Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Beautiful and Precious Day: Yosemite in Winter

As I noted in this morning's post, I needed to decide whether to be fully prepared for the new semester, or be irresponsible and let a few prep items wait until the weekend. Logic won out, so we headed up the road to get out of the fog for a few hours and see what winter in Yosemite could provide us. What a day!

Have I ever mentioned that I drive a Subaru? With the all-wheel drive that I am really happy with? I passed everyone putting on their snow chains and took the Big Oak Flat Entrance road to Crane Flat, which at 6,200 feet was beneath several feet of fresh new snow. The trees were weighted down, and there was a constant rain of snow chunks off the branches and onto the ground (and cars) below. My car didn't crash into anything or spin out (possibly because I was going about 12 mph...). That's one of the nice things about California: we get to visit the snow if we want to, but we don't have to live in it unless we want to.
So many of the usual wonderful sights in Yosemite Valley take on a completely different aspect under a mantle of snow and ice. Bridalveil Fall (above) and Cloud's Rest were coated with ice, looking most unlike their summer selves. The furrows on the northern slope of Cloud's Rest are avalanche chutes, and several fresh slides can be seen in the photo (click on the photo to enlarge and check below the two barren spots).

Upper Yosemite Fall had a special treat for us, an afternoon rainbow...
One of the most beautiful trees in the world had barren snow-covered branches, and a few broken ones, but it will be back in the spring. I'll have to take a closer look on a warmer day; I always assumed it was an oak of some kind, but I've heard it called an elm tree (I'm open to corrections, I'm a geologist, not a botanist!).
The snowdrifts melt into ponds in places that are normally meadows during warmer seasons. The Cathedral Rocks were nicely reflected on the water in the meadow below.
The days are certainly shorter, and our few hours were used up quickly. We needed to leave before the ice on the roads froze, but we couldn't resist the sunset, so we stopped at Valley View and enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine on the granite cliffs....
...and the rising mist on the Bridalveil Meadow, with the face of El Capitan in the distance. Funny how someone's like or dislike of fog can be highly dependent on the setting in which it occurs...
The last gift of our journey was one of the locals hanging out along the highway near the park exit. I know the coyote looks like he is thinking deep carnivorous philosophy, but he was mostly asking for a handout. We waved and moved on, back down the hill into the valley fog and darkness.
Our national parks are precious places.
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