Living a dream
Now, remember, before this romantic digression, I’d just emerged from the Wawona Tunnel. I’d stopped at the Valley Overlook to see what’s probably the most iconic view of Yosemite. This was what I wanted most.
At this overlook you stand a couple hundred feet above the thickly treed valley floor. You’re facing east, upriver, up the valley. First to jump out, about two miles away, on the right, is Bridal Veil Falls. Water here falls 620′. This alone is spectacular. This fall alone would cause untold thousands to venture here. However, Bridal Veil is not even in the top ten of Yosemite’s tallest falls.
Opposite Bridal Veil, on the left of the U-shaped valley, stands El Capitan. To steal John Muir’s description, “It is 3,000 feet high, a plain, severely simple, glacier-sculpted face of granite, the end of one of the most compact and enduring of the mountain features, unrivaled in height and breadth and flawless of strength.”
From the Tunnel Overlook El Capitan blends into the array of other cresting heaps of granite. The imagination beckons you to stand at its base, and look up, andn wonder how insane you have to be climb up this wall, especially without equipment.
In the center, further away, is Half Dome. It’s another massive heap of granite whose natural dome shape has been sawed in half by glaciers which, once upon a time, cut and polished all Yosemite rock. Beyond Half Dome more mountain tops ascend to the park’s highest country where some mountains peak out over 13,000′. On this morning, tiny strips of snow were still visible where I stood. However, beyond this view, much snow still lay above 10,000′, and would continue to feed those waterfalls well into summer.
To be clear, melting snow causes those waterfalls. Sierra granite doesn’t absorb water. Whatever dirt or moraine there is in the high country absorbs only a small percentage. Some of that water forms small lakes. However, most of it flows downward. Thus, as spring becomes summer, melting snow coalesces into mountain creeks with names like Bridalveil, Horsetail and even Yosemite that fall into the Merced.
But why do those creeks fall so precipitously? Why don’t all mountains have waterfalls like Yosemite? Well, the Yosemite Valley is more U-shaped than V-shaped. A V-shape would have the creeks flow down but not fall down. A U-shaped valley has the sheer drops necessary for waterfalls. John Muir was the first man to propose that glaciers, once upon a time, filled the formerly V-shaped valley, and concentrated their erosion over the whole area which, apparently, widens the valley floor and over-steepens the walls to make that U-shape.
Is that true? Sure. Why not? That’s what geologists say. I’m not knowledgeable enough to disagree here, and I have no reason to. However, I always take geological interpretations with a grain of salt, because there are other areas – like at the Grand Canyon – where I don’t agree with conventional geologists. But more on that later…
Regardless, I was right. The falls were raging. The winter of 2018 to 2019 was wet and cold for California. It was an El Niño winter. The snowpack on the Tioga Pass – the pass over the Sierras that goes from Yosemite to Lees Vining – was 167% of normal that winter. What a perfect day to be here!
Thus, this composition of water, trees and rock caused a swell of emotions – all good. In this 6 o’clock hour, sun rays pierced darkness over the forested valley. Tree tops were becoming golden. Coolness became warmth. I rambled here and there, trying to get the best photo, but, the contrast between light and shadow was too much for my photographic tastes. But so what? Your senses see and feel more than your camera. So, I sat and watched.
It was something else. For three decades I’d yearned to be here. After all, Star Trek 5 came out in June of 1989. However, of course, it was the many photos I’d seen of Yosemite over the years that were the actual impetus to motivate me here. Ansel Adam’s black and white photo from this exact spot, taken in 1947 and entitled “Clearing Winter Storm,” may be the finest photo ever taken.
And I wondered if today would change me. Would Yosemite cause me to leave Sedona, as Sedona caused me to leave South Texas? I didn’t think it would. However, it’s always fun to entertain the notion of coming upon a place that inspires you to a new life, like Europe, Austin and Sedona all have.