The Wonders of Yosemite Valley
Chasing the meandering Merced River deep into Yosemite National Park I found myself glued to the window, eyes wide with wonder at the stunning scenery; hillsides full of bright yellow wild flowers, trees, rocks and hills that reached for the sky, large birds flying overhead and waterfalls full of rushing beauty – these were some of the wonders of Yosemite Valley.
When I decided to do my US West Coast solo adventure there were a few things I HAD to do, and while in California one was to visit Yosemite. From San Francisco I was picked up for my Yosemite tour at my hotel early in the morning, the sun still making its way up, by the shuttle bus that took us to the Pier to catch the tour bus that would be taking us to the heart of Yosemite National Park’s Valley. As usual when I set out to explore the natural world I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, that’s not to say I didn’t need a coffee or two, as it was going to be a long, full day.
There are three million acres of the Sierra Nevada that are protected by the National Wilderness Preservation System, and this includes almost all (95%) of Yosemite National Park. The park has 9,000 years of human history but is now home to some of North America’s most iconic animals like the mountain lion and black bear as well as cute mammals such as the yellow-bellied marmot and pika as well as a plethora of beautiful birds from Peregrine falcons to Clark’s nutcracker, and the black swift to the stellar jay.
There is so much to explore in Yosemite National Park, from the Sequoia Groves – home to giant sequoia trees whose trunks can reach over 25 feet thick and can live over 2000 years, to the high Sierra – with hundreds of hiking trails through this glacially carved landscape and then the Valley – with its rivers, waterfalls and wildlife, you can spend weeks seeking out Yosemite’s hidden treasures and ever changing scenery, but for me I had a day to explore its wonders in its picturesque valley.
“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” ~
We followed the Merced River into the heart of the Yosemite Valley, at a reasonably slow pace to enjoy the passing natural beauty, and stopped at a few key view points for great opportunities to snap photos and breathe in the stunning vistas. Our first stop offered an awe-inspiring view of the valley flanked on each side by El Capitan (on the left), a giant granite cliff of over 7500 feet and on the right was Half Dome, a curved cliff of almost 9000 feet. I’m pretty sure I stood there, still, quiet, with camera at my side for the first five minutes just in awe of how truly magnificent nature is, and how wonderful a feeling of lightness, peace and pure contentedness it affords to those who take the time to stop and appreciate its grandeur. That’s not to say that I didn’t afterward shoot off a hundred photos – I could only describe it so well – I needed to show people its wonder!
There was this one giant tree that stood out in the valley and for some reason I couldn’t help but be drawn to it. There it was, this marvelous massive tree, standing out from the rest, almost alone in a way, yet surrounded by sheer beauty and an obvious integral part of the overall picture – then I realized, as a solo traveller I could identify with that tree, alone yet still so very much a part of the world around it and standing tall and proud, we are all individuals – like trees, but we are all also a part of the whole – the forest, and though we may stand alone, we are never truly alone.
After a few more stops for great views or to explore various waterfalls along the way, we made our way to the Yosemite Valley Village where we were set free for a few hours, for lunch, to explore, hike and enjoy the wonders of Yosemite. I was eager to start exploring, so after a quick bite to eat for lunch I set off to hike the trail to the Yosemite Waterfalls. One thing I hadn’t known before my visit was that many of the waterfalls dry up or are greatly reduced after the spring – so if it’s waterfalls you’re after be sure to visit in the spring. I headed out towards the main falls, which are made up of two – the upper and the lower, and at certain vantage points you can see the two separate falls but from many points, including up close, it appears as one. But like many nature enthusiasts I took my time, looking deep into the woods in search of wildlife, stopping to listen for birds and of course photographing every small amazing treasure I found – from mushrooms to wildflowers and even rocks. I was blown away by the size of some of the rocks, they were enormous, with trails having to be diverted around them. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, perhaps I had eaten a tea cake because everything was massive from trees to rocks to cliffs. I was in wonderland!
Follow the trails that wind around Yosemite Creek I stumbled upon a female common merganser – a gorgeous bird with stunning details of colouring and feathers on its head. I also saw stellar jays for the first time and fell in love, I must admit they are one of my favourite birds now! These beautiful birds, similar in size to the blue jay, have a dark (almost black) hood and strikingly vibrant blue bottoms. They were in the trees near the creek as well as building nests in the Village.
When I reached the base of the main falls, after a few photos, I sat and enjoyed the view, wrapped by a forest of giant trees, the sound of rushing water hitting the rocks then the quieter flow as it made its way below the bridge I sat on into the forest, and the feel of mist as the powerful falls kicked up spray, I closed my eyes, breathed it all in, I could have sat there all day – but it was but a moment in time that I will never forget.
It was an amazing day in Yosemite, and I met some awesome fellow travellers as well as giant granite cliffs like El Capitan with its larger than life personality – I know you’re probably wondering, ‘how can a rock have a personality?‘, I assure you it does and you must meet him!
It was a day I will never forget and left me with a cherished and lasting feeling of need to be surrounded by nature that is difficult (not impossible) in my everyday busy life of full-time employment, writing and blogging. I now try to escape into nature at least once a week whether a small walk outdoors or a hike on the trails. I will be forever grateful for my day in the valley and the wonders of Yosemite as they taught me that going out was really going in.
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out I found was really going in.” ~ John Muir
Have you visited Yosemite? What was your favourite wonder?