Thursday, May 19, 2016

Hello to Clarkia

It's a very nice spring in Yosemite. Waterfalls are cranking; the Merced peaked just a little early, at an above average (not extreme) flow a few days ago. Another peak is possible, though seems unlikely. Snowpack water content from 1 May was 57% of normal for the Merced watershed. Lower elevation streams are shrinking away, but tributaries like Sentinel and Ribbon are flowing strongly in multiple channels. Meadows are wet. Tioga Road opened to cars yesterday - and we expect snow tomorrow night. There is still a lot of snow and runoff in the high country, so consider that in hiking plans.

Wildflowers continue to delight: dogwoods are fading in the Valley, but yet to emerge at Tuolumne Grove. The foothills show nice swatches of Clarkia (Farewell-to-Spring); buckeye and elderberry are in bloom. The Valley has azalea showing up, violets, groundsel, snowplant. Gooseberry has gone to fruit.

Tanagers, grosbeaks and vireos fill the canopies with song. Mallard ducklings are paddling the quiet waters already. Flickers and hairies are in/out of nest cavities now. Bears are active at most elevations.

Pent up interest in real winter (after 4 dry years), in serious waterfalls, promotion of the NPS centennial, and likely some other factors have boosted visitation to levels that are at times uncomfortable. As of late April we were up a shocking 40% over last year, making some park staff concerned about the coming summertime crowds. Weekends have featured mile-long entrance gate lines, slow crawls through Valley gridlock, full parking lots and much disappointment all around. During this busy past week, however, I did three all-day hikes in the park and saw not one single person the whole time, just bears, flowers and peaks.

It is not hard to avoid the congestion if you start early and seek out remote routes. Leave your car in a gateway town and take the YARTS bus to the Valley. For good reason, the world wants to and deserves to see Yosemite. It's amazing 12 months a year, every year.