Saturday, April 25, 2015

Random wanderings

When we decided to come to Yosemite for the summer, we learned of a detour that we'd have to take to get to El Portal, where we're now parked. There are only a few entrances to Yosemite and one, over Tioga Pass, is still under snow, and the GPS warned us off another because of low clearance. Our last option was the road with the detour. Highway 140 enters the park from the west, through Mariposa, travels along the Merced River for a long, mesmerizing distance, and then is routed across a bridge or two. There's a length limit of 45 feet, but my boss at Death Valley, who used to live and work at Yosemite, told me we'd have no problem getting the house across the bridge. It's not the bridge that's the problem, anyway; it's the turns we had to make to zig-zag around and through.

In 2006 there was an 800,000-ton rockslide that buried 600 feet of Highway 140. Work to clear the slide didn't start until a few weeks ago. I couldn't understand what took so long until I saw the damage, and learned that the slide wasn't a one-time avalanche but continued over a couple of months.

Traffic from Mariposa was blocked, and employees who lived there had a two-hour, one-way commute to get to work. The slide also had a significant impact on the local economy. A bridge was erected to open access to the park, but it limited vehicles to 28 feet. Two years later, another bridge went up to allow up to 45 feet. 

The solution, which isn't expected to be completed until 2020, is a 750-foot rock shed, only the second in the state, the other being in Big Sur which is only 300 feet.

There's no parking along the highway, so I can't show photos of the entire slide, or of the helicopter we watched while caught at a light, waiting to cross the bridge. The helicopter was carrying immense rolls of wire mesh from the undamaged side of the river to the debris side. Back and forth, back and forth. Then, another day, when we were going to Mariposa and were caught at the light again - the light allows one-way traffic to cross - we saw what has to be a good-sized machine on the side of the hill, scooping rock, swinging around, and dropping it on the other side. It looked to be a Sisyphean task, moving a mountain a teaspoon at a time.

That's it, that spidery blue machine in the middle of the photo, clinging to the slope, like a climber on El Capitan without ropes. It was positioned below the wire mesh that was laid down and anchored in place, to prevent loose rock from bouncing down, is my guess.

A closer view shows the machine better with someone, maybe the rock-watcher, standing at its side. If ever a job deserved hazardous duty pay, this is it.

We haven't seen it on the slope again. It's at the bottom and HH is convinced it slid down.

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Last weekend we drove through the Valley on our way to Nelder Grove (more on that in a bit), when clouds and fog were being dramatic. A boardwalk crosses a meadow, pointing the way to Yosemite Falls.

I got back in the truck and drove about 10 feet when I saw the lower falls, which I hadn't seen before.

This is from the other side of the road that rings the valley.

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My first job here is to clean up the Resource Management library. Among the documents I handled a couple of weeks ago was an account of native women gathering to grind acorns into flour. They had their favorite location, their favorite rock, even their favorite hole, called a mortar, in the rock, one they'd spent years using and wearing down just right. One day at lunch I walked down the road that parallels the Merced River a short distance and found this rock below. Wow is about all I could say. This wasn't brought in as a tourist attraction; at least I like to think it was used, here, in this spot. Here is an 1893 account of acorn collection and preparation. It's interesting.

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A couple of weeks ago we drove across the park to Hetch Hetchy, the location of the O'Shaughnessy Dam and the cause of a bitter controversy at the turn of the last century.

The San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 showed the inadequacy of the city's water supply. Even though interest in Hetch Hetchy as a water source went back to the 1850s, it took the 1906 disaster to prompt the city to lobby for the rights to develop the Tuolomne River. They got those rights in 1908 and the fight was on, with the Sierra Club and John Muir on one side, arguing that the beauty of the valley rivaled that of Yosemite Valley, and seemingly everyone else on the other side. Of course the city got the rights and work began in 1914. Today all the water going to San Francisco comes from the reservoir behind the dam. Even today, San Francisco is not required to filter its water because of its quality. 

Swimming and boating are prohibited, although fishing is allowed.

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Last weekend we went to Merced and stopped at the Merced County Courthouse Museum. They don't allow photos inside. I never understand that, and because we had a docent giving us a tour, I couldn't sneak any.

The building is the best example of the Italian Renaissance revival remaining between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It was built in 1875 and served as the county courthouse for 100 years. Upon its retirement it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The docent told us that the architect, Albert Bennett, believed that justice is not blind, so his figure at the cupola shows her without a blindfold. Its collection is related to the history of Merced County, and is arranged among 8500 square feet. It's one of the nicest local museums I've been in, and has free admission.

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When HH and I started reading about the area we learned of Nelder Grove, supposedly the smart person's alternative to Mariposa Grove, Yosemite's area of giant Sequoias. Just as good, none of the crowds. Having experienced the crowds, even this early in the season, I was all in favor of getting away from them.

The directions were a little vague and we did a lot of scenic route-ing before finding someone who directed us to the right road. I started out on the one-mile loop, full of anticipation of seeing these gigantic marvels. I walked. And walked. No giant trees. OK, I thought maybe at the apex of the loop the grove would open out into a vast forest of big trees. I crested the apex and when I began the homeward-bound section of the trail, I realized I'd been had. Instead of calling it the Nelder Grove, it should have been called the Nelder Stump-Field, or the Nelder Forest of Dead and Dying Tall Trees and Dead Trees Lying on the Ground.

Seriously, the reviews painted a transcendent experience, bonding with nature, an experience of a lifetime. What forest where they in?

Yes, indeed, the trees were tall, but giant, no.

Among the tall trees is what I noticed more of than anything: stumps. Someone had gotten to the really big ones a long time ago.

One interesting thing was this log, looking as though felled by axes, not chain saws. I wonder why it wasn't good enough to haul off.
The reviews said it was likely you'd find yourself alone in the grove, communing with nature in peace and quiet, far from the madding crowd. I was alone for the most part except when I came across a group of bicyclists from Venezuela. I really hoped they didn't think these trees were a good representation of what America has to offer.

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On our way to the grove we stopped at Tunnel View, still in Yosemite. Silly me, I thought the spot was where we could get some unusual view of the tunnel that cuts through rock, along the road that leads to the south entrance. No, it was a view of a different tunnel, one that looks forever across trees and mountain tops, all the way to endless blue.

There was a massive scrum of visitors all around me, jockeying for position, taking selfies, walking into everyone's photos, yet this view almost made me feel as if I were alone, bringing peaceful calm. Isn't it lovely? 


Thought of the day:

The clearest way to the Universe is through a forest wilderness. - John Muir, John of the Mountains