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.