the base of the falls.   The ice has collapsed under its own weight to form a pattern of concentric layers  This is a site to sit and meditate upon and not rush …  The sense of easy conversations continues on the trail.  It is amazing how much information it is possible to exchange in a 3 minute trail break!

Merced River in the last week of March

The next day Judy and I took a picnic and walked along the Merced River that flows the length  of the valley.  At one point the merger of the river and a side stream that flows away from the Yosemite falls trapped us.   The merger formed a magically peninsula – a place to remember and visit again.   On we wandered exploring parts of the river community that we had never seen before – There were sprouting meadows, oak forests home to races wood peckers (who had filled the tree trunks with storage holes for acorns), we encountered a beautiful  coyote in his winter coat and bushy tail – quite happy to coexist with people.

Route to the top of Yosemite falls ( I've done it twice - but not this year...)
This time of year the most spectacular aspect of Yosemite Valley is the constantly interplay of rock, light, falling water, and clouds.    Half dome, the lost needle, royal arches, the massive fallen boulders on the valley floor, Glacier Point, massive El Capitan… each  has its time of day… Light makes all the difference – Good photos are about light and shadows.

One of the great Yosemite meadows waiting to sprout green- perennial grasses
The waterfalls were quite good right now .  Some of the falls will be reduced to a trickle on a dry year like this. But enough of the upper snow pack is melting to maintain a good flow.  I have never seen ‘Ribbon Falls’ – its hard to see unless you are directly below – but I found a great vantage point across the valley – only problem is that it doesn’t really show the magnitude of the falls.  Vernal and Nevada falls were in full flow… passing over the many rocks of ‘Happy isles’ below.

Ribbon falls - from across the valley - this falls free practically the full depth of the valley...Note trees at bottom for scale...
There are fine groves of ‘big trees’ – "Sequoia Gigantia" – one grove had badly damaged by fire a few years back – other grove is quite inaccessible and requires a long hike- but this trip we learned about another grove near ‘White Wolf’ with a good trail (bit steep) that we will have to leave until next time.  There are always new adventures to discover in Yosemite.

The Valley was a favorite site for Native Americans before the arrival of Americans...