Monday, January 31, 2011

Long Live Doug Hubbard

Doug Hubbard passed away in Texas recently, at the age of 92. He worked in Yosemite from 1952 to 1966, mostly as the park's Chief Naturalist. Among other things, Doug is the guy we can credit with creating the Pioneer Yosemite History Center (and those stagecoach rides) in Wawona, establishing the Nature Center at Happy Isles , writing the guidebook to the Yosemite Cemetery, and initiating the work of Julia Parker and others in demonstrating Indian cultural practices. He got the old train station from Bagby (and other rail history elements) moved upriver to El Portal, where it serves as the Yosemite Conservancy's office (where I write these words) today. We are lucky to have had forward thinkers like Doug working for us all those years ago.

Bit of rain and snow over the weekend, with the Valley getting a few inches of new coverage. Badger Pass reports 8 inches of new. El Portal has more and more flowers: above Rancheria Flat are found less than a handful of poppies, fiddlenecks, popcorn flower and peppergrass in bloom. Waterfall buttercups are blossoming profusely in the shady wet spots they prefer along the lower canyon. Elderberry and buckeye are starting to leaf out.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Flowers of January

Seen while strolling El Portal yesterday:
Stellaria -starwort
Lamia-dead nettle
Plagiobothyrs-popcorn flower
Claytonia-miner's lettuce
Capsella-shepherd's purse
Erodium-crane's bill
All of these species were flowers in bloom - not many, but nonetheless, mountain wildflowers (four non-native) blossoming in January. Other locals report that the Hite's Cove trail now has small numbers of shooting-stars, western rue anemone and poppies in flower. (The photo is not today's, but what's to come.) Snow and rain tomorrow will keep most flowers to a more normal schedule.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January Thaw

Dry mild weather continues for another week; expecting low 70's in El Portal today. There's still a heavy snowpack above 7000', but more bare ground is showing below that, depending on aspect, etc. Ephemeral streams Sentinel, Eagle, Horsetail and Ribbon Creek are all still flowing into the river -unusual for January, for weeks on end, and with 90% snow cover persisting on the Valley floor.
Alder catkins are releasing pollen. Some locals suffer allergies in some Januaries; could be alder, incense cedar, or maybe fine micaceous dust kicked up off of the sanded roadways.
Foresta is snow free and friends took a walk down the dirt road last weekend. Found Lawrence's goldfinches at McAuley Ranch and lots of water in Crane Creek (shown).
Stellaria is blooming in El Portal - a good genus name for non-native Common Starwort. (No relation to GW Steller of the jay, of course; different spellings.) Lamia and native Fiddlenecks will show a few blossoms any day now, if you can believe that. In other stellar news: if you're out before 6:30 a.m. and aren't deep in a chasm such as confines the Merced River, you'll see that the Summer Triangle is already clearing the eastern horizon before dawn and Scorpio crawls into the sky just like a July evening.
This Friday marks 25 years since the Challenger accident. Watch the skies.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Turtleback Dome

Noel and I trudged through deep snow up to where two of our webcams are located and repositioned the east-facing camera from where recent winds had pushed it. A couple of weeks ago, during the latest of big rain/snow storms, there was a one-hour period when the wind averaged about 17 mph. Within this spell there were surely gusts that were in the mid-30's and perhaps as much as 50 mph, though the instrumentation here doesn't record that data. At least one of these gusts swiveled the camera to the north, giving a view of the forested slopes at the west end of the Valley. Now you can see El Cap and Half Dome again.
We had a few hours of light rain yesterday afternoon/evening but today was mostly clear and fairly mild. Badger Pass reports over 100" of snowpack.
All of the 2011 Outdoor Adventures programs are posted in our webstore now, and they'll be in the 'Experience Yosemite' part of our website soon. Think about one of these programs as a good, new reason to get to the park.
This coming weekend all national parks will observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by waiving entrance fees. The 15th-17th will all be free days to enter Yosemite. Now's a time to come see our popular park in the off-season, maybe to see it in a different way. Differences can be good things. Use your saved $20 in some generous way.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ice, Ice

Yosemite Valley is quite frosty this week. Last week's storms left shin-deep snow on the Valley floor and it's persisting nicely. The snow is off the trees on the sunny north side of the Valley, but the shady side remains all white, top to bottom. Surface hoar is building in all the shade zone -endlessly pretty stuff.
At the same time that not much snow is melting, there's still a good amount of run-off from side streams. Horsetail, Ribbon, and Eagle Creek all are flowing on the surface into the river. Wosky Pond is full.
Ravens and steller's jays are active, as usual. A coyote has been begging at the intersection of 140 and the Big Oak Flat Road (the diversion dam, for those who remember that feature from 1917-2003).
Venus reaches its greatest western elongation this weekend, which means that if you're up early in the morning, it's high in the sky and you'll see it for a long time before the sun comes up. If you mark its general position relative to the sun, you can actually see Venus shining in the bright blue sky all day. At a maximum elongation (greatest angular distance from the sun in our sky) it's easier to see than when it's close to the sun.
Another bright point for Yosemite fans is the reappearance of the cult classic Yosemite Marching Band video on the web after over a year of absence. If you appreciate elaborate absurd humor, give it a look at:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

La Nina Settles In

It's been a pretty dynamic start to our Sierra winter with frequent storms and plentiful snow and rain. Sierra-wide, precipitation is reportedly twice normal. For New Year's Day the park got some snow down below the 4000' mark though that's lifted in the afternoon.
Highway 140 was closed by a rockslide just above Parkline on Thursday morning, but NPS road crews did some blasting and re-opened the road last evening. The recent cold/wet weather has brought a lot of rocks down here and there.
Down canyon at Clearinghouse, there's a bank of yellow mustard (Sinapis) in bloom. This is the green season below 3000' here, and the El Portal area is lush with the new foliage of lupine, poppies, etc. ready to add color in a couple more months. We'll be looking for waterfall buttercups within the next few weeks, as well as skiing on a deep snowpack above 6000.'