Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

Last night’s saga continued into this morning, although the worst was behind me. I woke up less angry – as tends to happen – and by the end of this morning’s trials, I was past it. I was too busy getting excited about what would be revealed the moment we emerged from the Wawona Tunnel. We had planned Tunnel View as the very first perspective on Yosemite Valley my mother would see, and it did not disappoint: 

Somewhere about that time, my brother decided to overplay his hand. The details don’t really matter; suffice it to say that he crossed a line of selfishness and irresponsibility so that even his most ardent supporters could no longer defend him. My mother, sister, and I were now the problem and he needed to go and disappear. Of course, he did this in the most dramatic, trolling, and faux-irresponsible way he could manage at the time. So none of us were particularly heartbroken to be able to see the park without carrying him as an albatross.

So off we went. We decided to tackle the easy trails in the valley today so we could stick together (my mother’s bad knee will force us to split up when it comes to the more difficult ones). But even before reaching the first trailhead, it was clear that Yosemite was very different than it had been when my sister first visited just 3 months ago. The roaring Merced River, mighty Yosemite Falls, and even dependable Bridalveil Falls had all fallen victim to a snow pack 50% lighter than average, and were in various stages of dryness. The trail to Bridalveil Falls, for which I had specifically packed a plastic camera sleeve as protection from the soaking spray, instead looked like this:

Yosemite Falls was in far worse shape (actually, “worse” is probably the wrong word. It’s natural for this to happen, it’s just unfortunate when it happens while I’m visiting). They appeared to have dried up long ago, as thick layers of algae and moss were thriving in areas the thundering Lower Falls usually drenched.

A bit of water did seem to be trickling over the cusp of the Upper Falls but this drip was so slight that even the lightest breeze provided enough force to blow it away and keep any of it from reaching the falls’ lower courses.

This isn’t to say these falls’ weren’t spectacular in their own rights. The incredible contrast between the scenery at high and low flow periods was just as amazing as the falling water, itself. The loss of these two major valley landmarks turned their respective granite backdrops into unremarkable rock faces, which only served to further highlight the more well-known ones like El Capitan and Half Dome.

The last of the “easy” trails in the valley was the Mirror Lake trail – another that I hadn’t taken during my last visit. Normally, the easy road along the base of Half Dome terminates at a glacial lake known for providing mirror like reflections of the dome above. During the current drought, it’s been literally reduced to a puddle hiding in the shadow of a large boulder that usually sits in the middle of the lake. Again, this did not diminish the trail’s beauty – especially because I had nothing to compare it to. The softly lit views of the distant cliffs flanking Tenaya Canyon lent a Bierstadt-like quality to the landscape, which appeared more like a green screen background than real life.

After dinner at what felt like the only eating establishment in the valley that stayed up past 6pm, we found ourselves heading to our hotel outside the park just as the sun was starting to warm up. I managed to convince the family to stop at Valley View so I could get sunset pictures. I think my method of persuasion first involved pointing out that we’d literally have to pass that point anyway, and then devolving into claiming it would be “cruel” to drive past it at the right time and not let me stop for a few minutes. Probably more to shut me up than because she saw the validity of my argument, my mother relented and pulled over. With the low calm Merced River in the foreground to provide reflections of the granite monoliths above, this was the result:

A tumultuous day to be sure, but things seem to be trending upward. Tomorrow we bid adieu to my brother as he flies back home, and we remaining three continue on without him. I don’t think I need to spell it out for you to understand how I feel about that particular development.

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