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Yosemite Valley in winter…

 Bridalveil Meadow, January

I would like to be able to tell you that Yosemite Valley is totally deserted in winter, but I cannot. I can tell you only that Yosemite Valley is far less “packed” with human visitors in winter. Yosemite Valley is such an international attraction that you will still see tour buses in January, just not so many. I saw a tour bus putting chains on the tires in advance of a winter storm; this was a “first” for me. You will still hear as many languages spoken there as you will in San Francisco, or Miami Beach. It is wonderful to have such an attraction only 3 1/2 hours from my home.

In the winter time, I generally travel to Yosemite Valley by Highway 140, along the Merced River. The road is lower than Highway 120, and it takes more time, but Highway 140 is less likely to be closed by snow, or made less safe by snow. Remember that Highway 120, when it becomes the Tioga Road (to Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass) within Yosemite, is ALWAYS closed by snow in the winter and no attempt is made to keep it open. You can still enter Yosemite on 120 and travel down to the Valley, most of the time. However, I remember one trip in *April* during which I saw 8-10 feet of snow still present on the sides of the road.

Yosemite Valley in winter offers sights and sounds that can be experienced at no other time. Bridalveil Fall is very noisy in winter, as large chunks of ice are hurled over the waterfall. The mists freeze on the open rock face. El Capitan can be crowned with a cloud in winter, and Bridalveil Meadow (above) can sport an ethereal mist of ground fog. When I visit Fern Spring, I find the greens muted and the red and purple secondary pigments of plant life in bold contrast to the whites of the snow. Half Dome proudly wears a cap of snow, as do the banks of the Merced River. Even stones in the Merced can wear caps of snow. You can see unexpected wildlife. I saw a coyote prancing nonchalantly down the road in front of my vehicle. Of course you can see coyotes in the Valley at other times of the year, but the boldness of this one impressed me. Yosemite Falls can be spectacular in winter, not so much for the amount of water (there is far more water in April), but for the ice encrusting the granite rock face.

Winter is a quieter time in Yosemite Valley. There are far fewer visitors, and the Valley assumes a more natural rhythm with the shorter periods of daylight. There are no vacationers rafting down the Merced. There are far fewer vacationers of any type. In all, winter seems a time in which the Valley takes a well-earned rest, and prepares itself for the flowing waters of the rebirth of spring and the start of the next year’s cycle. For those willing to make the trip, Yosemite Valley in winter offers its unique rewards.

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

You can view higher-resolution photos (*generally* 7-30 megabytes, compressed) at the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Pro Gallery on Shutterfly™, where you can also order prints and gifts decorated with the photos of your choice from the gallery. Apparel and other gifts decorated with some of our most popular photos can be ordered from the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Store on CafePress®.

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