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Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley has the reputation for being a magical place. And indeed it was during our visit. Not only did it reveal its stunning beauty, but we experienced a backdrop of cloudy skies, brilliant sunshine, rain, and snow—all in a single day.
We had a nice spot for our RV in the campground at Upper Pines:
Sebastian and Genevieve started the day by playing catch in the nearby field:
With the sky overhead alternating between water-laden cloud puffs and stretches of bright blue, we set off on bicycles to explore the network of paved trails on the valley floor.
Looking up on one side of the valley was a rounded rock formation, aptly named “North Dome”:
On the other side was the famous landmark “Half Dome,” with a small cap of snow:
The Native Americans who once lived here have a legend about a woman named Tis-se’-yak and her husband, who traveled from a distant country. Upon arriving in the valley, the wife was so thirsty that she threw herself down next to the lake and drank all the water, creating a drought. Her angry husband struck her, and she wept and threw her basket at him. For their wickedness, they were both turned into stone and forced to face each other forever on either sides of the valley, with North Dome as the husband, and Half Dome being the tear-streaked Tis-se’-yak.
The sheer face of Half Dome was sculpted by moving glaciers that carved out Yosemite Valley during the Ice Age. Those glaciers also shaped the towering walls of granite that rose all around us:
In the distance behind Ben, Genevieve and Sebastian, Yosemite Falls was raging in full force:
During the months of July through September, however, these falls often dry up to a mere trickle or even nothing at all.
A 1-mile walking trail loops to the base of the lower falls area. Today the path had a steady stream of visitors, many speaking languages from other countries. (I heard German, Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese within a one-minute span). Here are Genevieve and Sebastian, with the lower and upper falls in the background:
Continuing on past Yosemite Falls, we rounded a corner and encountered some mule deer eating by the side of the trail:
We got off our bikes and walked by the deer, giving them a wide berth so as not to frighten them (although they looked like they were very accustomed to the presence of humans).
Interestingly enough, despite the common presence of bear in Yosemite, the only death by wildlife has been from a mule deer—a buck with sharp antlers who accidentally killed a young child who had been feeding it from a Doritos bag.
A bit further down the trail was a sign that marked the water level line in January 1997 when the Merced River, which runs down the valley, flooded and caused considerable damage throughout the park:
Today we crossed the low-flowing Merced River via "Swinging Bridge," which looked like it was anchored and couldn’t do much swinging. Here is Genevieve (in the green jacket) ready to pedal across:
A view from Swinging Bridge:
Our goal was to bicycle to the base of Bridalveil Falls, but we soon discovered that the bike trails didn’t extend beyond the Swinging Bridge. (A paved trail to the Falls existed, but it was only for hiking.)
Here is a photo of Genevieve and Sebastian in front of Bridalveil Falls the next day, after the snowfall:
Close-ups of the granite edges and cascading water:
The Native Americans who once lived here named these Falls “Po-hó-no”, which means “puffing wind,” and they viewed this area as inhabited by evil spirits. Euro-Americans put a completely different spin on the Falls, however, by re-naming it after a bridal veil for the way the falls appears when the wind is whipping the water to the side. Moreover, a modern folktale claims that you and your loved one will be married soon if you walk to the base of the Falls together.
We bicycled back to the Visitor’s Center, which had a number of fantastic, interactive exhibits on the how the granite cliffs were formed, the Native Americans who once lived here, and various artists who have depicted the park.
One of the displays had photos of various land formations with a large chunk of rock from each respective formation:
You could lift up each land formation photo and learn about how that particular type of rock had been formed. Here is Sebastian lifting one of the photos:
One of the exhibits told the story of how the Native Americans had been harshly ousted out of Yosemite Valley in 1851:
I will repeat part of the story here because it benefits all Americans to understand our complete history in the formation of this “land of the free” “with liberty and justice for all”. We cannot turn a blind eye to the many injustices and atrocities that were done to Native Americans when Euro-Americans began taking their land:
“Imagine strangers invading your neighborhood, burning your house to the ground, ransacking your local grocery store, and taking over your town. . . . Miners by the thousands invaded the Sierra Nevada foothills during the gold rush from 1849 to 1851. Some Indians struck back and raided a trading post, killing several miners. In 1851, a band of volunteers formed the Mariposa Battalion, sanctioned by the state of California, to rid the area of the perceived threat of Indians. When they entered Yosemite Valley, they systematically burned villages and food supplies, and forced men, women and children away from their homes.”
One interactive display had a photo of To-Tu-Ya, the last survivor of that raid, who witnessed her uncle being killed and her home being burned; she returned to the Valley in the 1920’s, when she was in her ‘90’s, and told her story:
Within a few years after the Battalion raid, Yosemite was being promoted by Euro-Americans as a vacation destination, and it has been attracting tourists since that time.
The beauty of Yosemite has also inspired countless artists. One of my favorite paintings in the Visitor’s Center exhibit was done by artist Penny Otwell, who uses color to express emotion:
After leaving the Visitor’s Center, we bicycled back to our campground where we rested or napped.
We planned to visit Vernall Falls in the afternoon, a 3-mile hike that was supposed to take about 3 hours roundtrip. Our blue skies did not hold out, however, and rain soon began in earnest. Good thing we had packed our galoshes and umbrellas!
The Vernal Falls trailhead was about half a mile from our campground. Setting out:
The trail was paved, with a steady up-hill climb on long stretches.
To our right, the hill dropped off, with trees that reached up into the misty clouds:
After about a mile and half of walking, we reached the Vernal Falls lookout bridge, which normally has a terrific view of the waterfall in the distance (in the “V” between the trees in the top half of the photo below)—but not today!
Before we reached the bridge, however, the rain had turned into snow. Genevieve and Sebastian were pretty excited—“It’s snowing, it’s snowing!”
Sebastian, on the lookout bridge, with snow falling all around:
Past the lookout bridge, we were to take Mist Trail, which leads half a mile up a steep granite stairway with over 600 steps; its name come from the tremendous amount of waterfall spray that coats people and makes the trail really slippery in the spring and early summer. In the winter, the trail is closed.
Even though it was spring, the weather was mimicking winter, and a ranger was already at work closing off Mist Trail.
Back down the mountain we went, marveling at the fact that we were experiencing snow while hiking in Yosemite. There were very few other hikers on the trail, and we felt as if we were in some type of wonderland.
Here I am with Genevieve:
We kept waiting for the snow to change back into rain at lower elevations. But it never did.
Back at the trailhead, big snowflakes were still falling.
And it was starting to stick to the ground!
On one hand, I was thinking, “Wow, this is spectacular!” On the other hand, we were supposed to leave tomorrow, and we didn’t have snow chains for our RV. But I could think of a whole lot of worse things than being "stuck" in Yosemite!
Back at our campground, Sebastian and Genevieve immediately set to work building a snowman, complete with hair:
The snowman’s smile echoed our own joy:
Our campground the next morning was almost deserted:
Fortunately, the roads were clear.
All of the places that we had seen yesterday seemed new and exciting now that they were shrouded in mist and snow.
The Royal Arches:
Beside the Merced River:
Our final stop was at the Visitor’s Center, where Ranger Shelton Johnson carefully reviewed the work that Genevieve and Sebastian had performed to earn Jr. Ranger badges.
Then he swore both kids in as official Jr. Rangers for Yosemite National Park.
This wasn’t our first time to Yosemite, and it probably won’t be our last. Our visit here had been short. However, experiencing Yosemite in the snow—unexpectedly, and in the spring—will be a special memory that we will be talking about for years.
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