Yosemite National Park: Washburn Point and Glacier Point

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Half Dome and Clouds Rest

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.

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The light in the campground that morning was bewitching as the sun warmed and evaporated the moisture that had settled on the forest overnight.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

In the video below, Sean captures a California Ground Squirrel warming himself on a Ponderosa Pine log while evaporating moisture surrounds the squirrel. Then I capture a close-up of the evaporation:

Video: Sean M. Santos and Brandon Hayes

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Brewer’s Blackbird (female)

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Soon we were back on Big Oak Flat Road. Several sections of the road pass through portions of Yosemite National Park that were extensively burned by wildfires in the decades since the National Park Service ended its fire suppression practices. Over the twentieth century, it became clear that periodic, low-intensity fires are essential to the forest ecosystem, clearing out dense shrubs that prevent young trees from growing and reducing the amount of flammable material in the forest so that fires, when they do occur, do not become infernos. The fire-impacted parts of Yosemite feel like an ecosystem finding its balance again now that humans understand the importance of fire.

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Merced Gorge. Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

In order to get almost anywhere major in Yosemite from almost anywhere else, one must go to where the roads meet at the western end of Yosemite Valley. So we said a quick good morning to the valley as we passed through.

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El Capitan and Half Dome

Soon we had turned off of Wawona Road onto Glacier Point Road, which had been closed because of a late season storm when we’d arrived two days earlier.

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After about ten miles climbing into the high country south of Yosemite Valley, we began to be treated to vistas of the High Sierra in the distance. The snow on the distant peaks was echoed by some lingering snow at points along the roadway, mostly on north-facing exposures.

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The High Sierra

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Greenleaf Manzanita

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Greenleaf Manzanita

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Mount Starr King

We stopped at a couple of turnouts on our way up, mentally taking note of the parking area for the trailheads to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point, hopefully on the agenda for the afternoon.

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Half Dome

Then we reached Washburn Point with its northeasterly view toward the magnificent profile of Half Dome.

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Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon

Beneath and behind Half Dome, the Merced River flows out of Little Yosemite Valley, falling over Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall on its way into Yosemite Valley proper.

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Vernal Fall (left) and Nevada Fall (right)

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Waterfall Cam (Nevada Fall). Image: Sean M. Santos

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Waterfall Cam (Vernal Fall). Image: Sean M. Santos

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Mount Broderick (left), Liberty Cap (right), and Vernal Fall

Far below, we could see hikers taking in the view from the top of Vernal Fall.

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Vernal Fall

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Nevada Fall

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Half Dome Cam. Image: Sean M. Santos

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Half Dome, with hikers

We could also see hikers up at the very top of Half Dome. These were likely park staff since the cable-assisted route to the top of Half Dome wouldn’t open to the public until the following day.

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Half Dome

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Mount Hoffman

In the distance, Mount Hoffman, one of the highest peaks in the park at 10,650 feet, was covered in snow. It is also nearly the geographic center of Yosemite National Park.

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North Dome

Across the eastern end of the valley, swiftly moving clouds painted the domes with alternating patterns of light and shadow.

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California Ground Squirrel

And on the slope beneath us, a California Ground Squirrel enjoyed the sunshine.

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Illilouette Fall

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Red Peak

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Washburn Point

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Red Peak (left) and Merced Peak (right)

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Gray Peak (left), Red Peak (center), and Merced Peak (right)

We climbed back into the Jeep and continued on to the Glacier Point parking area, which was Sean’s first real taste of a hugely crowded National Park.

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Perhaps the most frustrating thing was that the parking lot wasn’t actually full. It was oriented in an elongated horseshoe, and if drivers just moved along, there were plenty of open spots at the far end of the parking lot. But drivers waited behind any potential exiting vehicle, holding everything up. The delicious irony was that the spots at the far end of the horseshoe were closer to the the facilities and trail to the viewpoint than the spots people were jostling for at the bottom of the horseshoe.

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Once we had parked, we followed the broad, easy footpath out to the famous viewpoints of Glacier Point.

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Jeffrey Pine and Half Dome

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Yosemite Falls

And there it was, the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, and one of the most properly famous vistas in the National Parks.

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Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls

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Royal Arches

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North Dome (left), Basket Dome (right), and Mount Hoffman

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Glacier Point

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The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (the Ahwahnee) and the Merced River in Yosemite Valley

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Lower Yosemite Fall

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Half Dome with hikers

Half Dome is not actually a dome that was cut in half by glaciers or erosion or weathering. Like the other granite domes and features in the Sierra Nevada, it was created by an igneous intrusion below ground when volcanic activity pushed super-hot magma up from the mantle through the Earth’s crust. This magma did not reach the surface causing a volcanic cone and eruption, but cooled to become granite beneath the surface, often cracking along fault lines. The Northwest Face of Half Dome was likely one of those faults. Eventually the granite formations beneath the surface were thrust up as the Sierra Nevada was formed. Over millions of years, layers of softer rock weathered away, revealing Half Dome, North Dome, Basket Dome, and the other granite features of Yosemite National Park.

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The northwest face of Half Dome

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Tenaya Canyon and Tenaya Peak (center)

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Clouds Rest and Half Dome

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Tenaya Canyon

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Glacier Point USGS elevation marker

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Camp Half Dome (Camp Curry) and the Merced River in Yosemite Valley, 3,200 feet below

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Yosemite Falls

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The north rim of Yosemite Valley with Royal Arches, Washington Column, North Dome, Basket Dome, and Mount Hoffman

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The viewpoints were busy, but not overcrowded, and it was good to see people enjoying their Park, even if that girl in the photo above was kind of dumb and shouldn’t have been climbing up there art directing someone.

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Tenay Canyon, Clouds Rest, and Half Dome. Image: Sean M. Santos

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Clouds Rest and Half Dome

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(From lower left) Royal Arches, Washington Column, North Dome, Mount Hoffman, Basket Dome, Polly Dome, Mount Watkins, Tenaya Peak, Tresidder Peak, Echo Peaks, Tenaya Canyon, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, and Little Yosemite Valley

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Mount Watkins (left foreground) and Tenaya Canyon with Tenaya Peak, Tresidder Peak, and Echo Peaks

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Glacier Point and Upper Yosemite Fall

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Tenaya Canyon and Half Dome

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Little Yosemite Valley, Liberty Cap, Nevada Fall, and Vernal Fall

After taking in the views, we got some hot dogs and potato chips at the food court and sat munching on them in the amphitheater with the High Sierra stretched out before us.

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Little Yosemite Valley, Mount Broderick, Liberty Cap, Nevada Fall, Vernal Fall, and Mount Staff King

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Jeffrey Pine

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Mount Starr King

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Mount Watkins, Upper Tenaya Canyon, Clouds Rest, and Half Dome

After our snack, Sean was feeling up for a hike, so we decided to go and try to walk to the top of Sentinel Dome.

 

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