Yosemite Spring

Yosemite Valley view showing Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome and part of El Capitan
Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View showing the Bridalveil Falls to the right,
part of El Capitan on the left and Half Dome in the background.

It had been a long journey that spring as we made our way through State Route 141 from Fresno to Yosemite National Park. We had been driving all night from San Diego where our group of four families and individuals resided. To our surprise several cars were backed up on the road leading to the entrance of the park. The traffic only improved slightly as we began driving past the park entryway. No problem. A slow drive only served to help us appreciate the view along the way even more.The early morning sun was temporarily blotted out as we made our way through the Wawona Tunnel. And then we were there – on a viewpoint at the edge of the tunnel looking directly at the valley that had attracted celebrated photographer Ansel Adams decades ago to this place.

Yosemite Valley view of massive granite blocks and the Yosemite Falls on the right

Although it is just one percent of the total park area, Yosemite Valley is easily the most visited place in the park and can really get crowded especially in the summer. This particular day in May was no exception as we jostled for space along the viewpoint. Not that it mattered anyway. Reveling in the spectacle before us, we realized why Ansel Adams was attracted to this place and subsequently ended up spending much of his life in Yosemite. Massive granite cliffs and domes rose from a valley floor covered by a rich green carpet of trees. A long, tall waterfall framed by imposing vertical cliffs – the Bridalveil Falls – was easily visible on the right with the massive promontory of El Capitan on the left and the similarly imposing Half Dome in the center background.

road in Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley and other areas beyond are easily accessible by car
from the western end of the park.

Tunnel View was just an introduction to the beauty of Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Valley itself contains most of the more popular features of the park. The largest monolith of granite in the world, colossal El Capitan towers more than 3,000 feet above the valley. It is popular among rock climbers the world over for the sheer challenge of scaling its impressive vertical face. Opposite El Capitan is Bridalveil Falls, the first waterfall in Yosemite that one observes upon emerging from the Wawona Tunnel. The base of Bridalveil Falls is easily accessed via a short walk from a parking lot in the valley. Ribbon Falls which flows off a cliff on the west side of El Capitan, is the tallest single fall in North America and may be spotted beyond the road that goes to Bridalveil Falls.

Ribbon Falls
Ribbon Falls

Easily among the most recognizable features of Yosemite is Half Dome, so-called because it resembles a giant spherical dome dissected in half. Rising more than 4,700 feet above the valley floor, the pinnacle of the Half Dome may be scaled through a spectacular trail but it’s not one for amateur hikers. The trek to Half Dome can be grueling and the final ascent can only be done using cables provided by the park management. Once on top however, the scenery is breathtaking. (Obviously we did not make this climb.)

left: Half Dome; right: El Capitan
Two of the massive granite formations in Yosemite Valley: the Half Dome (left)
and El Capitan (right).

Yosemite Falls, the tallest in North America and fifth highest in the world with a total height of 2,425 ft. is visible from various places around the valley. It is actually composed of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Falls (the tallest at more than 1,400 feet), the middle cascades, and Lower Yosemite Falls. We were able to reach the base of the falls by an easy walk from a shuttle bus stop near the Yosemite Lodge.

Upper Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley
The Yosemite Falls is the tallest in North America. Visible here is the Upper Falls.

Upper Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley
The base of the Lower Yosemite Falls is an easy walk from a shuttle bus stop.

The Yosemite Valley is only a tiny portion (about 1 per cent) of the total park area. That’s how big Yosemite National Park is. You’ll most certainly need more than two days to see most of what the park has to offer. Other notable places to visit besides Yosemite Valley are Hetchy Hetchy Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, Dana Meadows, Glacier Point and Badger Pass, the Clark Range, the Cathedral Range, Sierra Crest and the Pacific Crest Trail. Many of these beautiful areas are located in the less-frequented but no less beautiful high country. (Yosemite happens to be located in California’s Sierra Nevada Range and ranges anywhere from 2,000 feet to 13,000 feet above sea level.) There are also many other waterfalls besides those in Yosemite Valley. The most prominent are Illilouette, Vernal and Nevada Falls.

meadow scene by the Merced River, Yosemite Valley
We had lunch in a picnic area near this meadow by the Merced River.

another view of the same meadow showing Upper Yosemite Falls to the right
Another view of the same meadow; Yosemite Falls is visible on the left.

Another notable feature of Yosemite is its meadows and wetlands. These places contain a great diversity of flora and fauna including giant sequoias. On our way back to Fresno we passed along some meadows in the fading light and were pleasantly surprised to find a good number of deer roaming around. We were wishing we could have stayed longer and probably seen some bears as well but had to get back before it was too dark.

deer in a meadow at dusk, Yosemite Valley
A deer frolicking in a meadow at dusk.

Yosemite is right there among the places we won’t hesitate to visit again and again. We really got to see only a tiny, albeit prominent, portion of the national park in spring, giving us many reasons to return. Until then the memory of this beautiful place will remain with us.

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