Sunday, March 18, 2012

River Thoughts

In a favorite area of Yosemite, I like to sit by a bend in the Merced River and watch the reflection of Half Dome glow on the water. A slight breeze causes the surface of the slow moving river to ripple slightly, making Half Dome flicker.  A line creases the river’s surface where an underwater sand bar ends and the river drops down to a rocky bottom. The trees reflecting on the surface of the water shimmer with the water's movement.  Looking deeper, I see leaves fluttering on the river's bed, moving not to the movement of the air but to the current of the water.

Is the reflection of Half Dome on the water more real than the reflection of light on Half Dome?  Without the light, I would not see Half Dome at all.  When I see love on the smiling face of my beloved, is that a reflection or real? 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

One Hundred Year Flood

Fifteen years ago, in the winter of 1996-97, Yosemite Valley had a 100-year flood, and the damage was great enough to the road and the infrastructure that the valley was closed for months.  When I could get in, I hiked the length of the valley, from the east end to the west, surveying the damage.

The bridge crossing Tenaya Creek above Mirror Meadow is down, washed away like most of the other footbridges in this area.  I reach the other side by stepping across boulders in the stream.  The trail that went along the river bank is gone.

In many places the water is red-orange, indicating the presence of iron.  There is an actual "Iron Spring" below the lower pool of Mirror Lake that colors the water there, but this coloring is new since the flood and starts just below where Snow Creek joins in.  The pine trees in the middle section of Tenaya's landscape are dying out, whether this is due to the change in the river's route, damage from the flood, the new presence of iron in the water, an infestation of insects made possible by the environmental changes, or all of the above.  It's an example of how changing one element in nature creates a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem.

The new stream route flows over clean, white granite.  The accumulated detritus of decades, as well as the soil that built up over the years, have been swept away by the flood.  Trees that used to line the river bank now stand in the middle of a beach of white granite sand.

The riverbed going into Mirror Meadow has been altered from a quiet, pastoral scene to something that resembles the torn-up delta below Yosemite Falls.  Furrows have been dug through its broad plain, and boulders line the new river banks, pushed to the side by the surging water.  Footbridges that managed to stay intact now have no trails leading to them or from.

Below Mirror Meadow the river bank eroded away to such an extent that the main metal footbridge across collapsed into the flood and was swept away.  At this end of the valley, the flood took shortcuts over bends in the river and swept away the Upper and Lower River Campgrounds.

In the middle of the valley, the meadows are buried under a foot of granite sand and look like a wasteland.  The place on the river bank where I used to sit and listen to the water ouzel play in the water and watch the colors of the sunset spread across the sky are gone.  The cabins below the Lodge were destroyed.

At the Cathedral beach area down by El Capitan, the flood shifted the river 150 feet away, leaving a massive gravel sandbar behind.  On the bend, a large section of the forest was eroded away by the power of the water, and trees were tossed into the woods like unwanted toys.

At Valley View in the west end, where the canyon walls come together and the river leaves the valley, the rushing water compressed.  Everything being carried along in the water battered the trunks of the trees, taking out chunks of bark.  Further down the canyon, the river washed out the river road.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Yosemite Artists and Writers - part two

Although any kind of photography does well in Yosemite, black and white photography succeeds particularly well because it captures the dynamics of the granite.  Charles Weed was the first photographer, taking pictures for Hutchings in 1859.  Carleton E. Watkins, 1860s, used a mammoth-plate camera to try and capture the mammoth dimensions of the park.  Eadweard Muybridge, 1860s, took stereoscopic pictures and was preoccupied with the debris that collected at the bottom of waterfalls and along the rivers.  In the 1880s George Fiske put people into landscape photography. 

Ansel Adams reclaimed a place of honor for black & white photography beginning in the 1920s.  Galen Rowell, 1970s, set the stage for the mountaineering photographer.  Current photographers include Keith Walklet, Jeff Grandy, Christine Lober, Ted Orland, and William Neill. 

Video photography came of age in the 1990s, blending moving images with narration and music for stunning presentations.  Some of the people involved are Sterling Johnson, Dennis Burkhard, and Jon Else.  Shelden Neill and Colin Delehanty are currently in the midst of Project Yosemite, recording time-lapse photography of the valley.

Musicians who have been inspired by Yosemite include Rick Erlien, Siegfried Benkman, Jeff Victor, Dylan Anton, and Shira Kammen.

In the area of drama, Lee Stetson often performs as John Muir.