Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Finding Peace in the Nation's Most Crowded Park: A Walk Through Yosemite Valley

If you've read my previous couple of posts, you know I was in Yosemite Valley over the weekend. I was guiding my students on a field trip up the Merced River and into the park on Saturday, and I came back on Sunday seeking some better pictures of the recent rockfall at El Capitan.
We can't park a big bus just anywhere on the floor of Yosemite Valley, so I had to let my students loose to find their way to the upper end of the valley using the free trams. There was enough time that I decided to walk the three or so miles from Yosemite Lodge to Happy Isles, picking whatever winding combination of roads, trails, or sandy river shoreline I could find (there's a direct route, but why stick to that?). I was almost immediately awarded with a nice view of Yosemite Falls, which at 2,425 feet is about the seventh highest waterfall in the world. To my surprise, there was a bit of water flowing, kind of unusual this late in the fall.
The fall colors may not match the technicolor splendor that happens in the hardwood forests of the eastern U.S., but then those forests don't have the backdrop of vertical granite walls that Yosemite has. I was reveling in the splash of color here and there. I often think that fall is my favorite time of year here.

I made my way across the meadow trail to Sentinel Bridge. The cliffs of Glacier Point loomed high above. I didn't realize that I'd be up there looking down the very next day (that will be another post).
Half Dome seems to loom over every meadow view in the valley. It rises 4,800 feet above the valley floor. Although glacial ice filled the valley to the rim, Half Dome stood above the frozen rivers. It was shaped by exfoliation sheeting (corners and edges snapping off), as well as a bit of undercutting from the glaciers below. As you will see in a near future post, Half Dome would better be called Four-fifths Dome, but that doesn't flow so well. Actually I prefer the Native American name of Tis-sa-ack ("Crying Girl").
Because people tend to stare at Yosemite Falls when they are flowing, they find it easy to miss the prominent cliff of Yosemite Point and the Castle Cliffs (below).
I crossed the Merced River at Sentinel Bridge, and got a colorful version of the iconic view of Tis-sa-ack reflected in the still water.
It's the funniest thing...the seven square miles of the floor of Yosemite Valley may very well be the most crowded real estate in the national park system. The park doesn't get the highest number of visitors in the system, but it does get five million, and something like 90% of them spend their visit in the valley. And yet, despite the crowds on the day I was there, the moment I got off the road, I invariably found myself alone. Finding peace in the middle of tourist chaos is a precious gift, and I soaked it in.
Approaching the footbridge near the empty Curry Housekeeping Camp, I had a fine view towards Yosemite Point and the Castle Cliffs reflected on the Merced River.
I quickly walked through the gaggle of people at the stores in Curry Village (I'm not a purist; I stopped for a Gatorade at the store). I headed up the trail to Happy Isles. I started to find more and more Dogwood trees turning shades of pink and yellow. I made it to the Nature Center and met with my students to talk about geology, and then we made our way back to Yosemite Lodge.
While I was talking to the students one last time, I happened to turn and saw the Moon rising along the cliffs off to the southeast. I snapped some zoomed pictures, only to find later that I was aiming directly at Glacier Point. If you look closely, you can see the fencing and people gathered on the edge of the precipice. I was pleased with the effect.

We got on the bus and headed home, and despite the hubbub of running around with students all day, it was one of the most serene experiences I've had in a while. And best of all, I would be up there again the next day!