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Sightseeing in California's Scenic Yosemite National Park

California is a state full of natural wonders, including many state and national parks. See interesting sites in San Francisco and beyond.

Looking down on Yosemite Valley.

Looking down on Yosemite Valley.

Exploring Yosemite

Several years ago, a friend and I spent several days hiking and exploring in California's Yosemite National Park. I took many pictures, and many of them will be shown in this post about our experiences while there.

Many people might be aware of Yosemite Valley because of its impressive beauty due to sheer cliffs, rock formations, and cascading waterfalls. Others might know of the love that John Muir had for this locale. He was a devoted environmentalist and conservationist. He explained how geologic events helped create this most beautiful place, and through his efforts, in 1890, Yosemite became a national park.

Yosemite View Lodge

Before my friend coming over here from Germany, I had spent much time planning this vacation trip. We planned to utilize my car, driving it from Houston, Texas to California and back, all the while stopping at our national park destinations, plus other points of interest along the way.

Reservations were made well in advance after discussing and agreeing upon the prices and conveniences we both wanted. For this particular portion of the trip, we stayed at the Yosemite View Lodge. We were extremely pleased with the accommodations, and I would happily stay there again.

Yosemite View Lodge sits adjacent to the Merced River, which flows through Yosemite National Park. On the first floor facing the river, we had a large patio furnished with wicker chairs and tables, and we could see and hear the roar of the boisterous Merced River both outside and inside our comfortable room. The owners had spent the money to have the river illuminated at night, which added to the visual beauty of staying there.

A fireplace inside our room provided ambiance and also warmth. We were there in the spring when the melting snow provides the grandest show of waterfall volume in Yosemite National Park.

That particular year not too long after we had left the park, the Merced not only overflowed its banks, but the park had to be temporarily closed to tourists. Having gone whitewater rafting several times in my life, I would not have wanted any part of entering that wild and raging river that year at that particular time. Of course, the daredevils would probably have loved it!

Each day we would enter Yosemite National Park from here to view different areas and do some hiking.

Geology of Yosemite Valley

People thought that naturalist John Muir was crazy when he first proposed that much of Yosemite Valley came into existence by glacial activity. But over time, most have come to agree with that theory accounting for the distinctive widening out of the valley floor that river action alone could not explain.

Starting below ground, the granite features comprising much of Yosemite had crystallized from a hot molten state. Over millions of years, the seas retreated, and Teutonic movements deep within the earth caused the Sierra Nevada range to rise.

The Merced River played a vital part in this evolving story. Carving into the tilting walled canyon, a gorge over three thousand feet deep and carrying away debris as every river does on its march eventually back to the oceans, the Merced River was doing its part to create this landscape.

Usually, this type of action forms a V-shaped canyon. So how did the U-shaped canyon come into being? Ancient glaciers that had formed and slowly moved down through parts of what would eventually be called Yosemite scoured the V-shaped canyon, widening it as the ice transported both small and large boulders in its path.

Not much in the way of a slow-moving glacier can stand up to the terrific force of its creeping passage. Think of glacial action moving through rocks as compared to a bulldozer moving through banks of earth. Where the bulldozer has gone, areas become flattened. Chunks of dirt from the banks not well cemented into place might fall into this cleared path after the bulldozer has passed.

This example is much like what the glaciers would have done when moving through Yosemite. They took areas of rock, leaving behind sheer cliffs and what would become hanging valleys where waterfalls now tumble into rivers that were once on or near the same level. Boulders and rocks are strewn in places falling off from the higher mounts above them, just as those clumps of the earth would have fallen off after that bulldozer had plowed through their midst.

What is now the Yosemite Valley floor was once covered by a lake. It eventually disappeared, leaving the flat base, which now supports meadows, trees, and other foliage.

Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places on earth due to its past geologic history. Of course, nature is never static but ever-changing. The rivers, waterfalls, climate changes, and movements deep within the earth will continue to shape and modify Yosemite National Park long into the future.

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Wildlife in Yosemite National Park

There are 400 species of animals that could potentially be sighted and found within the bounds of Yosemite. Part of this is due to the topographic variety seen within the park that can support many birds and animals.

We spotted the mule deer, as one can readily see from my picture that I took of them. They are the only type of deer found in Yosemite.

Sixty-five species of birds are there, including the spotted owl and brightly colored Steller's Jay.

While hiking one day, we and others saw a cougar poking its head around a large boulder not twenty feet from the path in which we were traversing! Had another hiker not quietly pointed it out, we would have missed seeing it.

Hiking to Bridalveil Falls

The starting point is from a parking lot area only about one-quarter of a mile from the falls. It is a 1/2 mile round trip that takes only about twenty minutes and is considered an easy hike. Unless one wishes to get wet, some rain gear is handy, as the mist from the cascading water of the Bridalveil Falls pounding onto the rocks beneath it is quite substantial.

It was a bit foggy the day my friend and I saw it. The water was tumbling over the rocks and passing as a turbulent stream through the forest. When we reached the viewing point, we could see why the waterfall was so named. It seems to come over the face of the rocks at the top in a fairly regular pattern, widening as it nears the bottom much as many bridal veils do as they float down the back of the bride's dress, forming a billowing train at the bottom.

Bridalveil Fall spills over from what is called a "hanging" valley. This valley is above the floor of Yosemite below it. That happened when the glaciers made their way through this locale millions of years earlier, sheering away the rock base that once was contiguous with the valley.

Hiking To Vernal Falls

This hike is strenuous, and one climbs about 1,000 feet gaining in elevation as one travels this trail to Vernal Fall.

One has access to this hiking trail by using one of the shuttle services within the Yosemite National Park. Shuttles are provided within the park to ease congestion, and one is encouraged to use these services, which run on a timely schedule to get to different areas within the national park.

One disembarks at the Happy Isles Shuttle Stop # 16 to take this trail to see Vernal Fall. This trail is also called the Mist Trail or John Muir Trail. It is a three-mile round trip and generally takes anywhere from two to four hours, depending upon how quickly one wishes to traverse the terrain.

As you can tell from some of these attached photos, both my friend and I took time to enjoy the grand vistas as well as the smaller intimate details such as mosses and lichen growing on rocks and trees.

At times we had to use our umbrellas due to light rain. Most of the time, we had partial protection under the canopy of tall trees. Joining our fellow hikers, we enjoyed the twists and turns, scrambling over some rocks at times, and finally making it to the end of the trail to see the downpour of Vernal Fall. We could hear the Vernal Fall long before we saw it. It was a most rewarding and pleasurable hike.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake and Meadow is enjoyable as an easy one-mile level hike leads one there.

The lake is gradually silting up, and it will eventually disappear, just as did Yosemite Lake that once covered the valley floor. Mirror Lake eventually will become just additional meadowland.

Shuttle Stop # 17 takes one to this area within the park.

Valley Floor

The flat valley floor of Yosemite Valley provides one with breathtaking views. As spring turns into summer, the waterfalls become less dramatic as the snow packs from the upper elevations have melted. So if you wish to see sights such as the ones pictured here, be sure and visit Yosemite National Park in the springtime of the year.

Springtime flowers in bloom also add to this already stunning palate of comeliness. The flowering dogwoods added a splash of color to the house utilized for park personnel and pictured below.

Even if one was handicapped and could not enjoy the many hiking opportunities within Yosemite National Park, I have to admit that just driving through this magnificent valley and the other roads within the park would leave you with excellent images.