Day two in the park started with a very early drive to Yosemite’s south end. It took almost an hour to get there but we finally arrived at the Mariposa Grove. The landscape here is very similar to Yosemite Valley except there are these really tall and wide trees sprinkled across the landscape. They are pretty weird looking up close. They do look ancient, like God’s first idea of what a tree might look like. The limbs are disproportionally large when compared to the leaves and trunk. It almost gives them a crude feel – like a kid shaped them out of clay. They look extremely soft and spongy up-close which is a cool surprise and the bark is a wonderful orangey-red color (almost the same color I stained our kitchen cabinets now that I think about it).
Not only do these trees look spongy but apparently they actually are and that is what saved them. Loggers’ mouths watered when they stumbled across this grove of the world’s largest trees (by volume not height) but they quickly moved on when they found that the trees shattered into unusable splinters when they were felled.
After walking amongst and through these trees, we headed for what has been called “the finest view in North America.” Luckily for us the road to Glacier Point had been plowed several weeks before we arrived. In fact, most of the snow had melted even though it was cold and windy up at the top. We drove right up, got out and walked around on the paved trail and scenic overlooks. What a gorgeous place. You could see every major landmark in the park from here. We talked to a mom, daughter and son trio while looking at Half Dome. They were explaining to us where the trail ran because they had just done the hike the day before. This got us jazzed up about giving it a try.
Stitched-Together Panoramas – Excuse the Cut Lines
Once we’d gotten our eyeful, we headed back to the lodge and decided that we still had time to squeeze in a hike before dark. We opted for the Yosemite Falls trail. This is the oldest trail in the park and even though it is rated as “strenuous” it is not too long. We thought that we’d be able to do at least enough of it before it got dark to make it worthwhile. Even if we just made it halfway we’d be at the base of the Upper Falls. It took us a few minutes to find the trailhead but that was ok. We got to walk past a bunch of folks practicing rock climbing. The hand strength those guys and gals have is amazing.
It was obvious from the start that, while popular, this trail does not receive the same volume of people that the Mirror Lake trail receives. There were signs saying that smaller people should not hike alone to prevent mountain lions carrying them off, etc. Right from the start this trail was not playing games. It reminded me of the Snake Den Ridge trail I hiked in the Smokies with some buddies in college. A steep but not ridiculous grade that just never seems to level off.
You eventually reach a relatively flat area that opens up into a beautiful view of the valley from the opposite side of Glacier Point. A really neat counterpoint to what we’d seen earlier in the day. After this was Melanie least favorite part of the trail. I think I almost heard her curse. Basically there was a watershed area where all of the granite dust collected. We had to go up a series of switchbacks right through the middle of it. It was like walking on the loose sand at the beach but up a steep hill. I didn’t think it was so terrible. It was nice and soft under my granite-pounded feet. This is where many people stop but from looking at the cool 3D model of the park in the visitor’s center we knew that if we just walked another mile or so along the now flat path we would reach falls.
We did this. Once again quite beautiful. Maybe even prettier than the Lower Falls base. It is amazing how much the temp changes as you get close to the falls. Everything was wet and slippery – ground, trees, walls, etc. Now we settled in to the final series of switchbacks that would follow the side of the falls all the way to the top. From there we’d be able to get right up on the edge of the falls and look down which sounded like such a cool thing to do. We’d been hearing from folks coming down the trail that there was a camera crew filming the falls and a crazy guy that had set up a tightrope across the falls who was walking back and forth over them. Unfortunately, about 1/3 the way up the final switchbacks we realized that we had to turn around or we would be hiking down slippery granite in the dark.
By the time we reached the trailhead again, we knew that we had done one serious workout and that we were going to be tired and sore very soon. That night we treated ourselves to a very nice steak dinner at the Mountain Room Restaurant located right beside the lodge. I was surprised at how good the food was and how nice and new the restaurant was. The park staff all agreed that it was the best restaurant in the park – even better than the ones at the Ahwanee. After dinner I was still hungry so I grabbed a Powerbar from the convenience store and we stumbled into bed. Lights out. Night night. Snore…