Thursday, June 7, 2012

Travel - Yosemite National Park - Another Day in Wonderland

     Our day ahead was one we looked forward to for a long time. Deb and I were leaving Lake Tahoe and headed south and westward toward Yosemite National Park. Yosemite was an anticipated stop during a week-long group tour throughout central California. We drove several hours to our first point of interest stopping at Mono Lake.

Mono Lake

     Mono is a saline lake sitting below a mountainside. The quiet of the surroundings was immediately noticeable and appreciated. We walked along a pathway and could hear birds chirping in the distance. I enjoyed the silence and the solitude.
     Mark Twain quoted the lake in his book titled Roughing It. Twain stated, "Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn, silent, sail-less sea - his lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth - is little graced with the picturesque...
    It may be lonely, but I've seen some spectacular photos of the lake with swirling clouds and skies painted in violet and pink. I don't know how long I would have enjoyed the silence before the need to hear the noise of the busy east. I make a simple photograph with a bright blue sky reflecting part of the mountain in the lake. Nothing dramatic, all the same it is mine to keep. It was a brief stop before our tour bus headed for the Tioga Pass on Route 120 crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains. The pass is a winding roadway with the highest elevation measuring 9,943 feet. The views are spectacular and I was glad not to be driving. Looking down over the cliffs with 2,000 ft. drops would have made for white knuckle driving. There are tradeoffs when taking motor coach tours. I do appreciate having a skillful driver. But at times, I'd like to stop at a lookout or a spot interesting to hike and explore.
Sign at the eastern gate of Yosemite.
     But when covering the area for the first time it was nice to sit and have a knowledgeable tour guide pointing out all the interesting sites along the way into Yosemite.
     The Tioga Pass and eastern entrance to the park are closed from the first snow in November until the roadway can be cleared of deep snow and surface damage repaired in late spring. This was the highway I wanted to take winding up and around switchbacks and down the other side until we saw the wooden sign for Yosemite National Park. The park derserves a larger marquee announcing the arrival to such a grand spot but I understand the idea of keeping it simple and understated. They let nature speak for herself.
Half Dome

     Passing the gate, I laugh to myself thinking, "Move over Ansel, Johnny's taking pictures in the park today!" But with such a short time, the photos I click were only snapshots nothing classically Adams worthy. But, within the park, I'm finally in the company of one of the gems of the United States.
     I travel light when headed out on these adventures leaving my heavy professional cameras and long lens at home preferring to carry a high end snapshot camera. There are limitations when wrestling with the lightweight model trying to get a more wide angle view than the camera allows.
     But, I'm not on a snapshot gathering expedition. I'm there to participate not just record everything I see. I dip my hands in the cold Merced to get a sense of the melting snow pack that feeds the river. My eyes are opened to the Sequoia and Redwood trees that dwarf me, touching the thick craggy bark that protects them from fires. I pick my spots for photographs. My need is to experience Yosemite knowing that I'm treading on the same ground as naturalist John Muir.
     Muir said it best when quoted on Yosemite. "It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter."

View of Yosemite Valley from the overlook at Tunnel View.

     We drove down into the Yosemite Valley and got my first view of Half Dome before exiting the bus. We have an hour to get settled in with our surroundings before boarding an open air wagon pulled by a giant tractor. The park ranger driving the vehicle fills in all the details passing by the granite monoliths. We wound our way to a location called Tunnel View. Peering down into the valley, you can see how endless time carved out Yosemite Valley and nature rebuilt it in a carpet of pine and fir trees.
     From the panoramic overlook the cliffs of El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls and Sentinel Rock are visible. I shoot my favorite photo of the trip from this spot.
Yosemite Falls
     Our time is limited and we make the most of it by hiking over to Yosemite Falls. Due to the heavy snowstorms from the previous winter the water pours over the cliff face. It's the middle of July and are told how lucky we are that normally the falls are running at a trickle this time of the year.We sit on a downed tree looking at boulders left behind by glaciers. There were many people at this spot but we never felt crowded. It was a relaxing location as polite vacationers and outdoorsmen come and go without spoiling the moment.
     As we were leaving the park Deb finally got to see what she was looking for the entire trip. By the side of the road was a young Black Bear and the mother keeping a watchful eye on her growing cub. Her trip is now complete and could have ended right there. They were the first bears she has seen in the wild. There was more to do in the coming days as we drove out of Yosemite on our way to Monterey and a ride along the Pacific Coast Highway at Big Sur.
    Another great day in Nature's wonderland.

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