Day Trippin’ on Two Wheels ~ Yosemite National Park (Part 3)

View of the meadow as we pedaled along Tenaya Creek

One last journey into Yosemite before we push further north so we thought we would day trip it on two wheels, as in bike around Yosemite Valley.  The weather was perfect, temperature ~75°, blue skies, and no haze, probably due to the nice breeze blowing through the valley.  As Terry pulled our bikes from the truck I felt like a kid.  It may have had something to do with Terry saying, “I  don’t think I will wear my helmet but you probably should”.  He knows me well and I’m not complaining, mind you, as I have not done much biking in the past 20 years and not sure why, because I was an avid biker before that (mental note to change that).

Although there’s lots of traffic in Yosemite Valley (almost all visitors hang out here), there are still plenty of bike paths and roads less traveled for 2-wheeling adventures.  Being on a bike in a place like Yosemite reminded me of what riding a motorcycle used to feel like in the higher country, no roof over your head to obstruct your views.  After taking the circuit to get different perspectives of Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls and Half Dome, we opted to head to Mirror Lake, taking the road less traveled.

Terry enjoying the picture perfect day!

Mirror Lake is a small seasonal lake on Tenaya Creek.  It is a stretch to call it a lake, more like a big pool.  What it is is the last dregs of a large glacial lake that once consumed most of Yosemite Valley and today is on the verge of becoming extinct.  You don’t come here for the lake, although many do for the swimming, as it is the biggest swimming hole in the park.  What you do get, however, are some stunning views of the mountains above reflected down into the waters, most notably Mt. Watkins sitting at 8500 feet.  We had to admit that these were some of the best views we had seen in Yosemite so far, and we had seen some beauties!

Mirror Lake with Mt. Watkins reflected in her waters

While checking out the great views, I stumbled upon a little cache of stacked rocks.  It looked mystical to me, with the sun warming them and the mountains looming overhead.  I learned that those visiting the area will add a few to the collection if the mood strikes and will continue to do this throughout the season. The snows begin to fly and the rocks come tumbling down, and the process begins anew when the warmer weather moves in.  These cairns, or what looked like a small temple of hoodoos, was a great little treasure to find along the way.

Stacked rock formations at Mirror Lake

After living in Yellowstone for a couple of years, hiking puts you on high alert for some predatory animals, like grizzly, bison, moose, elk with their young,  etc. You don’t find that here but what we did see on this hike was rather unusual – a squirrel minus a tail!

That’s right, lost my tail in a fight. You shoulda seen the other guy!
Laugh all you will! I’m outta here!

The last part of our trip on two wheels took us back to Yosemite Village and to the Ansel Adams Gallery.  It was a great way to spend a little time and there are some stunning pieces of his work, as well as those of other artists.

Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village

As we headed back out of the park, we both agreed that our trip would not feel complete unless we saw climbers on El Capitan.  We proceeded to pull over, got out the binoculars, and what did we see but four climbers inching their way up the smooth granite face.  SCORE – a perfect ending to a glorious day!

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“The Incomparable Valley” ~ Yosemite National Park (Part 1)

“I have seen persons of emotional temperament stand with tearful eyes, spellbound and dumb with awe, as they got their first view of the Valley from Inspiration Point, overwhelmed in the sudden presence of the unspeakable, stupendous grandeur.”  ~  Galen Clark, guardian of the Yosemite Grant

Stunning vista from Tunnel View (Bridalveil Falls to the right).

Yosemite National Park, referred to as “the incomparable valley”, is probably best known for its grand waterfalls and distinctive granite cliffs.  It offers so much more, as John Muir so beautifully told us in his poems and letters written so long ago.

Reaching across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Yosemite encompasses 761,268 acres (1200 square miles), roughly the size of Rhode Island.  It has such amazing gifts to offer up, deep valleys, soaring granite cliffs, spectacular waterfalls, clear rushing streams and rivers, stunning meadows, giant sequoia, vast wilderness areas, and biological diversity – the stuff a nature lover’s dreams are made of.  If not for the efforts of renown conservationist and naturalist John Muir and others, 3.5 million annual visitors to this national park today would not be able to enjoy her wonders.

Bridge over Merced River (from Happy Isles Nature Center)

In 1889 John Muir, becoming evermore concerned about the damage being caused by sheep grazing in the High Sierras, launched a campaign with the help of Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, to persuade Congress to preserve these lands.  Their persistence paid off and on October 1, 1890, Yosemite National Park was established.

Earlier still, in 1855, homesteader Galen Clark wandered upon the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia.  So mesmerized was he by these giants, his personal fight to preserve them from logging soon extended to include Yosemite Valley.  His efforts gained support and the Yosemite Grant was drafted and submitted to Congress.  In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill and Yosemite became the first territory ever set aside by Congress for preservation and public use.  Today Galen Clark has a mountain range, the Clark Range, named after him, which can be seen from Glacier Point.

Some of the original inhabitants of the Yosemite Valley were the Miwok Indians. Looking out over the valley, they named it Ahwahnee, “place of the gaping mouth” and later called themselves the Ahwahneechee.  They were followed by Europeans in the mid-1800’s, who quickly set out to displace these native tribes.

Of the 3.5 million who visit here yearly, most do not travel further than the 7 square miles of Yosemite Valley.  If you do nothing but this, there is still much to see.  Some of the more prominent features (but certainly not all-inclusive) that can be seen from Yosemite Valley are:

  • El Capitan (very popular with the rock-climbing set)
El Capitan
  • Half-Dome (can be climbed by permit only from ~ May through October – better views from Glacier Point)
Half Dome
Yosemite Falls (not all is captured in this photo)
Vernal Falls
Nevada Falls (upper right)
Bridalveil Falls
Ahwahnee Hotel
  • Ansel Adams Museum
Except for the Ansel Adams Museum, which we plan to explore later this week, we were able to see all these stunning sights.  Even with our two weeks here, we would never be able to take in all of Yosemite, so we have already decided we will save the eastern part of the park, Tuolumne Meadows, for a later date.
The elegant Ahwahnee Hotel
The Ahwahnee Hotel is a definite must-see, its stunning architecture set against a backdrop of towering granite cliffs.  It was originally built for the wealthy traveling to the park who were looking for more comfort and opulence than that provided by other lodging.  Since 1927, the Ahwahnee Yosemite tradition is the reenactment of Renaissance finery at the famous Bracebridge Dinner.  At this seven-course Yuletide feast you are taken back in time to the 17th century, with jesters, musicians and a court of over 100 players to entertain you for four hours.  I have read that this night of frolicking and festivities will only set you back about $425 (certainly not in our budget).
Terry just down from Vernal Falls

A hike up to Vernal Falls was in our budget (cause it’s free) and provided some quick exercise.  Only about a 1.5 mile hike but with an elevation gain of ~1000 feet and no guard rails to the top, it made for some heart-pounding moments.  It brought back memories of our time touring ruin sites in Mexico, climbing down from the pyramids.  In the past decade more than a dozen people have lost their lives foolishly swimming above the falls.  We watched nervously as many elderly folks with canes tried to make the crowded journey to the top – yikes!

Stay tuned for more photos and stories of this incomparable valley as we hike some of her trails.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”  ~ John Muir

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