“Down through the middle of the Valley flows the crystal Merced, River of Mercy, peacefully quiet, reflecting lilies and trees and the onlooking rocks; things frail and fleeting and types of endurance meeting here and blending in countless forms, as if into this one mountain mansion Nature had gathered her choicest treasures, to draw her lovers into close and confiding communion with her.” ― John Muir
The more I read of John Muir, the more I feel akin to him. It’s like he speaks my mind, although far more eloquently than I am able. How marvelous it must have been to sit and converse with him amidst natures beauty. Yosemite Valley was a particular favorite of his, as is evident by his writings. It’s no wonder that Yosemite National Park, with it’s flowing rivers, deep and diverse forests, and towering monoliths of granite, is a favorite to many. It has drawn me back several times.
I traveled to Yosemite early on my journey… winter of 2011… in hopes of seeing this landscape draped in snow for the first time. Unfortunately there was little snow and I had only one day to spend in the valley, but it was beautiful and refreshing as always.
During my most recent visit to Yosemite I was happy to connect with Bay Area friends, Michelle and Sue (and their three dogs), for a few days of exploring together. I’m usually exploring on my own, so it’s a treat when friends join me along the way.
I was camped outside the park in El Portal near where Michelle and Sue were staying, which made it convenient to travel into the valley together. Since dogs are not allowed on the trails I left Jazzy and Sadie behind the first morning. As it turned out they could have gone along because most of our morning was spent driving around the valley, hopping out for short jaunts to better vistas from time to time. Michelle and Sue’s dogs were happy to be along for the ride!
We could not have asked for a prettier day! The only thing missing for me were the puffy white clouds that would add a little drama to the sky and cut a bit of glare. But that’s just me.
As we drove through the valley I pointed out a shape in the side of El Capitan which to me always looks like a heart. Neither of the gals had noticed the heart during their many visits to Yosemite and were amused enough to stop for a few pictures of it, and of me with it. This shape, formed by rock falling away from the face of El Capitan, is known as “Fran’s Heart” to them now. Cool! If I have to leave my heart somewhere it may as well be Yosemite!
After the sun rose high in the sky (usually not the best time of day for photography) we headed out of the valley to check on my girls and have a bite to eat. The hillsides along the Merced River were bright and vibrant with spring color, requiring a few stops along the way. While picnicking outside my motorhome with all five dogs at our feet, we watched clouds rolling over the surrounding hills and decided to high-tail it back into the valley for what I knew would be better photo ops. Michelle is a photo enthusiast and I happily spent my time with them mentoring her.
We drove up to the viewpoint near the tunnel on Wawona Road in the morning, but I was uninspired by the light. By the time we arrived back in the park that afternoon the clouds had changed the scene substantially, so the first stop we made was at that same viewpoint. [I have to add that there is nothing quite like driving through this tunnel for the first time. It “delivers” you, in a rather dramatic way, to one of the most breathtaking views you will ever encounter.]
Shortly after, we hiked up the Vernal Falls Trail while the dogs waited patiently in the car. As it happens, John Muir Trail connects to this trail just above Vernal Falls.
I’m always seeing things! Things that other people don’t see or take note of. Faces and animals in particular… in clouds, in textures, in shapes. While hiking back from Vernal Falls… as we rounded several turns on the trail… I kept seeing an evil looking face in the granite ahead of us! Is it just me, or do some of you see it as well?
The following day the three of us and our five dogs ventured back into the park fairly early. Early enough to find a layer of mist hovering on the valley floor as the sun was making it’s grand entrance. Again, we drove around the valley. I should say that Sue drove us around the valley… stopping to let Michelle and I out at the slightest sound of “Oooohh, ooohh!” She patiently waited in the car with our dogs as we ventured off in search of the perfect angle for a shot.
Many of the trails (and roads) in the park were still closed for the season, but the trail to Bridalveil Falls was open and short enough to hike while the dogs stayed behind in the shade.
While discussing the heart I’d found in the side of El Capitan I also told Sue and Michelle about a face I’d found in a tree during my last visit. Curious to see if I could find it again, Michelle and I headed off on another trail while Sue headed back to the car. We didn’t have to go far before I found it… that silly face in the tree. (You can see the same face in this post… winter of 2011)
We had our final meal together at Ahwahnee Lodge that evening, conversation ranging from the beauty of this park, photography (of course), and our wonderfully remarkable dogs!
The following morning I dove back into the park early enough to do one last hike before check-out time on my campsite. I knew it would be tight because the hike was much longer and more intense than our others. My trek was up the Upper Yosemite Trail past Columbia Rock to the falls and beyond, 3-4 miles round trip (I went as far as I dared with my time considerations) with an elevation gain of more than 1000′. (A strenuous hike as expressed on the faces of all those I encountered on the trail that morning, and I would not recommend it in the heat of the day to anyone unprepared for a challenge.)
After that thigh-burning rapid hike I returned to the campground and got on the road quickly. Back down the Merced River we rolled, and out to another campsite in the town of Oakhurst, several miles from the south entrance to the park.
My goals there were simple… discovering what I could of the south end of the park which I’d never explored, and grounding myself to the “real world” (aka wifi) for a few days in work mode. I took one afternoon to re-enter the park for a hike in Mariposa Grove (home of Grizzly Giant, argued to be the 5th largest tree on earth) and what I could only describe as a quite walk-about through the Pioneer History Center at Wawona… buttoned up for the season, but still accessible to wander through.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” from John Muir
I agree! I agree wholeheartedly!!! “Nature = nurture”, and you can quote ME on that!! Seriously! Quote me out there on the world-wide-web!! Nothing would tickle me more… especially when I know the truth of the statement in my heart. I can think of nothing more rejuvenating… more healing… more inspiring, than surrounding yourself in the beauty of nature. A simple afternoon walk in the woods, a quiet sunset along the coast, or paddling a waterway for a bit… it doesn’t have to be an epic adventure into the wild… whether hours or days… what we NEED is the “nature of NATURE” (grasp that) to find true peace. We were born to this earth, and we need to “be” with this earth to thrive. [“To grow or develop successfully : to flourish or succeed.” (Financial gain not excluded, but not the focus from my point of view.)]
[My visit to Yosemite National Park took place April 5-8, 2014]
Next up… I wanted to revisit a part of California I enjoyed in my college years enough to backtrack lots of miles (which equals lots of gas) to the south-central coast, from Morro Bay to Carmel. Incredibly beautiful, even in a blanket of thick fog. Stay tuned for some WOW!