Friday, May 24, 2013

Rx for too much civilization

When we feel a need to reconnect with nature our favorite place to visit is Yosemite Valley.  May is the ideal time.  The valley isn’t yet crowded with summer visitors, the meadows are green, the falls are magnificent, and the dog wood trees are at their peak.  We could only get away for 3 nights this time– but it was great!
Half dome from the Sentinel Dome Loop trail
It has been a busy spring for both of us – and before we plow into summer plans this was the time for a mid week get away.  From Fremont , we drove 4 hours... but we are off the freeway after two...We traveled through the orchards and vineyards on the San Joaquin... to emerge into the dry grasslands of the foothills and beyond into Oak Savanna and scrub chaparrals, then the progression of conifers... each zone dictated by sunlight, temperature, and water...

A cluster of dog wood blossoms
 Yosemite  valley is about 4000 feet.  This is the incredible place of sculpted granite walls carved by glacial ice. It is a land of falling water, meadows, oak and pine forests... There is a continual struggle between keeping the valley wild, permitting a real nature experience for visitors,  and development to provide a wider range of accommodations .  I dont even like to visit the Valley in July and August – it becomes absolutely urban.  

Two squabbling Ravens in the early morning
Yet people love to come here to camp and connect with granite cliffs, trees, falling water, and wildlife.  But for each campfire permitted the air of the valley becomes more hazy, for each amenity provided, the valley becomes less natural.

Housekeeping tent cabins
In recent years there has been a strong effort to reduce services, limit camping, limit traffic flow, designate certain areas off limits to human foot traffic to maintain the natural world... You can’t have both unlimited development and a natural Yosemite... I clearly support the new limits even though it means that it is more difficult for us to visit,,,

Bottom part of Yosemite falls from the trail between Taft Pt. and Sentinel Dome
We had never stayed in the housekeeping tent cabins before – while we prefer tent camping, for a quick get away this was "OK".  Our tent cabin would accommodate 4 people with thick foam mattresses, an open air kitchen area, fenced in privacy, a firepit, and a table...  Being enclosed within a small fenced enclosure felt constraining to me.   However, from our kitchen area we had a direct view of Yosemite falls! 
Reflection of Glacier Point in the Merced River - 

Monday we arrived about 2 PM and after settling in – had time for a good walk on the Valley floor along the river ... being in a valley with high walls the sun sets early and people go to sleep early! 

Tuesday we travelled up to Tuolumne Meadows ( almost 10,000 ft. ) , our favorite summertime location.  Now we found it to be just emerging from winter.  Deep piles of snow remained wherever there was no direct sunlight.  Streamside willows were not even thinking about leafing out yet...  But we did see one old marmot had come out of hibernation. Deer were taking advantage of the first grass in the meadows. ( but they were sadly skinny from the lean days of winter).   
Tuolomnie Meadows near Tioga Pass - May 2013

There was a fierce cold wind blowing at Tioga Pass and we dropped down to the lower Tioga Lake on the East side of the pass.    Here we were out of the wind – but we had to choose our path carefully to avoid the deep snow... We made out way cross-country around the lake and selected a sunny spot when we could advance no farther and here we shared our picnic lunch with a fine view of lake and snowy mountains.  In the sun it was nicely warm!  Judy read and I climbed higher rocky outcroppings.  I love rambling and making my way among the rocks – and this time of year it was all so fresh from the winter melt!  We loved it!

Our friend the Marmot
The second day we drove up toward Glacier Point, and parked at the trailhead for Taft point and Sentinel Dome...  We did a 5 mile loop that took us through sparse high elevation forest of Jeffrey pine, manzanita, and chinquapin.  The moisture brought up by the prevailing wind from the valley promoted a thick growth of the bright yellow tree lichen.  

Yellow Green Lichen in the path of upswept moist air from the valley floor
The overlook from Taft point is a “wow” experience.  There seem to be 3 kinds of people in this world, when it comes to looking over a precipice– those that cant make themselves look over the railing, those that really like that kind of stuff, and those with approach-avoidance who go to the railing and look but with white knuckles gripping the rail... When  you look over the railing, it is straight down 4000 feet plus...!
Looking straight down 4000 ft. ( view slightly magnified )

From Taft Point  we walked along the top rim of the valley with occasional breathtaking views until we reached Sentinel Dome – Perhaps you remember this tree as a symbol of perseverance against the tough things in life make us tougher and stronger... Sorry to say this tree finally died of old age and its tough environment... (I grew up in Kansas with a photo of this tree on our wall!)  The view from Sentinel Dome is a 360 degree view from the top of the world!  Looking east, lies the highest and most grand portion of the Sierra Mountains! Another "wow".

Ansel Adams famous photo of the Jeffrey Pine atop Sentinel Dome

What is it about the mountain experience that breaks down barriers?  When we met people on the trail, if we were buying food, if we were admiring a view, or our camping neighbors – everyone talks – everyone shares... I love it!  We met so many traveling Europeans, people from all parts of the US, a few people from Asia... all anxious to talk!  I even found one of my AP Biology students from 10 years ago!

Every morning we made coffee and cooked breakfast with our propane stove, took food for lunch with us when out on the trail, and we ate in the Camp Curry cafeteria in the evening.   Food tasted so good when  you are honestly hungry!

Rare saprophytic plant takes nutrients from the pine tree roots ( with fungus helpers )
"Pine Drops"
 Nights were cold but we were prepared – we slept warm.  No bears invaded our camp. We slept the sleep of the just thanks to our long walking.  We went to sleep with beautiful pictures of nature in our heads.  Plus we were completely away from TV, internet, phones... whoopee!  

We are already planning our next trip!!