THE WATERSHED WONDERS
Hardly five months after we opened in ’96 we were cut off from Yosemite upstream because of a raging Merced River. On a very warm New Year’s Eve we were playing pool in t-shirts on the covered deck, both now gone, drinking great beer in celebration. The corrugated tin roof shot a stream of water from each low curve of the corrugation, making it like the old Tonga Room Hurricane Show. The storm was easily recognizable to a native Californian to be a Pineapple Express. This one had barreled up from Hawaii direction with a special blessing from El Nino and was now raining up to 12000 foot elevation where a early and large snow pack had already been dumped. You see old timer pictures of Central Valley towns under 20 feet of water and folks upon the roofs, but after a century and a half of taming the Sierra and Valleys you don’t think much of this kind of disaster. The first guest off to the park returned in short order to make it clear the river was up over the highway and impassable. What with tent cabins floating down the river, roads washed away and visitors in the Park cutoff for days because of this “100 year flood” it was a disaster to us. I hunkered down alone for three months awaiting an open road hoping to make it through without guests.
My favorite stories though were about water flowing on all parts of the Yosemite Valley floor. If not from the river, then from water flowing down from all the granite walls. Now THAT would have been a truly wondrous boast to say you had seen a waterfall stretch around the whole valley like a end of the world sci-fi flick! The rest of us, however will make due with the water falls that the late winter and spring provides us every year. For all the times a traveller will go out of his way to see one, a waterfall is clearly one of those entrancing natural phenomenon humans cannot resist. Now time that by dozens and you have a happy traveller!
Where to begin? Once you have seen tall waterfalls about the earth, you tire of looking up in wikipedia which is tallest in what way on what continent and how a new one has changed the boastful line-up. Sort of like Amundsen, Scott, Dawson or Shackleton, who remembers, they are all great!? Even in deference to storied Angel Falls, Yosemite Falls still holds my attention whenever I visit the valley. It’s the water mark on the cliff face when it’s gone by October that requires you to envision it anyway that makes me laugh at my own stare. The snow cone that develops through deep winter cold as water turns to ice on the falling journey. I have yet to carry a scoop, cup and cherry soda syrup up the upper Yosemite Falls Trail and clamber across the rocks at it’s base to make a statement but don’t count me out. Catching it at it’s highest flow and watching how it angrily shoots off that first outcrop trying to defy gravity and tossing out thunderous roar of water bashing itself against the cliff and talus must be experienced. Yes, you may think that taking you grandma or your dog to the Lower Falls paved trail is boring, but you must do it first! The Upper Falls trail is popular in winter because is is south facing and stunning from Columbia Point, it also leads you close to the Upper Falls in winter. In summer go to the top peering every other moment at the falling water and cross it at the top (over a bridge always for smart humans of course) and peer over victoriously! Until you see someone slack-lining nearby to the Lost Arrow Spire…
Now I could write a book about all the Falls in Yosemite so we will stick to my favorites, sure. Too bad so many are everyone else’s favorites like Vernal & Nevada Falls! First off, everyone who visits wants me to go see them too can any time of year. But in early summer on a hot day will I fail to tell them they will be soaked getting to the top. Only through having your sins washed away will you receive an epiphany about your existence at the sunny top. There you will ogle at the water rushing over the clean straight edge into the abyss clutching wisely at a steel pipe rail. A form perfect falls it is. For those who are adventurous, catch the Glacier Point shuttle bus from the Valley and do the Panoramic Trail from the Point, stopping to see Illilouette, Nevada and Vernal Falls down to the Valley in one stunning half loop.
Another exceptional falls walk is to the Wapama Falls in Hetch Hetchy. This place is a warmer, lower elevation,more winter than late spring excursions. These falls, like Yosemite Falls, make a warm winter day seem summery as only California can. Though this dam should have never been placed here, that event should not be held against the beauty it still offers. Any child inside would love the skip across the curved 1920’s design dam, into a dripping and puddled long tunnel perfect for laughing and whistles and exit upon scenes really made by artists like Parrish and Hopper. The Native Indian signage adds depth & wonder to the trek through their flooded home. As you pass the Tueeuala and then the more substantial Wapama. You can go further on the trek to Rancheria Falls, our favorite as swimming holes when the current is near nil. Possibly one day you could plan a five day Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne backpacking trip from Tuolumne Meadows mid-summer, stair-stepping all the way down through different unspoilt ecosystems, cooling off on the various holes and cascades, through burnt forests until you glimpse the super massive guard Kolana Rock reflected on the lake before it. Learn to keep an eye out for rattlers!
We could extend this blog upon the virtues of flaming Horsetail, sculpted Bridalveil, hidden Chilnualna, stair stepped Sentinel Falls and exhilarating Ribbon Falls, but you wouldn’t have much to explore for you next time! It seems everywhere you travel in this mountain range there are going to be cascades to entrance that basic part of you.
The other story I liked about New Years ’97 was about watching boulders the size of small houses bounce and smash against each other while being pushed down the steeper part below Arch Rock Entrance. The colossal rock vs rock collisions made bright blue sparks seen from deep below the raging grey water. You could hear the thunder each episode made through the wind, rain and whitewater decibels. Like the dangerous rockfalls that happen regularly enough in Yosemite, I am not sure I want to see that in person at all.