As a girl who grew up in New York City, visiting Yosemite for vacation is a surreal but pleasant dream: to traverse a land where the wilderness rules is the exact opposite of the environment I grew up in. The city I currently reside in doesn’t think twice about manhandling nature, even going so far as to reverse the flow of a river and dying it green on St. Patrick’s Day. Chicago doesn’t shut down because of a couple feet of the white stuff. When it snows out here, 9,000 feet above sea level, chains must be put on tires and people lock themselves inside. Driving up the winding and narrow mountain passes lacking guard rails is scary enough, so when it snows Yosemite closes its roads. Humans are so vulnerable out here, and lack any choice but to surrender to the whims of the wilderness. It’s not just the weather – the animals give humans a run for their money as well.
Before each nature walk, a sign warns you that you are entering the wild and that this is bear country. The sign goes on to explain that if you leave food in your car, a bear will damage your car to get to your food. Bear-proof storage containers are strategically placed next to the warning signs and their use is mandated.
Needless to say, I was stoked. To see a bear in its natural habitat? To catch a glimpse of a bobcat, or mountain lion? I was so ecstatic about meeting some wildlife that odd shapes in the woods, or any flickering movement had me freeze and stare. It was all wishful thinking. I saw a plethora of chipmunks (who seemed to have a little game of running out in front of moving cars) and a couple western gray squirrels. The western gray squirrel has larger ears and a less bushy tail than the squirrels I am used to, and while it was nice to see, the squirrel’s presence meant no bobcat or mountain lion prowled nearby. I realized that the animals I was looking for could smell me a long way off, and since this was the kingdom of the wild, these animals have figured out where the trails are and probably stay well away from them (going off the trail path is prohibited, as the park stresses you leave as little impact on nature as possible). Hence my surprise at finding some mountain lion scat in the middle of my hike up to Dog Lake. There I was, visibly excited (once again) over some cat poop. If only I had climbed faster, I could have seen a large defecating feline!
On my first day in Yosemite, my boyfriend and I hiked the lower Cathedral Lakes trail, and it was by far one of the most beautiful natural formations I have ever seen. The sky was a bright blue, without a cloud in sight. On the way down, we passed quite a few people carrying ski pole-looking things, and I scoffed at how ridiculous they looked. I would eat my words the next day when I realized what they were for. My right knee was done for when we got back to the hotel, the bone itself hurting whenever I bent it. Research on the internet revealed the cause of my pain: the constant impact of climbing downhill. How could I have avoided this? By having a damn hiking pole.
The second day saw us hiking small amounts due to my injured knee. We had heard about the approaching storm and I wanted to get the most out of our visit. No pain, no gain, right? Our first stop: Soda Springs. On the way there, a group of ten or more Clark’s Nutcrackers went wild for a good 5 minutes, calling back and forth over a river in the Tuolumne
Meadows. The Soda Springs themselves were copper, yellow and red. I’d never have thought of it myself, but a passing hiker let us know that drinking from the spring is a popular, if potentially dangerous right of passage. Good enough for me! The ice-cold water bubbling up from the bowl sized craters tasted a little like flat seltzer. Afterward, we climbed Pothole Dome to get a panoramic view of the meadow and mountains. We ended the day hiking up to Dog Lake, where I saw the mountain lion scat.
While it might seem disappointing to have a seven day vacation cut down by five days due to snow, the amount I did see in those 2 days was satisfying enough to hold me over until next time. I can’t complain, and the raging storm outside is almost fortuitous since I cannot walk without limping. Cabin fever is sure to set in, as the snow storm is steadily knocking out TV channels and cell phone reception is splotchy at best. In fact, this post would have done earlier if it weren’t for a power outage. Now the power’s back on and the internet is up. Your move, nature.
Photos and some audio to come…