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!

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