Monday
Sep102012

« The 36 and a Half Dome Tour, Monday »

Our last full day in the park was to be an excellent day of sightseeing, more or less along one road to the absolutely stellar Glacier Point, a lookout over the valley some 3000 feet below. (It also happened to be Kelli's birthday.)

We hit the road about 9:15. The drive through the valley is lush and beautiful but it gets a bit repetitive since it is essentially a one way loop that one must go around to get anywhere. Even to get on the southbound CA-41 road toward the Glacier Point turnoff, half the loop must be driven, even swinging back around toward the campsite part way, and then peeling off in another direction. And then the 41 is a low speed road, mostly at about 35mph. Yesterday's drive to the Mariposa Grove took about an hour to get those same 35 miles. This turned out to be about the same, but with a left turn involved about half way to Mariposa Grove.

Considering the road was light of traffic and it was a Monday morning when we expected all the families with kids were gone, it seemed for a while that we might not have so many tourists. That was proven wrong at the first hiking stop we made—Sentinel Dome. Not being avid hikers, we didn't really plan to do much more than rubberneck, so we departed the car with too little water and without any real breakfast in us. The hike was about a mile out and supposedly terminated in a fantastic view but with no food either in us or on us, and just a bit of water, we backed out and made our way for the car, deciding to go only about 1/3 of the roundtrip distance.

We headed out on the last stretch of the road and came to the dead end loop at Glacier Point. Okay, if we hadn't found our tourists before, they were all here. Or enough of them were, anyway. It was noon and therefore rather hot too. Not my favorite mix. It's always these gorgeous places that attract the noisiest people, the kids, the swarms of either foreigners or worse, Americans. There are so many who want to get exactly the same photos at the same location, and with every permutation of their family or party in the frame. Okay, we're the same too, but we like to go and be reverent and we speak in modest tones that don't call attention and just fill the air with noise.

Being among the last days of summer proper, it was pretty hot by the time we were there. The concessions stand was pretty welcoming after we saw people milling around with ice cream bars in their mouths. We surely tracked that place down and had one before going into the scenic areas. The shaded area outside the store was welcome but taken mostly. Still, it was a nice respite from being in the sun before we went out and did our own gawking at the scenic points.

There are two parts of Glacier point, and both tell close to the same story, but one part, a bit south and east of the more commercial part, feels more like it's tied to earth. Both feature the most kick ass views of Half Dome from a level nearly equivalent to Half Dome's 8000' elevation. We were at about 7200' and while that doesn't seem like much, the fact that there is a valley floor that is as low as 3000' below is pretty damned remarkable. We're talking about a straight drop. Sick!

If I had a serious camera and was prepared to really make the best possible shots, these places would hold even more appeal. And of course, if there were either fewer tourists or at least the silent and reverent ones I wish for, then it would make the experience even nicer still if all there was to do was to sit and take it in. But as such they aren't and I haven't so I do the best I can with either my tripod, getting some pictures of Kelli and I together, or for this trip, the a new gadget was employed to get some shots. It's just the upper section of an old tripod I had from years back, shorn of legs, and amounting to an 18" extension of my arm with the camera at the end. It's good enough to get a solo snapshot or some shots of the two of us with the timer enabled. It also is a lot less to carry and of course requires nothing much in setup and positioning. It proved invaluable for shooting while driving down the road, helping to steady shots while going at any speed. Not to mention, when doing road shooting, two hands on the camera rig is a safer bet so nothing drops onto the road, never to be seen again.

Since this was our last full day in the park, we started on our way out of Glacier Point, stopping again at the concessions stand for another couple ice creams and a last look out over the amazing valley network carved by glaciers over eons of time.

On the road back we stopped at Bridalveil Falls for that relatively short hike under the forest canopy. While on that path toward the rather thin-flowing falls, we spotted a climber high up on the sheer cliff face. It was hard to tell if he was moving at all, even in the half hour we were there. Being as hot as it was, it baffled us how someone would want to be in such a spot, seemingly unable to do such a thing as change into or out of a shirt. Oh well, the world's big enough for people of all interests. We got to the uppermost part of the trail where the signs emphatically cautioned not to climb on the slick rocks in the area near the bottom of the falls. They cautioned that serious injury or death is a regular occurrence. The rocks were clearly tough to navigate, not just in their random placement and jagged edges, but in the fact that the smooth surfaces could cause a slip at any moment, even when they were dry. Still, even in our few minutes there, some dumbfuck was trying to impress his girlfriend and without even gaining on the falls, went and proved himself worthy of the Darwin Awards, slipping into a gap and giving himself a good knock, but not getting injured.

Then after Bridalveil came my favorite part of the trip. It was the quietest, most unassuming part. On driving back to the campsite, we stopped at the river like we had on our initial arrival a couple days before. This time it was pretty sparsely attended. By this point, it was time to put the camera down, not fret about getting the clothing a bit wet, and just going in and savoring the river's absolutely mellowing effect. After all the tourists at every other place—and even at this same place a few days earlier—this was what I felt I came for. It started off feeling cold. Even in the summer, it is still mountain runoff and pretty cold that close to the source, but after being immersed in it for a few minutes, it started to feel quite bearable. The afternoon sun was sinking behind trees, and then ultimately behind the towering El Capitan. There were just a few folks around, but all quiet and seemingly in tune with the splendor all around. The water was mostly shallow, but it was welcoming to come up most of the way up my legs, and to let the mountain's bounty flow around me. This was hands down my favorite part so far. I wish there was more than just about a half hour to enjoy it.

This being Kelli's birthday, we got back to the village with our wet feet and pants and got some groceries and a pizza that we took back to the campsite for our final night. We had to be sure to finish off the 1.5 liter bottle of wine before we left, and this was the fine excuse to do so. While at the campsite we found our night's neighbors were a couple of Swiss girls who were touring California and trying to sample a bunch of things in the west. They had some naive ideas of traveling Route 66, and that led to some correction that they'd need to cruise a couple thousand miles one way, and that only a few places could be reached in the few days they had left, and that plenty of the kitchy, nostalgic spots are dribbled all about but not all were that interesting. It got us into some talk about southwestern bucket list destinations. We pitched them Death Valley, having fallen in love with the place on our two trips there. Eventually we retreated to our respective dinners and later on Kelli and I went for our final showers before we would leave the campsite. We got some things packed up and decided to leave some for morning.

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