24 May A Soaked Spring in Yosemite
The six of us strolled along the four-mile service road from Hodgdon Meadow to Tuolumne Grove under tall pines and gray skies, the forest still as a sketch. A tawny blanket of leaves and needles covered the pavement before us, and the misting rain crackled softly on our jackets between birdcalls. It was heaven, if your version of heaven happens to be damp and full of roadblocks.
“Looks like we’ll have to cross below,” one of my walking companions called back. He nodded toward an impromptu river at the next bend, which was sweeping a curtain of water across the road.
There were a fair number of fallen trees, several of which were lying conveniently across the new river. We scrambled through the underbrush to the closest of them — a middle-aged redwood — and wiggled our way across.
On the road again, I settled back in to the walk, enjoying the scent of dark earth and wet pine, marveling at the white blooms of the dogwood trees.
“Hey! Hey, Winston! What’s wrong?”
The dog was spinning in circles, hopping up and pulling his leash, whining in fear. Just ahead — where the road should have been — lay a thicket of fallen roots and branches.
A glance to our left revealed a redwood half a dozen feet in diameter, lying in a horizontal pile of smaller trunks. A car-sized chunk of earth hung from its thick roots; a small trench lay in its wake.
I walked up ahead and began to weave my way through the branches.
“It’s totally impassable!” came a call from ahead.
When I pushed through the last of the branches, I saw why: Fallen trees had crushed through the pavement, which ended abruptly — jagged in an apocalypse-movie style — with water streaming off its sides into the newly-formed gully below.
It was our first glimpse of the effects of the deluge of rain and snowmelt in Yosemite this spring.
– – –
In April, just a few weeks before our trip to Yosemite, National Weather Service officials announced that Northern California had experienced its wettest winter on record (the record goes back 122 years). That same week, storms buried the Sierras in multiple feet of snow, packing on top of the season’s staggering sixty-three-foot total.
Then temperatures rose, and all that snow began to melt.
The snowmelt engorged the rivers of Northern California, flooded the valleys and came thundering through the Sierras and cascading over the waterfalls of Yosemite with such spectacular force that it’s worth a pilgrimage just to hear them.
– – –
On our second to last day, we drove through the surreal mists of Yosemite Valley in a race with the darkness. We had planned to drive down quickly and locate our trailhead for the following day’s hike, but found ourselves stopping every five minutes to explore the crashing sound of nearby rivers and the views of swollen waterfalls that appeared through thickets of clouds atop the valley’s granite walls.
Rain began to spit down on us as we passed the flooded meadows of the valley, but before the light ran out, we spotted the trailhead for the following day’s hike: Lower Yosemite Falls.
Hours later, in the bright sunshine of morning, we picked our way through a throng of nature’s pilgrims to the edge of Lower Yosemite Falls, where we stood in the spray of water and searched for wisdom.
Though watching the water plunge was mesmerizing, I soon chose to close my eyes. I savored the gusts of mists on my cheeks, surrendered to the roaring of the water and felt — for a single weightless moment — like I myself was falling over the edge of the falls.
A century and a half earlier, a curious, hawk-nosed John Muir crawled his way to the edge of these Yosemite Falls. As he wrote in The Century Magazine, he inched himself far enough to lean above the fury and peer down into a “bright irised throng of comet-like streams.”
“So glorious a display of pure wildness,” he concluded.
This year, the wildness of these waterfalls, streams and rivers is, perhaps, even more glorious than what John Muir ever got the chance to see. To go is heaven, if your version of heaven happens to be Yosemite.
Explore Yosemite on these Adventure Collection journeys:
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