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.