Bicycling and hiking in Yosemite National Park, 2006

Page 1: Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove
Page 2: Glacier Point and Vernal Falls
Page 3: Tioga Road and Yosemite Falls

Saturday, June 3

Over the next week Kathy, Daniel and I will be exploring one of America's most famous parks - Yosemite. We arrived at our campground near El Portal early this afternoon, and we are exhausted from the drive. To cover the 1380 miles we drove from 11 a.m. yesterday until 1:30 p.m. today. The drive is normally about 200 miles shorter, but Tioga Pass is still closed due to snow, so we had to enter the park from the west side. A tire puncture near the Wyoming/Utah border cost us another 2 1/2 hours and $100 ($45 for a new tire, $55 for the after-hours surcharge.) We entered the park on highway 120, and for the last 130 miles leading to Yosemite Valley the road was surrounded by grassland and forest with very few buildings. Yosemite is remarkably free of the tourism sprawl that creeps around some national parks.

We're camped just outside the park on highway 140, downstream from Yosemite Valley on the Merced River. Coincidentally, a major rockslide recently closed highway 140 just a couple miles below our campground, so our bike ride into the valley should be nearly traffic-free tomorrow. We jam-packed our car with both biking and hiking gear for us and our 1-year-old so we'll do both as our mood leads us, but I think we'll focus on biking tomorrow. I crashed my road bike just 2 days ago while racing with a group during lunch, but my injuries were remarkably minor and I don't think that they will hold me back this week.


Daniel playing in the car early in our drive.


After our 26-hour drive, Kathy and Daniel play with tree blossoms scattered on the ground of our campsite.

Sunday, June 4

Distance: 48.0 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 54 minutes
Average speed: 12.3 mph
Maximum speed: 38.4 mph

We biked into the park today and toured some of the most popular sites around Yosemite Valley. Our first 13 miles were steep uphill (up to 8% grades) next to the roaring Merced River, which had extreme whitewater conditions. After those 13 miles we entered Yosemite Valley, which is nearly level and very easy to bicycle. The valley was carved out by glaciers a long time ago, widening the valley and leaving steep granite cliffs on either side. At the lowest extent of the glacier huge piles of rock were deposited, creating a dam and a lake after the glacier melted. Eventually the lake filled with sediment, creating the flat valley floor that Yosemite has now.


The Merced River just above our campsite.


Highway 140 a few miles inside the park. Traffic was extremely low because of the rockslide across the road outside the park.


Tamarack Falls, the first waterfall of our trip.


Near the base of Tamarack Falls.


El Capitan is more than 3,000 feet higher than the valley floor. The granite cliff on the front on El Capitan always has rock climbers during good weather, but they are too small to see without binoculars.


Yosemite Falls. Taken together, Upper, Middle and Lower Yosemite Falls is more than 2,400 feet tall and is the 5th tallest waterfall in the world.

We spent a lot of time looking at waterfalls and the steep cliffs. Many waterfalls pour into the valley this time of year, and all but a few dry up by late summer. Towards the end of the day we took a short hike to Mirror Lake. I saw a little boy playing in the water so I took off my shoes and stepped in myself. The water was ice cold - no surprise, since the lake is filled by snowmelt. It was so painfully cold that all I did was take a picture of Kathy and then jump back out again. I don't know how the toddler nearby was able to play happily for 5 or 10 minutes - perhaps he's not old enough to perceive cold as painful?

If I could have done 1 thing differently today then I would have brought mosquito repellent. The valley is very wet this time of year and armies of mosquitoes swarm in the shady spots near waterfalls and lakes.


Daniel walking in the Yosemite visitors' center.


In Yosemite Valley with Half Dome in the background.


Mirror Lake


Kathy takes a break while Daniel sleeps at Mirror Lake.


A close-up view of Half Dome.


All of us at Mirror Lake.

Monday, June 5

We gave our bodies a rest today by leaving our bicycle at camp and driving to Mariposa Grove, where we hiked through a grove of giant sequoia trees. Giant sequoias were only a small minority of the trees along our hike, but they easily stood out from the surrounding pine trees - 200 to more than 300 feet tall, tens of feet in diameter and covered in thick reddish bark. Giant sequoias are not the world's tallest trees, but they are the most massive.

In the late 1800's tunnels were cut through a couple of sequoias so that visitors could have their picture taken while driving a carriage or car through the trees. One of those trees is still alive and growing. Cars were banned in the 1960's, but visitors can still walk through the tree. Most of the other sequoias must be viewed only from a distance so that visitors won't harm them. Sequoias live more than 2000 years (the oldest known sequoia was 3200 years old when it was cut down) so it's good to protect the mature trees - it takes a long time to replace them.


Kathy puts Daniel in his carrier for our hike, even though Daniel would rather have kept playing in the parking lot.


The base of a fallen giant sequoia. Sequoias can tip over in high winds because their root system is only about 6 feet deep. Because the wood and bark contain high levels of tannic acid, the fallen trees take hundreds of years to decompose.


This sequoia was cut apart because it fell across the hiking trail.


Tunnel tree. At one time cars were allowed to drive through this tree just for fun.


Sequoia cones. These cones stay attached to the tree for many years, and generally fall off the tree only due to fire or cone-eating insects.


Sequoias in front of the Mariposa Grove visitors' center.


Kathy and Daniel with a large sugar pine cone.

When we came back to our campground we met a group of 7 bike tourists camped beside us. Some of them have been biking together since the 1980's. Their tour didn't start well today because they didn't know about the rockslide on highway 140, so they had to hitch a truck ride through the park entrance on highway 120, and that ride probably took 5 to 6 hours. I'm glad that Kathy and I knew about the slide before we left home. Curiously, none of these bike tourists are couples , and they're all sleeping in separate tents. Some have spouses, but those spouses stayed home because they don't like bicycling.



Views of Yosemite Valley with Half Dome in the center and Bridalveil Falls on the right.


Kathy making dinner at camp.


Bicycle tourists in the campsite next to us.

NEXT

Page 1: Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove
Page 2: Glacier Point and Vernal Falls
Page 3: Tioga Road and Yosemite Falls