Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mariposa Grove

I awoke to the sound of birds chattering in the trees above my camp. I attempted to go back to sleep but the insistent chirping was not going to allow that to happen. As I wiggled out of my sleeping bag my body was introduced to the cold air, outside the tent the ground was covered in frost. I grabbed some food and headed to my car, turning it on to allow the frost to melt. I had decided that I wanted to spend the day at the Maripose Groves, a section of the park that housed specimens of the worlds largest tree, the Sequoia Redwood. The sequoia is more massive than the Coastal Redwood, but not as tall. 
Deer in a frosty meadow. 
The sun was just cresting over the mountains as I drove through the valley, a family of deer grazed on the frosted grass, taking no interest in me as I pulled over to capture a photograph. The Mariposa Grove is about an hour drive to the south from the valley. The drive offered amazing views of the mountain range as I climbed up the side. After driving through a long tunnel I was greater with a tremendous view stretching out below me. A cloud of fog was still settled in a valley, blanketed the earth as it crept down the mountain sides, a lake of grey water evaporating in the sunlight. 
The tunnel
I sped along the road until a park ranger appeared behind m. I slowed down to the speed limit, desperately trying to maintain a legal speed as I was pulled down the steep mountain roads. I entered the small town of Wawona, the park ranger still right on my tail. By this point I was paranoid, lucky I needed gas so I pulled into the station to fill up. The ranger followed me in.
Fog in a valley. 

“Good morning,” he said as I stepped out of my car.

“Good morning,” i replied nervously. 

“Do you know what the speed limit is on this road,” he asked. Now I was sure he was about to give me a ticket.

“25,” I said trying to raise my voice a couple octaves in order to sound more innocent. 

“Yep, and I was following you and you were doing 35,” he said, my heart sank, this was going to be expensive. “I was just deciding weather or not to pull you over when you pulled into here,” he said, “just slow down for me would you.” 

My heart returned to it’s rightful place in my chest, “Yes, sir,” I replied, “sorry.”

I filled my gas and left the station slowly, making sure to not break the speed limit by even a hair. I drove the next six miles to Mariposa Grove, as slow as I could manage, never once topping the speed limit, always looking in my review mirror. As I pulled into the grove I gave a sigh of relief, knowing that I wouldn’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars. 

The parking lot was nearly empty, which wasn’t surprising, after all it was barely after nine in the morning and the air temperature was just rising above freezing. It was a short trail leading through a surprisingly sparse grove. every now and then I would encounter a Sequoia but for the most part it was just a standard forest with smaller trees. That is not to say that the few sequoias I did come across weren't breathtaking, their limbs larger than the trees that filled the forest, their trunks wider than a semi. 
Trunks of Giant Sequoias. 
I walked up the The Grizzly Giant, a massive specimen that is believed to be 2,700 years old. Yes, you read that correctly, this tree was first breaking through the soil in 700BC, about the same time that Chinese Emperors began construction on the Great Wall of China. It’s thick limbs looked like trees hanging off it’s sturdy trunk, a small grove of trees springing forth from a massive red column. The base of the tree was scorched, baring the scares from fires that course through the forest every 5-20 years, or did until humans inhabited the area, now the Nation Park Service does prescription burns to simulate the once natural cycle of fires in the forest. 
Not Grizzly Giant, but a different giant sequoia. 
Just fifty yards from Grizzly Giant is the California Tunnel Tree, a giant sequoia that was tunneled through as a tourist attraction in the early 19th century, the pictures at the site showed cars going through the tree. The tree is in the process of healing itself, so the entrance is no longer wide enough for a car, but does provide one the ability to walk through a living tree. Although the practice of tunneling through trees is clearly harmful to the tree, and has obviously been stopped, the remains of this forever wounded tree give an amazing view of just how massive these trees are, full families can stand inside the trunks opening!
Me inside the California tree. 
I walked through the massive tree and decided to head back to the car. The cold was nipping at my hands and the remaining trails offered little excitement, most of the larger trees were along the paved roadway which I took to get back to the car, stopping to admire the ancient monstrosities. 
A chickaree, or Douglas Squirrel, itching himself on a fence post. 
I was underwhelmed by the Mariposa Grove, it’s spartan specimen were so ungraciously exploited it felt more like walking through a city park than a wilderness. It was a pleasant stroll, and offered and amazing glimpse at some amazingly large trees, but the entire place felt over groomed and touristy. I left happy to have come before the throngs of people showed up, unloading from their minivans as I drove out of the parking lot. 

I drove into the town of Oakhurst to have lunch, I had been living off of granola bars and bananas fro three days and my body was craving food withe some substance. I ordered a large pizza and devoured most of it, clearly I was hungrier than I had anticipated, I got a box for the rest and headed back into the back. The trip into town cost me a good portion of the day, but my legs were still damning me for the previous to days endeavors, so I had not planned on doing much hiking anyways. 

The road into Yosemite is surrounded by large hills covered in green shrubbery, I drove lazily watching the scenery pass by. A pair of hawks glided on updrafts, looking for their next meal, before swooping down in unison and disappearing into the hills. Soon I found myself once again surrounded by the granite cliffs that had housed me for the past four days, their sheer grey walls welcoming me back into the valley. 
Along the road back into Yosemite. 
I pulled over to take a short hike up to bridal falls, a smaller, but no less impressive water feature than Yosemite Falls. The hike from the road side to the base of the falls is barely half a mile along a flat paved trial, I made it to the base in no time, a group of British students were there snapping pictures of themselves with the beautiful falls and the rainbow that the mist was creating. The rainbow faded in and out as the mist spiraled around under the instruction of the breeze. 
Rainbow at Bridal Veil Falls
El Capitan, a massive granite monolith rising 3,593 feet from the valley floor, stood across the road from the trail head, it’s impressive size commanding the skyline. A thin water fall trickled down a granite wall to the left of El Capitan, A water fall that looked insignificant in relation to it’s epically immense surroundings. 
El Capitan
I drove back into camp and decided to take a short hike to watch the sunset in the meadows. The sun cast a pink veil over the highest peaks, the lower regions already succumbing to shadows cast by adjacent mountains. As I stood and watched a small avalanche fell over the side of Half Dome, it looked insignificant, but must have been hundreds of cubic feet of snow falling what I estimated, with the use of no valid information, to be over 1000 feet. 
Avalanche on Half Dome
As the sunlight vanished from the valley night took over. I walked over to lower falls to see it in the moonlight. It was dark by the time I got to the falls, forcing me to use my flashlight to navigate the trail. The falls were illuminated by the moon, the rest of the landscape blanketed in darkness,  I was barely able to make anything other than the reflective white of the rapids from the falls. 
Lower Yosemite Falls at night. 
I was only a mile from camp, the trial well marked, and once I had taken a couple of times already, but in the darkness it felt unfamiliar. I scanned my flashlight around, hoping there wasn’t a hungry mountain loin looking for an easy meal. I walked hurriedly and loudly, trying to make as much noise as possible to scare away any potential predators. I had spent moony nights in forests lately, but somehow being alone on a dark trail was more intimidating then being within leaping distance of my tent, as if my tents thin layers could protect me from the vicious claws of a mountain lion or angry bear. 

I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the light from the camp office in the distance, at least now I could yell for help if I was being mauled. 

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