Yosemite National Park needs no introduction. If you haven’t seen for yourself, you’ve surely seen its iconic images – from Ansel Adams, to Instagram. Just a four-hour’s drive from my home on the Central Coast of California, it’s a gem I’ve visited several times over the years. With this year’s mammoth snowfall, Yosemite’s famed waterfalls have been roaring steady.
I spent an idyllic day experiencing a snapshot of them on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 – a perfect mid-week getaway without the usual weekend crowds. One of my favorite parts about Summer vacation is taking advantage of opportunities like this. Driving up Highway 140 and entering through El Portal, the weather was hot and beautiful. The Merced River was raging like a monster.
I meandered up some rocks to Ribbon Falls before continuing onward to Bridalveil Falls, where I took a short walk through fields of lupine. After working up a sweat, I took a cold, refreshing dip in the Merced River at Sentinel Beach, also a good spot to watch Sentinel Falls and Yosemite Falls. Watching Pacific Treefrog Tadpoles in the reeds was a highlight.
As you may already know, Yosemite is large granitic batholith carved by glaciers. It has variations of granite including quartz monzonite, granodiorite, and tonalite. Its plutonic rock initially formed between about 80-210 mya (million years ago) from the subduction of the ancient oceanic Farallon Plate beneath the continental North American Plate. This process also helped uplift the Rocky Mountains to the east, and the vast Basin and Range of Nevada and Utah.
Then, as the Pacific Plate abutted the North American Plate about 30 mya, plate directions changed from a head-on convergence to a shearing transform plate boundary, and the San Andreas Fault system was born. Its motions would accelerate the uplift of Yosemite, but it was the work of glaciers, especially over the last two million years, that would shape it into a classic U-shaped glacial valley. There is so much more; I could go on – I love geology!
Today, the Merced River is raging from all the snowmelt of the high Sierras. After a relaxing morning hopping about the valley floor, I made my way to the Upper Yosemite Falls trailhead for an afternoon hike. It should be called a climb, because you are basically climbing up a staircase most of the hike. While only about a seven-mile round trip, the elevation gain alone will negate the seemingly brief distance.
When you get toward the bottom of Upper Yosemite Falls, it sounds like a jet engine. It was so loud! The mist of the waterfall will be a welcome relief from the sweaty hike up; at least it was for me. I enjoyed sitting and watching the giant cascades of ice-cold water exploding down the falls. It was mesmerizing, and awesome. I needed to be here. I needed to feel the mist on my skin; the Merced River flowing over my body. I needed to stand in awe of the magic of the mountains; to witness the miracle of Nature. It simply makes me happy to be outside.
I felt so jazzed after this hike, I didn’t think the day could get any better. Leave it to Half Dome at sunset to capture my breath and heart! The alpenglow lit up the rockface like a glowing fire. It was a perfect end to a pretty perfect day.
There is so much more to explore in Yosemite! Every time I go, I feel I’m only just getting into its depths. I’m inspired by the experiences of others who’ve ventured further into its heavenly realm. These pictures don’t do it justice, of course. There is nothing like seeing it firsthand for yourself! Enjoy these waterfalls while they’re flowing so spectacularly, or add it to your bucket list. Seize this beautiful Summer wherever you are!