Sunday, February 20, 2011

Same price, now with extra waterfalls

This week's return to winter conditions has been a nice break from weeks of sunny, pleasant, mild weather. Skiers are happy (when the road to Badger Pass isn't closed) and waterfall enthusiasts should be, too. The snowline dipped below 2000' twice, and left snow in El Portal. More rain fell at low elevations, and all the small tributaries of the Merced filled with runoff.
The 140 corridor between El Portal and Briceburg has been dynamic in the past few days: lots of cascades pouring down to the highway, a couple of landslips, and still more flowers. It's not too early to go enjoy the Hite's Cove trail for living color. The highway is lined with sparse fiddlenecks in sunny spots. On sunny slopes across the river, patches of poppies and false goldfields are evident. Right now the waterfall buttercups are at their peak above the road, immediately downstream of Ned's Gulch - a lush display is found on the drippy metamorphic substrate.
A red-shouldered hawk was seen at Rancheria Flat today, joining the non-wintery black phoebes and Anna's hummingbirds that have weathered the snowfall. Treefrogs are chorusing in wet places.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sunday 'Firefall,' Monday Snowfall

We had a marvelous show at Horsetail Fall last evening, with a cloud layer to the west shading the East Buttress of El Capitan until just the right moment. Red sun suddenly came through and turned a gray cliff into a highway flare for the last 5 minutes before sunset. Some folks left early, thinking that the 'firefall' effect was altogether obscured by the clouds. Whoops of excitement arose from the dozens of hopeful fans along Northside Drive - it was like a bottom of the 9th grand slam that takes a losing team into victory; it ain't over til the sun has actually set beyond the Coast Range (around 5:40 now). As with our other waterfalls Horsetail Fall has had above average flow in it lately (it's keeping Woski Pond full); last night the wind made it look like less water, but it carried the red mist well aloft of the wall.
Much of this week looks less promising for observing Horsetail aflame, but we're excited to have another potential 2 feet of snow on the way to soften the mature hardpack that's tough to ski on. Stormy weather has made an initial appearance in Yosemite today and should taper off toward next weekend. We have good reason to hope that our photography course on Friday/Saturday stands a fair chance to get good Horsetail light. If high water persists, there's even a chance for a rare February moonbow next weekend.

Friday, February 11, 2011

More earth

The latest snow surveys show that the Merced watershed courses snowpack has 142% of average water content. Runoff in the Merced and its tributaries is still well above average flow for early February; all the waterfalls are looking robust.
This high flow combined with cold nights to give us frazil ice in Yosemite Creek on Monday and Tuesday nights (and probably others). This is earlier than usual, but not unprecedented. We know that California temperatures have risen by 1.5 degrees C since 1880; there must've been much more frazil through the season back in Muir's day. That may be one reason he abandoned his cabin along Yosemite Creek and moved into his 'hang-nest' up high on the eaves of Hutching's sawmill.
You saw Steve's frazil ice video in the Yosemite Nature Notes series (which is funded by Yosemite Conservancy). He's out with his camera each evening right now working on a 'firefall' film. Watch for that one soon, or come up to the park in the next 2-3 weeks and take your chances on seeing the shining glow of Horsetail Fall at sunset yourself. Get out with a pro photographer in next weekend's Outdoor Adventure course for an improved chance of capturing this phenomenon for yourself before you see Steve's version on-line.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Frazil Ice Planned for April

The NPS/YC Yosemite Nature Notes video on frazil ice has gotten remarkable viral traction on-line. We've received lots of messages lately about where/when people can see the stuff. As it says in the film, April is the best month for observing the ice flow in progress, but you have to either be lucky with timing, or come stay for the whole month so that you can go out before 8 every morning to see if it's there. If the night's temperature is well below freezing, you should see it. It doesn't generally happen in mid-winter because the water volume in the falls is too low to generate enough mist to form a lot of ice. (Though the conditions were right this year to form frazil in Bridalveil Creek in late December.) There's a decent likelihood that April visitors will at least see the remnant deposits of ice, which just look like snow lining the creek banks.
An earthquake near 1 a.m. Sunday morning was noted by some park locals, who heard it as much as felt it. It was a 2.2 magnitude, centered 14 km beneath the headwaters of the South Fork Merced River. The Clark Range has had a light series of small, deep quakes like this one over the past five years; this fits in with that movement under the batholith.
In more earth news, the Yosemite Conservancy has an Outdoor Adventure course February 18-19 seeking to photograph the elusive (almost mythical) 'firefall' effect that happens in Yosemite Valley for a couple weeks each year. Pro photographer John Senser has captured this transient phenomenon many times over the years and will be your best guide to find this glorious spectacle. Call Carolyn to sign up: 209/379-2646, extension 10.