Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shake and Bake

We thought that last Wednesday's little earthquake here was exciting, then we had the Motor Fire come to El Portal on Thursday. The fire started on the highway, on the south side of the Merced River, jumped across to the north and quickly shot to the canyon rim. It moved east toward Incline and El Portal, but a heavy application of brute force firefighting in steep terrain (including use of the mighty DC-10 Supertanker) has contained this in a few days.
Now outside the Conservancy office in El Portal there is fresh handline, just a hint of smoke, and no helicopter traffic. Ground squirrels bark, acorn woodpeckers laugh their maniacal cackles, scrub jays squawk. A tanager was 'br-dip'-ing earlier, and a phoebe 'p-chew'-ing. Grindelia remains in bloom in El Portal and the pale turkey mullein is having a good year. The river is more refreshing than ever as canyon temperatures will remain near 100 for the week.
The Motor Fire is nearly out, but the Avalanche Fire near Badger Pass continues to smolder. Though the park was open and not too smoky, visitation plummeted during the Motor Fire excitement; people may have misunderstood the location/impact of the blaze. Maybe it'll be a somewhat quieter holiday weekend.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Founders Day

The National Park Service was established on this date in 1916, and today's Director is announcing big plans to prepare for celebrating the centennial in 5 years. In Yosemite we are also planning diverse ways to observe the sesquicentennial of the Yosemite Grant in 2014. This was when the US government protected Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley (yes, 8 years before Yellowstone).
There was yet another regretable fatality in the park early this week, when a hiker fell from the top of Half Dome, down the face. No official story for how this happened has been released.
Some of us woke to an earthquake yesterday (24 August). After anomalous quakes in the prairie of southern Colorado then near Washington, D.C. in recent days, it was a little more exciting to hear the ground roar then feel it tremble for a moment here. Our event was from a 4.2 shaker, over near Mammoth Lakes on the East Side at 5 a.m. The hypocenter was 10 km beneath the Sierra, between the crest and Mt. Morrison.
The Merced River is low, but not as low as it usually is at the end of August. Yosemite Falls is still relatively impressive - far more people are taking photographs of it than ever do in typical August. Squirrels are shredding ponderosa cones. Bears are finding ripening apples, and though the eat pounds of them, their scat appears to leave a lot of calories untouched.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Smoke and Heat

The Avalanche Fire is putting up a good amount of smoke from just above the western end of the Glacier Point Road and it finally feels like summer in the Sierra. This fire was caused by lightning and is just over 400 acres. It's burning at ground level in a healthy way and managers hope it'll burn at least 2000 acres.
The river and waterfalls are still running at unusually high levels, approximately 4-5 times the trickling volumes normally seen in early August. Yosemite Falls is still worth a photograph and Vernal is still all the way across the lip, and putting lots of mist on to the Mist Trail.
Birdlife has quieted considerably in Yosemite Valley. Orioles and grosbeaks are still around, but they are silent. Mule deer bucks have full, velvety racks now.
Coneflower, some tincture plant, lotus and milkweed are in bloom in the Valley - it's a great year for floral displays. The show has shifted to higher elevations where pentstemon, gentians and others are blossoming. Post-bloom, our native raspberries are ready for harvest in the Valley. Yum!