Friday 15 October 2010
October 15, 2010
Yosemite National Park, California
I've been so busy discover the new worlds in the past few years that I've forgotten about my own back yard. There are many world famous sights right here in California and one of the joys of marrying an Austrian woman is playing travel guide in my home state. Manuela and I are visiting the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Pacific Ocean this week (October 12-18, 2010). After three days of exploring Yosemite National Park, we will relax for three days in Capitola-by-the-Sea.
We arrived in Oakhurst Tuesday evening (October 12) where the Best Western Hotel is a bit dated but clean and reasonably priced. This town of a few thousand people is only 15 minutes from the south entrance, Yosemite Valley is 35 miles farther north and because of resurfacing on Highway 41, it took about 90 minutes to drive get there from Oakhurst Wednesday morning (October 13).
Yosemite's most popular sights are in the valley and many of them can be seen from the Tunnel View overlook. Although named for the adjacent highway tunnel, the vista point could also get its name from the view up the narrow valley - El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Half Dome line up in a picture perfect column. Manuela and I got our first indication of the Yosemite's national and international appeal there; we saw several cars with out-of-state license plates and heard several different languages.
Lonely Planet's Yosemite guide book says the best way to avoid Yosemite crowds is to get out of the car and onto a hiking trail, so we decided to begin our visit to the valley floor on Lower Yosemite Valley Loop, a moderate six mile hike with minimal elevation gain. We started at Bridal Veil Falls, which was impressive despite the late season. Even with minimal water falling, the 617 foot cascade from the sheer cliff above was impressive.
Bridal Veil Falls
The rest of the crowd returned to the nearby parking lot but we hiked east along the south bank of the Merced River. Half way up the valley we crossed over to the north side and looped back west. We passed beneath El Capitan, one of the world's largest granite monoliths, where several groups of climbers attempting El Capitan's face; they were little more than brightly colored specks. At the lower end of the Valley, we re-crossed the Merced River and hiked back to Bridal Veil Falls. A trail side monument near the south bank marks where naturalist John Muir convinced President Teddy Roosevelt over a campfire to preserve Yosemite as a national treasure. It doesn’t say if shared s'mores
By the time we returned to Bridal Veil Falls, our six mile introductory hike turned into a three hour nine mile trek; we were very tired when we drove to Yosemite Village. While looking for a parking space in the main lot, Manuela noticed many more out-of-state license plates, so we started a list. We tallied nearly 20 different states and a van from Germany before leaving that parking lot! It was late afternoon when we got to the village and most of the facilities were closing, so we strolled around for a bit before driving back to Oakhurst. We stopped off at the Tunnel View again for evening pictures.
Manuela and I debated whether to ride the free shuttle from the Yosemite's south entrance back to Yosemite Valley on Thursday (October 14) to avoid construction delays, but decided to drive ourselves because we wanted to go to Glacier Point at sunset. We began our second day with a short hike to Yosemite Falls. At 2425 feet it is one of the world tallest. While most people remained at the viewing platform below, Manuela and I scampered over, around, and under giant boulders until we were standing under the falling water. There is a pool of very clear and very cold water at the base and I couldn't resist the temptation to take a swim. My father would have said it was refreshing!
Anyone who has been following my travels the past two years knows about Manuela's fondness for graveyards. She says tombstones and epitaphs reveal a lot about a local culture. We learned a lot about Yosemite Village's early days by visiting the pioneer cemetery. It is the final resting place of Galen “Guardian of Yosemite” Clark. There are several rough cut granite markers including the large Hutchings family stone that has names carved on all four sides. One grave is marked simply "Boy."
After visiting the museum and the Ansel Adams Gallery, Manuela and I drove up to Glacier Point, which sits atop a sheer cliff 3000 feet/914 meters above Yosemite Valley; the eastern view of Half Dome (8836 ft/2693 M), Cloud's Rest (9926 ft/3025 M), and Cathedral Peak (10940 ft/3334 M) is spectacular. Manuela wanted to see the sun set over California, but we settled for the slow drama of Half Dome fading through shades of orange, rose, and pink.
Half Dome at sunset
Although we will be driving west across California today, Manuela and I decided to drive back to Yosemite this morning (October 15) and visit the grove of Giant Sequoias near the south entrance. Several trails wind through the Mariposa Grove and pass a dozen notable trees; visiting every tree would entail a four mile hike. We had enough hiking, though, and decided to visit just a couple trees. But I think the National Park System strategically planted the trees "just another half mile" apart from each other.
After reaching the Bachelor and Three Graces, Manuela and I decided to continue on to the Grizzly Giant which was "just another half mile" further. The California Tunnel Tree was "just another half mile" beyond that. Before we knew it, two and a half hours passed and we hiked to nearly every tree. Before leaving the Mariposa Grove, we circled the parking lot once in search of more out-of-state plates. We spotted two new ones which brought our total to 31 different states, all within Yosemite National Park.
See you in Capitola!
Mariposa Grove 219