Summer-volume visitation filled the Valley over the holiday weekend. Snow occupying parking spaces made traffic even more challenging than it is in summer. People chaining up in the uphill lane at Cascades on 140 backed up cars, and the sheer numbers of cars squeezing into Arch Rock entrance snaked down more than a mile. It's great that so many people want to see Yosemite in winter, but I find it sad that sitting in traffic will be their memory of a park visit.
Monday, December 28, 2015
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
The Merced River is typically at its lowest point for the year at the end of September. Until these rains, it was continuing to drop, running at about half its normal low flow. The river and waterfalls are dropping again now as the rainfall runs off; the Merced is very muddy due to erosion from steep areas that have burned in the past two seasons.
The San Francisco Chronicle featured Tom Stienstra's cover story about the disappearing Lyell Glacier last Sunday; the best version is online only for subscribers but you can see a PDF of the print edition here. It'll be interesting to see what sort of layer this El Nino winter brings to the glacier; even if it's huge, it'll only delay the terminal decline briefly. I look forward to bringing a group (or two) of very fit backpackers up there late next summer to have a look.
My summer was VERY busy with lots of good stuff (Lyell Glacier, Switzerland, Half Dome, etc.) but now I look forward to resuming more frequent posts here.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
While you may read simplistic headlines that beetles are killing trees, they can only do this because the trees are weakened by drought and in some cases had been further stressed by a history of fire suppression. Preventing periodic ground fires allows too many trees to mature, each challenged by competition with too many neighbors. Regular low-intensity fires thin out young trees so that survivors are stronger and more resilient to drought and therefore to beetles.
On top of a precipitation deficit, warmer temperatures and an increased proportion of dead trees, these intermittent moderate storms have grown more light fuels - the kind that dry quickly and burn fast. Indications for an active fire season are worrying. For the moment, the wildflowers are still nice up and down the Merced corridor: globe gilia, LOTS of Clarkia, blazing star, tarweed, Datura, etc. Buckeyes are fading. There are still a few bright dogwoods in their highest, shadiest locales (Tuolumne Grove, Chinquapin).
Looking further ahead, strong El Nino conditions are shaping up in the Pacific and though there's no guarantee, we may have a wet winter coming.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Buckeyes are green, redbuds are pink in the Merced Canyon west of the park. More flowers are blooming and there are a couple of slopes with hundreds of poppies out.
The Merced River has slowly dropped back below average flow after the storms of 6-8 February and it continues to shrink. Yosemite Falls looks good, but at this rate it won't be much in July. Vernal was 3 modest strings yesterday and some ground squirrels have already been active at the top of Vernal for at least a week.
March 1 snow surveys show the Merced watershed's snowpack with 12% of normal water content. Candy is good; candy is bad.
Monday, February 9, 2015
The rain runoff from up to 8000' in the watershed is departing the Sierra, rather than lingering in the ecosystem the way snow and snowmelt do. The Merced River leapt from a paltry 55 cfs at Pohono Bridge to an exceptional 2500 cfs last night, and is dropping as quickly as it rose. The current river volume from the high elevation rain is larger than any flow in 2014. Unless there is more snow in the next couple months, we wonder if this warm storm might be 2015's high water mark. A splash of mud and rock from the area of last summer's Dog Rock Fire closed Hwy. 140 above El Portal for a few hours this morning. The Merced and the South Fork are both turbid brown. Yosemite Falls is BIG, but there's no snow cone.
It is another odd winter of the new normal.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
First: there was almost no one in this most popular backpacking spot. The LYV campground has dozens of people in it every night during the Half Dome season; it was a strange delight to experience it when completely empty.
Second: there were tiny frazil ice deposits in several places below Nevada and Vernal Falls, but in Emerald Pool the accumulation was up to 2 meters thick and covered 3/4 of the pool. These flows are remnants of the cold spell around New Years.
Third: last summer's Meadow Fire has completely changed the character of LYV, leaving it open and bare, but for black trunks. The campground area is unburned but a few minutes walk beyond there is a different landscape that's going to be a hot, sunny stretch in the summer, all the way up through Lost Valley.
Fourth: the little-known logjam in LYV has burned. This jam is upriver of the campground area, consists of several hundred tree trunks that have blocked the Merced River for many decades. It's big enough that it stayed in place during the flood of 1997. The jam is still there but the fire must surely have affected its stability.
Fifth: Consistent with the absence of people, there were none of summer's Steller's Jays in LYV.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
The media had also been reporting on the ownership of the names of the park's commercial operations like Curry Village, Wawona Hotel, Yosemite Lodge, etc. It would seem odd to have to buy these names back or to change them. Alas, they're just hotels; they're not Yosemite. Though traditional, the labels on ephemeral infrastructure shouldn't matter too much in the long run. No one worries about the Stoneman House, Camp Lost Arrow or The Cosmopolitan any more and "The Ahwahnee" will not last forever. The real and enduring beauty of these mountains is a gift that can never be taken away.