Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Yosemite National Park

By mid-2006, I had only nine parks left in my pursuit to visit every National Park in the lower 48 states. There were still two big-name parks left: Glacier and Yosemite, the latter being perhaps the biggest name of them all. It was time to go to Yosemite.

Yosemite National Park in California is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a mountain range much more impressive than one might think. People in the East such as me tend to think of the Rockies when they think of great mountains, but Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48, is in the Sierra Nevada. Many of Ansel Adams’ famous photographs were taken there. John Muir named his Sierra Club for them after spending much time “sauntering” among them. I first saw the Sierras rising over the Owens Valley on a visit to Manzanar National Historic Site in 2000, and I was quite surprised and impressed. Besides Yosemite, Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park are in the Sierra Nevada, and they will be the subject of my next blog entry. I have a book, National Parks of the Sierra Nevada, available on Blurb, which contains pictures from this trip. Speaking of books, The Moon Handbook for Yosemite by Ann Marie Brown is an excellent guide book. She is also the author of my favorite hiking guide, Day-Hiking California's National Parks.

Yosemite National Park is impressive, but the thrill was toned down a bit for me because of the excessive hype the park receives. Even Yosemite cannot live up to its own hype. However, it was indeed a thrill to stand in front of Half Dome and El Capitan. They are, of course, immediately recognizable. The park is beautiful, and the rounded granite mountains and cliffs are unlike any I have seen before. I tend not to use the term breath-taking, but there is no other term to use when standing at Glacier Point looking down at the whole valley. Despite the hype, Yosemite is an impressive sight and a great National Park.

San Francisco, about 200 miles from the park, is the obvious place to fly into when visiting Yosemite. I arrived late in the day on a Saturday, so I drove to Oakdale, about halfway there, to shop for groceries and spend the night. On the first night of a hiking trip I stop to get food that requires no refrigeration so I can carry it in my daypack for lunch. Slim Jims, bagels, and granola bars are among my favorites, though for my next trip I may try pouches of tuna. I also get breakfast items that may or may not require refrigeration depending on the motel I am staying at.

On Sunday morning I continued to the Hetch Hetchy entrance of the park. I chose that entrance so I could get miscellaneous sightseeing out of the way before starting my serious hiking in the Tuolumne Meadows area. Hetch Hetchy Valley has been a lake since about 1923 when the O'Shaughnessy Dam was completed to supply water to San Francisco. They may take away my Sierra Club membership for saying so, but I liked the scenery and I think the loss of the valley was not such a great loss. An alpine lake, real or impoundment, is a beautiful site. There are plenty of before and after photos on the internet for you to decide for yourself. From the parking area, there is a trail that goes over the dam and then around the north side of the lake. I took this trail past Wampana Falls and back. I especially liked the view of Kolana Rock.

After hiking at Hetch Hetchy, I drove to the Tioga Road. My destination was Mono Lake on the other side of the mountains. I had wanted to see this ever since I purchased Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here many years ago. If you do not understand this reference you are too young, but please continue reading anyway. Of course, the journey was just as important as the destination, since the Tioga Road crosses Yosemite National Park. The first exciting thing I saw was Half Dome from Olmstead Point. It was recognizable as Half Dome, but it looked very different than the usual view from Yosemite Valley. This was my first “Wow, I’m in Yosemite” moment. My next stop was Tenaya Lake, where I stopped to eat lunch. Tuolumne Meadows was next, and eventually I left the park and headed to Mono Lake. I stopped for gas in Lee Vining and got totally ripped off. Gas was about $3/gallon at the time, but it was $4 there. Travelers, beware!

Mono Lake was just as cool as I expected. I’ve never seen anything else quite like all the tufa formations sticking out of the lake. After poking around there for a while, I returned to the Tioga Road and headed back through the park to Yosemite Valley, where I was staying at Yosemite Lodge. I would have preferred to stay closer to Tuolumne Meadows where most of my hiking would be, but accommodations are tough to get at Yosemite. I was lucky to get even that since I dawdled and made my reservations only ten months ahead of time. I stayed in one of the smaller buildings of the Lodge. The $170 room was decent, and it had a refrigerator. Yosemite Falls was easily visible from the grounds. Of course, I spent some time wandering around the valley to see Half Dome, El Capitan, and the other well-known features. My first view of El Capitan upon heading into the valley earlier in the day was somewhat amusing (at least to me). I was driving along the road taking in the beauty of my surroundings when suddenly there was a huge wall of rock more or less in front of me. “What the heck?” I then realized that it was El Capitan, and I was too close to see the top. It was much bigger than I had expected.

Monday was my first day of real hiking, so I got up early to head to the Clouds Rest trailhead near Tenaya Lake. The drive from Yosemite Valley is rather long and takes over an hour. Clouds Rest is a peak further up Tenaya Canyon than Half Dome, which is more or less at the junction of the canyon and Yosemite Valley. Clouds Rest has what many hikers consider to be the best summit view in the park. I haven’t been to all of them, but I sure cannot disagree. Not too far into the hike, there was a beautiful mirror-like pond. It took me a while to pull myself away from it. As I hiked higher, I passed through both woods and open areas from which the view kept getting better. The final ascent is over step-like granite with drop-offs on both sides – totally cool. The view from the top is as advertised, and it is indeed spectacular.

After seeing the view from Clouds Rest, I made my final decision not to hike Half Dome. The view would be much the same, and I consider Half Dome to be a dangerous hike because of the combination of crowds and cables. After hiking back to the trailhead, I returned to Yosemite Valley to view El Capitan and Bridal Veil Falls, eat dinner, and relax. I ate dinner each night at the lodge food court. The food was good and value was excellent for a National Park, where they know they have a captive audience.

On Tuesday Morning I returned to the Tuolumne Meadows area to hike Lyell Canyon. The trail followed the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. It was quite chilly that morning, and at the beginning of the trail steam was rising from a small creek and dew on the grass made it appear silver. I hiked approximately ten miles, round trip. I knew I would not be able to hike to the end of the canyon and back (24 miles) in my allotted time, so I would have to choose a turn-around point. It is difficult planning a hike like this, because the temptation is to keep going until I reach the end. Turning around is difficult, even if it is in the plan. I reluctantly turned back when I thought I had gone five miles. For the portion I hiked, I would call it more of a valley than a canyon, as it was relatively wide and flat.

This hike turned out to be my favorite in the park. I was in a beautiful valley with a beautiful clear river running through it. Being from Michigan, I am genetically programmed to love trees and water over rock. After completing my hike, I popped over to Tuolumne Meadows and walked to the top of Pothole Dome to get an overview of the meadow. Then I returned to Yosemite Valley for dinner and to spend more time among the famous sites. The highlight of the evening was stopping at Tunnel View. This is a superb spot to view the valley all the way down to Half Dome, and is one of the obligatory stops for photographers. Returning to the valley floor, I got a nice sunset view of Half Dome.

Wednesday was my final day in Yosemite. Since I would be leaving through the south entrance, I saved the Glacier Point area for today. My first stop was at the end of the road at Glacier Point. The view was spectacular, one of the best I have ever seen. I could see Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and Clouds Rest beyond it, Vernal and Nevada Falls, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and mountain scenery for miles around. My only regret on this trip is that I didn’t take the shuttle up to Glacier Point and then hike back down to Yosemite Valley. It would have been a spectacular hike. Oh well, I guess that’s what next time is for.

After taking in the scenery at Glacier Point, I started back. Washburn Point is about ¾ mile down the road, and the views are also very good, but not quite as all-encompassing. The view of Half Dome from there is rather unusual in that it looked very skinny. Next I hiked a 2-mile round trip to Taft Point and the Fissures. The Fissures, as you might guess from the name, are big cracks in the cliff near Taft Point. The view of El Capitan was very interesting. It has a much different shape from up there than it does from the valley floor. I also made the 2-mile round trip to the top of Sentinel Dome for a slightly different view. Finally, I took a short walk to McGurk Meadow for a change of pace.

It was now time to leave Yosemite. I passed through the south entrance and stopped later in Oakhurst for dinner and an overnight stay. I had dinner at El Cid, a Mexican restaurant that had the biggest flan I have ever seen. I almost couldn’t eat it after my huge and tasty dinner. The next morning it was time to head to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, the subject of my next posting.

My visit: August 2006

1 comment:

  1. Nice photos! This is a outstanding place. Each season you get to see something new in the park. winter season is the best to visit. The waterfalls get turns into a giant ice walls. It really worth's visit.
    Yosemite national park