The Yosemite Valley

163Climbing into the Sierras the air becomes both cleaner and crisper; temperatures drop. Tall redwoods funnel the road and you are elevated to the top of a ridge at 6000 feet.  

Yosemite’s magic, that stays with you forever, is it’s sudden and monumental welcome.  It’s like an over-zealous relative who hasn’t seen you in a while.  Big hugs, cheek pinching, comments about how much you’ve grown, and a torrent of gushing that fills you with warmth.

You know it’s coming but you never fully anticipate the effect.

Yosemite’s approach is by way of tunnels cut through shear rock.  These prevent the first time visitor from accurately anticipating the true moment of entry.  Out you burst to a vista of incredible beauty and scenic splendor. Instantly you are captivated; there is nothing you can do about it.  Relax, draw a deep breath, and release a sigh of satisfaction.

The Yosemite Valley is just a small portion of the park however given the time of year it
was all that was open.  Imagine the reaction of those explorers who first came
across it.  It must have certainly been quite a hallelujah moment.  

Half Dome sits high at the far end of the valley flanked on either side by waterfalls. The floor is carpeted with a canopy of redwood trees. The Merced River, crystal clear and enticing, meanders through the valley center. A brush stroke of mother nature.

The granite rock of El Capitan rises straight up from the tree tops and escapes into the clouds. An iconic vista and deservedly so. If you are a rock climber the successful ascent of El Capitan is a glorious moment of pride, satisfaction, and accomplishment. A definite feather in the cap.

The road that skirts the valley is hidden from above making the view available today
much like the view that has always availed itself. Following the road as it tracks alongside the river never fails to provide opportunities at which to marvel.

The granite monoliths of El Capitan and Cathedral Rock tower overhead as you make
your way through the valley.  I felt minuscule in comparison.

Yosemite on that first day was stunning and I was awestruck. 

On day two the valley had recast herself and donned a brand new outfit. The night had brought a blanketing of snow and Yosemite flexed its beauty in a whole new way.

Our entrance today was from the south; climbing to a height of 6100 feet. The
weather at this altitude became dark and foreboding. Snow had fallen heavier here and we were concerned that tire chains would be necessary. Our hope was that the descent would bring with it a reprieve.

Traveling through the southern tunnel and out onto the valley floor brought with it a sky of blue. So deep and rich was this blue that cars had stopped all along the road to capture it on film.

Yosemite was dusted with pure white snow and capped by a perfectly contrasting sky of
indigo.

We were driving the equivalent of a Smart car. Perhaps not the wisest choice for a  road trip to the mountains at winters tail end but it’s what we had.  The wheels were the size of bagels.

Watching the weather became important because even as we basked in the glory around us we knew that Yosemite had a micro-weather system that was fickle and could change drastically from hour to hour.

We parked our Tonka toy and set out on foot; following the river.

This is where the true magic of Yosemite takes over. There was no track. It was us, the river, the trees, the reeds, and the solitude. Surrounded by slate rock that soars to heights above 3000 feet.

You grasp just how insignificant you are in the whole scheme of things.

The weather did indeed alter its course and by 3:30pm we were high-tailing it out of the valley; looking to escape over the ridge like the family Von Trapp before being locked in by an unfriendly sky.

By this time the snow had melted, clouds loomed large, and “Chains Required” signs began to appear at the start of our escape route. By the time we got to 6100 feet it was once again white. As we passed by the summit we saw a man make a snowball the size of a football throw it as his daughter; she was only about five years old.

It landed right on the side of her head and dropped her to her knees. We gasped. She giggled with the resilience of a child who believes no-one saw, and began preparing her retaliation.

Click here for Crawfish in the Sierra Nevada

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37 thoughts on “The Yosemite Valley

  1. I really can’t imagine heading into the high country in a compact car. “The wheels were the size of bagels.” What is it they say? Just because it’s a bad idea doesn’t mean it won’t be a good time.

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  2. Wow wow wow – I spent a long time looking at each of your photographs and enjoying the view. This looks like an amazing place to visit. Thank you so much for sharing your Post and pictures.

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  3. Well I have to confess I just took a screen shot of your post to add to my vacation folder Tim because I’m headed to Yosemite later this year on a 3 week road trip and this was just the boost I needed to get recharged! Wonderful images, though I’m trying to conjure up what a car with wheels the size of bagels looks like. 🙂

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  4. I love Yosemite. It’s different every time you visit. I have flown into the area and it’s a great site from a small plane. The first time I ever went was with my young family and we camped in the valley but have enjoyed more staying at the higher country.

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  5. I cannot believe that I have never been here! I’m beginning to feel un-American for not visiting the Yosemite Valley. Not only are the pictures beautiful and tempting, this metaphor “It’s like an over-zealous relative who hasn’t seen you in a while. Big hugs, cheek pinching, comments about how much you’ve grown, and a torrent of gushing that fills you with warmth” should be enough to get me cracking! Beautiful narrative as always, Tim.

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  6. There have been a lot of posts lately about Yosemite but I must tell you Tim, that your description and pictures rank among the best. I love the way you throw in humour – car tires like bagels and the Tonka toy – then you go on to describe the majesty of the granite boulders. I was right there with you when you came out of the tunnel into Yosemite Valley.
    Thanks again.

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  7. Gosh, now I really want to go to Yosemite. It is not that far away from me so I really have no excuses. Your pictures are beautiful and breathtaking. My favorite is the little tree with the little patch of green sitting all by itself on that ridge. So interesting,

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    1. No excuses Erica, it is a gorgeous piece of America and lives up to its reputation. I was taken by that little precarious tree as well and fascinated by how it came to be sitting there and seemingly doing well.

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  8. I revised half of my Yosemite piece today. I can’t believe I missed this post. I’ve added you to my RSS reader now so that won’t happen again. The valley floor is seven square miles which isn’t much compared to the nearly 1,200 square miles the park encompasses. I also added the collected works of John Muir to my Amazon wishlist today as well.

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    1. Thanks Edward. It is one of those places that, without sounding too corny, speaks to you. As for the photos, how could you not take good ones. The whole place is so gorgeous. I am glad you liked it.

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  9. My family went to Yosemite this past summer and we hiked for three days. It was awesome. My husband and I left my girls, 15 and 18 at the time, at our cabin and we went for the scariest hike I have ever been on – a very narrow path with one-way traffic. I was determined to do it, although my husband had his doubts. I did and am proud of myself. The views were breath-taking and we had so much fun. Nice recap of a magical place.

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  10. Just beautiful. I drove past Yosemite yesterday on my drive home from Oregon and I was tempted to explore. It must be amazing to be there in person while its covered in powder.

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    1. It really was a treat to have the weather change as much as it did and finally leave a blanket of white. Made a spectacularly beautiful place even more so.

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  11. Miss travelling with you Tim; you paint the greatest portraits sir! Yosemite is amazing; have also heard in certain parts near El-Cap that it attracts its own weather system because of the type of rock, therefore if there is a lightning storm it’s best to get a move on!

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    1. I imagine that is very true Tomas. I heard stories of folks getting trapped in there because they didn’t exit quick enough in the afternoon. I think I was lucky to bolt when I did.

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