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Posts tagged ‘John Muir’

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK: A Quick Drive Through the Park


sequoia map

About ten days ago, a friend and I made a quick trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  Our plan was to spend a couple days enjoying the trees and solitude.  It was a glorious visit even though it did not pan out exactly as expected.

100_1320For one thing, we had planned to have two days in the park, but ended up with only one.  A storm moved in and closed the roads inside the park, so although we were there we could not get anywhere.  Second, we had hoped to see some wildflowers—and we did.  There were some lupines in bloom near the entrance and alongside some country roads, but none were at a spot where it was easy to stop and take pictures.  A few other flowers punctuated the landscape as well—some California poppies and pretty yellow flowers.  And pretty pink trees popped up here and there along the route.  The orange trees we drove past—field after field—were in bloom.  The best part of that was the delightful orange blossom smell that wafted into the car as we drove by.



100_1338Finally, we figured we would enjoy some delightful spring weather.  After all, spring had officially sprung and we were on spring break.  But like I said, a storm moved in and closed the roads—and the temps were a bit chilly. In fact, snow was still all around.  But-don’t get me wrong—I am not complaining.  The weather was crisp and glorious.  The snow on the trees was impressive and made it feel like we were driving through a snow globe.  And the storm closed the roads and sent us home, but it did not rain/snow and pour on us—we even saw glorious clouds and heard rain on the roof overnight.







100_1343Overall, although cut short, this was a great trip to Sequoia National Park.  We technically entered Kings Canyon National Park but never quite made it to Grants Grove to walk among the great big trees.  So, we figure we need to go again—maybe the end of May—to enjoy the forest again.  Next time, I doubt any roads will be closed! But the trees we did see and walk among were great, making us feel the grandeur of nature as seen in these magnificent Sequoia Redwoods.







Our one-day drive through Sequoia National Park helped us remember how accurate John Muir was in his description of the big trees:  “When I entered this sublime wilderness the day was nearly done, the trees with rosy, glowing countenances seemed to be hushed and thoughtful, as if waiting in conscious religious dependence on the sun, and one naturally walked softly and awestricken among them.” 

100_1324The trees are the obvious draw of the park, but there are also glorious vistas and impressive rock formations.  We even took the 10-mile travel-at-your-own-risk-not-cleared-in-winter road out to Hume Lake.





As we ended our first day in the Parks, we decided to re-trace our steps to get to the hotel.  Our plan was to explore Kings Canyon the second day.  Instead, the road had closed behind us, and we could not get back the way we came.  Our detour took us through some farmland that included orange groves. Although not what we planned, we had a great day!



TOPIC P: California Poppies

I missed seeing them this year.  It is not that I did not go looking for them.  I typically see them near Gorman as I travel south to Los Angeles along I-5.  But this year, they were not really there to be enjoyed, except in small isolated blooms deep in the fields.  I even checked the state natural reserve in Lancaster.  Not many there this year either.

one poppyI am talking about California Poppies.  This delightful little flower is the state flower, and it usually is evident along the highways in the spring of each year.  Each bloom is not very big, maybe 1-2 inches in diameter with several sprouting together out of one plant. They are a vibrant yellow gold color that screams for attention in the hills.  They typically share the hillsides with cream puffs, lupine, and other wildflowers.poppy

poppies and cream cups

poppies and lupine_0001

poppy and fddle stick

poppies medium

lupine too

dadThis year, however, the January temperatures were too low and the annual rainfall was too minimal to produce a great batch of California Poppies.  Typically, the highways are littered with them.  And hills and hills of them are evident at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve SNR in Lancaster, off Highway 138.  I have been there many times to view these natural wonders.  The Reserve offers 8 miles of trails through the hills amongst the flowers.  My dad and I visited there several times, just to enjoy the flowers and take some pictures.

When they are in bloom, they are magnificent:

Vista 1

vista 2

“Simply to see a distant horizon through a clear air—the fine outline of a distant hill or a blue mountain top through some new vista—this is wealth enough for one afternoon.”  Thoreau

vista 3

vista 4

I am always amazed and delighted when the flowers come back every February to May even as I am puzzled about how their appearance can be so varied each year.  I have always known it is tied to the rains—or lack there of.  One year, the rains came, but the grasses sprung up earlier and thicker than usual and choked out the flowers.  Lots of things can happen to impact the blooms.  Recently I read “Called Out” an essay by Barbara Kingsolver and her husband Stephen Hopp in her book Small Wonder—and it addressed this exact phenomenon.  In that essay, they were talking about the wondrous displays of wildflowers in the Arizona desert and explaining how they keep blooming year after year, but the same explanation applies to California Poppies as well.


poppies and lupinemedium hills 2

Simply put, Kingsolver said, “God planted them.” She then offered a more scientific explanation. Apparently the plants ensure their own survival through the variety inherent in their seeds.  Some seeds bloom faster or longer than others, or need more water than others, or are content to wait for years before blooming than others; the seeds are not all the same! Some years might be impressive, others not so much, but the next year is always a possibility. More officially, “Desert ephemerals. . . [stash] away seasons of success by varying, among and within species, their genetic schedules for germination, flowering, and seed-set.”  Each year, more blooms are likely because each species has a “blueprint for perseverance” that guarantees that wildlflowers—like the California Poppy—“will go on mystifying us, answering to a clock that ticks so slowly we won’t live long enough to hear it.”

I appreciate knowing there is a scientific explanation to support my hope that the poppies will keep blooming year after year. And I applaud the wonder of nature every year when they do bloom.  I can only imagine how magnificent the sight was for John Muir over 100 years ago, when it was not hills and hills of gold, but miles and miles of gold.

Here is how Muir described it:

“One shining morning a landscape was revealed that after all my wanderings still appears the most beautiful I have ever beheld.  At my feet lay the Great Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae. And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flowerbed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant it seemed not clothed in light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.”

medium field 1

medium field 2

Wouldn’t that be wondrous to view?  Still, I will be content to see whatever flower show blooms each year.  I am hopeful 2014 will be a good year once again.  What are your favorite wildflowers?

TOPIC G: The Grand Canyon Is. . . Well, GRAND

mojave pt southI first visited the Grand Canyon over 25 years ago.  I hoped it would be as marvelous as I expected.  I was not disappointed.  No wonder Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is the one great wonder. . . every American should see.” It is a phenomenal awe-inspiring place.  Since then, I have been back many times—sometimes by myself, other times with friends.  I already talked about a couple of my favorite visits in an earlier post.  But the Grand Canyon deserves a fuller review.

Some Details:

If you have not yet seen the Grand Canyon, you might wonder what the big deal is.  After all, it is basically just a big hole in the ground.  In fact, in the early 1800s, Lt. Joseph Ives led an army survey party into the canyon and concluded it was “altogether valueless.”  I would argue with him!  The details of its size, variety and geography are impressive, even if you never see the place:

  • Located in Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a mile deep and close to 18 miles wide.
  • In total, this national park covers over 1,900 square miles—that is roughly 1.2 million acres.
  • The canyon is 277 miles long, so long that no vantage point offers a view of the entire expanse.
  • Still, on a good day in terms of air quality—most days!—visibility averages 90 to 110 miles.
  • The Colorado River runs through the canyon as the primary agent that cut this gorgeous gorge into existence.
  • The rocks at the bottom of the canyon are roughly 1.8 billion years old, but most geologists agree the gorge was created by erosion over the last 5 million years.
  • Visitors can access the canyon from both the South Rim and the North Rim, but each side varies in its vegetation, animals, weather and elevation.
  • Over 1,500 plant, 355 bird, 89 mammalian, 47 reptile, 9 amphibian, and 17 fish species are found in the park.

hopi overlook alligator rock south

This gorge offers spectacular colors and formations, awe-inspiring vistas, and wondrous evidence of geological actions at work.  Is it any wonder that John Muir offered the following conclusion when he visited the Grand Canyon?  “No matter how far you have wandered hitherto, or how many famous gorges and valleys you have seen, this one, the Grand Canyon of the Colorados, will seem as novel to you, as unearthly in the color and grandeur and quantity of its architecture, as if you had found it after death, on some other star…”

Some History:

The massive area today called the Grand Canyon has been and still is home to native cultures. Archaeological studies confirm that the oldest human artifacts in the area date back 12,000 years. The area has been in continuous use since then, inhabited by a range of tribes including Paleo-Indian, Ancestral Puebloan, Cohonina, Southern Paiute, Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo.  Some lived in the area while others visited annually for what seems to be religious reasons.  The Cohonina were ancestors of the Yuman, Havasupai, and Haulapai peoples who inhabit the area today.

To get an overview of the archaeological findings throughout the canyon, visit this link and scroll down a bit to find the national park service video titled “Archaeology Along the Colorado River.” Fortunately, some archaeological finds are available for public viewing.  Ruins are visible on both the North and South Rims, showing sites where some native peoples once lived.  On the North Rim, the Walhalla Glades Pueblo Ruins show remnants of buildings left from over 900 years ago.  This site was a summer home for families for over 100 years.  On the South Rim, the ruins are an old Pueblo Indian site that was occupied for about 20 years around 1185.  The area is called the Tusayan Ruins and includes a small museum open to the public.

walhalla ruins 1 northThe Walhalla Glades Pueblo Ruins (North Rim): 

walhalla ruins 2

walhalla ruins 3

tusayan ruins 3The Tusayan Ruins (South Rim): 

tusayan ruins 2

tusayan ruins south

handmade toysThe Tusayan Museum exhibits a full range of artifacts found throughout the area.  For me, the split-twig figurines typically crafted from single willow twigs that are folded into animal shapes are the most intriguing. They were found in remote caves, dating from 2,000 to 4,000 year ago.  Extensive pottery holdings are on exhibit as well, showing full vessels as well as broken remnants.  These exhibits make a tangible link between visitors of today and the inhabitants from so many years ago.  For me, the puzzle is engaging, whether pieces of the past or pieces of a broken pot are being put together.

pots in museum

pots on museum 2

pots in museum 3

bigger piece

smaller piece

The Two Pieces Fit Together! (about 2 inches total length)

The Two Pieces Fit Together!
(about 2 inches total length)

Early Visitors:

Sent by Coronado in 1540 to search for the fabled seven cities of gold, Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas led a group into the canyon with the aid of Hopi guides and became the first non-Native visitor to see the canyon.  More than 200 years passed before two Spanish priests led another non-Native expedition into the canyon. Most of the activity even then focused on access via the South Rim.  In 1776 Father Escalante became the first European to visit the North Rim.  Over the next hundred years, other groups—often hunters, trappers, and miners—made short targeted trips into the canyon.

John Wesley Powell led his first expedition along the Green and Colorado Rivers through the canyon in 1869.  Although others had visited the area before, Powell’s expedition was the first to traverse the entire canyon.  After this trip, he began publishing the term “Grand Canyon” to refer to the area, and the name has stuck.  In his journals, he was rather literal when he explained that “wherever we looked was a wilderness of rocks,” but he also added that this impressive chasm was “the most sublime spectacle on earth.”

In the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt was enamored of the area, frequently hunting along both the north and south sides of the canyon. Given his concern for conservation, he initially named the Grand Canyon a Game Preserve and then upgraded it to National Monument status in 1908.  Those wishing to use the land especially for its mining and marketing potential opposed any further conservation efforts for many years.  Finally, in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signed the papers making The Grand Canyon part of the recently formed national park service.  During that first year as a national park, roughly 44,000 visitors enjoyed its beauty and grandeur.

Visitors Today:

lodge area southToday, nearly 5 million visitors enjoy the Grand Canyon each year.  I suppose some are like the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation:  Looking out over the rim for maybe a minute and then running to the car to move on to the next attraction. But most visitors appreciate the wonder and sheer magnitude of the place.  I know whenever I visit, I make a point to find somewhere to sit in solitude and contemplate its majesty. At those times, I agree with John Muir when he said, “It seems a gigantic statement even for nature to make.”   I am not sure if he is referencing the Grand Canyon with those words, but he should be.

Similarly, the words of Gladys Taber seem appropriate as well, giving voice to one of the reasons I seek solitude there: “We need time to dream, time to remember, and time to reach the infinite. Time to be.”  For me, my favorite spot for just sitting and enjoying the canyon is at Desert View on the South Rim near the Desert View Watchtower.  Desert View is the easternmost end of the South Rim, 27 miles from the Grand Canyon Village.

The view from this area offers one of the few views of the Colorado River from the canyon edge; the river often looks brown or muddy because its swift current stirs up the sediment at the bottom of the riverbed. No matter its color, the river is a marvelous sculptor of this canyon.  It was Thoreau who noted, The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touch of air and water working at their leisure with the liberal allowance of time.”

colorado from south rim

desert view watch tower 4The Desert View Watchtower was built in 1932 by Mary Colter, the architect who built several other structures in the park.  That a woman was responsible for such an important undertaking was a feat in itself at that time. In building the 70 foot tower, Colter mimiced the design of Anasazi watchtowers from the past. She used materials that would help the tower blend in with its surroundings while still offering a heightened view of the canyon below.  The top of the tower is the highest point on the South Rim, sitting 7,522 feet above sea level.  The bottom level of the tower houses a museum and gift shop, while the top level offers a spectacular view of the Colorado winding through the canyon.

view from desert tower

desert view watch towerThe Desert View Watchtower is a popular site for visitors to the national park.  Amazingly, it is at this busy location that I can usually find some solitude along the rim of the canyon.  Most people who have made it to this end of the South Rim, visit the museum and gift shop and make use of the facilities, including a chance to buy a snack.  Instead of joining those lines, I slip through the bushes at the far end of the parking lot and find myself on the Rim Trail that runs the length of the South Rim.  If I go just a little ways down the trail, I can find some large boulders to sit on and watch the canyon; the noise and commotion of the parking lot and tourists fade away.  The birds and chipmunks get used to my presence and come out of hiding. Maybe a hiker or two wanders by within the hour.  Sometimes flowers are in bloom.  Otherwise, I am alone watching the clouds wander by or maybe a storm blow in.   It’s glorious!

Some Desert View Vistas:   

desert towr

desert view wide wide of watchtowr


chipmunk with cheeks


little chipmunk

Panoramic View from Desert View(3 photos together by hand)

Panoramic View from Desert View
(3 photos together by hand)


Ninety percent of the visitors to the Grand Canyon each year visit the South Rim.  Depending on the route taken, the Grand Canyon South Rim lies roughly 80-95 miles from Flagstaff, AZ.  It is an easy 2-hour drive to the main entrance and the Grand Canyon Village.  Since 1901, visitors can also enter the park on Grand Canyon Railroad out of Williams, AZ.

Once in the park, visitors can hike the trail along the rim as well as hike or ride mules down into the canyon. Each day offers different views, colors and nuances for the observant visitor.  As John Wesley Powell explained:  You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it you have to toil. . .through its labyrinths.”  I have never sojourned down into the canyon, but I have enjoyed many views of this magnificent place.

South Rim Views:  

juniper pinyon forest

lone tree

lodge area walking tour rim south

mather point south

pima point south

near maricopa pt

deer up close

trail overlook rim hike south

Although most of my visits have been to the South Rim, on one trip I did trek to the North Rim for a glorious afternoon.  It was at the end of my two-week vacation, most of which was spent in the Flagstaff area.  I had spent several days on the South Rim. On my last day, I decided instead of sleeping in and driving leisurely to Las Vegas (about 250 miles) where I had hotel reservations, I would take a longer route and make a quick stop at the North Rim. From the North Rim to Vegas, the drive would be about 270 miles.  And I could get to the North Rim entrance in 200 miles.  It seemed like a good plan!

lees fairy colorado mile 0And actually, it was a good plan, except I really needed more time at the North Rim. About halfway to the day’s destination, I stopped at Lee’s Ferry at Marble Canyon to see the Colorado River close-up.  This site is Mile 0 for the Colorado River’s path through the canyon.  I waded in the river and collected a few rocks for souvenirs.

Marble Canyon Views:  

colorado river 2

colorado river

rafts down colorado

drive to north rimI arrived at the North Rim about noon on a day in late May, thankful that the roads were open at all.  The roads (and thus also the services) are typically closed for weather conditions from November to May. On that afternoon, after lunch, a storm started moving in blocking more and more of the remaining sunlight.  The temperatures were dropping and the wind gusts were increasing as well.  I saw few other visitors, but opted to stay outside and enjoy the weather—even the spattering of rain—for as long as the light held.  It was exhilarating to watch several storms blow across from the South Rim.

North Rim Views: 

aspens north rim

driving in to north rim

deer north rim

bright angel point north

cape royal nrth

point impeial 3

point imperial 2

point imperial 4

walhalla overlook north storm

storm ends day north rim


I have not been back to this glorious hole in the ground for several years, but I know I will visit again. . . and again.  The Grand Canyon renews my spirit.  My goal is to spend several days on the North Rim as well as getting back to the South Rim.  I also want to visit The Skywalk, built in 2007 amid some controversy and now operated by the Hualapai Tribe.  The Skywalk can be reached from the tribe’s private Grand Canyon West entrance.  The view from the Skywalk has got to be terrific!


To put it simply:  If you have not yet visited the Grand Canyon, do so.  It is well worth being added to your Bucket List.  If you have visited before, think about going back.  I know for me, it renews my spirit just being there.  As August Fruge once noted, When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving water, the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.”

If you need a final enticement about the wonder and history of the Grand Canyon, consider taking the “Grand Canyon Quiz” presented by National Geographic.  It presents an array of information about the canyon.  Here are two trivia facts not on the quiz:  Today—February 26, 2013—is the 94th anniversary of the naming of the Grand Canyon as a National Park.  In 1997, CNN rightly called the Grand Canyon one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.


“Experiencing the Grand Canyon” on the Gateway to Sedona website

“Grand Canyon” on Wikipedia

“Grand Canyon National Park” online article on the National Geographic Website

“Grand Canyon Skywalk” on Wikipedia

Grand Canyon Visual (1987) by John Hoffman, a souvenir booklet from one of my visits.

Hualapai Tourism, Grand Canyon West website

The National Park Service Grand Canyon Website

“Wonders of the World” on Wikipedia

NOTICE:  Photos and presentation copyrighted by Patricia A. Ross, 2013.

The Grandeur of Yosemite

When I think of the overwhelming majesty of Yosemite National Park, I cannot help but agree with Carl Sharsmith, a longtime Yosemite ranger.  When a park visitor asked what Carl would do if he only had one day in Yosemite, Carl replied, “I’d go sit by the Merced River and cry!”  And he was right:  There may never be enough time to see all the grandeur of the Yosemite, in all its wonder.  But however much time you have to spend, Yosemite National Park is worth the trip.  It does not matter what season.  Every experience—taking a sunrise walk with a ranger, strolling through the rain on a chilly fall afternoon, picnicking along the Merced in the summer, being surprised by the mist coming off Bridalveil Falls, noticing deer or coyote across a field, or marveling at wildflowers as they come to life after a spring shower—adds to the tapestry that is Yosemite.  Each experience is its own unique treasure.

Although I grew up in California, my first visit to Yosemite was as an adult in October 1989.  I was attending a conference, so was able to enjoy the park through small excursions around the meetings and dinners that were part of the event. Since then, I have returned to Yosemite many times, in all seasons.  But I will always remember the gray skies and subdued autumn colors of that first visit.


By the time of my first trip, the Tunnel Tree in the Mariposa Grove had already collapsed and Mirror Lake was drying up rather quickly, but most of the wonders of the 1200 square mile national park were still available for visitors thanks in good part to the preservation efforts of John Muir, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. In 1833, white explorers first discovered the gorgeous Yosemite Valley that was home to Indians for years and years, but full exploration did not begin until 1851. By 1855, the first tourist groups descended on the Valley, and speculators started considering ways to exploit the area’s natural resources.

John Muir, always a friend to Yosemite, made extensive pleas to preserve the area in its natural state. In 1864, Lincoln signed the act that ceded Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove to California as a public park. In 1890, the land around Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove were made a national park.  Finally, in 1906, California gave its portion of Yosemite to the United States, and Yosemite National Park was formed. In 1913, a controversial decision was made to dam the Tuolumne River to create the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to provide drinking water for San Francisco; the project was completed in 1923.  Although less spectacular than Yosemite Valley, the Hetch Hetchy Valley had been impressive, and its flooding to create the reservoir is still mourned and contested by many.


Over the years, I have visited Yosemite National Park many times. Although a visit any time of the year is wondrous, I tend to avoid the summer—it is just too crowded! My favorite destination is Yosemite Valley, but I have explored other areas as well, including trips to Tioga Pass, Tuolumne Meadows, and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. On my trips I usually do not wander too far off the beaten path because of some health and mobility limitations. That means I will never see everything the park has to offer, but I can experience quite a bit.  For example, I will never hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls or up the back way to Glacier Point, which reaches a staggering height of 7,214 feet.  But I can drive to the Glacier Point Lookout, once the road opens each spring.  From that view, it is easy to see why John Muir offered the following conclusion:  “The most striking and sublime features on the grandest scale is the Yosemite.”

Each visit, as I drive out of the 8-mile tunnel that leads into the Valley, I am overwhelmed by the glory of the Tunnel View.  Off in the distance is the aptly named Cloud’s Rest, which—at 9,926 feet—truly seems to reach into the sky and grab hold of the passing clouds. When the sun breaks through, it is magnificent.

The more I visit Yosemite, the more I realize that it is a mercurial place, changing its mood and personality with each season. The crowds and weather also contribute to the subtle distinctions that make each visit special. Over the years, it is the contrast apparent from one visit to the next that stands out for me, even in something as simple as a fallen tree in the meadow.  The contrasts apparent in some of the major features of the Valley are even more impressive. 

El Capitan is a granite monolith that rises 3600 feet above the Merced River, but at times it is obscured by fog. 

Yosemite Falls is probably one of the most well known features of the Valley. The Falls plummet a total of 2,245 feet in stages and are designated as the Upper and Lower Falls. At the falls, the water’s power and majesty can be felt. 

If you have never visited the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, make the time to stop at least once.  You will discover over 500 mature giant sequoias.  Many of these trees are over 3,000 years old.  The largest one is 290 feet tall and 40 feet in diameter. There is a tram ride and an easy trail that allow visitors to mingle with the trees. 

One of the most recognizable views of Yosemite is Half Dome, which stretches up 8,842 feet.  Whenever I see it, I remember the Indian legend a ranger shared on a nature walk one year. It is a great story that explains many of the topographical features of the Valley. The story also stresses the human connection to the area and reminds us all that we should be guardians of the valleys and mountains around us. 

Here is the Legend of Tissiak as I recall it:  The first couple, Tissiak and Nangus, was traveling into the Valley from the East.  As usual, Tissiak was playful and impulsive and ran off from Nangus.  In his frustration, Nangus started beating Tissiak to make her stay by his side. The Great Spirit intervened and placed Tissiak into the mountains where she would always be safe.  Can you see her face on the side of Half Dome?  The papoose she was carrying became the Royal Arches opposite her, and her tears filled Mirror Lake.  Her bread basket toppled and became the dome above the Arches. Her scattered, broken loaves of bread took root as pine trees throughout the Valley. The Great Spirit broke Nangus’ staff and sent him off alone, but not before giving him a love and understanding of the landscape around him. The point of his staff became the Lost Arrow Spire near Yosemite Falls. Wherever the broken staff pieces fell, giant redwoods sprang up.  

It is an easy hike to Bridalveil Falls, another of the famous locations within Yosemite Valley. Depending on the season and the year’s rainfall, you could experience a trickle of water or downpour as the falls plunge 620 feet.  The Yosemite Indians (Ahwahneechee) called this place Pohono, the spirit of the puffing wind. If a breeze picks up, you are likely to get drenched as the spirit races by. 

Chief Seattle may have never visited Yosemite Valley, but his general words about rivers seem to be especially apt for the Merced River that runs through the heart of the Valley:  “The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. . . . and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any other brother.”  A visit to Yosemite would not be complete without some sort of interaction with the Merced, whether that be picnicking along its shores or wading into the shallows to cool off in the summer.


Happy Isles is the name given in 1885 to a pair of small islands formed where the Merced River enters Yosemite Valley.  You can take a tram to the general area and then relax at Happy Isles for an hour or the whole afternoon. Once there, you will understand why W. E. Dennison, guardian of the Yosemite State Grant, named the place as he did. He states, “No one can visit them without for the while forgetting the grinding strife of his world and feeling happy.”  On one of my visits, I spent a good part of the afternoon watching an American Dipper playing in the water.  This bird is a wonder, the only North American aquatic song bird that catches water bugs by walking underwater on the river bottom.

One of my favorite visits to Yosemite was in the winter with my dad.  We only had time to stay for an afternoon, but Dad wanted to take some pictures.  It was a great day, even though it was very cold. We did not do much hiking, but we did enjoy the quiet and the solitude and shared some time with a couple coyotes that were out hunting in a snow-covered field.

Another of my favorite visits came one May, when I made a last minute decision to visit Yosemite before summer school started.  It seemed destined to be a remarkable trip. I called the Ahwanhee Hotel on a lark only to discover they did have a room available because of a last-minute cancellation.  This hotel is usually booked months and months and months in advance.  Upon my arrival, I was greeted by some friendly deer and found many water lilies blooming in the hotel’s outdoor fountain. But the next morning, the weather was overcast and dreary, unexpected for a spring day. The air was heavy with the expectation of rain. But the rains came quickly, and left just as fast.  With the returning sunshine, I was surprised by the splashes of color evident everywhere I looked. Dogwood was in bloom along many pathways, and I also spied Wild Iris, Western Wallflowers, and Snow Plants.  It was a glorious spring adventure! 


Isn’t Yosemite National Park grand?  I really wanted to visit Yosemite this month. With all the rains California received this year, I figured the wildflowers would be gorgeous.  Unfortunately, I have too many commitments right now that keep me from making such a trip. That’s part of the reason I am writing this blog about Yosemite—it lets me take a virtual trip!  If you have visited before at least once, you know what I mean about its wonders.  If you’ve never visited, add a “Trip to Yosemite” high on your Bucket List. 

When you go, keep yourself open to communing with the spirit of John Muir.  He loved Yosemite and protected it for most of his life. One year, a ranger pointed out a pale splotch on the rock face near Yosemite Falls. He explained that a recent rock slide in that area had left that mark, where the rocks had given way.  He claimed, if you looked closely, you would see the silhouette of John Muir’s face, watching the falls he so loved.  I was doubtful, but when I looked, I did think I could see his face, there, in the rock.  Can you see him?  


“As long as I live, I’ll hear water-falls and birds and winds sing.  I’ll interpret the rocks. Learn the language of the flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.”  John Muir

“In God’s wilderness lies the hope of the world—the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.” John Muir

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