To say that Yosemite National Park is beautiful would be an understatement.
Like an overdone backdrop in a classic Hollywood epic, the sweeping spectacle of Yosemite’s landscape is dramatic and exaggerated, bordering on surreal.
The valley itself measures seven miles long, a mile deep, and up to a mile wide. Its flat, fertile floor stretches nearly the full width of that divide, tucking its edges tight against the feet of the many granite titans like El Capitan and Half Dome that flank its entire length.
Wherever you wander below, across the open meadow or through the deep sugar pine forests or tangled black oak groves, you can see the pale faces of those ageless giants hovering far above you.
They do not see you, however. Their stolid gazes remain fixed on the horizon as they have for countless eons. Only by glimpsing an evanescent glow elicited by the sun or moon can you detect any sense of their moods.
In jubilant contrast to those somber sentinels, waterfalls spill and spray and leap from these giants’ shoulders, dropping thousands of feet to the valley floor.
Watching from the foot of a fall, you discern one exuberant section of water flying off the ledge a little farther than the rest. From there your eyes track its path down, down, down until it rejoins the others. As a tithe for its ride, each surge of water surrenders some of its essence. The sum of these levies coalesce into a misty cloud that conceals the landing in the rocky pool below.
The Time of White Shadows
In early March, some snow from recent storms is too stubborn to surrender and melt in the lengthening sunny days. Instead, the surviving frosty regiments slink away to shelter under trees and rocks and hills where the sun’s gaze cannot linger. These garrisons trace the outlines of their unwitting hosts’ shadows, marking the limits of the vernal vanguard.
When we visited, winter had yielded most lower parts of the valley. There, warm fragrant breezes blew across the tops of precocious wildflowers who seized their moment in the sun even as their roots were watered by icy snowmelt.
Higher up, the changing of the seasonal guard was less clear.
Climbing 2,500 feet up this contested theater to the top of Yosemite’s Upper Falls, we stumbled across a few of winter’s more entrenched rebels. Navigating spans of slumped ice and snow on north-sheltered rock slopes and clambering up steep slushy banks under wooded switchbacks, we found that our hiking sticks and spikes were of little use against these bulwarks. Still, we were grateful to have what help they could lend.
Hours later, having negotiated an exhausting détente with these winter holdovers, we reached the top of the falls. But not its mouth. A twisted, snow-covered stairway carved into the cliff pointed the way down to that roaring orifice. It took all of Glenn’s and my collective nerve to inch our way down to that ledge and peer over.
I expected the sound there to be deafening, but it was muted as the landing was so far below. To me it sounded like the quiet roll of thunder from a faraway storm. Besides distance, we saw another reason for the dampened sound – a massive cone of ice and snow had formed on the rocks below from the spray of the falls. This muffled its would-be roar to a low rumble.
While we were standing at the mouth, a sudden gust of wind pushed up against the falls and whirled the mist dozens of feet up above our heads into the blue sky. We laughed with delight as it drifted back down to us, frozen.
Looking over this grandest of waterfalls across the valley through a veil of shimmering diamond dust was like standing inside a real-life snow globe. It was an incredible moment – one I will remember until I die.
Later, once we climbed back to the landing above, a lively pair of ravens greeted us. These daring aerialists showed off, repeatedly diving from the edges of the cliff, they wheeled up and around us on thermal drafts reveling in their gift of flight.
When the show was over, they landed nearby, bowing, posing, and preening in a practiced dance for their dinner. Dutifully, we paid these spunky buskers with a well-earned share of our fruit and nuts before we began our long trek back down to warm ourselves in the waxing springtime of the valley below.
This and other unique experiences during our visit to Yosemite earned it a special place in my heart. It ranks near the top of my list of recommended must-see places. If you’ve never been, you should plan a visit. This natural treasure would be breathtaking in any season.
Need more convincing? Check out our photo gallery below.