No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite. – John Muir
After finding a winter special for a lodge near Yosemite National Park, we hoped for snow. But as February neared and California’s fourth year of drought continued, we knew our plans for snowshoeing and snowballs probably wouldn’t happen. We’d go anyway.
Driving north on Hwy 41, we wouldn’t see most of the nearly 1200 square miles of Yosemite’s natural beauty, but planned to see a few highlights.
The sun shone brightly through tall trees and bounced off the Merced River flowing on our left, after we entered the park and passed Mariposa Grove. My eye caught green sequoias, blue sky, and towering tree trunks as we drove along Wawona Road.
Emerging from the mile-long Wawona tunnel, my breath caught when we first glimpsed the iconic Tunnel View. Because it was winter and early in the morning, we didn’t squeeze past crowds for photos. We gazed at a panoramic view of the verdant Yosemite Valley. To the left, the grey-white granite face of El Capitan loomed large; Half Dome stood further back; and center right, the Three Sisters. We spotted Bridalveil Fall slightly hidden in shadow. Unlike prior winters, we saw El Capitan without its snowcap, in its bare summer skin. I imagined glaciers carving out the valley and the faces of these iconic monoliths, and longed to stay.
After our hike along the boulders of Lower Yosemite Falls, we ate lunch and drove to Happy Isle where we walked a half-mile to a crowd-favorite: Mist Trail/Vernal Falls/Nevada Falls’ trailhead.
I breathed in the clean scent of trees and mountain air and felt the afternoon sun. A grey-haired man wearing a safari hat and backpack hiked in front of us with a walking stick. Soon we saw another man who could have been his twin. As we continued, the rumble of Vernal Falls grew louder while the Merced River flowed downward, filled with white foam.
Once we reached the footbridge, we saw Vernal Falls and its spectacular 317-feet drop into the Merced River; then we climbed the dirt path to the falls, carefully and steadily marching the last 100 meters on slick steps cut into a granite cliff. Listening to the rush of the Merced River, I looked away from the sheer drop to my left.
If it had been a typical winter, we wouldn’t have climbed the Mist trail because of snow. When sunlight hit the waterfall’s spray, rainbows—spraybows, as they’re called—appeared: a startling gift.
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