Posts Tagged ‘Yosemite’

Rushing Waterfalls and Spectacular Vistas: Yosemite in the Spring

Friday, March 16th, 2012

David Wimpfheimer (Photo courtesy of Susan Colletta)

David Wimpfheimer is a biologist and a professional naturalist with a passion for the natural history of the West and a special interest in birds. During his 25 years as a guide, David has lectured on trips to Death Valley, Baja California, Yosemite National Park, and more. This spring, David will return to Yosemite to lead a Smithsonian group. In his post below, David discusses his plans for this upcoming trip and what makes Yosemite, designated a national park in 1890, so special.

Yosemite. The very word conjures up many vivid images, thoughts and feelings. Huge, thundering waterfalls, an incomparable valley of sheer

Giant Sequoia (Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer)

granitic cliffs and domes, groves of giant sequoias, birds, bears and other wildlife.
I have visited Yosemite National Park every year for the last thirty. I never get tired of going there. How could I with so many varied landforms and organisms?

This June, I will be taking another Smithsonian group to Yosemite. Last year, the Sierra experienced one of the greatest accumulations of snow in recorded history. While that made for a great show of waterfalls, deep snow actually prevented us from walking out to some of our destinations. 2012 is just the opposite, a very low year for snow. Don’t worry, the waterfalls will still be spectacular, and we’ll be able to walk to Sentinel Dome. This is a moderately easy mid-elevation walk through open montane forest of fir, pine, and juniper to spectacular views of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra crest to the east.

Waterfall (Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer)

With less snow in the mountains all the park’s roads will be open. Glacier Point, towering thousands of feet above the cascading waters of Nevada and Vernal Falls, is a place that never fails to impress me. The views are there, but I enjoy sharing the smaller details; spiky seedpods of a Chinquapin bush, the ethereal song of a Hermit Thrush, or even a Sooty Grouse calling from the bough of a majestic Red Fir. Tioga Pass will be open allowing us access to the dramatic alpine zone. Mono Lake lies just to the east in a spectacular sagebrush basin. This is an awesome place that I hope to show our group.

Yosemite is the kind of place that is really more than just the sum of the words describing it. A photograph of a giant Sequoia can never do justice to its size. That’s why we’ll take a walk through the historic Mariposa Grove. The spirit of John Muir seems to call out from this unique place. Our June visit will be a good time to see the huge white blossoms of azalea here while chickadees, warblers and other birds are in full song.

There is so much to share with participants, but I want you to have your own special experience of Yosemite. It may come on one of our group walks, but you’ll also have the opportunity to just sit by the bank of the Merced River and take in this glacially carved landscape on your own. Like most national parks, there are many choices here. We’ll guide your explorations, but always allow room for more discoveries.

Half Dome (Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer)

Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer

Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer

Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer

Photo courtesy of David Wimpfheimer

6 Things: Our National Parks

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

There’s hardly an American tradition more venerable than a long, hot road trip to one of our national parks. Families have been experiencing the wonders of the natural world this way since Yosemite was designated as the world’s first national park in 1906. Since the weather’s getting a bit cool for hiking in the mountains, today we’ll take an armchair tour of our nation’s natural treasures.

Yosemite Falls over Merced River. Photo: Anton Foltin

Yosemite Falls over Merced River. Photo: Anton Foltin

Read: How people are working to preserve the natural soundscapes in our national parks, from Smithsonian Magazine.

Hear: American Favorite Ballads, including Shenandoah, Home on the Range, and This Land is Your Land,performed by Pete Seeger, from Smithsonian Folkways.

Watch: Excerpts from the new Ken Burns documentary – The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. From PBS.

Eat and Drink: Did you know that you can bring your own picnic to the National Zoological Park? BTW, no feeding the animals!

Check out: Excavations by geologists in our national parks (and elsewhere) have unearthed much about prehistoric climate change. Our interactive online program teaches you how to use 55 million-year-old leaves to gauge temperature change, from Smithsonian Education.

Go: Now is a great time to book a journey to our National Parks, including our new America’s National Parks tour, a journey through 5 breathtaking National Parks in one phenomenal vacation.

What’s your favorite National Park? Please share.

Travel Hit List: Our National Parks

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

There’s hardly an American tradition more venerable than a long, hot road trip to one of our national parks. Families have been experiencing the wonders of the natural world this way since Yosemite was designated as the world’s first national park in 1906. Since the weather’s getting a bit cool for hiking in the mountains, today we’ll take an armchair tour of our nation’s natural treasures.

Yosemite Falls over Merced River. Photo: Anton Foltin

Yosemite Falls over Merced River. Photo: Anton Foltin

Read: How people are working to preserve the natural soundscapes in our national parks from Smithsonian Magazine.

Hear: American Favorite Ballads, including Shenandoah, Home on the Range, and This Land is Your Land, performed by Pete Seeger from Smithsonian Folkways.

Watch: Excerpts from the new Ken Burns documentary – The National Parks: America’s Best Idea from PBS.

Eat and Drink: Did you know that you can bring your own picnic to the National Zoological Park? BTW, no feeding the animals!

Check out: Excavations by geologists in our national parks (and elsewhere) have unearthed much about prehistoric climate change. Our interactive online program teaches you how to use 55 million-year-old leaves to gauge temperature change, from Smithsonian Education.

Go: Now is a great time to book a journey to our National Parks.

What’s your favorite childhood memory in a National Park or other protected area? Share below.

World Heritage: Yosemite National Park

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009
View of Yosemite's Upper and Lower Falls. Photo: April Dennard, Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest

View of Yosemite’s Upper and Lower Falls. Photo: April Dennard, Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest

In a country with such natural beauty and diversity it is no wonder that three US National Parks have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon National Parks attract visitors from the world over to see their active geysers, white-topped mountains, and flowing rivers.  Yosemite, the world’s first national park, was designated as such in 1906 and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Located in east-central California, the Yosemite area was home to indigenous Paiute, Sierra Miwok, and Ahwahneechee groups long before non-indigenous people entered the region. In the mid-19th century, the California Gold Rush attracted as many as 300,000 new people to the area and displaced the area’s original settlers. Nearly a half-century later, some of the area’s first “tourists,” James Mason Hutchings and Thomas Ayres, investigated and sketched a stunning array of geographical features and wildlife.

In 1903, the landscape seen on a camping trip with preservationist John Muir so enchanted President Theodore Roosevelt that he transferred control of the land to the federal government in order to better preserve the park’s geography, wildlife, and natural beauty. The area officially became a national park in 1906, and was the first such park in the world. Since then, more than 200 other countries have followed our example and set aside land where people can enjoy the outdoors and undisturbed natural landscapes.

In Yosemite today, spectacular granite cliffs, thundering waterfalls, clear streams, and giant Sequoia groves attract more than 3.5 million visitors annually. History and geology buffs alike may learn more about the park’s historical and geological origins at the Yosemite Museum, founded in 1926. Due to increased protection efforts, hikers, bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts can continue to enjoy the park’s rich offerings for years to come.

What’s your favorite National Park and why? Share below.

Yosemite is especially beautiful in spring. Join us in May, 2010, for an exploration of the park.

Smithsonian Journeys also visits Yellowstone, Big Bend, and Glacier National Parks. Click for details.

There is a new mini-series on PBS by Ken Burns about our National Parks. Click to learn more.

Photo: Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
The Half Dome is one of the most recognized features of Yosemite National Park.

The Half Dome is one of the most recognized features of Yosemite National Park.

There are myriad reasons to visit Yosemite National Park, but the Half Dome (above) is one of our favorites. Almost 5,000 feet high, its image now graces the California state quarter. Although it was 1875 before people were able to climb the Half Dome, today, there are several trails and climbing routes to the summit. The view from the top is breathtaking, allowing hikers to see the valley floor.

Take your own hike through the Yosemite Valley and see Half Dome for yourself on our Yosemite in Spring tour.

Click here for Smithsonian’s Land Through A Lens virtual exhibit, a collection of iconic images of America’s natural beauty and a chronicle of photographers’ fascination with the land.

Click here to read more about naturalist John Muir’s love affair with Yosemite.

Which US National Park is your favorite? Share below.