Monday, December 20, 2010

Hecka Weather

We've had a terrific storm over the past few days, with more to come. It started raining Friday and has stayed wet since; Yosemite Valley has had more than 8 inches of precipitation (20% of the year's average total) in the past 4 days. Until this morning, it's all been rain, with high snowline; even Badger Pass got a soaking. This has brought up the waterfalls and flooded the Valley meadows. The gully below Cathedral Spires again surged out into Southside Drive. Sentinel, Ribbon, Eagle, Horsetail and Royal Arch Creeks (but not Indian Creek) are all flowing into the river. Wosky Pond is full and connected to the river. The river itself never approached flood stage, as had been threatened in earlier forecasts.
It was cold enough this morning to have frazil ice forming in Yosemite Creek; unusual for this point in the season. The Valley got over 6 inches of snow today, and Badger's gotten a lot more than that. The picture shown is from a walk up to the Vernal Fall Bridge this morning.
For more than a year I've been looking forward to tonight's astronomical coincidence of the winter solstice and a full moon - with that moon showing a total eclipse over North America. On top of that, the peak totality for our part of earth will be just after midnight, providing the potential for a nice long show. Now it appears that clouds over Yosemite will eclipse the dark orange midnight moon for us. As always, a lunar eclipse only happens with a full moon. A full moon always rises near sunset, is highest near midnight and sets around sunrise. That this full moon (and eclipse) happens during the longest night of the year and with totality close to midnight/overhead is just a happy accident. Whether we see the moon or not, winter solstice means that the days will start to lengthen toward summer - indeed an important date in the calendar.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Long Live Bob Fry

A hybrid yellow-shafted/red-shafted flicker has been seen in El Portal for more than a week now. The last record of such here was in 1957. El Portal also had 5 raptors seen this past weekend: kestrel, sharp-shinned hawk, golden eagle, red-tailed hawk and peregrine falcon. Warm afternoons lately have made for good soaring conditions.
But a series of winter storms will bring more precipitation starting tomorrow and running at least a week. Snow levels are expected to remain high (7000') for now. This means that runoff will be strong for the moment but perhaps less so in the spring. The Merced is running at much higher than average volume and the Valley's waterfalls are likewise pretty impressive now. This morning Upper Yosemite Falls was catching a twisty wind and a nice solar spectrum.
Speaking of showers, tonight is the peak for the Geminid meteors. If you can see clear sky between midnight and dawn, you may see as many as 120/hour. Go out at 5 a.m. and you'll see Venus bright enough to cast a shadow; Saturn is just above Venus. Both planets are "in Virgo", which is of no human significance.
Of true human significance is the passing of Yosemite ranger naturalist Bob Fry last week. Bob was an old-timer, a buddy of Carl Sharsmith's, and a living legend to today's naturalist staff. "Encyclopedia Bobtannica" he was called with fondness and awe, in reference to his vast breadth and depth of natural history knowledge. No one will ever know all the stuff that Bob knew about Yosemite. A giant sequoia has gone down and our forest is diminished.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rockefeller Purchase

In 1930 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave $1.7 million to Yosemite (matched by Congress) to purchase thousands of acres of old-growth forest just north of Crane Flat. That forest was due to be harvested by timber companies that owned the land just inside the edge of the national park. For many years the NPS worked with various timber companies to minimize visual and other impacts to Yosemite. Logging impacts on the two small sequoia groves in the area were a concern and both groves were almost traded out of Yosemite to the Forest Service in order to acquire the private timber in-holdings. When Mr. Rockefeller became interested in the issue, a financial solution was suddenly possible.
Today, we can enjoy the benefit of this far-sighted philanthropy by hiking or skiing on the old logging railbed that goes into a section of this parcel. Park at Merced Grove trailhead and you'll find the unmarked "Rockefeller Grove" trailhead across the highway and just to the north. It's a gradual (except for one short hill) trip of about 3 miles, and the route ends in a mature forest of diverse conifers. The big sugar pines are a main attraction but don't expect a pure stand at any point. Along the way, keep your eyes open for an uncommon stand of knobcone pine in much younger forest.
Yesterday a handful of park employees found just enough snow to ski out to the end of the logging railroad. There were recent bear tracks criss-crossing the length of the railbed. Last night's warm storm brought only rain to that 6000' level, so more snow will be needed before that can be skied again.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter Deepens

DNC is making plans to open the Badger Pass Ski Area this weekend, and awaiting the NPS go-ahead. If they do open, it'd be just for the weekends, then opening 7 days a week as of 17 December. Watch their website to be sure.
We got more snow over the weekend, and it's been so cold that little has melted. Park roads have chain restrictions on them, even down Hwy. 140, so call 209/372-0200 before you head to Yosemite to get the latest conditions. The Valley has a foot of snow in most places, and trees on the shady south side are still snow covered, 3 days after the storm. People are skiing and snowshoeing and sledding in the Valley now, but bundling up for the temps in the 20's and a thin overcast. A local Indian told me yesterday that things looked like this shortly before the big flood in 1997. Hmmm.
At the base of Upper Yosemite Falls a large snowcone has already built - unusual for it to be so big in late November. Because it's been so cold, ice accumulates for most of each day, with only a few hours warm enough to reduce it.
The forecast includes a chance of more precipitation in the next few days, with temperatures remaining quite cool.
Have you seen the new Yosemite Conservancy magazine? Parts of it are here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Winter is On

Extra cold temperatures (low 20's in Yosemite Valley) follow the recent heavy snows. The webcams this morning show you blue skies with snow on ridgetops as far west of the park as you can see. In the Valley the outside wall of Dave's house is 28F and there's a bit of dry spindrift in the air. The high country is well and truly coated with a healthy season's snowpack base layer.
The Four Mile Trail, Mist Trail/Ice Cut, and Glacier Point and Tioga Roads (to cars, not skiers) are officially closed for the season. The ice rink is open and the ski area opens on 17 December.
Yosemite's Christmas Bird Count -the 79th annual- happens on Sunday 19 December. Contact if you're interested in participating. The low snowline will have birds shifting downslope and concentrating in pockets of accessible habitat. If these conditions remain for 3 more weeks, we should have good numbers this year. Another storm this weekend suggests it'll be wintery for at least a little while yet. Don't forget: this is the number one place on the planet for wintering white-headed woodpeckers.
The day before, Saturday 18 December, there are still spaces available on the Conservancy's "Moonlight Snowshoe" Outdoor Adventures course. We'll meet up at Badger Pass at 3 p.m., give you snowshoes, and head out to watch the sunset and moonrise over a unique landscape of bright white and deep black. What a weekend that'd make: an evening snowshoe trek then a day of birding.
We have a lot to be thankful for in this astounding place. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Early, substantial snows

We got a few inches of snow on the Valley floor overnight on Friday, then a bit of sun came through mid-day and lots of melting took place. Even more snow accumulated Saturday night and is still piling on this morning. Snow is even sticking in El Portal, down under 2000' elevation. This means messy driving, even on the 'all-weather' route of Highway 140 through the Merced Canyon. The road between El Portal and the Valley has R2 conditions this morning, and there'll be snow all the way west of Mariposa into the foothills.
The Badger Pass Ski Area isn't supposed to open until 17 December, but there's enough snow now for XC skiers to get out at Crane Flat or Chinquapin today - provided they can get there safely. Mariposa Grove might be another option, skiing or snowshoeing up from the South Entrance. This is an early holiday present for those who look forward to Sierra winters.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Autumn Out

Walked up northwest from Foresta to Little Nellie Falls on Saturday - very crowded - with foliage color, blue sky, deer and bear tracks, a few birds (including a surprise solo horned lark!), and millions of springtails. There were some puddles in ruts on the Coulterville Road from the prior weekend's rain. On the surface of the sunlit puddles were rafts of millions and millions of the tiny gray insects, too small to break the surface tension, even when massed this way. They were hopping continuously, there were dispersed individuals on the muddy road surface, but the party was all afloat. Hard to comprehend but wonderful to observe.
Sunday's saunter took us from Chinquapin out the old logging rail grade southeast to the Alder Creek watershed. It is unusual to be able to stroll on the horizontal for mile after mile above 6000' in the Sierra, but here's a pleasant legacy of commercial forestry. From the 1907 railroad that came to El Portal, steep (up to 78%!) inclines were built up the south side canyon wall in 1912 and the north side canyon wall by 1924. It's hard to imagine the costly labor of hundreds of people creating this access for extracting sugar pine from what is now peaceful forest. There's a bit of patchy snow, which held tracks of coyote, deer, bear and squirrel. Aspens in Bishop Meadow are bare now, the black oaks and dogwoods still have a bit of color hanging on.
Glacier Point and Tioga Roads are still closed, though the weather will determine whether this is a closure for the whole season or not. A La Nina season is expected, which could go either way for wet/dry.
A new speed record for ascending the Nose Route on El Capitan was established over the weekend: just under two hours, 37 minutes. Human springtails?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Into Merced Grove

After weeks of nice foliage color, it's STILL really colorful in Yosemite. Black oaks in the Valley have come into their own, dogwoods, bracken, azalea, dogbane and maples are still so bright. Adding to the glow, now the forest floor is lightened by fallen leaves, too. I was with a group in Merced Grove over the weekend and we enjoyed the quiet of the big trees enhanced by the startling albedo change brought on by yellow dogwood, azalea and hazel. What a colorful look for this deep shady valley.
It was mighty pleasant to walk on the old Coulterville Road to the old ranger cabin, in the middle of Yosemite's smallest sequoia stand. I'll be snowshoeing in for a night in the ranger cabin with another group the first weekend of February.
Sunday night brought snow down to about 6000' in Yosemite. Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road are closed, perhaps for the whole winter now. The Valley's great fall colors now include a good amount of white, from snow extending down from the south rim, and ice that builds on Yosemite and Sentinel Falls.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Indian Summer

Another storm Friday night. Tioga Road is closed for now. Glacier Point Road closed then reopened. Exceptionally warm weather is forecast for this week, up into the mid-70's for Yosemite Valley. The river is still above average from the 24 October rains, but is much closer to normal volume than when it filled meadows and covered trails early last week. Foliage is quite colorful in spots still - many of the maples add color with leaves on the ground. Cottonwoods are lighting up now.
Yes, Oprah camped here a few weeks ago, but even better news: biologists at Texas Tech published the formal description of a new species of pseudoscorpion that lives in some of the talus caves along the north wall of the Valley: Parobisium yosemite. There are about 3300 species of these tiny arachnids worldwide, part of a vast, hidden world of scavengers and predators in the leaf litter, under rocks, and in the soil. Pseudoscorpions lack the stinger/tail of a scorpion and are too tiny to harm us. Oprah has 30 million viewers a day but she doesn't get to live in Yosemite like this little critter does.
Once again, Yosemite claims the world championship for the wintertime population of the white-headed woodpecker. My copy of Audubon's 2009 Christmas Bird Count summaries came last week, and there we are: there were more white-headed woodpeckers in Yosemite on last winter's count day than anywhere else. The Yosemite CBC has been the kingdom of Picoides albolarvatus three times in the past 20 years or so. Check the NPS site and consider joining us for this winter's count, 19 December.

Monday, October 25, 2010


We had a terrific rainstorm last night and the river has leapt to an extremely high flow. The average volume at Pohono Bridge is about 30 cfs for this week. Because of the good rains of early October, it's been flowing at about 100 cfs for the past week. Since yesterday the river has engorged to over 5700 cfs and is still rising by the minute! This is not quite flood stage, but is higher than it gets during most spring runoffs. It's too dark to go see it at the moment, but Yosemite Falls and all the other falls will have gone from trickles barely worth a photograph to gushing cataracts that'd make the newspapers in May. We've seldom seen such a tremendous surge overnight: from 100 to near 6000 cfs in a matter of hours.
Tioga Road was closed by snow on Saturday morning and remains closed today. Glacier Point Road is still open. This wasn't a cold storm, but it was forecast to deposit 1-2 feet of snow up high. We're a few weeks ahead of the average winter closing date for Tioga Road, but it may be closed for a spell to allow plowing and some melting.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Fall foliage is looking good in Yosemite Valley now. The sugar maple (pictured) is like one very small glimpse of Vermont; an exotic species we especially cherish for 2-3 weeks a year. The native maples are bright yellow for the most part now. While it's been warm for the past couple of weeks, there was a tiny bit of frost on the lowest parts of Valley meadows a while back, so we could say that we're in Indian Summer. Black oaks are shelling Yosemite Village with a healthy acorn crop - a good time to be an Indian. Deer, pigeons, bears, woodpeckers, etc. are eating and/or storing lots of that mast now. Mule deer bucks have lost their velvet; a time for visitors to be cautious about approaching too closely with their eager photography.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Illilouette Gorge

The sugar maple is peaking now, its bright blaze of surreal orange dominating that part of the old village like a column of flame. The native maples are getting brighter, too (the Fern Spring corner has a new, pale light now), though many are still entirely green. Oaks aren't yet very colorful; some are just browning. Cottonwoods are mostly still green along the river; even up higher, the aspen are just begining to color. Dogbane is one of the brightest natives in the Valley now.
I made a trip up Illilouette Gorge to the base of the waterfall yesterday; a bouldery scramble. Don't try this unless you're up for considerable steep clambering. Some light rain slicked the rocks a bit, but it was nice to be out where no one else was, across the canyon from the busy Mist/Muir Trail. Sagebrush, Brickellia, and plenty of Douglas-fir. Band-tailed pigeons overhead, a canyon wren in the rocks. One primate looking at a waterfall.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Some geo notes

The big storms early last week caused a spike in river volume and turbidity which tapered quickly. This week's warmth is causing the river to rise just a bit as the previous week's snow melts into the upper Merced watershed. The gully that drains Cathedral Spires sent a debris flow of sand and gravel several inches deep on to Southside Drive. A 3-part rockfall from near Horsetail Fall sent up a big dust cloud from the bench below El Capitan's East Buttress two days ago. Last week a local girl was seriously injured by a large slab of rock that fell near Church Bowl; she appears to be recovering well.
The famous sugar maple is just starting to show some red/orange color. Invasive locust trees are finally being removed from the Old Yosemite Village site. The meadows are the most yellow part of the Valley, with most of the oaks and maples still getting started in colors.
Oaks are dropping acorns, and Torreya is dropping its odd green 'drupes' in the localized pockets where that tree grows.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Weather and change

Nice weather forecast this week, with a small chance of rain/snow up high tonight. Tioga Road was re-opened; watch for ice early in the morning, though. After this coming Friday backpackers won't be allowed to park on the Tioga or Glacier Point Roads until next summer. Half Dome's cables are being de-rigged, so you have an excuse for not climbing up there until next May.
Oprah Winfrey had a couple of nice nights camped at Lower Pines Campground last week. Golden-crowned Sparrows have shown up with their plaintive whistles in El Portal. The summer's big fires (not at all big) have been quieted by the 2-3 inches of rain from a week ago and those trails near White Wolf and north of Hetchy have been re-opened. A couple dozen new fires were started in last week's lightning storms, but most are small and fuels are wet so only a few near roads/buildings need to be suppressed by our fire crews.
The NPS observes a Columbus Day holiday today, while some celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in recognition of 8-9000 years of history that vastly pre-dates Euro-American arrival in Yosemite (and still continues). Plans to fix up the heavily used shoreline of (what we now call) Tenaya Lake come up for public comment next Monday; see for the planning section. It's your chance to weigh in on how people visit the lake named for Yosemite's best known member of the First Nations.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

China Parks

Just back from another outstanding visit to Yosemite's two sister national parks in the mountains of China. Our group witnessed firsthand how Huangshan provided inspiration to James Cameron for some of the fantastical landscapes in "Avatar." We also had great discussions with Jiuzhaigou rangers about the challenges of protecting resources in a popular park. Close encounters with pandas concluded a terrific exploration. We look forward to bringing more Yosemite-philes to hike in China next fall.
Meanwhile in Yosemite, autumn has arrived with lightning and rain. Black oaks, redbud, bigleaf maple, grape, and poison oak are turning bright yellow. The Merced River is up in volume and quite turbid with runoff sediment. Tioga Road has been closed for several days now due to snow up high.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Equinox Report

We are half-way between solstices now. Sunlight shines on the park's peaks and canyon rims just before 7 a.m. It's frosty above 6000' in the low meadows at dawn. At Tuolumne and above bilberry is red, willows are yellowing. Smoke from the Slope Fire near White Wolf has tapered off. The Merced is down to 36 cfs at Pohono Bridge (still a tad above average). Fewer people are dipping in the river, but the Valley is still somewhat busy. Lessingia is the main flower still seen in Yosemite Valley. The famed sugar maple is still all green, but we see color starting in some dogwoods, bracken, sedges, and dogbane. Birds are quiet; year-round residents are mostly all that's left: raven, jay, chickadee.
I will be watching birds, etc. on the Conservancy's trip to Yosemite's two sister national parks in China for the next two weeks. I'll post from there if I can; otherwise it'll be towards mid-October for Yosemite updates.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lyell Glacier

I just returned from a couple days up at Lyell and Maclure Glaciers with videographers Josh Helling and Steve Bumgardner and park geologist Greg Stock. Greg was checking some of his instrumentation on the glacier while Steve and Josh were working on an installment of the excellent Yosemite Nature Notes video series. I was on my annual survey trip to take the photographs that show the rate of recession of the ice.
There's been no debate about climate change in Yosemite for 150 years; even young John Muir knew that the park's glaciers were melting away. The first glacier that Muir explored is now gone and the Maclure is half the size it was when Muir conducted the first quantitative glacier measurements in North America. That reducing trend continues with the east lobe of Lyell Glacier having wasted away to a couple small flakes of ice on the cirque headwall, and the west lobe steadily shrinking year by year. Last winter's above average snowfall is still evident but isn't likely to sustain the glacier significantly. According to Greg, the western quarter of the west lobe is not quite a meter thick; a major areal reduction looms. The east edge of the west lobe has fallen 37 meters in elevation in the past 60 years.
For next summer I'm planning a Yosemite Conservancy trip to see Lyell, and a trek to where Muir found the first recognized glacier in the Sierra. Think about a visit to Yosemite's ice before it's gone...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Labor Day in Yosemite

Park roads were very mellow before 9 this morning, but it'll be extra busy this afternoon and evening as visitors pour in for the long weekend. Good weather is expected.
It's warmed back up to "hot" now, after a cool spell last weekend which brought a few snowflakes to Tuolumne Meadows.
Datura still has some huge white blooms in El Portal, and gumplant is still yellow. There's still Madea in bloom at Cascades. Gin Flat, up at 7000' has lots of Solidago, Eriogonum, Yampah, Gayophytum, broad-leafed lupine in bloom - an exceptional flower season continues into September. Chinquapin is emitting its odd, musky odor now. If you haven't smelled this strange essence, now's the time for sniffing around at 6-7000'.
Leaves starting to turn color in the lower canyon now: spicebush, poison oak, grape, and redbud. Buckeye has long gone rusty brown.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

LeConte Lives On

I did a presentation at the LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite Valley the other night about Yosemite's two sister national parks in China. People do get pretty interested when they learn that Yosemite has sister parks, and then even moreso when they learn about the astonishing landscapes of those fellow World Heritage Sites. Yosemite Conservancy is bringing a group to those parks in a few weeks to do some hiking, birding and botanizing.
LeConte is a really unique Yosemite building. It was named for Sierra Club co-founder Joseph LeConte, a geology professor at Berkeley and a friend of John Muir's. A spectacular structure of massive granite blocks, it is further remarkable in that it is run as an educational facility by the Sierra Club. Muir and LeConte's little group of mountain-lovers has an important presence in the heart of their beloved Yosemite to this day.
As a wise man once noted that everything is connected: China has a serious forestry problem in the form of an invasive bark beetle accidentally introduced from the US and which was first scientifically described by LeConte's nephew, John Lawrence Le Conte (sic). The year that the LeConte Memorial Lodge was built by the Sierra Club (1904) is the same year that John Muir was observing botany - in China. It IS all connected...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cloud Time

Unusual, cloudy day in Tuolumne Meadows yesterday, with lenticular and strato-cumulus coverage and a healthy west wind. The grayness was not in the forecast, so that had some folks worried about getting rained on, but it wasn't that kind of cloud layer.
My group observed an osprey with a fish, being slowly pursued in an upward spiral by what I believe was a female Cooper's Hawk. Eventually the osprey dropped the fish from a couple hundred feet up, perhaps by accident, but perhaps to get the accipter to leave it alone.
Tuolumne has elephant's heads, yellow monkeyflower, purple asters, some paintbrush, groundsel, purple gentian, and lots of yampah in bloom. There are about 6-7 mosquitoes left in Tuolumne, so you can pretty much stow your bugspray til next summer.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August Water

The Merced River has dropped below 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) at the Pohono Bridge gauging station now. This is about 15% of the annual mean daily flow, but is still a bit higher than usual for this date. Locals who commute into Yosemite Valley for work refer to a different measuring gauge: Table Rock, which is located just upstream of the junction of Hwy. 140 and the Big Oak Flat Road. Table Rock is now 3-4 feet above the surface, but it was underwater without a ripple just a short time ago. It's hard to believe that the river was at nearly 7000 cfs just 2.5 months ago. That's our Mediterranean climate of strongly disparate seasonal precipitation. Rivers in most of our country do not regularly vary their volumes by two orders of magnitude within a year.
Some unexpected cloud cover yesterday moderated temperatures in El Portal, Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows. More monsoon moisture is probably on the way over the next few weeks, and we are likely to see some small spikes in river flow as rain runoff from the uppermost watershed is added to the low river volume. Any surges will probably not be that visible on Table Rock, but we should see them on the gauging station display.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reckless Burning in the Valley

Someone lit a fire in the west end of Yosemite Valley mid-day today, across the canyon from Bridalveil Fall. It was a small fire very quickly contained by an NPS engine crew. How or why someone would ignite a fire in this out of the way spot, off of a seldom used trail is hard to explain. Must be August in Yosemite.
Afternoons are hot and dry in the park now though our wet, late spring still has lingering effects. People are still taking photographs of Yosemite Falls, there is spicebush, Lessingia and tarweed still blooming in the Valley, and the river is still 30% above average flow. Raspberries have gone by but elderberries are ripe now.
With a group today we found a bear scat that contained manzanita berries and the wing feathers of a Steller's Jay.
Apologies for the gap in postings; I've been in Sequoia NP backcountry.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Showing you the Money

The director of the US Mint is in Yosemite Valley this morning to release the new California quarter into public circulation. Park staff has erected a stage in front of the visitor center, the mounted ranger honor guard is standing by, and a great treasure chest of new currency is available to be traded for old. (Kids can get a free quarter this morning!) This is all happening here because for the second time in five years we have put Yosemite on our money. You may recall the 2005 California quarter featured John Muir, Half Dome and a California Condor. Now the mint is initiating a new series of 56 quarters focused on 'America the Beautiful.' The Golden State's design is among the first five quarters being released this year, because of the early date (8 years before Yellowstone) at which Yosemite was first set aside as a protected reserve. George Washington (of Washington's Column fame) is still on the 'heads' side; the reverse is an image of El Capitan seen from the west at Valley View, that spot along Northside Drive where the Merced River comes up against a parking lot and you have a nice view of Bridalveil and the Captain.
As much as I like the new design, I'm disappointed that one of the alternates wasn't chosen. The candidate image I preferred was of Yosemite Falls viewed down the long walkway to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. In a branch of one of the bordering trees was a Steller's Jay, a creature surely deserving representation on our currency.
At any rate, it is a great testament to the importance of Yosemite National Park to the state and the nation that we've chosen to put it on our currency again. Of all the beautiful things in California, this is the one place that rates that highly. We are a lucky land, indeed, to have such a treasure to care for and to share.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Valley Flora

Western raspberries are ripening and delicious in Yosemite Valley now. Bigelow's sneezeweed (such a great name!) is fading from Cook's Meadow, but still adds color. Tall evening primrose here and there, extensive tincture plant in western El Capitan Meadow, dogbane and Calochortus are also blooming in the Valley.
Crane Flat meadow is likewise rich with flowery goodness. Bistort and shooting star are most prominent. There is still a bear show on most days at Crane Flat.
The Merced River actually came up a tad from rains in the high country. The diurnal snowmelt pulse cycle has virtually flattened out, but the river is still much higher than average for late July.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Peak Flowers at 7000'

It's a great time to hike around at 7-8000' in Yosemite, with an exceptional quantity and diversity of plants in bloom now. Along Glacier Point Road, check Summit Meadow (Shootings Stars!), McGurk, Peregoy, and upper Sentinel Creek meadows and bring your camera and a field guide. Hiking to Ostrander Lake this morning we saw almost 4 dozen species of flowers in bloom. Highlights included corn lily 5 feet tall, alpine lilies 4-5 feet tall, several lupines, lots of purple Erigeron, abundant larkspur and Calochortus. Now's the time to get out there. Very few mosquitoes.
We also encountered Williamson's sapsucker, hermit thrush, western bluebird, mountain chickadee, yellow-rumped warbler, olive-sided flycatcher and Clark's nutcracker.
Great masses of cumuli build to the east, making 'higher Sierras' and we expect rain somewhere in the higher country.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Finally Fires

Localized storm cells that built up last Thursday and Friday have started the park's first wildland fires. These are small fires that weren't reported for 2-3 days after ignition. There are two burning just north of the Tuolumne River a few miles from Glen Aulin. They aren't putting up much smoke, are mostly crawling along the ground, and may just creep for a couple months, the way fires have for thousands of years here. A third start occurred near the top of the Snow Creek switchbacks above Tenaya Canyon; this was was contained and extinguished by an NPS fire crew. It wouldn't be summer in the Sierra without a bit of smoke in the air; now we're finally getting started.
Turkey vulture over El Cap Meadow yesterday, and my group got a brief look at a peregrine soaring along the North American Wall. Yosemite Art and Education Center coordinator Aline Allen observed a female common merganser with fuzzy young on her back yesterday near Swinging Bridge. This is a late clutch, or perhaps a second brood.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Up to Half Dome

I took a full YC field seminar group up to Little Yosemite Valley to overnight and climb Half Dome this past weekend. Quite warm; the Merced was a welcome element in LYV. Even though it was clear and dry in Yosemite Valley, a broad cumulus mass on Friday afternoon poured rain into the upper watershed and the river almost doubled in volume and became quite turbid. Vernal's stretch of the Mist Trail was drenching - in mid-July! Conditions were a mix of May water and July heat.
The day use permit system limited the number of day hikers and my group (enthusiastically leaving our LYV camp at 4 a.m.) had the summit to itself for a while - unprecedented. Thank-you, George Anderson.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Double Rainbow

Milkweed and sneezeweed are coloring Leidig Meadow with pink and gold. Bush lupine blooms in the west Valley. Above 9000' tiny Lewisia covers a lot of ground, but so much acreage is still thawing out from its snowcover that there's a lot of dormant terrain. Naturalist Michael Ross is leading a 'Tuolumne Alpine Studies' course for YC ( that still has room in it. It's the weekend of July 30-August 1; free park entry and free camping are included.
CBS did a nice piece the other day on park waterfalls having a big year. The river is still running 2.5 times its average volume for mid-July but more swimmers are getting in to that chilly water. Yosemite Falls still looks good but Staircase, Royal Arch, Ribbon and Sentinel Falls are shrinking away.
I am thoroughly enjoying park geologist Greg Stock's new book "Geology Underfoot in Yosemite." Up to date, very conversational, well illustrated, easy to follow - worth adding to your Yosemite bookshelf.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Smoke on the Water

We collected 117 lightning strikes yesterday from afternoon storms that built over the 5-10,000' level, but no fires were ignited; it's still relatively wet or snowy at those elevations. Nice to see those big cumuli build over the higher elevations the past two days.
Baby flicker learning to find ants near the Ahwahnee yesterday morning. Turkey vulture flying over the Ahwahnee Meadow at 8:30 a.m., suggesting that the bird roosted in the Valley. Three peregrines (one calling) at the Rhombus later in the morning - a healthy sign to have predators around in quantity. Azalea is smelling so sweet now!
The Conservancy's Sentinel Dome webcam connection has been fixed and that feed is back on line. It was a very complicated process, with lots of helpers, to get this operational again.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Half Dome Permits: Good!

So far the new, temporary system requiring day use permits for Half Dome day hikes on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holiday Mondays is a great success. Yes, there are some people who are unaware of the new permit system and are denied a chance to show up and go on these three days of the week, but for most people, there are real plusses. Some folks pooled their friends and got dozens of permits - then didn't use them all, making the weekend days more safe and pleasant than ever. Mondays and Thursdays have gotten a little busier than they were. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are still fairly mellow. Visitor complaints have been few while commendations have been many - a real improvement in the Half Dome experience has been achieved quickly. There's a broad realization that going to a seven-day day hike permit system would be a further positive step. NPS is compiling data and hiker input for a more quantitative assessment. Public comment on the future of Half Dome's cables is being sought now; speak up!
The river and falls continue to decline in volume. Mosquitos are still annoying in the Valley and in places in the high country.
Datura, spicebush, Clarkia, elderberry, and mockorange are in bloom in the Merced canyon below the Valley.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Delayed season

The Merced River is flowing at better than double its usual volume for early July. After a week of holding steady it is dropping again with cooler temperatures. Another way to look at it is that for the past week the river volume has been equal to the average annual high water mark, but it's over a month after that average peak, and near three weeks after this year's peak. Local gauge Table Rock breached the surface yesterday for the first time this season.
Side streams in Yosemite Valley are shrinking back, too. Eagle Creek no longer reaches Northside Drive. Sentinel is still flowing in 9 culverts, but many are just seeping. Indian Creek is still dribbling through the Village Store parking lot and is flowing under the Art and Education Center. Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls are looking terrific for July.
Cow parsnip, western azalea, striped penstemon and several lupines add color and fragrance to the Valley. Tuolumne's store, lodge, visitor center and campground are all open now, and the Tuolumne River has retreated to within its banks. Backpackers should still be prepared for wet trails, tricky creek crossings and a good amount of snow on shaded slopes higher up.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Livin' is Easy

Our first controlled burn of the season brought a bit of smoke to the park's skies yesterday. Two hundred some acres northwest of Crane Flat, near the Merced Grove trailhead were ignited to add to the mosaic forest mix on the park's western boundary. While many don't care for it, some locals love to see and smell a bit of smoke in the air; it's a normal part of a Sierra summertime, just like snow is a regular element of winter here.
Witnesses observed a sharp-shinned Hawk take a songbird (possibly a redwing) at Bridalveil Meadow on Monday. Tiny baby California quails in El Portal can already take flight. There's still some Clarkia, Lotus and Lupinus in bloom in El Portal; buckeyes fade. Glow worms are alight in certain places there, too. The Valley's cow parsnip is tall and in bloom. The delicious smell of wester azalea is aloft in wet spots in the Valley. Also a-buzz in the Valley now are a terrific quantity of mosquitoes. Lots of standing water has favored their prosperity.

Friday, June 11, 2010

River Recession

After its annual peak a few days ago, the Merced is easing back towards its regular channel, though it's still far higher than usual, still covering some trails. Half Dome cables are being installed next week, quite a bit later than usual.
Yesterday ranger Bob Roney and I watched ravens, Steller's jays and western tanagers all active in the afternoon near where Eagle Creek reaches the Valley floor. Suddenly Bob spots a male mountain quail speeding along the open ground of the Valley floor. I've encountered more of these than usual in the Valley this spring, all near the foot of the walls. Have they been displaced to lower elevation by the heavy snows and the delayed melt higher up? Is it the burned acreage of last summer's fire in Big Meadow that has bumped them in this direction? Is it just us getting out more this spring? It's been nice to be surprised by their querulous "kwerp!?" now and then.
I'll be in other parks for the next couple weeks, so apologize for a temporary hiatus in postings to late June.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Lake Yosemite

The river peaked last night right at 7000 cfs at Pohono gauge, sending just a bit of water into the pullout at Wosky Pond on Northside Drive. The river has actually backed up under the road culverts here, too. The deck of Swinging Bridge didn't quite go under, but the bridge is closed as it is accumulating logs, and the bike trail over to Yosemite Lodge is underwater for its entirety. Cooks Meadow's loop trail is all wet, though the gray trex boardwalk across the upper meadow remains above the flow. The approaches to Superintendent's Bridge are washed over on both sides of the river. There is water just everywhere today, but the ebb has begun. Temps cool a bit and though the river is expected to top 'flood stage' tonight and tomorrow night, it won't be as high. It seems we saw 2010's spring melt high water mark last night.
Big white buckeye blossoms fully emerged in El Portal now. Creek dogwood still shows its very modest flowers in the Valley. Grosbeaks, vireos and tanagers are singing away.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Runoff Election

I don't know that I've ever actually observed so much snow and runoff in all my years here. The Tioga Road opened to cars this weekend and it is impressive to see how much snow lies deep in the high country still. (We could only bike as far as Olmsted Point last weekend.) Lots of skiers were at play near the pass. At the same time, the temperatures rose substantially: mid-60's in Tuolumne Meadows today, low 80's in Yosemite Valley. Considerable portions of the snowpack are melting suddenly and there is running water everywhere. I've never seen the Tioga Road so gushing wet with overflowing snowmelt - wow.
Tuolumne Meadows is perhaps 75% snow, 10% water, and the rest bare ground in sunny spots. Tenaya Lake is still 90% iced over, as is Siesta Lake. Even Gin Flat at just over 7000' is 90% snow-covered. Mist is gusting off of Cascade Falls in amounts just not seen in most years.
The Merced River just tapped 'flood stage' in the early hours today, before subsiding in the normal springtime diurnal cycling. Tonight and tomorrow night it should exceed the 'flood' definition in Yosemite Valley by the better part of a foot, then by just a little early Wednesday a.m., as it starts a late decline in volume. Again, the river is at triple the average flow for this date - exciting!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Overflowing with Mercy

The river swelled to over 5300 cfs at Pohono Bridge last night, more than double the average volume for this date. Our definition of 'flood stage' is about 6500 and it should almost reach that tonight. In the wee hours of Monday morning, it should extend about 700 cfs (=6-8 inches) over 'flood stage.' The boardwalk at Sentinel Meadow (Chapel Straight) went into the drink yesterday. Swinging Bridge is close to getting its deck wet. There's water in unusual places all over, making hiking around the Valley floor a fun challenge and full of discovery. Projections are that the high water will begin to subside after Monday morning's peak. Great time to be a duck (if you're done with nesting...)
There was an issue with an overflowing culvert yesterday, but Tioga Road is open all the way through this morning.
Yosemite Association and Yosemite Fund announced their merger with a big public ceremony at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center yesterday. Many details are still evolving, but the brand new Yosemite Conservancy will surely make good things happen for Yosemite.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

High Water and High Country

The river forecast calls for our Rio Merced to reach 'flood stage' on Saturday night and to hover near there for at least a few days. The diurnal cycling of the snowmelt runoff has the river in Yosemite Valley peak after midnight, then ebb lowest in early afternoon. We noticed this readily today, while watching a peewee flycatch: the trail near El Capitan Bridge was drying out from last night's peaking. At Devil's Elbow and near Middle Brother, the river owns the trailbed.
Tioga Road will open this Saturday morning; it's a good June to be a skier. Backpackers will find reasonable conditions by late July; until then there'll be lots of snow, wet trails and challenging stream crossings.
Mosquitos are biting in Yosemite Valley. Dogwoods starting to fade. More lupine in bloom. Special 3-hour tram tours have started this week, focusing on single subjects in depth: birds, geology, waterfalls, etc.

Happy Isles Specials

Lots of bird activity at the Happy Isles fen yesterday morning. This is the only place I know of where 2-3 Swainson's Thrushes have been seen in the park in several decades. I saw a thrush with a non-Hermit-like call note, but couldn't be more definitive than that. Mountain quail was another nice surprise there. MacGillivray's warblers singing in low alders in handily visible spots.
Michael Ross has two YA birding courses coming up next weekend, one of which will include Happy Isles, the other is going to the hotspot of Foresta.
No word officially on Tioga Road or Half Dome cables.
Our river has swollen again, to over 4400 cfs at Pohono; near tripling in volume over a week. Exciting!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Cycling on Tioga Road

There really is an exceptional quantity of snow in the high country: roadside snowbanks 6-8 feet tall, Tenaya and Siesta Lakes frozen over, lots of runoff, and persistent avalanche danger: a 6-foot granite slab slid onto the road above Yosemite Creek. A mild, sunny day had lots of bird activity: sooty grouse booming, Williamson's sapsucker drumming, and hermit thrush, olive-sided flycatcher and mountain chickadee singing. Marmots were up and about, despite 80% snowcover in the Olmsted Point area.
Skiers could park as low as the White Wolf area and make some runs at Siesta Cirque. The district ranger figures it may be a couple more weeks until the road can be opened to cars.
A couple warm days means the Merced River has leapt from around 1500 cfs at Pohono Bridge to 2800 cfs last night; it should get even more exciting over the next few days.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Summer Rolls In

One of the coolest Mays on record finishes up on a warm note this weekend with temperatures going from 50's-60's up to near 80. The Merced has been running at about 2/3 of average flow all week, but that's likely to change in a big way over the next few days. We'll have this late spike in river volume, and a delayed runoff that will keep the waterfalls healthy for weeks to come.
A couple inches of snow and ice on Thursday night kept the Glacier Point Road closed and had Hwy. 41 at R2 conditions yesterday. Glacier Point should open this morning for weekend crowds. Re-opening is likely for the Mariposa Grove Road, too. Tioga Road is open 4 miles up from Crane Flat, for those who want a look at the Gin Flat snowpack. Cyclists are allowed to pedal car-free between tall snowbanks and lots of fresh runoff as far east as Olmsted Point - the world's best bike trail.
Half Dome cables won't be installed for at least two more weeks; it's still too snowy to access this part of the Wilderness safely.
Snowplant and groundsel are blooming in the Valley, Wawona is full of lupine, and El Portal has nice stretches of Clarkia right at the park boundary. It's a very flowery time of this cool, wet season.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Stormy Monday

More chilly weather lingers in our Sierra, with a winter storm warning starting tomorrow night, and several more inches of snow expected above 6000' again. The river has dropped to 1500 cfs at Pohono Bridge.
Highway 41 was closed for a time yesterday due to snow and vehicle accidents. A rockfall closed the Yosemite Falls Trail this morning. These are January scenarios, yet it'll be June next week.
Ribbon Creek carried frazil ice yesterday. Steve Bumgardner's terrific frazil ice video has been featured on the world's number one blog, boingboing: Pete is honored.
Concentrated numbers of yellow-rumped warblers on this morning's birdwalk. Juncos were both flocking and singing.
Poison Oak on the Valley floor is about 50% leafed out, though it may have some frost damage. Yes, there is p.o. on the floor of Yosemite Valley, but you have to be remarkably unlucky to stumble into it. Farewell-to-spring (Clarkia) is blooming in El Portal now; given the conditions a little higher up it seems premature to bid farewell to a a season we've only glimpsed.