Day 2: SLIPPING AND SLIDING…
It was about 7am when Julie and I woke up. The sun just started to scrape the highest cliffs with its soft light. There was still snow on Stoneman Meadow. Ice and snow clung to the vertical cliff walls surrounding us – occasionally giving into gravity, crackling and crashing with a loud echoing boom. I kept thinking to myself that I wouldn’t want to be caught under one of those!
We really didn’t have an agenda for today. So what we ended up doing was meandering about the valley (self-driving, of course) going to the usual haunts where we knew there’d be viewpoints of our favorite waterfalls.
First up was Swinging Bridge. The Merced River, which must be frigid this time of day, was very calm and reflected Yosemite Falls and its snow cone. Shadows dominated the scene, but the low morning light was right on the tall waterfall that looked like it was just starting to pick up flow that would continue increasing from now until its peak flow probably around May.
Like yesterday afternoon, it was nice and quiet here. Although it was bitterly cold, that got us thinking about the snow flanking Yosemite Falls. I don’t think I had ever seen a waterfall with snow piling up near its bottom like we were seeing with Upper Yosemite Falls. I wondered if that was the snow cone that was talked about in your Yosemite Road Guide.
After we had our fill of Swinging Bridge, we next went to the car park near Cook Meadow. At this time of year, we could see that the meadow was pretty much brown as the grass had yet to grow. We knew that in the Spring and early Summer, this meadow would flourish with green grass and wildflowers with a gushing Yosemite Falls backing the scene. But as it was during our visit, the scene looked a bit harsh and bare, though the morning light was perfect.
After having our fill Cooks Meadow, we then continued towards Yosemite Lodge. Given that it was low season, we didn’t have much difficulty finding parking around the lodge area. Then, we proceeded to do the well-developed walk towards the base of Yosemite Falls, culminating at a lookout area next to a bridge over Yosemite Creek. And that was where we saw the familiar Lower Falls but the lighting was just right for a faint morning rainbow stretching across its base.
Next, we decided to check out the Ahwahnee Hotel. I had never set foot in this building thinking it was too posh and inappropriate for a place where Nature should reign supreme. But I had a different attitude towards the place when I learned that Stephen Mather – the park’s first superintendent – wanted the place built to attract the wealthy and influential people to the park. This bit of foresight helped bring conservation into the conscience of politicians and businessmen, and ultimately furthered the cause of preserving Yosemite as well as the rest of the National Parks. With that I came to accept such structures as a natural and necessary part of the National Park heritage.
Situated near the Royal Arch Cascade (when it’s flowing), the rustic hotel had a very large dining hall with gaudy chandeliers and high ceilings. It was only brunch, but I could totally see how this could be a really romantic place for fine dining at night. Nearby was a big “living room” area with balconies, a fireplace, plenty of couches, and some Native American artifacts protected behind glass. It was quite a place to relax and read a book, or take a nap in the rustic setting.
After our brief little self tour in the Ahwahnee, we returned to Curry Village and started taking the shuttle towards the Mirror Lake stop. The shuttle went straight for the Mirror Lake stop since the usual stops that passed by the Happy Isles were inaccessible this time of year due to ice. Since there would be no stop in front of Happy Isles at this time of year so that added a little bit to the overall walk.
We first headed for Vernal Fall. The hike to the waterfall was quite tricky due to the presence of ice everywhere.
We were glad we had hiking sticks and boots with us but it was still not easy walking.
Given the presence of snow, we were able to scramble towards the rocky bed below Lady Franklin Rock. The rock itself was inaccessible as it was covered in ice.
From here, we saw two other photographers getting shots of Vernal Fall. It was quite unusual to see the waterfall like this with snow on the floor. Nevertheless, I’d say it was worth the slipping and sliding to get here.
After having our fill of this waterfall, we started to head back to the Happy Isles Nature Center. However, I was amazed at how many hikers continued up the John Muir Trail despite all the ice on the trail.
Back at Happy Isles, we opted to walk directly back to Curry Village, where we had a quick pizza lunch.
Afterwards, we hopped back on the shuttle and headed to Mirror Lake. From there, it was an easy walk to the partially frozen “lake.” The ice kind of obscured some of the mirror-like reflections, but the scene was still serene and picturesque just like when we first saw it three years ago.
After the brief excursion, we returned to the shuttle and then headed for Bridalveil Fall. I hadn’t been to the base of this waterfall since 2002, but now it was late afternoon and the time was right for rainbows.
Anyways, on the way over there, we made a stop at the Bridalveil Fall view from across the Merced. The late afternoon light against the blue skies were attractive, though the Merced River that ran across the foreground remained in shadow and also flanked by snow.
The car park at the waterfall was icy and also busy. Right off the bat, we could see a rainbow cutting across the white plumge of water as we looked in the direction of Bridalveil Fall between the trees. That only hastened our desire to get to the base as soon as we could while the sun was still up.
We managed to park the car then quickly take the short walk to its base. We managed to get through some of the tricky icy sections of the paved walk before we were at the base of Bridalveil Fall.
We were greeted with a gorgeous rainbow in its mist, but unfortunately that mist also made it hard to take photos. Even with its light flow, photographing the waterfall from here was challenging. It was strange to see the flowing column of water bordered by white ice clinging to the walls around it. It kind of framed the waterfall in a weird way as if it had put a skirt on.
Anyhow, we weren’t able to take any satisfactory photos with the rainbow, but it was quite an experience to be back at the base of the waterfall. When the rainbow disappeared and the soft orange glow of sunset gave way to shadows, it was time to head back to Curry Village.
We returned to Curry Village in time for their somewhat reasonably-priced buffet. It had ordinary food, but it was quite busy for a not-so-busy season in the park. In addition to the Valley’s day visitors, many others had returned from skiing at Badger Pass.
When the dinner was about over, a local live band called the Rock Slide performed a mix of country western and blues. It was quite cool to see kids and elders doing a western swing dance to the likes of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. Even Julie and I got into the mood and joined them – trying to somehow fit our East Coast Swing basics into the Country Western Swing that better fit the occasion.
Even through the slipping and sliding adventure on the John Muir Trail, the day was very relaxing. It really gave us the chance to quietly appreciate the soothing silence of winter in the valley – broken only by the occasional crashing sounds of ice and snow that were unable to cling to the vertical cliffs.