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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yosemite Part 3 Omnibus - Mariposa Grove, Vernal Falls and Mirror lake

This final Yosemite travelblogue is about the other places we hiked. Although these hikes did not merit separate blog posts in my judgment, these places are worth visiting. Hopefully, after reading this post, you'll know why.

Mariposa Grove is a large grove of giant redwoods. These are the rather stubby and huge Giant Sierra Redwoods, known as sequoia Gigantum.These trees agre very wide around the base and produce low quality wood that isn't good for much beyond toothpicks. I find the cleaner shaped and taller Coastal Redwoods (Sequioa Semper Verens) to be more attractive.

Our hike was at Mariposa Grove had a fair amount of elevation, about 1,000 feet over the day. We walked from the lower grove to the upper grove. Our trail was crisscrossed by a paved road carrying loads of people in theme-park style trams. that made the whole thing kind of weird. The trams give passengers headphones, so we couldn't hear the nature interpretation rap. The trams just kept on sneaking up on us.

The trees were pretty cool. Like all frequently visited Giant Redwood Groves, the trees had all sorts of corny names and lore. This famous tree is around 1,900 to 2,400 years old.

A group picture in front of a giant tree is mandatory here.

I found this almost perfectly shaped ponderosa pine on a ridge during our walk from the upper grove back to the lower grove.

This place is an important place in the history of land preservation and National Parks.

Mariposa Grove was the home of Galen Clark in the 1860s. He is a great guardian of the world's beautiful natural places. He convinced President Lincoln and Congress to declare Yosemite a preserve (at that time, management of the preserve was given to the State of California). This was the first time in Western Civilization that land was set aside as a nature preserve. It is amazing this was done in during the difficult years of the Civil War. Clark was known as the "guardian of Yosemite". Although Clark played an equally vital role in preserving this land, John Muir got all the ink.

Clark built a cabin in the upper grove and lived there for years. He was probably as surprised as anybody,since he came to Yosemite after his doctor gave him six months to live. He found his cure in the mountain air.

Galen's cabin is now a small museum, and the trams stop there.

Vernal Falls is a contrary name, since this was the only waterfall in Yosemite Valley that was still running in September.

The approach to the fall is via mist trail,which starts at a trail head accessible by the Park Service bus. The hike starts on mist trail, a pretty level hike that would have taken us through the waterfall's mist if there was more water falling.

The last stretch of the trail is a little more difficult, following a steep staircase cut into the canyon's wall. The staircase gave great views of the fall.

Even with a view, after a few hundred stairs, it started feeling like Cirith Ungol from Lord of The Rings. It all depends on how you set the shutter speed.

But there's nothing like a 300 foot waterfall.

Every few steps, the view changed.

We stopped at the top of the falls for a while. The river created a large,smoothed surface from its spring flows.

We could look up to Nevada Falls, another break further up the bluffs. Nevada Falls has a similar staircase trail, but we decided to skip that. Up close, it's reputed to look like Vernal Falls - The Sequel.

We continued to a junction to the John Muir Trail, which we took us back to the trail head via a much more gradual but less interesting route At the junction, we were greeted by an man with a John Muir beard walking in the opposite direction. When we first spotted him at a distance, we wondered if we were fated to meet John Muir's ghost. He let me take his picture, so you don't have to believe me; here's the truth.

At this high point of the trail, we had great views of Grizzly and Liberty domes across the valley, with half dome peeking over their ridge.

Our last hike was from the end of Yosemite Valley on the Mirror Lake Trail. Mirror lake has pretty much drained out since the natural dam that formed the lake shook loose after an earthquake. The trail head is at the last bus stop in the valley (you can't drive there). This gentle trail goes into the narrow and high-walled Tenaya valley. We were in the shadows for the entire walk.

Not surprising, there's a lot of loose rocks around. This warning sign made me laugh.

The most striking scene on this trail was man-made - a grove of cairns. No one seems to know who built the cairns or why someone took the time to move all those stones. It was like stumbling into a Japanese temple.

This was our last hike in Yosemite, we drove home in the afternoon.

These last three posts have all the pretty pictures. I may write further about the human aspects of visiting this National Park. It was a little strange

Until that day,

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yosemite Part Two - Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows is in the less-visited northeast section of the park. These high altitude Meadows and domes lie among the tributaries of the Tuolumne River.

The lower altitude meadows in the area are at about 8,000 feet elevation. That's the beginning of minor nosebleed territory for me.

K and I took different hikes. My group took an out-and-back hike along a portion of the Muir Trail from Tioga Pass Road past Cathedral Peak and on to Cathedral Lake. Kathleen's group followed a portion of the trail further East, for a less strenuous hike through Lyell Canyon, along the Lyell fork of the Tuolomne River. Her walk was through a series of small streams and expansive alpine meadows.

West of Tuolumne Meadows, the Tuolumne River was dammed to form the Hetch Hetchee Reservoir, which inundated a valley said to be as spectacular as Yosemite Valley itself. John Muir died around the time this project was conceived. Some say he died of a broken heart. Although this gigantic reservoir is the primary supply of water for San Francisco and its neighboring communities, the Restore Hetch Hetchee Movement has had a healthy following for years.

Perversely, from its inception this movement has been a hobby horse of anti-green conservatives. The Reagan administration couldn't resist an issue where San Francisco Liberals would scream foul (apparently, San Francisco liberals like their water more than John Muir's legacy) at a Federal effort to improve the environment on the backs of left coasters rather than the usual southeastern coal miners and western ranchers.

Enough about political backstabbing. Back to the main story.

On the way to the trail heads, both parties stopped at Olmstead Point, a turnout with another scenic view of meadows overlooked by several peaks and domes. The marker credited Frederick Law Olmstead with “designing the park”. That lead to a continuing shtick about how Disney turned Olmstead's design into reality. In actuality, I suspect (but I am not sure) Olmstead's contribution was in laying out the roads and paths in Yosemite valley, which are absolutely great. People can start at the Yosemite Village hotel area, cross the street and walk about 200 yards on the path to Yosemite falls and feel like they are in a natural setting. Olmstead was a genius at that. Even Central park feels like a walk in the country if you don't look up. I think he uses a lot of unnecessary curves and minor trail obstacles to get the effect.

My hike started with a long first mile and a half, walking through wooded trails gaining about 1,000 feet in altitude. It was tiring at that altitude. The forest on the slope was beautiful, despite the fine, dry "California moon dust" that coats most California trials, as well as most hikers in September. I walked alone for a while, between the advanced and rear guards. The quiet on this slope in the morning was noticeable. This was a pleasantly wooded slope, but nothing really caused me to take any pictures.

The next mile was through relatively flat but undulating terrain and a boulder field that looked like it may have been formed as an alluvial fan following an ancient flood, but I couldn't see an obvious place from where the flow would have come.

At this point, we were walking by the base of Cathedral Peak. Unlike John Muir, we didn't climb the peak. We were near 10,000 feet altitude at its base, and the climb is rated technical (although Muir probably just ran up the mountain using his bare hands and feet) . For me, physical exertion loses its appeal at that kind of altitude. When we left the wooded area, we were directly under this amazing peak.

John Muir had a lot to say about Cathedral peak and Cathedral lakes in "My First Summer in the Sierra"

". . .the wonderful mountain called Cathedral Peak is in sight.

From every point of view it shows marked individuality. It
is a majestic temple of one stone, hewn from living rock,
and adorned with spires and pinnacles in regular cathedral
style. The dwarf pines on the roof look like mosses. I hope
some time to climb it to say my prayers and hear the stone
sermons. . . "

We passed a great example of fire succession, a new forest probably 20 years after a fire.

We descended to a meadow that seemed a little boggy, with Cathedral peak looking down on us. The ground cover vegetation was a rusty color. With the peak in the background, this spot made a perfect backdrop for portraits.

After I did it, everybody wanted in.

The meadow gently descended into a boggy marsh between the peak and a shelf of nearly horizontal rock that gently sloped to cathedral lake.

I found this Jeffrey Pine that made me think of a photo by Ansel Adams.

This was a beautiful place to have lunch. There's nothing like an alpine lake. These are part of the panorama surrounding our lunch spot.

We returned by the same path. Although we were on our own in the morning, we ran into several backpacking groups climbing the rise during our decent in the mid-afternoon. It seemed to me they would not get to their campsites until around 6:00 PM. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

On the slightly puffing and gasping walk up the slope, I hadn't noticed the very large peak behind me and across a large meadow. I don't know what caused the crevasse in the rock face. Perhaps a tremor unloosed a boulder that scraped its way to the base.

K's hike through Lyell canyon is an example of the inspiration in nature for traditional Japanese gardens. Since I wasn't there, it's just the pictures.

Including the about 90 minute drive form Yosemite Valley, mostly on the death-defying Tioga Pass Road, this was a pretty long day. I only had about one half hour to clean up for dinner. Oh, the strain of rouging it!

Coming soon: Vernal falls and a few surprises.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Looking Into Yosemite Valley

I'm starting this Yosemite trip report with what I thought was its most dramatic moment, our first view of the valley. Getting these views involved the better part of a full day hiking around. I strongly recommend this approach to Yosemite Valley for anyone visiting who is able to hike.

We walked in the same footprints and took in the same views as Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir. As if the scenery itself doesn't inspire enough awe.

Well, the view would have been the same, but at some point in the last 105 years, the National Park Service hired Disney inc. to colorize Yosemite Valley.

OK, in reality,our picture is from Sentinel Dome. Glacier point has been made accessible and rather unattractive since TR's day,but the view is still the same, but improved with Technicolor.

After packing up, we went directly to the Sentinel dome trail head on the south rim of Yosemite valley. About 1.1 miles with a good 400 ft elevation gain took us to Sentinel Dome. The last quarter mile or so was a scramble to the top of the exfoliating granite dome. We had to scramble up this slope to get the views.

In a National park,it usually takes a little work to reach something interesting that isn't bursting with screaming kids, snarling teens and shockingly unattractive adults.

The views from the dome were unbelievable. I have never seen anything like this in my life. Now I understand why taking in these views changed peoples lives, drove them to devote themselves to preserving the land. I have never experienced a breathtaking view before. This view really takes the breath away (some forest fires in the region helped, too). We looked across to the nearly mile high and wide vertical granite cliffs of El Capitan.

Since the views in every direction from Sentinel Dome were incredible, we went a little nuts with the cameras.

Here we are standing in front of the Yosemite Falls across Yosemite Valley. The falls were dry, but still cool to see. We stayed near the bottom of the falls the next three nights.

I was impressed with the view of El Capitan. A rock that big is just weird to see, especially when we could see down forever, and still not see the floor of the valley.

Sentinel Dome is a place where you can get a classic view of Half Dome to the East, without crowds pouring out of their campers. Somehow,we were more enchanted with the view looking West, although this view of half Dome to our East was compelling.

CJ the guide gave an impromptu talk about the geology of Yosemite Valley. He seemed to know a lot about the history and he was able to clearly share his knowledge. He looked like a model for REI while he gave his talk.

We took this trip with a tour company called Tahoe Trips and Trails. CJ was one of the three guides (two actual guides and one trainee) provided for our group of ten. Each day two hikers were offered, on e more strenuous and one less strenuous. I chose the more strenuous hike most days, with the exception of one day where the hikes sounded similar, only the more strenuous hike would have been much longer.

This is not the cheapest way to go, but we were assured a great trip, and we had a great trip. There's no way going it on our own would have been nearly the same experience. This is a good way to go if you can swing it.

Another two miles hike to the west brought us to Taft point, where the trail ends with a series of unimaginably deep fissures and vertical drop to the valley floor. From here I could really see how large these vistas were.

Standing on the edge of almost a mile vertical drop really made an impression of how big this all is. One of the advantages of walking a couple of miles from parking is that the park Service no longer feels the need to erect barriers. Even standing about five feet from the ledge was a little frightening.

One small area of the ledge had a railing to lean on, so I was able to get a couple of pictures looking down into Yosemite Valley. I needed the railing since I felt a little queasy whenever I went within a few feet of the ledge.

Here you can see all of El Capitan, from the bottom to the top.

This is the view looking down.

Here's a fissure you might fall into if you don't watch your step.

We ended our hiking with a 3 mile hike to Glacier point. This hike went between Sentinel Dome and the ledge. The trail rose about 300 feet before leveling into Glacier point. We saw the cutest fat little marmot beastie, sitting on a rock cantilevered over the edge of the bluff.

If I was there, I would be hunched down too.

We had an incredible view of Half Dome about a mile from Glacier point. This was one of several points where the trail walked along the edge of the valley's wall.

This is very similar to the distance view you can get from Glacier Point. However,the view seemed flatter from Glacier Point. Somehow the level paved surface and barriers surrounding Glacier Point made Half Dome appear more distant and less real. It seemed flat when I was looking out form a flat place. There's something to be said for the hightened presence you get when you know you are two steps from a 4000 foot drop.

We avoided the herds of pasty-faced flabby tourists until we came to Glacier point at the end of the day. Having hiked all day, we could have bathed ourselves in the smugness from quietly realizing only we and the European visitors appeared to have walked through anything except the giant parking lot.

However, once I noticed the Glacier Point Visitor Center sold ice cream bars, I got over the ugliness of the scene and enjoyed the creamy chocolate covered vanilla goodness.

We drove into Yosemite valley after our hiking. One entry to the valley is through the Wawona tunnel. I recommend this for anyone approaching the valley for the first time. As soon as we exited the tunnel, we were surrounded by granite walls bigger than the imagination can invent.

We stayed at the Yosemite Lodge, which is a frumpy but comfortable place to stay for some ungodly daily rate. The posh place in the valley, the Ahwanee, costs from $500 to $1,100 per night, depending on room and season. The restaurant at Yosemite lodge was pretty good. Although the west end of Yosemite Valley is full of Hotels, campgrounds and parking lots, there is still a lot of beauty right there. Frederick Olmstead's company did a brilliant job laying out the roads and trails.

This meadow scene was only a minute or two's walk our hotel's parking lot.

The views of the Valley's North walls were spectacular in the morning. I didn't expect a view like this from a parking lot. I never thought I'd see a hiking group's picture taken in a parking lot.

The morning light did cool things with the shadows.

That's Yosemite Valley. Look forward to reports from Mariposa Grove and Vernal Falls.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Warhol-ed Myself

I decided to revise my Major Kong image with the hope of getting a more grim yet cartoonish (in a dark anime sort of way) effect. Trying to bring in a little Warhol influence, but still keep some sense of discipline here.

So, like the optometrist likes to say. . .

A. . .

or B...

I think A has more of the "pop star of death motif" that guides my aspirations.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

After A Long Hot Day . . .

. . .with A ton or two of napalm between your legs, what could be better than a nice cold beer?


That's right,the patent application has been filed. Soon we may see ravioloid looking fried things with hot beer in the middle. Oops, looks like the sample in the picture is leaking. I am starting to suspect this this idea doesn't have legs.

That said, the forum comments from Field & Stream readers seems supportive and enthusiastic, tempered by concern about the lack of bacon and cheese.

Speaking of Field & Stream, I must have been not paying attention when they started running romance stories. All I can say is that better be a female Brown Trout.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dr Strangelove, Major Kongs Speedy Delivery Service - Low Megaton Version

A couple of weeks ago at the Local Air and Space Museum , I couldn't resist posing on this bomb strategically placed near open bomb bay doors. Take that, you darned feriners!

Thanks to DMIL for taking this picture.

I realize this is not quite as awesome as Major Kong's hot thermonuclear ride, being just a cute little napalm bomb. The museum didn't have a full sized Hydrogen bomb casing, and they wouldn't let me go prospecting to get me some of that renouned McClelland Park Plutonium.

But, I say what the heck. Getting burned at about a thousand degrees or about a million degrees (Fahrenheit, I think) would probably have the same effect on my active lifestyle.

On a totally unrelated issue, I just can't understand why those Iraqi ingrates don't love us. We spent a fortune on bombs just like this little beauty. All on their ungrateful behalf.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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