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.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Slow progress

The Mariposa Grove Road has opened to all traffic, though there's still snow aplenty in the upper grove. Glacier Point legend Dick Ewart is helping out in the Wawona Visitor Center while he waits for visitors to be allowed out to Glacier Point. The point still needs two feet of snow shoveled off of walkways. The Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead area still has 4 feet of snow; it'll be easy to get lost with those trails being buried. We got a bit of snow on the Valley rim last night. The cool and clouds dropped the Merced volume at Pohono Bridge down from 3500 cfs a few days ago, to below 2000.
The startling red snowplant is seen throughout the Valley floor now. Blackberries are blooming in El Portal, along with plentiful tarweed, lupine, blazing star, and elderberry. Still the invasive pink clover owns some of the roadsides.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yet More Winter

No cables on Half Dome for Memorial Day. I was in error, with old (insider) information that they'd be installed next week. The photo from the Snow Creek trail shows plenty of snow on the "sub-dome's" north slope; this makes trail work and travel to the base of the cables too dangerous still.
At the same time, the warmth of the past few days has brought the Merced to its highest volume yet, over 3500 cubic feet per second at the Valley's west end. The river has backed into all its tributary outlets. Wosky Pond is connected the river by flowing water at the surface.
The Valley still has lots of Miner's Lettuce and Varied-leaf Nemophila in flower as ground cover. Highway 140 is abloom with white flowers on Ceanothus integerrimus. Some cherries in the Valley have flowers. Cow parsnip in Cook's Meadow has leaves up to 10 inches long, but it's still less than 2 feet tall.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Geo Notes

Last week's heavy rains brought a small debris flow down the Cathedral Spires gully, covering Southside Drive with several inches of sand and gravel. A rockfall at Church Bowl seriously injured a local girl last week; thankfully she appears to be recovering well. Another good-sized rockfall occured yesterday, from beneath Horsetail Fall on El Capitan, sending up a big cloud of dust from the ledge below the East Buttress.
The famous sugar maple is just starting to turn. Native big-leafed maples vary in their color now from bright yellow, to leaf margins starting to brown, to altogether green. Willows and cottonwoods will start to color soon, but haven't yet. The meadows in Yosemite Valley are the most yellow places at the moment. Torreya 'drupes' are mature and dropping in the isolated pockets where they grow. Invasive black locust trees are finally being removed from Old Yosemite Village by Resource Management.

More and more Spring

The excellent Dave Wyman took this unearthly photo of a favored place on Earth. His autumn YA photography course has filled, but there are plenty of other great ones, including Howard Weamer's August high country course. People on our September China national parks trip may well come home with images that compare to this.
A road crew friend told me he didn't think Tioga Road would be open for Memorial Day; avalanches are still a factor. Half Dome cables should get installed next week, in time for those who have permits for Memorial Day weekend. Mariposa Grove Road opens this Friday to all vehicles.
Senecio is in bloom along Southside Drive. Mallard and merganser ducklings have been seen in calm Valley waters this week. A lazuli bunting was singing atop a still-leafing-out black oak near Cook's Meadow earlier today. Birders on this morning's walk also got to compare Vaux's swift with violet-green swallow flight.
Bit of rain overnight. The river is coming up a bit, a little over average flow again, with Table Rock fully covered. Side streams are still increasing; water leaks on to the road near Fern Spring now and Sentinel Creek is the biggest it's been this season.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Crowds and Clouds

REALLY busy weekend in Yosemite Valley, with lots of traffic and inappropriate parking. People poured in to see the dogwoods and waterfalls at their maxima. Warm weather brought the Merced and its tributary falls up to well over 3000 cfs at Pohono Bridge last night.
Madea lines the lower Merced Canyon. Clarkia is out in force down south at the Kaweah River entrance to Sequoia NP, but has yet to really show here. Ball gilia in El Portal.
We've got rain again this morning, making it the 4th of the past 5 Mondays with a storm.
No bikes allowed on Tioga Road past Crane Flat yet; perhaps next weekend. Rumors of a Memorial Day weekend opening were reinforced by NPS sources Saturday. High country services (bathrooms, store, camping, visitor center, etc.) are still many weeks away. No Half Dome cables yet; there's still snow on the subdome area.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tanager Swarm

This morning's YA birdwalk featured good looks at at least a dozen male tanagers in the black oaks near the Valley Visitor Center. The birds were quite silent, we saw no females, but the guys gave us some lively, near eye-level views of their brightest tropical plumage with the morning sun behind us. I've seen similar concentrations of male tanagers before; once I counted 125 streaming through the oaks near the medical clinic, all moving east together. My eyes hurt for some time afterward from all that color.
The trail beyond Mirror Lake has some muddy, wet stretches, but few people. The view from just ten switchbacks up the Snow Creek Trail is remarkable, with melting snow pouring down from Clouds Rest. In bloom: Nemophila, Phacelia, Castilleja, Viola, banks of Claytonia, and of course, Cornus.
The Tuolumne Grove has about 50% snow cover, with depths of less than a meter. It's melting out quickly and the big trees are drinking big from the melting snowpack. Did we see a goshawk flash by?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

April Showers Bring May Showers

Three of the past four Mondays have had storms. Snow fell on Yosemite Valley's floor again last night, adding frosting to the dogwoods. Considerable frazil ice flows clogged Yosemite Creek, Sentinel Creek and Ribbon Creek, with the latter carrying the slurry deposits all the way to the Merced. If you still haven't seen Steve's terrific frazil footage, find it here. I watched a coyote flounder across the loose ice and balance on a log to cross part of Yosemite Creek, while a female mallard watched calmly from her safe platform on a fresh floe. The spot where the John Muir plaque and Galen Clark bench are located was awash in ice and water this morning. After ten, there was no more new ice coming from the falls, but the lower creek ran mud brown with newly displaced sediment as it left its channels and ran in novel directions through the forest.
The part of Indian Creek that flows under the Yosemite Art and Education Center was backing up over the bike path that runs by there.
Cassin's vireo and Bullock's oriole did some singing this morning, encouraged a bit by the bright sun and the melting snow. Tough weather for some insectivores.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Crane Flat Bear Jam

A cinnamon sow has a nice pair of cubs of two different colors at Crane Flat. The family stopped a lot of traffic while they were grazing on new grass in the wet meadows there. Sad to think that so many bears are hit by cars each year; please drive with the wildlife in mind when you're in the park.
The Valley's dogwoods are maybe 90% emerged at this point; stormy weather today and yesterday further stalls their full brilliance. Cool, cloudy conditions dropped the river level down from 3000 to less than 2000 cfs at Pohono Bridge, below average for this date. But all the meadows are wet, some trails on the Valley floor have challenging creek crossings. There was a small quantity of frazil ice flowing this morning in Yosemite Creek and Ribbon Creek.
Juncos were back to winter flock behavior this morning. Chickadees were still observed in pairs, but no singing was heard. Tanagers and orioles were subdued by the cold. Snow coated the Valley rim this morning, but temperatures should be back up to the mid-70's by the end of the week.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Head for the Hill's Studio

The Wawona Visitor Center is opening today for the summer. It's in the Hill's Studio next to the Wawona Hotel. If you haven't been in there since the new layout and exhibits were unveiled last spring, you really should make a stop on the way through Wawona. We were excited to have a huge Thomas Hill Yosemite painting prominently employed during the last presidential inauguration.
The road from Lee Vining is open to Tioga Pass, and plows have chewed down into Tuolumne Meadows from the east side. On the west, our guys have gotten the plows to Olmsted Point, where a very sensitive avalanche zone is found.
Blue skies with a healthy upcanyon breeze this morning. Western Wood Peewees are wheezing in the Valley. Dogwoods still coming along.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rippin' Falls

Ribbon Fall is one of the many unheralded glories of Yosemite. Anywhere other than Yosemite Valley, you might build a whole national park around this one feature. It's North America's highest uninterrupted waterfall, at over 1600', but few visitors see it. It's a springtime-only show, supplied by a small watershed which runs dry when the snow's gone. It's at the west end of the Valley, which most people simply drive through. It's opposite Bridalveil Fall, which is closer to the Valley floor and roads, and more visible; Ribbon is way up high on the rim. It's tucked into an alcove so only seen from a relatively narrow area. Steve Bumgardner told me about a short walk to a seldom seen view of Ribbon Fall, where this picture was taken at mid-day today.
Sentinel Creek is bigger than ever, crossing under the road in nine culverts now. The creek from what some call West Sentinel Falls is finally flowing all the way to Southside Drive. Meanwhile the river volume actually dropped a bit, from just a few degrees cooler temperature.
Pileated Woodpeckers are making themselves known with loud trumpeting in various Valley locations.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mist Trail Open

The Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall opens today. Lots of people have been ignoring the closed gate for the past week, but the considerable ice build-up during last week's cold shows why NPS didn't open it until now. More freezing could prompt a closure. The "Ice Cut" from Clark Point to the top of Nevada Fall is still closed.
Road crews have plowed all the way to Glacier Point, but still have a lot of clearing to do, to get two lanes fully open, and all the parking areas cleared of snow. The Tioga crew has pushed up to near the May Lake turn-off, still with 7-9 feet of snow.
May 1 snow surveys show the Tuolumne watershed with 141% and the Merced watershed with 134% of average water content in the snowpack. The Merced River almost hit 3000 cfs at Pohono Bridge last night and warmth for the next few days means our river will be getting to the exciting level.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Indian Creek

The ephemeral Indian Creek has filled with snowmelt and is claiming its numerous channels at the east edge of Yosemite Village. There's the main creek that descends near the clinic and Tecoya housing, but that's not enough for this runoff. Yosemite Village is partly built on the torrent fan outwash from Indian Canyon; look at all the boulders around the clinic, above the post office and the Indian Village. This fan leaks water everywhere now; my favorite part of Indian Creek is where it runs the length of the Village Store parking lot. It just trickles out all along the broad fan in this part of the village, runs underneath the Yosemite Art and Education Center, drains across the road at Ahwahnee Meadow, and works with gravity to wet down the store parking lot on its way to the Merced. We try to civilize nature, but it doesn't work for long.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dogwood Day Afternoon

Some late cold weather has stalled the dogwood blooms in Yosemite Valley a little this season; all but a few flowers are still green. It's my sense that the emerging bracts are 3-5 days behind a 'normal' spring's phenology. The one early tree that locals first look for is a few hundred yards below the former diversion dam on Highway 140. Its display is mostly white, but the bracts are still not full-sized.
This morning's birdwalk included the triple feature of three of our brightest neotropical migrants: oriole, grosbeak and tanager. The latter two were on the same flowery oak branch at one point. Best surprise: a California ground squirrel a good 30 feet up in a black oak near the Administration building.
Claytonia and Nemophila are adding some color (white) to the ground cover in the Valley this week.
Expected warmth for the next few days should bring the dogwoods into full glory by next weekend, and it'll bring the river up well over 2000 cfs again.