A Few Days in Yosemite

Scott Chandler

Wildness is a necessity- John Muir
Jan 4, 2014
Life as a ranger, it turns out, can take a great many twists and turns. After a year and a half at Dead Horse Point State Park, I accepted a position across the canyon in Canyonlands National Park. The position wasn't supposed to start until the beginning of February, and considering I hadn't had much time off, I decided I could take a break between positions. A vast road trip became planned, spanning the course of about a month. After hanging out with the family for Christmas, my plan was to meet up with my girlfriend working in Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, the government shut down for the longest span of time we have had a shutdown and my paperwork stalled. Road trip now completed, I find I have plenty of time on my hands while waiting to be completely hired. Woo hoo. That does give me plenty of time to put together trip reports of this trip however, so I hope you enjoy.

December 28th, 2018

After making the day long drive from St George to Yosemite, I had a few days to fill before Colleen and I could start road tripping, she having to work and all. My only experience in Yosemite came from a brief entrance as a child, and I didn't have great memories from this. We had been in the process of moving from Washington to Arizona in early August. The park was busier than I had ever seen a park to that point. The roadway in the valley is terribly confusing, and my caravanning mom drove off the road in long drive induced fatigue. We hopped on a shuttle with no destination in mind; mine was in fact full of fears that our cat, kenneled in the car, would die from the heat. It wasn't a childhood high point. My hope was that with a couple of days to fill, I could explore the area a bit better and figure out why so many people love the place.

I started out on a hike without destination. I just started heading up the valley.


I found what I expected to be grand about the valley to be fleeting. All I had heard of the valley itself was that the walls towered impressively above. While this is true, the valley is also full of trees. Very tall trees. Maybe for some, this forest is sparse and full of views, but my desert mind is used to trees no where near so tall. So walking in the valley was more of an enjoyment of the forest for me. The towering walls of the valley do set up a cool environment, one in which the north side of the main valley is warmer and drier than the south, so the forest changes quite a bit across it. This hike, starting on the north side of the valley, wandered past towering Ponderosa Pines and gnarly oaks. Oaks are not in my background, so wandering among them was pretty cool.


I felt like I was in a fairy tale or something. Yes, the junipers and pinyon pines of the Colorado Plateau are twisted and otherworldly, but the twists of oak are different.

Occasionally, breaks in the trees yielded the views I thought abounded in the valley. Half Dome prominently filled many gaps.


Eventually a larger break appeared and I realized I was at Mirror Lake. Initially I was confused because what lay in front of me seemed to be more of a wide, calm spot in the creek, but the plethora of people and a few signs by the trail told me I was at a destination. I think in times of more water this spot is more of a place, if you catch my drift. I spent a while taking in the larger views, marveling at the stony cliffs and trying to capture mirror-like reflections before being irritated by how many people were throwing rocks to break the ice drove me away.


From Mirror Lake I decided to head up the Snow Creek Trail. Reading up afterwards, this is apparently one of the steepest ways out of the main valley. Not knowing where I was going, it was nice to simply be away from the crowds and seeing expansive views.


Eventually tuckering out, and finding that this hike involved more sunlight on my relatively bald head than originally expected, I turned around to return to the valley floor. The crowds were far more by now, a winter break and government shutdown drawing masses to relatively good weather. I started a game with myself in which I pointed out all the new/lightly used boots to myself. Yosemite was hosting a different user base than I am used to amazingly. Returning back along a north facing area vs south facing, I found myself in douglas firs and incense cedars for this stretch of the hike. It was also pretty chilly, helping me understand how the valley maintains an ice rink through the winter.


Getting relatively confused by the inner valley trails, I discovered that Yosemite's meadows are pretty phenomenal. I can picture John Muir sitting below giant oaks and marveling at the cliffs all around and thinking about how everyone should be able to witness this. Then a car honked as gridlock met those trying to drive out of the valley and the spell lifted. I was glad to be staying in hotel employee housing instead of having to face that mess.

December 29th

The next morning saw me heading out of the valley again, this time with more purpose. I wanted to check out the famous Vernal and Nevada Falls. Crossing the valley, I also got to see Yosemite Falls for the first time, and at such an hour that it was scattering light to become its own rainbow. That was neat.


The trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls also climbs mightily to leave the main valley. It being winter, I also could not take the popular Mist Trail to gain elevation because of rockfall risk. Despite the government shutdown I obeyed the trail closed signs and took the John Muir Trail up into the valley between the falls. I say despite because I seemed to be a part of a minority that thinks there is reasoning behind closed signs and obey them even when there is no one to catch me. Grr.


Leaving the valley behind, huge cliffs of granite surrounded. The back side of Half Dome came into view before rounding a corner yielded the first views of Nevada Falls below Liberty Cap


It was, again, a spot that I could imagine John Muir thinking about natural cathedrals. I had the spot to myself, following the signs to take the longer way instead of the dangerous way. All the ice below Vernal Falls made me happy to not be with the people who don't believe signs matter. If you can't tell, I judged those who seemed to think a shutdown meant they could do whatever they wanted pretty harshly.


Popping further along the trail, I crossed a purely rock creek to wander among the trees and skirt Nevada Falls to reach its brink. Whenever I have imagined hiking in the Sierra Nevadas, this is the type of hiking I have heard described and seen photos of that has really interested me. From the brink I yearned for the day that I could return and explore higher up into the alpine of this country. Surprisingly I was able to enjoy the brink of Nevada Falls to myself for quite a while before heading back down to the valley below.


December 30th

After a couple of days hiking out of the valley for views, I thought I would keep this last day in Yosemite a bit more mellow and decided to hike to Yosemite Falls. Again I found myself wandering through the majestic oaks as I skirted Yosemite Village.


As I walked, I looked up to find a black bear walking towards me. "Oh neat" popped into my mind, followed by "Oh jeez." A mass of people, followed shortly upon the bear's heels, pushing it towards me. You have to love it when wildlife is so special that we humans can't respect their space. I popped off the trail and assured the bear that I meant it no harm as I hoped that it wasn't overly stressed. It seemed to not mind the situation too terribly as it ambled past. These following pictures aren't cropped, taken with my 55mm lens. A bit close for comfort with a bear whose history I don't know...


Soon I found myself at Lower Yosemite Falls, an impressive little cascade. It was here that I discovered I yearned to see the more impressive Upper Falls, despite the knowledge it would involve elevation gain again.


Up and up I found myself going again. Layers were shed, being in the sun and mild weather made it hard to believe that it was nearly January. Views of the valley unfolded before rounding the bend had all of Upper Yosemite Falls blatantly displayed. Satisfied that waterfalls don't look better from the brink, I enjoyed a perfect sitting rock out of the way and took it all in.


Three days in the main valley was enough to feel I had seen a good bit and gotten a better feel for what Yosemite has to offer. I can see how the National Park idea could take root here. I imagine the park has many more wonders to share in return visits, even if I find other parks more magnificent. I was satisfied with my time hiking in the valley and being amazed by popping off its floor. I'd recommend it, if you can stay in it at least. That traffic leaving the park every day looked like nonsense. Colleen had finished up her work week now however, so it was time to go to warmer places and road trip for a while. More to follow if you want to follow along.


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Wow. Thanks for posting. I haven’t been there in a while. Glad you had great weather. Looking forward to the next installment.
I was just there in November, so cool to see the snow around the falls! Thanks for sharing.
I love the reflection with the broken surface. Absolutely unique and beautiful!
I haven't been to a lot of other NP, I just assumed how crowded Yosemite gets is normal:
the gridlock trying to leave the valley or heaven forbid you need to pick up supplies from the general store before your hike and there is no parking anyway....
Thanks for sharing. It brought back some fond memories. Funny but I had the same thought the first time I came upon mirror lake. I think this was it's widest point266.JPG

I also remember this little fella I nearly stepped on on the trail to the lake. Thankfully my wife was paying closer attention than I. That would have been a great way to ruin a vacation!259.JPG
Beautiful photos and great TR- my favorite is the reflection in Mirror "Lake" and the colors in Yosemite Falls.
Road trips - yah, they are awesome! It was a great idea to take some time off in between the 2 jobs. My neighbor refers to road trips as: "Carpe diem" (I had to look up that Latin expression).

Trees - tall trees and old gnarly trees surrounded with stones and moss, it's always magical! The masses of trees was the second thing that struck me when we returned East after our desert roadtrip. You would like the majestic gnarly old Southern Live Oaks full of Spanish Moss in Mississippi and other southern states. Or the very tall and giant costal Redwoods much further north in California in the redwood parks close to Oregon.

Black Bears- @Miya also saw a black bear and 1 or 2 cubs fairly close by in Yosemite. It sounds like it's pretty common in that park and they often get hit by cars driving in the park. I turned a corner in the Redwoods in California on a single track trail full of shrubs on either side and suddenly saw a black bear right on the trail, it was no more than 15-20 ft away. I slowly backed off to give it space and it disappeared, no photos.
Nice report Scott. Glad you discovered the meadows, which are largely ignored even in peak season, and offer an island of serenity in the middle of Yosemite madness. Next time come back when the waterfalls are exploding, in May, or when you can get into the high Sierra in August or September.

Yosemite is huge. The valley is less than 3% of the park.
Nice report Scott. Glad you discovered the meadows, which are largely ignored even in peak season, and offer an island of serenity in the middle of Yosemite madness. Next time come back when the waterfalls are exploding, in May, or when you can get into the high Sierra in August or September.

Yosemite is huge. The valley is less than 3% of the park.

Yeah I'm actually really excited by the prospect of going back someday. I really couldn't do much with the wintry conditions ,unless that was actually desired.... I saw an update from rangers up in the high country that kinda made me wish that I was into that type of activity.
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