A few weeks ago I wanted to get out of the office and do some camping, but all my favorite coastal sites were full. So, for the fun of it, I looked online at campgrounds in other locations to see what might be available. I couldn’t believe it when, on a Friday, I checked Yosemite and, lo and behold, the valley’s Upper Pines Campground had a vacancy for the next Monday and Tuesday.
Knowing that summer brings crowds, that the temperatures were predicted to be near 90, and that we were still in the grip of our California drought, I imagined that the waterfalls were likely to be barely trickling. Nonetheless, I booked the site. At best, I hoped a few wildflowers might be lingering in the higher elevations and perhaps, in the valley, I could spot a mule deer or two nibbling through the early morning grasses.
I discovered from the little research I was able to do that even the casual visitor could experience some of the solitude of Yosemite without getting outfitted for a backpack expedition. On the negative side, I read that Yosemite Falls usually stops flowing in August and that last year’s drought left the falls dry all summer. The cascade that makes up the waterfall is fed solely by snow-melt, so, in normal years, the peak flow is in late May when the sun warms the winter’s white blanket high in the mountains. But, thanks to a storm in the high Sierras the night before my arrival, the waterfalls were gushing when I arrived.
It is said that Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places on the planet This national park is roughly the size of Rhode Island and is a United Nations World Heritage Site. Although the valley proper is a little less than 200 miles from my front door I hadn’t spent any time there with my camera. Perhaps this is because it is such an iconic location and one would find it a real challenge to capture stunning images that would even come close to those I had already admired in magazines.
Winter is the ideal season for photographers. You probably have seen some of the images of the golden afternoon light on Half-Dome as it is reflected in the calm, mirror-like center of the Merced River. Other photos emblazoned on my mind — the first light on El Capitan framed from the valley by snow-laden branches, or the snow-laden pines and great sequoias viewed from the tunnel vista.
Towering more than 350 stories above Yosemite Valley, El Capitan is the largest exposed granite monolith in the world. “No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite,” wrote John Muir, whose crusading led to the creation of the park. Captivated by his words and the exquisite photographs of Ansel Adams and others like him, any summer’s day can find about 14,000 people in Yosemite Village, the hub of the valley.
What I had forgotten is that even “pedestrian” photos of Yosemite are phenomenal.
Indeed, though I did not experience snow and ice, flaming sunsets or long journeys into the wilderness, I felt I came home with a few nice images.
Since this is the 100th anniversary of the National Park System perhaps it is time to visit more of them, and to do it with gratitude for those who had the foresight to set aside public lands for us all to honor, enjoy and receive abundant natural blessings.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than one seeks.” – John Muir