We completed our hike to and from Sentinel Dome at about 3:15pm on Thursday, May 26 and immediately set off on a hike to Taft Point. Like the Sentinel Dome Trail, the trail to Taft Point was only 1.1 miles one way from the parking area. Unlike the route to Sentinel Dome, however, this trail descended about 320 to Taft Point. All told, between the two hikes, we covered 4.4 miles and a vertical rise of 860 feet. Not bad, particularly with Sean still feeling under the weather.
After our visit to Glacier Point and a bit of lunch, we decided to spend the afternoon of Thursday, May 26 doing some hiking on trails along Glacier Point Road south of the Yosemite Valley rim. Our first destination was the trail to the top of Sentinel Dome, at 8,211 feet the highest overlook on the Yosemite Valley rim save for Half Dome.
The top of Sentinel Dome is most easily reached by a 1.1-mile trail with a 460-feet vertical rise from the Taft Point/Sentinel Dome Trails parking area.
Thursday, May 26 dawned cool and bright in Hodgdon Meadow Campground. Sean was still fighting his cold, so we decided that instead of a long walk in Yosemite Valley, we would take the recommendation of our campground neighbors and drive up into the high country south of Yosemite Valley to one of the most famous vistas in the National Park system: Glacier Point.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 25, after visiting Merced Grove, we drove Big Oak Flat Road to Yosemite Valley. Our intention was to get some lunch, check out the visitor center, and perhaps wait out the rain that was forecast.
To get to the valley, we had to drive most of the length of Big Oak Flat Road, which connected our campground (Hodgdon Meadow), Merced and Tuolumne Groves, Crane Flat, and Tioga Road to El Portal Road at the entrance to the valley. All told, we’d drive the length of Big Oak Flat Road some ten times while we were in Yosemite. (Vistas, overlooks, and patches of wildflowers along Big Oak Flat Road will be peppered throughout the Yosemite posts.)
After breakfast on Wednesday, May 25, we climbed into the Jeep and drove the short distance from Hodgdon Meadow Campground to the trailhead for Merced Grove. Merced Grove is the smallest of the three Giant Sequoia groves in Yosemite National Park. The largest and most famous, Mariposa Grove, was closed for restoration until 2017 so we would be making our first acquaintance of the Giant Sequoias at Merced Grove. Happily, while Merced Grove has only about twenty mature Giant Sequoias (compared to Mariposa Grove’s five hundred), it is the least visited of the three and the most likely spot to have some seclusion among the big trees.
After our first encounter with Yosemite Valley on the evening of Tuesday, May 24, we needed to chase the setting sun through occasional spits of rain northwest to Hodgdon Meadow Campground, where we would pitch our tent for the next four nights. Hodgdon Meadow, located some forty-five minutes from the valley off of Big Oak Flat Road, is in the vast portion of the Park beyond the frenzied hub of activity in Yosemite itself. It is also in what became a National Park over a decade and a half before the valley.
No photograph or series of photographs, no paintings ever prepare a visitor so that he is not taken by surprise, for could the scenes be faithfully represented the visitor is affected not only by that upon which his eye is at any moment fixed, but by all that with which on every side it is associated, and of which it is seen only as an inherent part. For the same reason no description, no measurements, no comparisons are of much value. Indeed the attention called by these to points in some definite way remarkable, by fixing the mind on mere matters of wonder or curiosity prevent the true and far more extraordinary character of the scenery from being appreciated.
– Frederick Law Olmsted, A Preliminary Report on Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove, 1865
On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the state of California. This was the first time that a tract of land was set aside for the enjoyment of the people simply for its breathtaking scenery and the uniqueness of its natural features. This act and the two Supreme Court decisions over the next sixteen years that would uphold it and clarify its provisions established the legal precedent from which descended all federal and state parks in the United States as well as the export of the concept across the globe. Yellowstone became the first National Park eight years later only because the astonishing geothermal features of the Yellowstone River watershed were located in a territory and there wasn’t a state to grant the land to. Although the Yellowstone precedent ensured the enduring federal protection of land, Yosemite is the birthplace of the National Parks.