Thursday, March 8, 2012

Exploring the Yosemite Valley

Stop #2 on my tour.

Texts: The Yosemite Guide-book by J.D. Whitney, State Geologist to California, 1870.

From The Yosemite Guidebook:
"The Yosemite Valley is a unique and wonderful locality; it is an exceptional creation, and as such has been exceptionally provided for jointly by the Nation and the state--it has been made a national public park...that of holding the Yosemite Valley as a place of public use, resort, and recreation, inalienable for all time!"

"What gives its peculiar character to the Coast Range scenery is, the delicate and beautiful carving of their masses by the aqueous erosion of the soft material of which they are composed...the general absence of forest and shrubby vegetation.  The bareness of the slopes gives full play to the effects of light and shade caused by the varying and intricate contour of the surface."

Horeseback riding to Bridalveil Falls

"Bridalveil falls is formed by a creek of the same name, is precipitated over the cliff into the Yosemite [river] in one leap of 630 feet perpendicular. The effect is finest when the supply of water is not too heavy, since then the swaying from side to side, and the waving under the varying pressure of the wind as it strikes the long column of water, is more marked." --The Yosemite Guidebook

We left the visitor's center on horseback at an early hour, and watched the sunrise as we rode in a group of ten down the wagon trail to the base of Bridalveil falls. The trail is called Mariposa, Spanish for butterfly, and hosts a variety of wildlife of various kinds.  We saw small rodents, insects, calm deer in the morning light who ran off at the sound of our horse's hooves.  I imagine we may have seen more had we been travelling by foot--the guide mentioned black bear, coyotes and mountain lions, but I for one am glad we had the protection of the horses and didn't glimpse these creatures out in the wild alone.  I'm thrilled they are alive and well in the park though.

More stunning than the animal life, though, is the natural landscape for which the park is famous.  The trail descends steeply into the heart of the yosemite valley and the horses stepped sure-footedly, even if we were  a little unsteady on their backs.  I had to trust the horse and guide to watch the trail because my attention was immediately drawn up, up, up to those majestic cliff faces.  The enormity of it all, shooting straight up from the ground on both sides of us, was enough to shrink me down to an ant on the trail.  We saw El Capitan, directly facing Bridalveil Falls, the famous Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, and other hugely impressive rock formations.  each one us huge and spectacular in its own way. We hope to return again to climb to the top of El Capitan, providing us with an entirely new perspective.
Woodcut drawing of El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls,
as seen from afar as we approached on horseback.
Yosemite Guidebook.
Bridalveil Falls was spectacular in the cool morning.  We let the horses stop and drink from Bridalveil Creek as we walked up to the very base of the falls, enjoying the spraying mist and swaying curtain of water above our heads.  It looks surreal, something built by special effects and human hands rather than a natural phenomenon.  It is sights such as these that make me appreciate the preservation of national parks such as Yosemite.

We spent the rest of the day admiring the sharp granite Spires, Cathedral Rock, and countless other formations as we sauntered back around the loop of the trail to the visitor's center.  The day was hot already and we were tired despite enjoying the convenience of horseback all day!  We read from the guidebook about the volcanic history of the granite formations and the unique desert-y landscape of the Valley.  Our beautiful visit was marked by plenty of sun and exercise and awe at the natural beauty of this national gem. We are now at the leisure of driving across the country in our family car, stopping at any which landmark along the way and camping as we go.  This is our next adventure on our world tour!

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