Monday, October 4, 2010 Intermittent fog and rain in the morning, steady rain in the afternoon, 50 degrees
The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is 400 miles long and 80 miles wide. Yosemite occupies 1,200 square miles within that range, and of those 1,200 square miles only 1% is regularly used by the public, Yosemite Valley. The Merced River runs through this narrow valley, and steep granite walls hem it in.
The forces of nature are evident everywhere. Some granite cliffs have been broken, chiseled, gouged, and striated by erosion, and others polished smooth by the movement of glaciers. The force of moving water has thrown rocks and boulders down the hillsides and into the riverbed. Even part of the main road into the park is closed because of a rock slide, and we heard other rocks falling several times during the day.
The fog and rain that followed us into the park this morning lessened as we walked the trail to the foot of Bridalveil Falls. The water sprays over the trail and everything around it as it tumbles 620 feet, but no one could really tell on a day like this.
Soon we rounded a turn in the road, and there, staring us in the face, was El Capitan, at 3,000 feet the biggest and tallest granite monolith in the world. Although we have seen it in numerous pictures, we were surprised how its mass and grand presence reign over the valley. When we stopped at the Cathedral picnic area and walked down to the riverbed, we looked up through the trees for another view of El Capitan. Beside it were the Three Brothers, while imposing themselves, appear subservient to their neighboring captain.
In contrast to the scarred ruggedness of El Capitan are the smooth sides of Half Dome. Its name suits it since it looks like a quarter of a sphere, peering down on the valley. The descriptive panel on the bridge over the Merced River reads, "Massive granite domes form when large curved layers of rock 'exfoliate' or slab off," another way erosion changes the landscape.
Driving toward Yosemite Village we saw this impressive waterfall to our left. We were surprised when we finally recognized it as Yosemite Falls which at 2,425 feet is the highest North American waterfall. We had read and been told that because it is snow fed, it runs dry in August. But apparently the recent rains rejuvenated it so we were able to see this spectacular sight. Yosemite Falls is actually made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall, the middle cascades, and the Lower Yosemite Fall. Just before we left the park, we walked to the foot of the Lower Yosemite Fall. By itself it is beautiful, but it's amazing to realize it's just part of the spectacular whole.
We finally made it into Yosemite Village. At the Visitor Center we read about the geological formation of Yosemite NP, its indigenous plants, animals, and people, and those who campaigned to preserve this natural treasure as a national park. We were watching the film, "Spirit of Yosemite," in the theater when the thunder rolled, and the heaviest rains of the day fell. From then on we popped in and out of the shops, stores, and Ansel Adams Art Gallery between downpours.
Finally, we waded over to The Ahwahnee, the six-story concrete and stone hotel, which has hosted Queen Elizabeth, star athletes, actors, artists, and other celebrities. We wandered through the public rooms, admiring its towering ceilings, elegant light fixtures, furniture and upholstery, tall windows, and three fireplaces large enough to stand in. Every room has views through French windows out into the valley. At rates between $400 and $1,200 per night, needless to day, we didn't book a room there.
Although it rained all day, there were enough breaks in the fog to get some beautiful pictures of this park. Sunshine would have been better, of course, but at least it wasn't snow!
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Mariposa, CA 140 into Yosemite Village and back to Mariposa