Two excellent days exploring the magnificent Yosemite National Park: Granite Cliffs, peaceful rivers and tumultuous water falls.

Our first morning in the Sierra Nevadas was absolutely splendid – the sun was shining brightly, there was not a solitary cloud to be seen and the temperature was pleasantly warm. What more could you ask for. We were some 35 miles from the center of Yosemite Valley, but on this day it was a wonderful ride through the foothills of the Sierras. The road wound along the banks of the Merced River, and its’ white foaming water was illuminated by the bright sunlight. After passing through the entrance to the National Park area we made our first stop at Bridal Veil Falls. These falls leap off the edge of a precipice and fall down 620 feet to the valley floor. You cannot exactly stand underneath the fall but you can get pretty close to the pool at the base and the stream that flows from there. The effect of the water tumbling over the cliff resulted in a light spray through which the sun shone creating a wonderful rainbow effect. The tiny droplets fell down dousing us. Fortunately we were prepared for this in our waterproofs.

Now it was time for the main event – continuing down the valley towards the Visitors Center we drove by the massive granite monolith El Capitan, its 3000 foot vertical cliffs a favourite challenge with the climbing communities. It was first conquered in 1958 by Warren J Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore in 47 days (6 years after Everest was first climbed). Nowadays the improvement in equipment means people take 2 or 3 days to summit this peak. Today, we were here just to observe its grand magnificence and take a few pictures. It was a such a beautiful day and the first signs of spring were all around with the forests and meadows brimming with the yellows, oranges and blues of blooming spring flowers, which seem all the more finely set among the granite spires and deep greens of the forest. No wonder people have referred to the Yosemite Valley as a cathedral. The Visitor Center is located among the sprawling buildings of Yosemite Village, and has the splendid backdrop of the Yosemite Falls. These falls are powered by the melt waters from the snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and cascade down the granite cliff from 2425 feet to the valley floor, making these the highest measured falls in the United States. The best time of year to see these falls is the spring as in the summer the snow has disappeared, ending the source for these magnificent falls. Also visible from the Visitor Center is the other great symbol of Yosemite, Half Dome, its striking granite crest rising more than 4,737 ft above the valley floor.

El Capitain
Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Lower Falls

Half Dome

Our timing was perfect as there was a Ranger led nature tour from the Visitors Center. Our guide was the wonderful Eric who introduced us to the fauna and flora of the valley. He explained how distinguish between corvids (the genus of crows, ravens and rooks) and gave us a jolly good impression of their calls. We nearly all knew the name for a group or collective of crows; “a murder” of crows, but no one knew the term for ravens. As it turns out it is called an “unkindness” of ravens. Unfortunately, it was spring break in parts of California so hanging around the Visitor Center in the middle of the day was not the best place for seeing too much wildlife, but we did get introduced to the acorn woodpecker who work in packs (the collective term for woodpeckers is “descent”) to peck holes in dead trees and fill them with acorns. Other common spotting in the area included the Stellars jay and ground squirrels. Nothing too exciting but still we learnt some more information about these common animals that we would not normally turn our heads for.

Before leaving we took the trail to where the Yosemite Falls finally reaches the valley floor. The final section of the falls is a mere 320 feet but was still quite spectacular, and we ignored the signs like everyone else and climbed across the rocks to get a closer view. A truly wonderful place and a truly wonderful day.
On our final day in Yosemite we decided to do something slightly different – a water color class. As a part of the National Park education program the Arts Center just down the way from the main Visitor Center runs free art classes. All you have to pay for is the materials; brushes, paints and paper. The course on this day was water color landscapes, run by the artist Steve Curl a resident of the bay area. The course lasted for four hours inside the Art Center, starting with learning the fundamentals of water colors. Never having painted with water colors before we definitely needed this instruction. By lunchtime we were veritable experts and had painted the Yosemite Falls from a photograph – our first attempts were not so bad. For the afternoon session we were “on location” which meant sitting outside on the path near one of the park ranger buildings and painting the classic view of Yosemite Falls. Having practiced our techniques in the morning it was quite simple to translate these to the real life subject and overall our paintings turned out to be very credible. Steve was a wonderfully patient teacher and we learned so much – perhaps a hobby we could carry on.

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