Place: Yosemite National Park, California
Coordinates (of the Mirror Lake Trailhead): 37.739507, -119.560160
Length: about 5 miles (from the Mirror Lake Trailhead)
On the second day of my trip to Yosemite with my friends G, and Y, we woke up early enough to get going at a reasonable time. After yesterday's strenuous hike up Murphy Creek to May Lake, we were ready for something a bit easier. Both of my companions had not had enough of Yosemite Valley in previous visits I suggested we'd go there on our second day, take one of the common trails but continue it further than what is usually done when touring the park on a more general trip.
We departed our campsite early enough, but we had to drive the entire Tioga Road to get to the western side of the park.
on our way we stopped at Olmsted Point to take a look on Tenaya Canyon, its lowest part running right below Half Dome before merging with the Merced River. It was that lower part of Tenaya Canyon that I had planned to hike.
It was a bear jam. It had to be. No traffic jam would form for any other animal in the Sierra Nevada parks. A jam caused by a more sinister reason would not have all the excited people crowding the road shoulders, waving their cameras and pointing.
Within a few minutes we were also standing on the shoulder, straining our eyes to see the bear.
Last year I got to see my first Yosemite bear. It was a very thin mama bear with two cubs, along the road to Hetch Hetchy.
Now, for the first time, I got to see a bear in the main area of Yosemite National Park. I now believe that Yosemite's bears are for real :-)
|Black Bear wearing a radio transmitter|
We got to the car and found out that our friend G wasn't with us.
I remembered how concerned she was about the possibility of meeting a bear, to the point of insisting to sleep between Y and me. But there she was - striding happily towards us, wearing a huge grin and waving her phone - she had managed to film a short clip of the bear as it looked around.
When all the excitement was over we got into the car and continued the long way west and then south and entered Yosemite Valley.
We made straight to the eastern parking lot of what used to be called Curry Village and since my last visit there last January has been renamed Half Dome Village. From there we headed in the direction of Mirror Lake.
|Our hike along lower Tenaya Canyon marked in yellow|
|California Ground Squirrel|
Mirror Lake lies between the North Dome and Half Dome about a mile before north of the merging point of Tenaya Creek and the Merced River. It used to be a year-round lake, a spectacle that was one of the main attractions to visitors of the Yosemite Valley.
This hike we did in mid-September so I had no expectations to find a lake in the Mirror Lake location. I didn't expect, however, to find a dry gravel bowl. Not even a trickle of water was there. Nada.
I know it's seasonal but it was sad to see.
Narrow groves of pine and fir trees lined the creek side and we were passing through intermittent sunlight. On one sunny spot sat a pretty butterfly and waited for me to take a photo before flying away.
Except for the trees everything else seemed fairly dry and very still, under summer-fatigue spell, waiting for the rain and snow. A few hardy plants were blooming yet and naturally, I took the time to look at them, as closely as I could get without climbing out of the trail.
|Cardinal Monkeyflower, Mimulus cardinalis|
|California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum|
After a good walk uphill along the edge of the vegetation the trail finally entered the shade of the trees again. Along with the pines and firs there were also many maple trees, wearing green still, yet looking very tired, that made part of the forest we were waling through.
Below the trees near the trail grew dense patches of horsetail - a plant of an ancient order that has evolved before the conifers and other higher plants did.
We reached another flight of stairs, this time leading down. We were finally descending to the creek itself and to the bridge that would take us from the eastern side of Tenaya Canyon to the west.
I have hiked this loop tail about 15 years ago with Pappa Quail, before we became Mamma and Pappam and before we knew the significance of the Quail to California. On that high we were like the wide eyed tourists, taking in the sights, but not photographing much. It was on that trail when we first saw our first western tanager bird. It was also the first time we've seen and American Dipper, and we were awed by the little gray bird which dived again and again in the rushing rapids under the bridge.
On this hike we saw no dipper. In fact, we barely saw any stream. A shallow and thin ribbon of water gleamed between the pebbles - the remains of a greater spring flow. I don't know if this trickle is normal for the fall season or if this is an outcome of the long California drought.
|Water of Tenaya Creek|
We were walking at a quicker pace now. The mild downhill slope made it easier to go faster. This side was closer to the creek and much more shaded. There were many pine and fir trees like on the east side, but also broadleaf trees such as maple and poplar.
Some of the trees we saw there were marked with the activity of sapsucker birds.
|Feeding wells drilled by a sapsucker.|
|Horsetail, Equisetum sp.|
The creek came back into view and we could see the narrow, brown stream flowing lazily through the sand sediments and piles of driftwood.
From the west side there is an easy access to the lake bed, now a dry gravel bowl. We walked on the dry earth where there should have been water, and I wondered what had happened to the water we've seen earlier flowing down Tenaya Creek. Flowing under the gravel, I assume.
|Mirror Lake sans water|
Along the way we encountered this lovely doe who didn't mind us at all :-)
|Sierra Lessingia, Lessingia leptoclada|
When I came to Yosemite for the first time I had arrived from the south, seeing the Valley for the first time from the Wawona Tunnel Viewpoint. I will never forget how amazed I was, and how awe-struck at that view, of one of the most breath-taking places in the world. I have never failed since to take there any of my visitors for whom it was the first time seeing this park.
Yosemite Valley was no less majestic last September, painted red and orange by the last rays of the setting sun. But it takes no expert to see that something was wrong there. That so many trees in that magical Valley were dead. From the drought, or from the attack of the boring beetle, I don't know. Either way it was sad to see.