Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Church Bowl and Ahwahnee Meadow

            Walking on the upper trail going through the talus by the Church Bowl one morning in October, trying to find Gold cup oaks, I begin to notice little things.  Usually I'm busy looking up to see how the massive peaks and domes look from different places in the valley and at different times of the day.  But today it’s the little things.

            The sun is in exactly the right place to reveal a crevice in what I thought was a perfectly smooth dome.  And I notice that even though the sun is shining brightly and there are no clouds, the valley seems to be partially lit, its luminosity cut back by twenty percent, and I wonder if this is similar to the unique lighting that draws painters to the south of France.

            Coming down to the valley floor, I walk through the Church Bowl where worship services used to be held.  There’s a stone pulpit to one side broad, an open area for the congregation to stand, and a few rows of leveled ground, perhaps for the choir.  There’s also a memorial to the pastor who was here during World War Two when the valley was taken over by the military for R & R and the Ahwahnee Hotel was converted into a hospital. 

            It hasn’t rained much over the last two months and the valley has dried.  I peek into a small hollow in the woods and find it surprisingly green and filled with water-dependent plants like horsetails and rushes.

            Wanting to linger, I sit in the southwest corner of Ahwahnee Meadow.  The only tree in the meadow is what I call "Mother's Tree" because she is surrounded by her offspring.  I estimate there are sixty first-generation children and at least twenty second-generation grandchildren in a tight circle around her.  It's hard to be accurate because she’s in the middle of a restored meadow, which means that I can’t walk over to her to count.  The afternoon is warming nicely from the morning's lingering cold as I lazily watch the Royal Arches, Half Dome, and the meadow.  The openness of the meadow provides a clear view of the splendor that is Half Dome, which is probably why a webcam has been set up here on the top of a wooden fence.

            Above the Church Bowl, a number of climbers are making their way up the swirling rocks.  About 250 feet to the left of the Royal Arches, a broad horizontal band of scratches goes across the rock.  They’re on a bend in the canyon wall and I figure that they are either the result of a glacier sliding by scratching the wall or of geological layering.  I walk over for a closer look but even when I’m looking up from directly below, I can't tell which it is.  But standing here, I see about the scratches a ruler-straight fault line coming down from the front peak that is almost at perfect right angles to the fault line.  How this was created befuddles me.  It seems too straight to be natural, and almost everything around it is expressed in molten rock that cooled into rounded domes and curves. I'm simply at a right place to see the straight lines.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Old Wawona Stagecoach Road

There are a number of special areas in Yosemite that I treasure because of experiences I’ve had there.  These places continue to resonate in me, and I return to them whenever I can. This is my journal entry for one hike on the old Wawona Road.

In the morning I leave the Wawona Tunnel parking lot and head up the Pohono Trail. Twenty minutes later I reach the junction with the Old Wawona Stagecoach Road. Normally I would turn left and follow that trail to Stanford Point, Taft Point, Sentinel Dome, and Glacier Point.  Today I turn right and continue uphill on what used to be the road that came in from Wawona.  The road was built in 1875 over an old horse trail and the road was closed in 1933. 

Half an hour later, a bend in the road brings me back for a moment to the Pohono Trail at true Inspiration Point.  I continue on the Old Wawona Road.  It's less congested with fallen trees and wash outs than the Old Big Oak Flat Stagecoach Road on the north side of the valley.   In places I walk across soft, crunching carpets five inches deep of pine needles and cones that have accumulated over the years.   A pileated woodpecker, lean and about a foot long, flies by and lands a short distance away.  It looks at me as if I have disturbed its solitude, and I probably have.  By the looks of the road not many people ever walk through here.  In the middle of the road a coleus-type plant grows by itself; the only one of its kind that I see around.

After an hour and a half I reach the overlook near the end of the abandoned road with a magnificent view of the Big Meadow, Foresta, its two restored barns, and I feel a connection with history.  The original barns were the place where early travelers loaded up on supplies before entering the valley.  Turtleback Dome is directly below me, on the bend of the current road as it comes out of the tunnel from Discovery View.  Elephant Rock is out of sight.  A short ways beyond here the Old Wawona Road dissipates into the forest on its way to Wawona.

Walking back down the trail, all is quiet.  There haven't been many scenic moments along the road, but at Inspiration Point, where the early travelers got their first look at the valley and saw El Capitan is in full glory.  According to recent research, Lafayette Bunnell and the Mariposa Battalion probably first saw the valley from this spot, rather than from Old Inspiration Point.

I leave the road and take the Pohono Trail back down toward the parking lot.  A side trail leads to a spring with an old stoned-in basin that was used perhaps by thirsty passengers from stagecoach days.  Two and a half hours after starting out I'm back where I started.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Yosemite Valley Place Names, A-G

Locations, who named it, when, and sometimes why.

Arrowhead Spire-- between Yosemite Point & Indian Canyon, Sierra Club 1930s
Artist Point--west end site where Hill made early sketches of the valley
Basket Dome-- North Rim, up canyon from North Dome, Native legend
Beatitude, Mt.—the place where the Mariposa Battalion first saw the valley (Old Inspiration Point)
Black Spring--north side of Bridalveil Meadow
Bridalveil Fall/Meadow-- west end, Hutchings 1855
Broderick, Mt.-- by Nevada Fall, named for US Senator from California,
Bunnell Point-- in Little Yosemite Valley, for Lafayette Bunnell 1920
Castle Cliffs- under Yosemite Point, 1907
Cathedral Rocks—to the left of Bridalveil Fall
Cathedral Spires—on the south side of El Capitan Meadow, Hutchings 1862
Clark Point--south wall near Vernal Fall, for Galen Clark 1891
Columbia Rock-- overlook on Yosemite Falls Trail, 1/3 the way up, 1873
Curry Village—east end of the valley, David & Jennie Curry started with 7 tents in 1899
Dewey Point-- on Pohono Trail, for Admiral Dewey
Discovery View--the view from the east end of the Wawona Tunnel
Diving Board--south of Half Dome
Emerald Pool--just above Vernal Fall, 1856
Fern Spring--foot of Mariposa Trail, by Pohono Bridge, 1871
Fissures-- by Taft Point, Eadweard Muybridge, photographer, 1867
Four Mile Trail—goes from base of Sentinel Rock to Glacier Point, built by John Conway 1871
Glacier Point--east end of the valley, south wall, 1864
Grizzly Peak-- overlooks Vernal Fall on the north side, Charles Bailey 1885
Gunsight--Leaning Tower as seen between the Cathedral Rocks