Yosemite National Park

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In early May of 1999, Chris and I went to Yosemite with Jim and Ida, my parents. The first day wasn't ideal, weather-wise. We had to use the Highway 120 entrance to the park because of a rock slide that closed Highway 140. We arrived at the Hwy 120 entrance at about 10:30 in the morning. The ranger in the entrance gate told us we would have to wait there for 2 or 3 hours while a "very bad accident" was cleared from the road 3 miles into the park. We learned later that a tractor trailer had slipped in the snow and turned sideways, blocking all lanes of traffic.

To our great surprise (and the park rangers'), there had been more than an inch of snow at about the 5,500' line. While we waited for the road to be cleared, we looked around the visitor center at the entrance area, drove out of the park to rent tire chains, ate lunch, then the road re-opened.

We never really needed the chains, but we were glad to have them "just in case." The drive into the park on 120 and Old Big Oak Flat Road was beautiful. We stopped at Merced Grove to get some group pictures in the snow.

As we drove down Old Big Oak Flat Road, we couldn't see much of the valley due to the low clouds and fog. We could still get an idea of the grandeur of the vally, but we couldn't see the tops of El Capitan or Half Dome.

We drove around the valley floor, where we could get decent views of Bridal Veil Falls, and all but the top of Yosemite Falls. However, it was raining off and on, and we couldn't really see that much.

At 4:00, we left the park to check into the Cedar Lodge on Hwy 140 in El Portal. The 140 entrance to the park is under construction and is very bumpy and muddy. However, we made it out OK.

As we got closer to El Portal, the weather started to clear some. By the time we got to Cedar Lodge, there were clear patches in the sky, and the sun was occasionally breaking through.

Hwy 140 was closed west of the lodge due to the rock slide, but the slide site was still about 6 miles west of the lodge. We decided to take advantage of the lack of traffic on the highway and went for a walk. Hwy 140 runs along the Merced river, and the views of the valley are spectacular. The spring growth and snow-melt runoff combine to create lush, forest-like scenery that is right at the edge of the road.

These pictures were taken on our walk.

Overnight, the weather continued to clear, and Tuesday was beautiful -- clear, warm, perfect.

From the overlook on Hwy 41 above Bridal Veil Falls, we got a fabulous view of the valley, with everly landmark standing out clearly.

We took another drive around the valley floor. What a difference a day made! It was hard to believe that less than 24 hours ealier, the sky had been close and gray, and it had been rainy and cold. On our way to the day parking at the valley Visitors Center, we had terrific views of Yosemite Falls, the valley rim, Half Dome, and pretty much everything.

The highlight of our second day in the park was a hike up to Vernal Falls. This hike starts at the valley floor and climbs about 2000 feet in a mile and a half. The last half mile climbs from the Merced River at the base of the falls up to the top of falls. That part of the trail is calle Mist Trail because of the spray that comes off of the falls and creates a perpetual misty rain on the trail.

The Vernal Falls trail offers wonderful views that you just can't get from the valley floor. The "small" falls in the picture at the right is about halfway between Glacier Point and Vernal Falls.

Many visitors hike only as far as the bridge that spans the Merced below the falls. You can get good views of the falls from there, but we continued on up. About 2/10 mile above the bridge is a large rock that juts into the Merced. From there, you can get another good look at the falls. It's also a good place to stop for a Snickers bar and a breather (and get your picture taken).

The remainder of the trail up to the falls is mostly made of granite steps, probably arranged by the CCC in the 1930's. They make the climb pretty easy, but it's still a climb. Just past this point is where the mist starts falling. At some times of the year, you have to wear raingear or else get soaked through. The mist wasn't that bad on this trip.

As you get closer to the falls, the views get better and better. On a beautiful day like this, there are bright rainbows formed by the spray.

It's a tough climb, but the granite table at the top of the falls offers a warm, sunny spot to eat lunch, warm up, and look at the valley.

After our hike, we piled into the car and headed back to San Jose. This time the roads were clear of snow, and there was hardly any traffic. We made it home in about 4.5 hours, including a supper stop at the Burger King in Oakdale.