It would be a disappointment not to go to Yosemite Valley after staying at Silver Lake Campground for so long. We finally made the dream trip to Yosemite Valley today! We set out at about 8 o’clock amid the freezing morning. The windshield of the truck was covered with frost. Light fog floated above the creek by the road. The sun was rising but it was still behind the mountains. Clear blue sky heralded a beautiful day.
We stopped by the gas station at the start of Tioga Road and filled up the tank. Diesel cost $3.99! I never thought that we would drive up the steep and curvy Tioga Road again. The jaw-dropping scenery of the Lee Vining Canyon was impressive. Steaming fog rising from the surface of Tenaya Lake made it into a fairy land. We got a day pass at the eastern park entrance – Tioga Pass. With an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, Tioga Pass is the highest automobile pass in California. Frost covered the field after Tioga Pass. The high Sierra peaks seemed to have dust of fresh snow overnight. Temperature dropped to 35°F at night at our campground at an elevation of 7,200 feet. It might be even colder here.
As we drove towards White Wolf, we smell smoke in the woods, and the valley was vaguely visible below. Smoke dampened our happy mood. After driving through two tunnels we arrived at Yosemite Valley at about 10 o’clock. It was hazy but the sun was bright. The magnificent Yosemite Falls could be seen from the distance. Upper Yosemite Fall dropped straight down from the top of the high mountain as if it fell from the sky. It seemed to disappear in the valley of the mountain, but it reappeared as Lower Yosemite Fall from another view point. With a total height of 2,425 feet, Yosemite Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in the world. The two falls were slim in autumn. They would look more powerful and spectacular in spring and early summer when the snow melts.
We were lucky to find a parking spot at the parking lot at Yosemite Village. The Ansel Adams Gallery had a great collection of images of Yosemite. From Ansel Adams classic black and white photos to Tom Killion’s relief prints caught the beauty of Yosemite. The visitor center provided some interpretative information about the making of Yosemite. Smooth granite domes, deep cliffs characterized the landscape of Yosemite Valley. These granites were formed miles deep within the earth 100 million years ago. As Sierra Nevada mountains rose, the repeated erosion forces of rivers and glaciers sculpted the valley and brought the majestic granites to the surface.
There is a restaurant and a village store near the visitor center where you can eat, buy grocery and souvenir. There is also a post office. We hopped on the shuttle bus by the village store heading to Half Dome. We got off at Half Dome village but only saw Half Dome in the haze through the woods. How disappointed! I recalled seeing a couple taking pictures of Half Dome from Sentinel bridge. So we took another shuttle bus over to the bridge. The haze seemed to dissipate in the afternoon. Looking across Merced River, there was the majestic Half Dome! It rose elegantly above the woods. The vertical granite wall is 4,733 feet high. A small puffy clouds adorned the sky above its cap. Add to the picturesque scene was several big and beautiful rainbow trout swimming freely in the clear river.
We took the shuttle bus back to the visitor center and took another shuttle bus to El Capitan. The sheer granite cliff soared above the ground. What caught our breath was rock climbers on the cliff! From the telescopes set up by the ranger, we saw several rock climbers were climbing the 3,593 feet cliff. What a stunning act and view! It usually takes 3 to 5 days to climb up El Capitan. No permit is required to climb it. One climber was not very far from the top. I was awed by these rock climbers and hoped they stay safe and got to the peak soon. Nearby was Cathedral rocks and spires. The Cathedral spires are impressive with their pinnacle peaks.
It was about 3:30 in the afternoon and we still have time to see Bridalveil Fall and Tunnel View. But we didn’t know how to get there. So we drove west on Northside Drive. From the map, Bridalveil Fall is on the other side of Merced River. We need to cross a bridge. But we missed Pohono Bridge and the road just kept us going towards El Portal. Giant rocks sat abruptly by the road or even arched over the road. Tumbled big rocks filled the Merced River. We turned around at El Portal and asked the ranger at the entrance for directions to Bridalveil Fall and Tunnel View. After crossing Pohono Bridge, we took Highway 41 to Bridalveil Fall. The beautiful waterfall was described eloquently by John Muir:
“Its brow, where it first leaps free from the cliff…and as it sways and sings in the wind, clad in gauzy, sun-sifted spray, half falling, half floating, it seems infinitely gentle and fine; but the hymns it sings tell the solemn fateful power hidden beneath its soft clothing.”
Tunnel View is only 2 miles west of Bridalveil Fall on Highway 41. The overlook was crowded and it took us two rounds to find a parking space. Stepping onto the overlook platform, the classic vista of Yosemite Valley came to view. Ansel Adams black and white picture Clearing Winter Storm made this vista the most photographed scene in the world. The late afternoon sun casted bright light to the valley and showcased nature’s masterpiece. On the left was the majestic El Capitan steep cliffs. Half Dome was surrounded by clouds in the middle down the valley. The elegant Bridalveil Fall was on the right. This mesmerizing vista made up the day!
We left Tunnel View at 5:15 in the late afternoon. Stopped at Tenyana Lake for a simple dinner. The sunset glowed Sierra Peaks on the way. We went back to our campground at about 7:30. Yosemite National Park is huge and 94.5% of which is wilderness. We only saw a glimpse of Yosemite in one day. It was a long day but a memorable trip.