Thursday, October 28, 2010

Passport Books in Yosemite

Today we made our last trip into Yosemite for this year. One of our goals had to do with the National Park Passport Program. For those that aren't familiar with it, the National Parks all have a "passport stamp" (or cancellation stamp) that shows the date and location, and sometimes includes a graphic. The bigger parks have several stamps, usually one per visitor center. If you want to collect these stamps, you just stamp them into a book that is available in the gift shops. Here's what a stamped page from my book looks like:

John got me interested in getting these stamps -- he had been a collector for years. So I bought the standard sized passport book (above), and have been getting stamps for about 3 years.

But after a while, the book became too small -- there just wasn't enough space for all the stamps. I had already gotten two of the small books, removed their spiral spines, and melded them together with some binder rings. It still wasn't enough, so now I needed to take the next step. I needed to get the larger, passport-on-steroids version that they sell. It features a zippered binder, add-on pages that can be easily slipped in where needed, and it is just plain bigger so it is able to hold many more cancellations.

In other words, I needed to go to the "Big Girl" book. So we headed to the main Visitor Center/Bookstore in Yosemite Valley to get my upgrade.

Yosemite Park is not a lightweight when it comes to our fabulous National Park system. 3.7 million visitors go there each year. John Muir, Galen Clark, Ansel Adams -- all were enthralled with the beauty and elegance of Yosemite landmarks such as El Capitan, Half-dome, Yosemite Falls, and the Giant Sequoias. It is one of the gems of the park system.

So you'd think they would have the large version of the passport book, wouldn't you? Alas, they "don't carry it," only the small version.

Dejected and dismayed, I was forced to leave without my "Big Girl Book." But there are lots of National Parks, and soon I will find the book in one of them -- but then, of course, I'll need to do some more "arts and crafts" to incorporate my little pages into the big book!

Today was a beautiful day in the park, and despite the book fiasco, we had a wonderful time. There was quite a bit of water for October -- the Merced was running full, and Bridalveil and Yosemite Falls (the upper and lower falls can be seen in the photo above) were flowing nicely. They tell us that the best time to see these falls is in the Spring -- maybe next time we'll come then.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Coarsegold Tarantula

Mid-October to mid-November is tarantula mating season here in the Sierras! Just down the road from the park in Coarsegold, the upcoming Tarantula Festival on Halloween weekend should be a blast!

Just saw my first tranny here at Park of the Sierra -- I let him (or her) walk over my foot, which to him (or her) must have been just a huge, white, annoying speed bump. He (or she) went up and over, then scurried on. I'd like to think he (or she) was contemplating an afternoon's amorous romp, a spring in his (or her) eight-legged steps and a spidery twinkle in his (or her) eye. Have fun, kids!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hetch Hetchy

Hetch Hetchy is a grand landscape garden, one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples. As in Yosemite, the sublime rocks of its walls seem to glow with life . . . while birds, bees, and butterflies help the river and waterfalls to stir all the air into music. . . . These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. . . . Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man."

-- John Muir, "The Yosemite"

Said to be a valley as beautiful as the Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy (meaning "grass with edible seeds") had been protected since 1864 as part of Yosemite National Park. After the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco petitioned Congress to allow a dam to be built on Hetch Hetchy's river, the Tuolumne, to provide much needed water to the Bay area.

A seven year battle ensued, with John Muir and the Sierra Club leading the fight against the destruction of Hetch Hetchy valley. Muir lost; in 1923 the O'Shaughnessy Dam was completed, and today it still provides water and electricity to San Francisco. A "Restore Hetch Hetchy" movement still exists, but the removal issue is not without controversy. In 1987, Dianne Feinstein, then the mayor of San Francisco and an opponent of restoration said, "All this is for an expanded campground? ... It's dumb, dumb, dumb."

Before and after photos
of Hetch Hetchy do show a lovely valley was flooded, but all the beauty was not lost. John and I visited the dam, and saw impressive hills, a waterfall, and a pristine lake (the caretaker is the only one allowed to put a boat in the water, and no one can swim in it).

Visitors are allowed to walk the dam, and continue through a tunnel to hiking trails that go to the waterfalls. There are two falls in spring and early summer, but one was dry when we were there. The other can be seen in the photo below, emerging from a hanging valley on the left about half-way down the image.

Hetch Hetchy is in an out-of-the-way part of the Yosemite National Park, so there are very few visitors compared to the tourist frenzy in the main areas of the park. Entering is a calm and unhurried process, and each car is given a laminated parking pass for their windshield. We noticed something... odd about it. The reverse side only has a map -- so what happened to regulations 1 through 7?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

One of My Favorite Places

Yosemite Valley as seen from above -- one of the most beautiful, sublime, and ethereal places on Earth. It seems immortal, a place that has always been and will always be -- although that is Mother Nature's little joke. The valley has only recently come into being, geologically speaking, and has been changing ever since.

The mountains, the Sierra Nevada, are granite, solidified underground from molten lava and later exposed through erosion. Yosemite Valley was originally cut by the Merced River into a "V" shape. The river ended up at what was then the bottom of the valley. Glaciers subsequently filled the valley -- so deep they almost reached the top of Half Dome. When they retreated, they left the typical glacially-carved "U" shape, the shape that we see today. Scrapings and polishings from the glaciers can be seen everywhere you look, and erratic rocks dropped by the glaciers, some balanced precariously, are testimony to the relatively recent and powerful ability of glaciers to reinvent the landscape.

Here is Half Dome in profile, as seen from Washburn Point. Those who climb to the top use cables embedded in the rock on the far side. So many people want to make the demanding trek that the Park Service now limits the number of weekend climbers to 400 a day. Half Dome is not a broken "full dome" -- geologists tell us that it formed just as it is today.

When we got to Glacier Point, a little further down the road from Washburn Point, we found a wedding about to happen! We were there on 10/10/10, and the Mother-of-the-Groom told us Yosemite was hosting 10 weddings in various parts of the park in honor of the unusual palindromic date.

Here are John and I at Washburn Point, the photo taken by a wonderful Australian couple we met there. If you're reading this, "thanks!" and have a wonderful rest of your stay in the U.S.!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

"There's No Way To Get Around It"

Location: Coarsegold, CA

Before now, my last trip to Yosemite was in 2006. At that time, a huge landslide had just happened. Traffic into Yosemite from the west, through Mariposa and El Portal on Highway 140, was halted along the Merced River.

The slide started at the end of April 2006, but by the beginning of June it had really burst. 300 tons of rock had cascaded down the mountain, burying Route 140 and ending just short of damming the Merced River. For a couple months, anyone needing to get to Yosemite was forced into a 1.5 hour detour to the south entrance. The news then said, "It's huge and and it just keeps rolling ... there's no way to get around it." On June 1, observers had noted only 13 seconds in the previous four days when rocks were not moving.

When I was there in August it was marginally better -- two temporary bridges had been erected to bypass the slide -- the road detoured over one bridge to the far side of the Merced where the road followed an old railroad bed for a while, then returned to the main road via the second bridge. When I first got there, the detour was available once a day -- provided you were in line behind the "follow me" pilot at 7:00 A.M. for the day's only trip around the slide. Eventually, a one-way traffic light replaced the pilot car, allowing 24 hour access, albeit with a fifteen minute wait for the light to change.

Now, in 2010, I was interested to see if I could still find the place where the detour had been or if it had been totally erased by time. As we traveled 140, I kept looking for signs of the bridge or the temporary road. Finally, I found them!

To my surprise, nothing had changed.

The bridges still bypassed the landslide (the brown area in the photo below), and traffic lights still controlled the one-way traffic:

We were told that the entire hillside was deemed unstable, so rather than cleaning up the rock slide the decision was made to semi-permanently re-route the road. Here's how it looks today -- the "old" road is still clearly visible, and you can see how close the slide came to damming the Merced River:

Once we got into Yosemite, El Capitan presided solidly. We had heard that the waterfalls were dry, but we did see a small trickle from both Yosemite and Bridal Veil Falls, probably due to a few days' rain this week.

We wandered through Yosemite Village for a short while, where the "John and John" team (Muir and Macon) posed for a photo:

More Yosemite to come!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

What Three Things Look Like Before They Get To The Store

As we have been driving down the country roads just south of Yosemite, we have passed several orchards interspersed in the farmland. Most of the trees were not ones that we could identify, so we decided to find out what was being grown.

1) We stopped at this grove first:

After scraping off the pinkish skin from one globe that had fallen on the ground, we discovered a tan pistachio shell hiding inside, with the greenish nut inside it! Almost like a Mother Nature's Russian nesting doll!

2) Our next stop was this grove:

These look like hard, waxy green olives on the tree. We could break apart the outer skin, but didn't find anything recognizable inside.

Since our reverse engineering failed, we had to ask at a fruit and veggie stand. Turns out these are un-ripe almonds!

3) After a stop at the local Trader Joe's, we came away with brussel sprouts in all their "birthday suit" glory. This is only the second time I have seen them on the stalk -- the first was a long, long time ago -- 30 years or so -- when I was visiting my friend, Ken, in San Jose.

The sprouts on the stalk were wonderfully fresh, some of the best I have ever had. There are a surprisingly large amount on the stalk -- we have now had them for two meals, and there are still some left. Mon petite chou!