Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pacific Bucket Arrives

An interesting wave of warm air came up the canyon this morning, ahead of this big storm. So far, just a bit of rain and snow in the park today, but we anticipate a serious pouring tonight. There were light flurries in Mariposa Grove around noon today, but more impressive was (the near absence of visitors and) the strong upslope wind. Sugar Pines bent more than the sequoias did, both species of giants looking like large ships riding out big swells at sea. Clouds move from the south, wind comes from the West.

Some of the media hype makes reference to an Ark Storm [sic] but that's not at all what this is. That term has nothing to do with a big boat; look up ARkStorm and prepare to be unnerved. When it comes (and it will) it's going to cause more damage and destruction than the biggest urban earthquake might. California (and the US) could not possibly be ready for an event like what happened in 1861-62 when infrastructure and population were a fraction of what they are today.

This storm will help add to our surface water and snowpack, but it's relatively warm; snow level may only drop as low as 6000'. We've had a decent sequence of fall storms (like 'normal') but the snow has remained high. The Merced River (and our waterfalls) bumped up to above average flow after last week's weather, but it's back down to half of average volume now.

As a measure of the season's warmth (plus its wetness), the Merced Canyon below the park boundary is nice and green, with several wildflowers in bloom, including cranesbill, Indian paintbrush, tarweed, gumplant, and Shepherd's purse. There's a big patch of fiddleneck flowering unusually early near the Ferguson Slide bridge (west end), and a patch of goldenrod blooming in the El Portal Fire burn scar up the Foresta Road above El Portal.

We expect a dynamic night and tomorrow, especially in the burned areas...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

With Thanks

A sequence of modest storms (almost feeling like 'normal') has brought a bit of moisture to the Sierra, and we expect more this weekend. The river has risen a bit, but it's still flowing at about a third of average volume. To everyone's delight, Yosemite Falls came back to life after three months of absence. Bridalveil picked up a little, but Sentinel Fall and Royal Arch Cascades just trickled.

The last of the Mariposa Grove trams have circled their routes and departed the park for good last week. The Grove will be accessible per the usual winter access (walk in when snowy, drive up if it's clear) but the park's restoration project which starts next spring will close off regular visitor access at least through all of next season. There are still plenty of big trees to go around, at Yosemite's Tuolumne and Merced Groves and the nearby USFS Nelder Grove. New access to Mariposa Grove should become available in 2016, which is also the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. The short (by sequoia standards) closure should have the Grove healthy for many more NPS anniversaries.

Indian Summer has been beautiful, we have a new Research Librarian, Yosemite Falls pours again, snow covers Tioga Road, and a wintery storm is on the way; we have lots to make us grateful.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Autumn Adjustments

Bit of rain in the park last evening. Foliage color in the Valley is quite nice now, with parts of Southside Drive being a bright corridor of yellow maples. Even the dogwoods are as much yellow as pink. Wherever you find it, Dogbane outshines everything in pure canary yellow.

Vernal Fall trickles and at the normally lowest flow of the year, the Merced is running about 1/3 of average for this date. Lessingia blooms can still be found, some Madea still in blossom at Cascades, and there's at least one azalea flowering at Yosemite Lodge. Varied thrushes have appeared early and are relatively numerous. Bucks are at their biggest and in their most aggressive season; give them respectful space. Climbers are all over El Cap, Washington's Column, etc. in this cooler period.

The high country had a dusting of snow a few weeks ago, but real winter seems to be a good ways off. November is projected to be dry (and December in the Sierra doesn't look to be especially wet at this point).

Friday, July 18, 2014

Range of Lightning

A double-handful of wildland fires have been ignited by several days of monsoonal storm cells over our part of the Sierra. All of the starts are in remote areas and will be allowed to proceed as nature intends for now.

The mid-summer moisture has been locally intense: Tioga Road was closed for a time on Tuesday so that runoff debris could be removed, while a few miles away, no rain fell at all. The volume in the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers has jumped from the localized downpours. The gauge at Pohono Bridge in Yosemite Valley went from 15% of average flow to about 70% of average.

It was quite a surprise to find that Yosemite Falls had returned from the dead yesterday morning. Transient petrichor changes the feeling of our forests from that of dusty late August, to that of another mountain range altogether. This precipitation temporarily alleviates a sense of drought, but our mountains are still quite dry (and flammable).

Flowers look great at 7-9000' now: Senecio, lupine, Aster, Pentstemon, Epilobium, Delphinium and more are adding color to the quiet aridity.

There have been a few instances of oak branch drop in the past few weeks, wherein a healthy-seeming oak loses a large live branch suddenly. Watch the skies....

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Tioga Open All Year

Of course, Tioga Road is closed to vehicles through the winter, but visitors are using it all through the snowy season on skis and snowshoes. The high country isn't closed, it's just inaccessible to an invention that wasn't allowed into the park until 1913. The route opens to cars tomorrow, predictably early due to the unusually light snowpack. Here's what the Sierra high country looked like after fresh snow late last week.

Several of us witnessed a 2-minute avalanche of snow sluicing to the bottom of Tenaya Canyon from Clouds Rest yesterday.

While Yosemite Falls looks might hearty at the moment, the river is running below average again, and some observers believe that we've already passed peak runoff, several weeks early. Sentinel Creek is just now trickling as far as Southside Drive, and Ribbon Creek flows nicely to the river. Wosky Pond has a tiny bit of water in it. Eagle Creek and all channels of Indian Creek are dry at Valley level.

In the Valley, dogwoods are glorious right now, Senecio is in bloom already. Mule deer bucks have new antlers starting to grow. Snowplants have been up for weeks and are abundant in Mariposa Grove now.

Western Tanagers arrived in the Valley last week and are adding to the incessant soundtrack of spring. In addition to public birdwalks from the Yosemite Art Center 3 days a week, the Conservancy has a suite of truly terrific birding field seminars spread through the year; valuable for beginners or veterans.

The park is making big plans for celebrating the 150th anniversary of its federal protection on June 30; even Galen Clark is planning to attend. He'll be at LeConte Lodge to start their season of great presentations this Friday night.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Peak of Spring

The Merced River canyon below Yosemite Valley is ablaze with poppies and dozens of other flower species just now. The color of millions of petals is dazzling even from miles away on the Glacier Point Road. Clarkia is already in bloom in the very lowest foothills.

The Merced River itself is running just above average, peaking overnight at just under 1300 cfs at Pohono Bridge. It's been a startlingly mild winter and spring, but 1977's drought had the Merced at less than 300 cfs on this date. With a snowpack measured at one third of normal water content, high flows will not last until the typical annual peak in the 3rd week of May. I'd expect visitors may start to be disappointed by waterfall volume as of July. We did have light flows of frazil ice (better called 'wist ice') 2 weeks ago, but this hasn't been a year for this phenomenon.

The Glacier Point Road was opened to bicycles for the weekend and it was a terrific national park experience to pedal through fir forest full of birdsong, melting snowbanks, and other happy cyclists, with the safety of there being no motor vehicles on the road. Cars can now drive out to Glacier Point.

Snowplants have been emerging for about 3 weeks already. Miner's Lettuce and Gooseberry are blooming in Yosemite Valley. What we call 'the first dogwood' located along Hwy. 140 above Cascades is officially in bloom now; Valley trees will be lit up shortly. Orioles have been in the Valley since the end of March, with black-throated gray warblers right behind. Black-headed grosbeaks arrived in the Valley a week ago. Vireos and tanagers are on their way. Conservancy naturalists have started springtime birdwalks and botany walks from the Art Center and there are some really great natural history field seminars coming up.

Lunar eclipse tonight!

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Remarkable aridity and mild temperatures continue in the Sierra and California. Badger Pass (Badger Grass?) Ski Area is closed, the Valley Stables have opened. We've been in and out of Red Flag Warnings (fire danger) since late December. The Merced River has flatlined at around 20 cfs (at Pohono Bridge) whereas the average flow for late January is almost seven times that!

Incense cedar pollen is flying now, producing allergic responses in some locals and visitors. Indian Paintbrush was reported in bloom above El Portal but it's too dry for most flowers to emerge. There are only a couple waterfall buttercups blooming near Ned's Gulch where there were hundreds a year ago. Bears are still active in the Valley (as some can be every other winter in recent years); I saw one yesterday. Surprisingly a trace of snow is accumulating in the high country at this moment.

For Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, I roamed the site of Camp A. E. Wood, where African-American troopers were stationed for the summers of 1899, 1903 and 1904. These Buffalo Soldiers patrolled Yosemite National Park from this base in Wawona. Among their many accomplishments was the 1904 establishment of what's believed to be the first formal interpretive facility in the entire national park system: the Yosemite Arboretum. Boundary changes the next year removed the Arboretum from Army stewardship and this promising start at educating and inspiring visitors was abandoned. Very faint remnants of the Buffalo Soldiers' interpretive work can still be discerned.

Here's another valuable interpretive effort from long ago: Yosemite Nature Notes, the precursor of this blog and of Steve's excellent video series. What creative efforts of ours will be abandoned or sustained for the next hundred years?