Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Yosemite Valley Wanderings

Yosemite National Park is, for a naturalist, almost too much to describe!  Where to even begin??  There are so many facets of this iconic place, the birthplace of the national park concept.  It is rich in history, and one could easily write about the native people who called this beautiful place home, or John Muir, who immortalized the valley in his poetry-like writings and fought so hard for its protection. 
Iconic Half Dome
Fire, controlled and wild, has its place in the park; the discussion of fire management continues in the wake of the Rim Fire.  The topic of climate change might be explored, or the effects of California's drought.  Swaths of reddish brown conifers, standing dead trees that have been ravaged by the bark beetle have been a common topic recently.  Water is a perennial topic of conversation and debate all across California, including within Yosemite National Park.
Merced River, reflecting greens and golds
A geologist would be thrilled to write about the textbook examples of glaciation found in the park; a botanist would have a number of plant communities to study, from groves of Giant Sequoias to alpine meadows.  In spring and summer, wildflowers abound; at this time of year, in November, the leaves of Pacific Dogwoods, Black Oaks, Cottonwoods, Willows and Big Leave Maples are changing colors for one final glorious show before winter settles in. 
Mule deer beneath a black oak
Wildlife biologists study the region for a number of reasons: peregrine falcons nest on the sheer granite cliffs of the valley; secluded wet meadows in the back country are home to the endangered great gray owl, as well as habitat for the federally endangered Sierra yellow-legged frog, the rare Yosemite toad and Mount Lyell salamander.  Everyone knows that mule deer and bobcats wander Yosemite Valley, but the backcountry of the park is home to more secretive mammals, such as the federally endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, Pacific fisher, Sierra Nevada red fox, maybe even wolverines.
Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls
Hiking and climbing enthusiasts have another approach to the park; I could write about trails and hikes, the lifetime of adventures to be had in Yosemite.  Half Dome, El Capitan, Cloud's Rest, Yosemite Falls: the familiar names of the mountains and trails beckon!
The hiking professor with our adopted lab
Yosemite National Park is a special place, for too many reasons to count.  On a recent visit to the park, however, we decided to take a slower approach to Yosemite Valley.  No hike starting at dawn, no 14-hour day on the trail, no rush to get down from the mountain before an afternoon storm, no real destination or timeline.  We wandered the trails that loop around the valley, admiring the fall colors, appreciating the warm afternoon.  The waterfalls were flowing, which is surprising at this time of year, thanks to a storm that hit a couple of weeks ago.  The deer were out in the meadows, making the perfect picture as oak leaves drifted down around them on the breeze.  As evening set in, the moon came out and the setting sun illuminated the face of Half Dome.
Sunset on the North Dome and Half Dome
When visiting National Parks as teachers, scholars, scientists, artists, hikers and naturalists, we often have an agenda, a plan, a purpose: data to collect, research to be done, photographs to be taken, trails to be hiked, mountains to be climbed.  And these are all worthy pursuits.  But other times, the value comes not from accomplishing a predetermined goal, but from letting the day unfold in a slow-paced adventure, following the trail one step at a time, pausing to admire a leaf, listen to the water.
The hiking terrier says 8 miles feels much farther when your legs are only 7 inches long!
Note: I clearly have not perfected this art of leisurely adventure; somehow, we still hiked over 8 miles during our "slow paced" unplanned afternoon in Yosemite Valley!

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