Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Naturalist John Muir remarked, “No temple made with hands can compare to Yosemite.”

And, indeed, every view, every moment passed, every breath taken in Yosemite National Park reminds one that Mother Nature is the world’s greatest living artist. She has really outdone herself at Yosemite.

No matter where one turns, one is left to marvel at the snow-covered mountain peaks and alpine wilderness, the polished domes and U-shaped valleys, the spectacular lakes and waterfalls, the ‘hanging’ valleys, the flower-filled meadows and groves of giant Sequoia trees. A great variety of flora and fauna is found here. Yosemite is without a doubt one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.

Natural or cultural sites must be of outstanding universal value in order to be included on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Yosemite National Park was inscribed on this list in 1984 by meeting two of the UNESCO’s qualifying criteria. It is considered “1) to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; 2) to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.”

In the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and ranging in elevation between 2,900′ to 13,114′, 95% of Yosemite National Park is designated Wilderness. This gives visitors unparalleled opportunities to visit some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Natural History and Flora and Fauna
Yosemite was made by glaciers during the last Ice Age, when the granite bedrock was fashioned into bare peaks, sheer cliffs, rounded domes, and huge monoliths. A large lake on the flat valley floor filled with sediment, and a huge variety of plant and animal life are now protected in this incomparable valley today filled with flowering meadows and dramatic waterfalls. The Yosemite wilderness hosts about 1,460 species of plants, 78 species of mammals, 247 species of birds, 17 of amphibians, 22 of reptiles, 11 of fish, and numerous invertebrates. Among the most famous of the park’s inhabitants are mountain lions and a large population of black bears. We were privileged to see many deer at very close quarters.

Hiking Yosemite
With over 800 miles of trails in Yosemite, it is not easy to choose which trails to hike. In such a beautiful setting, one can’t really go wrong, though. Each trail offers its own unique view and experience. One great thing about Yosemite is that it is accessible to visitors of all ages and all levels of physical fitness. Trails range from a 20-minute, easy stroll on a wheelchair-accessible walkway to strenuous, overnight hikes. A free shuttle transports visitors from one village to another or from one trailhead to another. Even if you don’t get out of your car, there are fabulous views to be had. Two 10-minute walks lead to unbeatable, world-class views hard to find anywhere else in the world.

We chose seven beautiful day walks and hikes, and I was amazed at how good the trails were. The incredible thing was that for relatively little effort and in an amazingly short time, you have first-class, out-of-this-world views that rival those of any premier natural destination in the world. Most hikes that I had previously been on were difficult and strenuous, and required a long time and a lot of effort before being rewarded with such great viewpoints.

We hiked to several stunning waterfalls and picnicked in the rainbow mists. We climbed mountainsides and strolled through flowering meadows. But it’s hard to choose a favorite hike, so I’ll just choose a few of them.

One of my favorites was Tafts Point and the Fissures. Tafts Point is a rocky knoll that overhangs the South Rim of Yosemite Valley from a height of 3500 ft. After crossing through a lush forest and meadow, the view opened up to a grand vista of the Valley. My heart almost stopped beating as we stood on the cliff’s edge and peered carefully down the Fissures, which are five large fractures in the overhanging cliff. The very deep and narrow chasms in the granite cliff face are very impressive and even more frightening, as we stood hard against the strong wind. It was the kind of sweeping vista that makes you giddy with excitement when you see it. From Tafts Point there are spectacular views of the Valley, including El Capitan, Three Brothers, and Yosemite Falls.

We retraced our steps back through the gorgeous fir forests and meadows of yellow wildflowers to pick up the trail to Sentinel Dome. Switchbacks led past stunning vistas and rock formations until we reached the top of the Dome, where we were rewarded for our efforts with 360-degree unobstructed panoramic views of Yosemite’s most famous attractions.

We also appreciated the jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring views from Glacier Point, which is perched on a sheer cliff wall that overlooks a majority of the park’s landmark formations. Looking out over the High Sierras, the eagle’s-eye view is accented by glacially carved valleys, four waterfalls, snow-covered peaks, and polished domes. Need I say more?

During our stay in Yosemite, we camped in the mountains above Yosemite Valley, which had the two main advantages of avoiding the large groups in the valley and not requiring a reservation. Stephane made up a campfire in the firepit in the evenings and cooked our dinner over it. And, of course, we stowed everything in the bear bins (we had seen one bear in the park and bears had attacked a car in the area only a couple of days previously!). It was, however, so high in altitude that we experienced sub-freezing temperatures (in July!), and thus had difficulty sleeping (add to that my bear paranoia!). Our lighter sleeping bags just didn’t cut it.

Park management has conducted research on the black bear population over the past three decades in order to gather biological and ecological information on the park’s most famous residents. They have collected information on birth rates, movements, and food habits of the bears. Studies were conducted on the interaction between humans and black bears. The information that the park compiled is essential for formulating and updating programs designed to restore and maintain a natural black bear population. A likely result of these programs is that park visitors will see fewer bears in developed areas. However, a healthy, natural population of truly wild black bears will exist as they have for thousands of years.