A Four-Hour Whirlwind Tour of Yosemite National Park

Last week I went out on business to California’s Central Valley and found myself within two hours of Yosemite National Park.  After completing work one day my business partner and I drove out and saw as much as we could before dark.  We only had about four hours, so like the 90%+ of visitors we concentrated on Yosemite Valley.

The first thing we noticed as we approached was a forest fire burning near the top of a mountain.  We would get up close and personal with this fire later in the evening:

Managed fire photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park, California.

Upon entering the valley, we took some shots from Valley View:

The author at Valley View. El Capitan is the prominent ledge on the left, and Half Dome is faintly visible through the smoke in the middle. Photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park, California.

A short time later I got this nice closeup of El Capitan, a sheer granite cliff that’s a popular destination for rock climbers:

El Capitan photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosmite National Park, California.

This U-shaped valley was carved by glaciers through the granite Sierra Nevada Batholith during the last million years.  Today many different rivers and streams run through the valley, slowly continuing that erosion.  The main river through the valley is the Merced River:

Merced River photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park, California.

One main tributary of this body of water is Yosemite Creek.  Near the Merced the Yosemite plunges over a cliff face to produce the tallest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls:

The author in front of Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. Photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park, California.

Later I got this shot of the famous Half Dome, a granitic dome carved by glaciers:

Half Dome photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park. California.

Down by the visitor’s center we saw this American black bear (Ursus americanus, Ursidae).  This was notable for being the first time I saw a bear in the wild:

Black bear (Ursus americanus, Ursidae) photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park, California.

We also saw this adorable Sciurid:

Unknown squirrel (family Sciuridae) photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park, California.

In addition to the scattered giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum, Cupressaceae), there are many species of tall pines (Pinus sp., Pinaceae) all over the park:

Tall pines photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park, California.

We decided we had enough daylight to make it up to Glacier Point, and on the way we saw some cool stuff in the fading sunlight:

Yosemite Valley under wildfire smoke and a setting sun. Photographed 08/11/2011.

Along the way we came across the amazing Tunnel View:

The author at Tunnel View, photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park, California.  El Capitan is on the left, Half Dome is in the center, and Bridalveil Fall is on the right.

Starting up the road to Glacier Point, we picked up a hiking couple who left their car up at the end of the road.  They were about eight miles away and the sun was setting, so they were rather eager to get back to their car rather than camp near the approaching wildfire.  It was pretty cool to drive through a forest fire:

Managed forest fire photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park, California.

The couple told us the fire was started by a lightning strike, and the park decided to let it burn while under control.  Fire is an important component of these ecosystems, helping to rejuvenate the forests by clearing dead wood and ground cover and aiding in pine reproduction (some pine cones won’t open until exposed to fire).  Unfortunately while driving through the rangers and firefighters kept traffic moving and I wasn’t able to get a clear shot of it.

Managed forest fire photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park, California.

In the dying light we just managed to get a great view down on Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point.  From the overlook it’s about a mile down a nearly vertical cliff to the bottom.  From here you can also get a great view of Half Dome:

The author in front of Half Dome from Glacier Point. Photographed 08/11/2011 at Yosemite National Park, California.

As the sun set we headed back to our motel two hours to the west back in the Central Valley. I thought we got a great overview of Yosemite Valley in the limited time available.  It’s important to note, however, that Yosemite is vast and goes far beyond this relatively small area.  I would have liked a week to explore many of the peaks, valleys, meadows, and glaciers that dot the park.  In the end, however, I thought I got a lot out of four hours.  Luckily we would have time to visit other nearby national parks in subsequent days.  More on that will follow.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Ecology, Geology, National Parks, Vertebrate Zoology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Four-Hour Whirlwind Tour of Yosemite National Park

  1. Pingback: Kings Canyon National Park: An exciting confluence of biology, geoglogy, and sheer beauty | The Life of Your Time

  2. Pingback: American black bear | The Life of Your Time

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