Sunday, May 07, 2006

Yosemite, Mysemite

Yosemite is the most popular national park in the United States, with over 3,000,000 visitors a year. We decided to go with Dora now after the suggestion of Violetta, who insisted on going during the springtime because Yosemite is all about the waters and its waterfalls; and the waterfalls are most voluminus now because of the melting snow. And oh boy, was she right!

I thought Yosemite was closer to SF than LA, but that is not entirely true. It took us 5 hours to get there, and one needs 4 hours from SF, so it's not that closer to SF than in LA. After you enter the Park, there is about 1 hour drive until you reach the heart of the park, the Yosemite valley. Right before you enter it there is this long tunnel:

At the end of it there is a parking lot, and a bunch of people staying close to the edge. Everyone was trying to setup their tripods and their super-duper cameras in order to get a picture.

This is what they were looking at:

When I saw for the first time that view, it took my breath away for a few seconds. I had read that the yosemite valley is one of the most beautiful places in the world but I never believed it until I stood there for a few seconds, watching the waterfall slowly pouring its waters down the valley floor. The place looks pristine: you cannot tell whether it 1,000,000BC or 2000AD. To my mind, if there was a dinosaur there chewing trees I wouldn't be that surprised!

All the rocks are granites, and the rock on the left is El Capitan, the largest one-piece granite in the world, a landmark point for every serious climber.

Notice the shape of the valley: unlike the V shape that most valleys have, this one is shaped like a U. (observe how the floor rises in order to reach the cliffs). That is because a glacier once upon a time travelled through the valley and reformed it and made it more smooth: the ice slowly sculptured the rocks and the floor and gave them this smooth, washed away shape.

Although the view looks pristine, over 10,000 on average (with their cars!) visit the valley every day. However the trees are so huge that they cover all the hints of man-made objects, roads, cars and houses that actually lie there on the floor.

Since the season is best for high water volume, let's take a look at some of Yosemite's waterfalls.

These are the Bridal falls, the ones that can also be seen in the big valley picture above:

These are Yosemite Falls, the tallest falls in the US and 5th tallest falls in the world. It consists of 3 parts with a total height of about 700m; there is a trail that leads you to the top after about 8 hours!

Here's another interesting picture:

These are not named falls, but in the spring water comes out of the cracks in the granite monolith and the wind blows the mist away; the sun just creates a weird effect when viewed from that side.

On our first day there we did the small and short trails to the bottom of these waterfalls; we spent about 30min in each case. But on the next day we decided to go for the most popular trail on the park, the hike to the top of Vernal Falls:

The waterfall may look normal in size but it's avtually pretty big; if you could see the heads of the people next to it, they would be only 1-2 pixels wide; the fall itself is about 15-20 meters wide.

The hike itself was amazing and it was by far the best hike I have ever done in my life (not that I've done a lot; a couple of times back in Greece with Mpellos and his company, a couple more in the mountains here in LA, and that's about it). The first half of the trail is considered of moderate difficulty, and as you climb up next to the river in each turn another part of the magnificent views discloses itself. It was just great to have such an exciting view as you head up, as it makes everything more relaxed.

The second half of the trail was the moneyshot though. You start approaching the falls closer and closer, until you reach a point of the final 100m or so. For these last 100 meters, the trail is just big blocks of granite steps heading almost completely up, right next to the main falls. Here is an idea:

As I climbed up I felt like Pizarro heading in the mountains of Andes trying to find the Incas and their gold. While we were climbing, the mist of the water that was pouring in the bottom of the fall was playing many tricks on us, sometimes stronger and sometimes weaker. Most of the time you couldn't stop walking because you would become completely wet; you also have to avoid other people that step up and down in this very narrow passage. Thankfully at some points the path went under the granite rocks and we were able to make short stops.

When we finally reached the top (all wet and exhausted) we just laid down next to other sunbathers on the surface of the granite, pulled out the handmade sandwiches that I had made for the trip and enjoyed the magnificent views while listening the sounds of the thundering waters. I really wanted to go to the next stop up the path, the Nevada Falls, 2 miles away, but we didn't have enough time to get there and return before sunset. That trail ends after 220 miles at the top of Mount Witney, the highest point in the US.

Here is a view of the Vernal Falls, a composite panoramic image I took from the Incas trail:

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The place we stayed was surprisingly nice, 1 hour outside the Valley.. Our room was inside a 5-6 bedroom house, it had 180 degrees windows that viewed the mountains, a newtonian telescope and a very carefully placed toilet paper:

The little triangle convinced Dora that the lady in charge was loving and caring for the rooms. She also made us breakfast the next morning before we left for San Jose at the silicon valley to meet Violetta and George.

When we finished with out dinner there for George's birthday, I turned my tripod and camera towards the moon. Here is how the moon looked like that night:

There is a trick though. When the moon is young and looks like that, you can also see the rest of the moon also! By increasing the exposure time on the camera I was able to capture that too:

While the bright part of the moon is the light from the sun that hits its surface and then reaches our eyes, we see the other part of the moon for a different reason: Light from the sun hits the earth, then reaches the moon, and that reflects back to earth and our eyes... It's a game of cosmic billiard that can be seen only in the first 3-4 days when the moon is very young. Beautiful, if you ask me.

For out way back to LA we decided not to take the fast highway route, but follow the "famous" Highway 1, that goes along the coast of California. It took us more than 8 hours to get to LA and cover 350 miles that day. Here are some shots from the trip.

Big waves:

Rocky cliffs:

A dynamic image of seagulls and seas lions lying on the sand:

The sea lions' resting and mating place:

A nearby squirrel:

And me enjoying the view at some point midway through:

I wasn't impressed though. For the americans it must be something exciting, because the East coastline simply sucks, so the only decent coastline they have is this part of California. For them this is something new and nice. But when you come from Greece with over 15,000km of coastline - and I've seen a lot of it - Highway 1 is not that new of an experience. Worth doing it once or twice maybe, but that's it.

Yosemite on the other hand is a spectacle to be seen, unlike anything else. The pristine feeling that he view of the valley gives you when stand there and look at it is incredible. So, I will finish my post with a high-res composite picture of the valley:

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Bonus Material: A bunch of 60 year old people each rented a "car" and decided altogether to go to Yosemite: