We took the winding approach road to Glacier Point with no idea what we were expecting to see. The wide expanse of the view from high up there left us dazed, asking ourselves: “is this for real?” It is so hard to find suitable adjectives when describing places of natural beauty. ‘Beautiful’? ‘Magnificent’? ‘Lovely’? ‘Eye-popping’? Not enough. Our man-made words and languages seem to have a serious handicap in such cases. Let’s just say that Yosemite National Park, California was just out of this world!
But I get ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning. As we drove into Yosemite valley in mid-May, forests of pine, fir and sequoia trees passed by and so did the calmly flowing Merced river alongside the road. And then those majestic, mighty mountains came into view, solid gray granite looming over us at a great height. They were not completely bare; having evergreen vegetation up to a point but the large gray areas constituting the bareness gave them a stern personality. However, this ‘strict face’ put on by steep cliffs was softened by ‘tearful laughter’ – waterfalls that cascaded down their sides. A unique feature of the valley was the lush green meadows interspersed throughout. They made your gaze take in the border of trees at their sides and sweep up towards the proud mountains rising from behind.
We had gone the easier route and booked ready-made canvas tents at Curry Village to stay for the night. The constant warnings not to keep food inside vehicles or in the tents and the mandatory usage of ‘bear-proof’ metal food lockers provided outside the tents kept us on our toes, moving food to and fro. At noon, it was with great enthusiasm that we set up the barbecue grill, lit the fuel and savored the barbecued food that was prepared (and I am sure the bugs or mosquitoes beneath the shade of the trees had a lovely feast on my skin)! In the pitch black night, we first gazed in wonder at the star-spangled sky and then with awe as we realized the presence of the of the tall mountains surrounding us and felt the scary power of their dark silhouettes.
The highlight of visiting Yosemite in spring or the start of summer was the abundance of waterfalls due to the snow-melt that occurs at this time. There was the lovely ‘Bridalveil Fall’ (Native Red Indians called this waterfall Pohono, which means Spirit of the Puffing Wind. This waterfall truly seems to be swaying with strong gusts of winds!), the grand ‘Yosemite Falls’ divided into three parts – Upper Yosemite Fall, the middle cascades and Lower Yosemite Fall (one of the world’s tallest and the tallest waterfall in the United States), Horesetail Fall (which has a fascinating fact attached to it: it is famous for appearing to be on fire when it reflects the orange glow of sunset in mid- to late-February.), Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall (which together are called ‘the giant staircase’ when viewed from front and high up from Glacier point) and many others.
Half Dome deserves a special mention since it is an iconic image synonymous with the beauty of Yosemite. The absence of Half Dome in Yosemite would be like a music band without its lead singer! It was hard to imagine how it came into being with one of its side chopped off. It was even harder to imagine the courage of hikers who attempt the Half Dome hike in its entirety by climbing right to the top of the Dome along the almost vertical smooth granite slope holding on to cables that have been attached to poles stuck in rock.
Glacier point which we visited at the very end was truly the icing on the cake as it provided a spectacular view of the entire valley. It is situated at a great height and shows the present day effect of the glaciers which millions of years ago gouged out the canyon of the Merced river, with the ice scraping away the softer granite leaving behind soaring cliffs. There are overhanging rocks at Glacier point which people with guts climb up on to take pictures and leave people like me watching them from afar with a squirmy stomach!
In this short trip which covered the major tourist attractions, we barely skimmed the surface of what Yosemite really is. I look forward to when I can visit again and go hiking along long trails, view more waterfalls, mountains, meadows, lakes and perhaps catch a glimpse of a bear or two!