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Yosemite Valley during National Park Week

I try to live my life without regrets.

Most or all of the really stupid (even “recklessly stupid” or “dangerously stupid” :-) ) choices that I made in my life, I would probably do again, at the same time in my life, with the same information that I had at the time. The choices are only stupid in the clarity (20-20) of hindsight, which I did not have at the time. :-)

So, it goes without saying that, after telling everyone (especially students) about National Park Week and free admission, I would choose to GO myself. Why take a chance on regret later on? :-) Especially when one teacher told me that a foot of fresh snow had dropped on Yosemite earlier in the week….

I left for Yosemite Valley yesterday at about 10 AM. I know. Late…. I filled up the tank at Costco and headed east over the Altamont. I was almost over-equipped this time. I had not only my camera equipment but also my laptop gear, as well as plenty of maps, both physical and electronic.

I also had my radar detector. :-) (Note added April 26, 2010: Before you “rush to judgment” – I bought the detector over 20 years ago, in Ohio. As the movie “Cannonball Run” line goes, “Think of the fact that there’s not one state in the 50 that has the death penalty for speeding… although I’m not so sure about Ohio.“)

One of the things to consider when buying hardware is to guess at future development and buy the best equipment that you can afford, so that it will not become obsolete too soon. My radar detector is a Passport, made by a company in Ohio that used to be called Cincinnati Microwave. I bought it before moving to California, since “busting speeders” is a RELIGION among law enforcement folks in Ohio. Although the device does not have laser detection, the X- and K-band detection is very good and lets me know where the police are using them. Also, the sloping hood of the Honda Civic seems to channel the radar waves to the detector better than the blunt nose of the Toyota T-100 truck did.

Police were using radar ALL OVER the Altamont! :-)

One pulse “lit up” all of the LEDs on my detector. Five seconds later, I saw an officer pull over a car in the right-hand lane.

I had a lot of CDs with me. I purchased the Honda Civic (black of course) to replace my Toyota T-100 pickup truck (black of course; Henry Ford may have been right about color :-) ). Cruise control was mandatory, because California is a BIG state (north to south). As I mentioned yesterday, the combination of cruise control and CDs (ZZ Top “driving” CDs, with some Bob Seger to break it up) made me feel as though I was barely driving. :-) And gave me some serious MEMORIES as a side effect….

I took the entrance ramp to Interstate 5 south, driving past the Altamont Speedway, home to the historically infamous Rolling Stones concert in which Hells Angels were hired as security. I rolled on past a wind turbine that looked as though it had “jumped off” the Altamont and landed on a piece of flat land in the Central Valley. The lone wind turbine….

I used the cruise control as I made my way south on Highway 5, and stopped at a relatively new rest stop, just to see what was there… a mother with two children, sitting on a blanket, asking for donations, since they are homeless.

I took the Highway 140 exit to Gustine. Gustine is an agricultural town in the Central Valley. On the left side of Highway 140, before you turn right to leave town, is a MacDonalds. I say that as a convenience to folks with children, although I have eaten there myself.

The next section of Highway 140 is somewhat dangerous. It is a two-lane highway, on what could be described as a “causeway” (read: “high likelihood for head-on collisions”). The elevated roadway drops off on either side to a marsh, home to thousands of migrating birds, as well as to duck hunters. A car could go off the highway and not be found for quite some time. Part of the marshy area between Gustine and Merced constitutes the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, Kesterson Unit. There is also the Fremont Ford State Recreational Area on the San Joaquin River. Beyond the boat launch area were trees filled with mistletoe! Later, came the city of Merced (Spanish for “mercy”), which was shown no mercy in the latest recession. Merced “achieved” 42% unemployment, the same percentage as the percentage of American jobs that some Harvard Business School “scholars” said could be offshored. I invited them to visit Merced to see what 42% unemployment looks like, but I doubt that they came.

It is probably important at this point to discuss FOOD. I ask people who read this blog to “check your prejudices at the door.” “Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill Friday that requires police in her state to determine whether a person is in the United States legally, which critics say will foster racial profiling but supporters say will crack down on illegal immigration.” The bill “… also targets those who hire illegal immigrant day laborers or knowingly transport them.”

The law has drawn fire from President Obama, and others.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of immigration (remember, you checked your prejudices at the door, and we are ALL immigrants in the United States), it is pretty obvious that the people of Arizona do not know WHO PUTS FOOD ON THEIR TABLES. You can earn all of the money you want, but if there is no food to buy, you will not be able to put it on your table. When you drive Highway 140, you realize where your food comes from. Most people in California “get it.” A lot of other folks, sadly, do not acknowledge the hard working people who feed the rest of us while trying to survive, themselves. (If those of you who harbor any latent racism can drop that as well, you may enjoy the fantasy movie, “A Day Without a Mexican,” in which all of the Mexicans in the state of California SUDDENLY DISAPPEAR! (The movie found that convicts did not make very good fruit-pickers.) The other ramifications were not pretty, either!

(Note added July 19, 2010: As the result of the United Farm Worker campaign entitled “Take Our Jobs,” YOU now have the opportunity to work as a migrant farm worker in your geographic area. Not surprisingly, there have been few “takers.”)

Beyond Merced is the town of Planada. Always looking for “coincidences,” I noticed the name of the Catholic church on the way out of Planada, called “Sacred Heart,” which is also the name of the church in Sharon, PA where my parents were married, in the vestibule, since it was a “mixed marriage” that lasted over 54 years until my mother’s death.

After Merced, the land gets interesting. Highway 140 starts to get “curvy” and climb into the foothills. Mariposa (Spanish for “butterfly”) County is REALLY BEAUTIFUL. I love the charming community of Catheys Valley. I grabbed a handful of change (all that was available – I was “barely driving” remember?) and dumped it into a firefighter’s boot in the census-designated place of Mariposa, which was having a “fill the boot” campaign. Mariposa has a Butterfly Festival in early May, and at least one good pizza place!

Later, comes the town of Midpines, CA, which, from the map, is located in the Sierra National Forest.

Just before beginning my descent into the Merced River Canyon, I stopped to set up the tripod and photograph the descending Highway 140. Two young couples pulled off behind me. I told one of the guys, who said he was from New York, that admission to National Parks was free, because of National Park Week. He was in California to visit his friend in Sacramento. From the conversation, the language seemed to be Russian, which makes sense for Sacramento (which has a large Russian community). After they left, I photographed a cascading Bear Creek behind me (the one that joins the Merced River at Bagby), which made its way into the canyon ahead.

Merced River Canyon was beautiful. It seemed as though spring had been delayed. The occidental redbud, lupine, lavender, and California poppies made for brilliant splashes of color. The flashing yellow signs warning of icy pavement were still there, and rightly so. The “temporary” bridges around a landslide that “took out” Highway 140 years ago are still there. Expect up to a 15-minute wait.

(Note added July 19, 2010: I forgot to mention in the original telling – the whitewater rafters [and kayakers] on the Merced, including one gentleman in a raft who looked like he was assisting tourists [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. Have fun [and be careful]!)

At the entrance to Yosemite National Park, I wished the young lady ranger a “Happy National Park Week.” She gave me my literature, and I was on my way. I stopped ahead, where Cascade Creek pours over a waterfall. After I took some shots from a tripod, a young woman with three beautiful daughters aged four and under asked me to photograph them. I did, with the falls in the background, and gave her my card.

In my obligatory stop at Fern Spring, I met a young man who had formed a “wedding photography” company with his wife. He had only good things to say about his Canon 7D. The parking lot at Bridalveil Fall had a space for me, so I took some more exposures. On the way out, a young couple asked me to photograph them, so I took two, with the falls behind them.

Things were busy at Tunnel View. There was a tour bus and an open Yosemite shuttle, and people all over the place. From the vista, I noticed that there was a rainbow at the bottom of Bridalveil Fall. One of my friends had captured such a rainbow up close, but I had to be content this time to capture it at a distance. I can’t wait to see the shots (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). There was snow on Cloud’s Rest. (Note added July 19, 2010: I also photographed El Capitan [1, 2] from a favorite spot. Before leaving Tunnel View, I photographed a small, ephemeral waterfall in a colorful setting uphill from me.)

I drove into the Valley, taking photos of Ribbon Fall (about) and Bridalveil Fall (about). Along the way, I photographed two female blacktail deer (1, 2, 3, 4). The Valley seemed deserted for April. I stopped at swinging bridge, Sentinel Beach (1, 2, 3, 4) (where I saw the young woman with the three little girls again), and Cook’s Meadow (1). I photographed the Merced River (1) and Half Dome (1) from the bridge. I noticed that the road to the east was not blocked (yet) and so I drove toward the camping areas. I honked as two female joggers yelled at a motorist who was traveling THE WRONG WAY! (Maybe the almost-constantly-changing traffic patterns in Yosemite Valley are not such a good idea after all!) I stopped at the Sierra Club’s Le Compte Memorial (1), and photographed the exterior. Across the road, the campfires were already burning at the housekeeping cabins.

(Note added July 19, 2010: I also took some photos (1, 2, 3) of Yosemite Chapel, from different angles and later in the evening than usual, to add to the collection.)

I continued on until I had to turn around, then stopped at meadows near Curry Village to do some photography of North Dome (1) and Half Dome (1), as the light began to fade. I drove toward the exit, and stopped at the last parking lot, on the Merced, before rejoining two-way traffic.

I told a fellow photographer there that I had never had cellular reception in Yosemite Valley with AT&T, and now, with Verizon, I had reception that faded in and out. :-) You may have seen the Twitter tweet which claimed that Osama Bin Ladin is not really hiding – that the reason we have not heard from him is that he has AT&T! :-)

I got ready to head home, by the high road, Highway 120, this time.

The three tunnels on Big Oak Flat Road had wet pavement, which means ICE if temperatures drop. There was water on the highway from snowmelt in other places – same warning! Snow was evident ABOVE around 6000 feet, including Crane Flat at almost 6200. There was nobody at the gates to the park, when I left. The census-designated place of Groveland seemed busy as I crawled through at 25 miles/hour. I took the “inside track” down 120 to the town of Moccasin, rather than the “outside track” (next to the precipice above Grizzly Gulch) down the VERY, VERY NARROW Old Priest Grade. Mercifully, a pickup truck crawling down the hill in front of me pulled aside (eventually :-) ) to let me go around.

From there, the familiar way home, past Chinese Camp and through Oakdale and Escalon, offered no surprises except one new traffic light.

I did the whole trip in 12 1/2 hours, on less than a tank of gas in the Honda Civic. I am glad that I took the leisurely way to Yosemite Valley, and the faster way home.

A ranger told me that Yosemite, which had a foot of snow earlier in the week, was expecting snow for Tuesday! I am delighted that there was a free, weekend “window,” for me to make the trip.

I will add photos to this post when they are processed. (Done.) Pushing the shutter button is the easy part – now my work REALLY begins! If you would like to see Yosemite Valley photos from LAST April, in the meanwhile, they are here.

-Bill at

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