What in the Sam Hill is a Yosemite?

Tunnel to Yosemite National Park
OK, show of hands.

How many of us first heard of Yosemite from Looney Tunes?

C’mon, reach fer the sky fragnabbit!

On those childhood Saturday mornings Yosemite Sam introduced us to the name but he had nothing to do with the National Park.

Friz Freleng just liked the plumb western sound of California’s premier park for his loud-mouthed, sourdough, going-off-all-half-cocked, six-shootin’ little fella. Fifty-odd years of Saturdays later yer flea bitten GypsyNestin’ varmints finally met Sam’s namesake.

Coming into America’s second National Park from the south, on route 41, offers a sensational entrance to the valley.Our first glimpse of Yosemite was from the famous Tunnel View.

Engineers specifically laid out the tunnel when building the road to create an incredible scene framing the Yosemite Valley to perfection. Almost looks as if the view was painted on the mountainside by a rascally rabbit.

As we descended into the valley, the 3,593 feet of El Capitan filled our field of vision with it’s sheer cliff of solid granite.

A profusion of perpendicular precipices is what Yosemite is all about.

A mere million years ago, snow and ice piled up in this area in a manner that made a Buffalo, New York winter look like a vacation in Hawaii.

We’re talking deep. Like four thousand feet deep. When all of that ice commenced to head downhill, even solid granite was no match for its scouring power.

The ice carved out the Yosemite Valley and left vertigo- inducting vertical cliffs behind. Quite a dizzying display.

As a classic example of the U shaped erosion that glaciers create, the valley is a haven for waterfalls. In the spring — when the snow melts — literally hundreds of them cascade over the cliffs.

These ephemeral waterfalls disappear, then reappear after a big rain, but many permanent falls remain year round.

The most famous in the park, and the highest in North America, Yosemite Falls drops 2,425 feet in a double cascade to the valley floor.

Ribbon Falls has the highest single vertical drop, coming in at a whopping 1,612 feet.

The Park provides trails that lead to fantastic viewing spots at most of the major waterfalls.

We partook of the Yosemite Falls and the Bridalveil trails. Both are relatively easy hikes that most any tenderfoot can handle and well worth the spectacular vistas. Bridalveil was a blast… of icy water that is.

Yes, be prepared to get yer carcass wet in the spray as the wind twists and waves the water like fabric, making it look like, oh, I don’t know, let’s
say a veil.

On our sunny autumn afternoon the spray felt great on our faces as we enjoyed one of nature’s  oldest and finest waterparks.

Further up the valley the landscape is dominated by Half Dome. The name says it all, it is an enormous granite dome that has been sawed in half by a titanic river of ice.

The carving left a 1,360 foot vertical face that wasn’t scaled until 1957. For those not inclined to go straight up, there is a trail that follows an earlier route up the round part of the dome, but is an all day affair that requires climbing the last four hundred feet hanging on for dear life between two steel cables.

Choosing to view the dome from safely below we could almost hear Sam bellowing, “Haul your flea-bittin’ carcasses up that mountain, ya long-eared galoots!”

Still, watching the setting sun light up Half Dome –from gold to red — with the full moon rising behind the mountain had to be as good as the view from the top.

How could anything be better than as good as it gets?

Maybe we should have tried to scale the dome though, since luck seemed to be with us. Not only was the weather perfect, but it was a full moon on Halloween. Could there be a better time to hang out in a graveyard?

We thought not, so graveyard, ho!In honor of the holiday, The National Park Service presented an historical tour of Yosemite’s cemetery.

We searched the graveyard for jack-o’-lanterns marking the final resting places of important early residents of the valley.

At each grave our witch hat wearin’ interpretative naturalist, Emily Jacobs, gave us a brief history of its occupant and stories of the beginnings of the park.

Emily introduced us to folks like Lucy Brown, George Anderson and Galen Clark.

Lucy, said to be 120 years old at her death in 1924, was one of the last native Americans living in the valley when it was “discovered” in 1851.

Emily made sure to point out how important the valley was to the native people and that it wasn’t really “discovered” since it had long been occupied.

George Anderson, came to Yosemite from Scotland in 1867 and was the first person known to climb Half Dome back in eighteen and seventy-five.

He left his ropes in place for the daredevils that followed and they’re still
a-climbing that dad-blame chunk o’ rock today.

Galen Clark came to Yosemite with the hope of alleviating his tuberculosis. He was told by doctors that it would surely be the death of him within a few months.

He became Yosemite’s first superintendent and “discovered”  the park’s Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias while exploring in 1857,  loving and caring for them from that day forward.

Expecting an early  grave he chose his final resting place, planted Sequoia seedlings around the edges and began digging. The doctors were right, tuberculosis took ol’ Galen down much too young… America’s first tree hugger passed on at age 96.

The stories weren’t meant to be spooky and of course, we were never shaking in our boots, but then, we did have a couple dozen other
people with us.

Basking in the All Hallow’s Eve moonglow by campfire a little later, we heard something stirring in the woods.

What could it be? The lunar light revealed a large black furry creature lumbering through the camps. Great gallopin’ horny-toads!

That ornery fur-bearin’ critter was one of them bears we’d been warned about constantly throughout the park.

They’re real and a bit scary in person.

The alarm went out and people poured out of their RVs and tents. Shouting, banging on pots and pans and the waving of torches (that’s Brit for flashlights in this case) drove the creature from our midst.

We were much like the villagers in a cheesy old horror flick sending the poor monster back to his lair.

When calm was restored and the village safe once more, we reckoned that this Halloween we had our trick AND our treat.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
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7 thoughts on “What in the Sam Hill is a Yosemite?”

  1. >Yosemite is like the Grand Canyon…we've been driving past it for 45+ years, and never stopped. Someday…*sigh*

  2. >A fun interesting blog. I’d like to politely correct a few errors. I am the author of the Half Dome hiking guide sold at the park and know quite a bit about Yosemite.

    1. George Anderson hand drilled spikes into the backside of Half Dome – stepped on one then reached up to drill the next all the way to the top. Then he attached a rope to eyelets on the spikes. He indeed was the first to make it up the rope system in 1875. However, by the early 1880’s the rope had frayed away, ceasing ascents. George Anderson had passed away and Valley visitors debated on how to put up another rope. 2 young men, Alexander Phimister Proctor and Alden Sampson took it upon themselves to re-string a rope up to replace it. In 1884, they scaled the rock using the remaining Alexander spikes to stand on and lassoed higher spikes and rock edges. They succeeded. This system remained until in 1919 the Sierra Club funded the erection of the 2 cable system in use today. The cables were replaced in 1933 and 1983. They ascent 425 verticl feet and are at a 45 degree angle for a total run of 600+ feet of actual cable.

    2. The face of Half Dome was not sheared off by glaciers. It was actually above the glaciers. Only 20% of it is missing and it appears that way because vertical sheets of granite were peeled off by exfoliation. Thousands of years of rain getting into small cracks froze and expanded causing the flaking off.

    3. Yosemite Falls is the 5th largest fall in the world at 2,425 total feet. It has 3 cascades, not 2.

    Please let me know if I can assist further.

    Rick Deutsch ("Mr. Half Dome")
    Speaker, Adventurer, Author
    "One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome"
    . . . . getting you to the top of YOUR mountain.

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