Elevation: 4,000 feet at Yosemite Valley
WHAT TO DO IN YOSEMITE
Some Favorites From Our Expeditions
Set aside some time to sit in El Capitan Meadow and watch the climbers, especially during “Rocktober.” Bring binoculars. And while you’re there, turn around and see if you can spot the old man’s face in the rocks of Taft Point.
Tackle some easy “rock climbing” yourself and hike to the top of Sentinel Dome. The reward is a 360-degree that includes both Half Dome and El Capitan.
Take a night-time wander in the Valley under a big moon. If it’s spring, look for moonbows over the waterfalls. If it isn’t, appreciate the luminescent granite bathed in silvery glow and look to see if there are any headlamps inching up the climbing routes.
Watch Bridalveil Fall dance in the wind. It’s more of a mover than Yosemite Falls.
Walk up Turtleback Dome for a less crowded Tunnel Dome view. Go at sunset to see the alpenglow.
Why Yosemite Beckons
Meet the Mountains
Yosemite is famous for its mountains. And waterfalls. And trees. And meadows. The list could go on and on.
The various peaks that ring Yosemite Valley stand together as a rocky cocoon, but are also known in their own right: El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Clouds Rest, Three Brothers, Royal Arches, the Lost Arrow Spire. And so many more that it’s hard to decide where to look first.
They seemingly have personalities, too. El Capitan looms large and dominating — and in warm weather is dotted with climbers and the portaledges where they sleep in the sky suspended from the rock. Along its vast granite faces, they’ve blazed a map of many routes up and given them fanciful names like the Nose, Zodiac, Wall of Early Morning Light and Lurking Fear.
Half Dome is a shape-shifter. The flat face it presents to Yosemite Valley is its most famous, but from other vantage points it looks entirely different. From Glacier and Washburn Points, it looks more like a shrouded grim reaper as its rounded back comes into view. From Olmstead Point where the flat side is hidden, it appears as a far-off dome and at Mirror Lake, it’s a liquid reflection of the towering sheer face.
And The Water That Runs Down Them
The waterfalls compete for attention, too (at least in spring and summer before some go dry). Between Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil, Vernal and Nevada, others can almost be overlooked. Sentinel Falls is a good example. It’s nearly as tall as Yosemite Falls and right in the Valley, but with so much to take in, it can almost get lost in the background.
Yosemite is no doubt one of the most beautiful places in the world, but one of its most special characteristics is the emotional response it stirs in so many when they see it. Deep feelings have been part of the Yosemite story since its beginning.
Here’s just a bit more of it and some who and what shaped the legacy…
Yosemite’s Early Days
America’s westward expansion wrought a good deal of violence, and the “discovery” of Yosemite is no exception.
The next group who made their mark on Yosemite’s timeline are nature-lovers who played key roles in protecting its natural splendor.
The Hosting Visionaries
Next came some entrepreneurs who paved the way for Yosemite to become one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations.
Yosemite’s fate has been heavily influenced by pictures. The sketches of Thomas Ayers made Yosemite real to those who saw them and helped launch its tourism. The trend would continue, with other imagery having a profound effect.
In a setting as pastoral as Yosemite, the idea of military presence seems unlikely, but there’s been some at a few different points in the park’s history.
Rock climbing is synonymous with Yosemite. It has some of the best big wall climbing in the world and is essentially the birthplace of the sport in the United States.
Before it took off here, climbing was much more a European pursuit — no surprise given that its mountains have been well-known for much longer.
The granite-loving adventurers are something of a tourist attraction. Many visitors stop in El Capitan meadow to watch the action with their binoculars — or squinted eyes — or pause during nocturnal walks to try to pick out climbers’ headlamps high in the sky.
One of the Valley’s first ascentionists was George Anderson. The blacksmith made the first trek up Half Dome barefoot in 1875 using a drill and homemade bolts and taking a route near where its popular cables are today.
Bear sightings have been a Yosemite thrill since the beginning. The Sierra used to be home to both black bears and grizzlies, but the latter were casualties as the western frontier was settled. The fearsome brown bears were killed off and all but gone from the Sierra by the 1920s.
Today, the park works hard to discourage bear and human interaction. There are strict rules that limit bears’ access to any human food they may find tempting and campaigns to educate the public about the importance of maintaining bears’ natural diet.
It Takes LOTS of Acorns to Fill Up
It’s easy to understand the bears’ temptation — imagine having to find enough acorns per day to get the thousands of calories needed to satisfy your hunger. But bears that develop a taste for marshmallows and hot dogs instead of plants, berries and acorns tend to become nuisances in public areas, which puts them at risk for relocation or worse. They also develop health problems like rotting teeth.
But encouraging bears to eat right wasn’t always Yosemite policy. In the 1930s, ranger-led bear feedings (of garbage) were a favorite spectacle, and there were even bleachers to watch the show.
Signs to Save Lives
Another element of modern bear management in Yosemite is its “Speeding Kills Bears” signs. Introduced in 1997, the goal is to reinforce the risk of animal-vehicle collisions in the park. The large yellow “Red Bear-Dead Bear” signs mark where such accidents have occurred.
The Natural Spectacles
The firefall was a beloved man-made marvel until it was discontinued in the late 1960s. (Before it was revived at Curry Village, it got its start from James McCauley who ran the now-gone Glacier Point Mountain House Hotel). And though new generations won’t have the opportunity to see that particular Yosemite wonder for themselves, nature still puts on many shows without any outside help. Some of these more organic spectacles include:
The rosy glow cast on the mountains at dawn and sunset.
Rare lunar rainbows caused by the moon’s reflection on water when conditions are right. The best time to see them in Yosemite is late spring and early summer when the falls are peaking and the moon is bright (and big).
A naturally occurring reproduction of the firefall when this waterfall near El Capitan is given a fiery appearance by the setting sun. But the first half of February is the only time when there’s enough water in the fall, and the sun’s position allows the light to hit at the right angle to produce the phenomenon.
The Yosemite Falls Ice Cone
Winter visitors aren’t likely to see a cascade of water at Yosemite Falls, but they may get the opportunity to see the ice cone at its base. It’s the build-up of falling ice.
Another chilly, watery phenomenon is frazil ice. It can occur any time temperatures drop below freezing and is essentially frozen mist that then floats in Yosemite streams. Look for the slush after cold nights, especially in spring.
Other naturally occurring phenomena have been more damaging, notably fires, floods and rockfalls.
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