We left San Francisco on Highway 580E with our GPS guiding us across the Bay Bridge. It was quite a challenge travelling on a major six lane freeway and trying to predict which was the right lane for us to be in. Eventually we turned off onto Highway 6 and then 120 towards Yosemite. I’m quite comfortable driving on the other side of the road – it’s just that the traffic moves very fast, there are an enormous number of trucks and when you don’t know exactly which direction to take, it can be a little difficult!
After leaving the greater city area, we travelled for mile after mile through orchards growing almonds, pecans and apricots. These orchardists were in some trouble over the last few years as some form of disease had killed most of the local bees. Without bees the trees can’t be pollinated and the crops fail. I seem to remember Australian apiarists exporting millions of bees to replace the local ones. The country around here is extremely dry with a drought in place now for over five years.
There was evidence of some fires as we came closer to Yosemite although the regrowth suggested that they didn’t occur this season. We found quite a few stands of pine trees that looked as though they died. It’s true that some had died because of the drought but others had been killed by a Bark Beetle that is wreaking havoc in this area. Its sad to see mature trees under stress and I hope that we don’t see this for the total length of our trip.
Yosemite was the first National Park declared in the United States. I’s enormous – covering 3,027 square kilometres. About 4 million people visit Yosemite each year to see its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, and extensive biological diversity. The park ranges in elevation from 648 to 3,997 metres and contains five major vegetation zones: chaparral/oak woodland, lower montane forest, upper montane forest, subalpine zone, and an alpine zone. Twenty percent of California’s 7,000 plant species can be found within Yosemite including more than 160 rare plants.
The geology of the Yosemite area results in stunning views and fantastic vistas. It is mostly granitic rock. About 10 million years ago, the Sierra Nevada range, within which the park is located, was uplifted and tilted to form its relatively gentle western slopes and the more dramatic eastern slopes. The uplift made the rivers and streams fall at a steeper slope, resulting in the formation of deep, narrow canyons. About 1 million years ago, snow and ice accumulated up to 1200 metres in thickness, forming glaciers that flowed down the river valleys from the high alpine meadows. These glaciers ruthlessly cut out masses of rock and sculpted the enormous U-shaped Yosemite Valley where we are staying.
There are many spectacular peaks in Yosemite, but two stand out – Half Dome and El Capitan. These will be very familiar to Apple computer users as they have been featured in the last two versions of their operating systems. Just outside the park gate, we had our first glimpse of Half Dome in the distance. It stood out at the head of a valley with its sharp angular peak. and was very exciting to see, although Jill remaind quite unimpressed.
We continued on to our accommodation at Yosemite Lodge, stopping to take photos along the way (like, every few hundred metres). This is an amazingly photogenic place. We had a few days of cool and cloudy weather and the light was excellent for photoraphy. I took some of my best photos on this first afternoon.
Half way along the valley we had our first view of the other major peak, El Capitan. This imposing vertical peak rises 900 metres from its base to its summit. It was first climbed in 1958 and is one of the world’s favourite locations for climbing and base jumping.
The hotel at Yosemite has been built as a lodge style accommodation and has one thing going for it – its location right in the centre of the valley. In most other senses, it is a disappointment. The rooms are dark and dreary. You certainly wouldn’t want to be suffering from depression here as there is nothing sunny and bright about these rooms at all. In this environment, I guess that most people spend most of their time outdoors, rather than inside.
There are two places at which to eat. The Grill is a cafeteria style cafe and serves food that is worse than I remember having in the Army. It’s just crap!. The scrambled eggs at breakfast look (and taste) similar to fragmented rubber and the sausages resemble dog poo. The meals at lunch and dinner make an economy airline meal look like Cordon Bleu. The Mountain View Restaurant which serves dinner just qualifies as an average quality restaurant but it doesn’t take bookings and unless you get there at 5.30 pm , you risk an hour’s wait to be seated. Jill was going absolutely feral over the wait for dinner last night and they actually jumped us up in the queue to get as out of the way. On our first night there, we ordered a bottle of wine. The waitresses’s reaction was ‘a bottle!!!!!!????,’ as if we were alcoholics. I was very thirsty, so I proved it to her by ordering a beer as well!
On our second day, we explored all the photo spots ion the valley (a couple of times) and then headed out to the historic area of Wawona where we thought we could find something to eat for lunch. It was about 35 kilometres away and an interesting drive. The local store and gas station sold sandwiches but they had sold out and directed us to the golf shop at the old hotel. A very nice young guy made us a hot dog which we ate in the sun at a table overlooking their little 9-hole golf course.
On our way back, we deviated to one of the most spectacular lookouts to which I have ever been to at Glacier Point. This view point high on a granite peak looks directly over the valley (if you aren’t scared of heights and are able to look straight down). It has spectacular views over Half Dome and the valley carved out by the glacier. It was a drive of almost twenty miles along a narrow winding road but by now I am learning the dimensions of the Ford Explorer 4WD that we have, so it wasn’t too difficult to miss oncoming vehicles and as well as avoid rocks and trees to the right off the road.
We also did another circuit of the Yosemite Valley and came across some more superb scenery.
The Yosemite Falls are just near our hotel. I have read that in spring, these are a raging torrent. I expected that by this time of year ,they would be dry, however, they are still flowing – noticeably less on our third day her than on our first. I think that the have been replenished by the heavy rains that occurred over a wide area of California a week, or so, ago.
Today, our last day here, we took it easy and after choosing a slightly better breakfast option than yesterday, we headed out to a location known as El Portal. This tiny town has a populaiton of only three hundred people but has a large hotel complex (one of the one’s outside the park boundary). This would have been an alternative place for us to stay. It also has a gas station – none are allowed inside the park itself. I took the option of topping up our fuel tank and buying a quite reasonable sandwich from their shop. It was also a good place to photograph some of the cascades in the Merced River which flows out of the Park.
O 0ur way back to the hotel, we passed one of the places where some maintenance work is being performed on the park environment. Some contractors are repaving some of the roads and the problem they create is they shut down one of the lanes for a few miles over a couple of days while they lay new bitumen. This means that you can’t stop at any of the good parking spots to walk or take photos. There is also a controlled burn taking place in once section of the valley. It is rather innocuous but it does create some annoying smoke haze although sometimes you can take advantage of this annoyance for a pleasant photo affect.