By Jim McCloskey
In just a few days, my wife and I will be heading out on a road trip that will take us to Yosemite and then on to the eastern slope of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.
It’s been a while since we took a trip like this one. Last time, we had a great camping spot reserved in a meadow high above Yosemite Valley. When we arrived in the middle of that June, however, the campsite was still under about 14 feet of snow, so we had to make do in what was, because so many higher-elevation sites were snowbound, a very crowded valley floor.
Unless something freakish happens in the next few days, we won’t run into similar snow issues this June. In fact, we should reach the park at just about the perfect time to enjoy the glory of Yosemite’s waterfalls and rivers in full flow. It’s a remarkable place, and every time I go I wonder why I don’t return more frequently.
When we leave Yosemite, we’ll head east through Tioga Pass and drop down the far side of the mountains to see one of the most awe-inspiring vistas on the planet as Mono Lake swings into view. It looks and feels as though you’re in the middle of a desert (which you are), but it’s hard to comprehend because Mono Lake is huge beyond belief when the mountains top the lake off with seasonal snowmelt.
This is where a massive percentage of the Eastern Sierras' water gathers, and it’s easy to see how, nearly a century ago, William Mulholland and others from Los Angeles figured that tapping into the Owens Valley’s bounty would be a relatively easy solution to the needs of their water-starved city.
We’ll roll down that valley and take in a variety of points of interest along the way, most of which will have some special relationship with water. We’ll probably steer clear of Death Valley (too late for wildflowers and probably just too hot for fun), but we’ll be trekking into the mountains as often as we can to trace Owens River tributaries up to their sources.
Through the years, WaterShapes magazine published countless articles advising watershapers to get out to “see how it’s done” in nature’s diverse laboratories. In my case, however, my perspective on and interest in wild water and waterfalls was shaped in large part by a presentation Richard Dubé made during a Whispering Crane Institute gathering in 1999 in which he talked about rock structures and the erosive power of flowing water. He opened my eyes wide to the dynamics of waterfall formation, collapse and reformation – all very cool.
So now I can sit for hours in a place like Yosemite, just looking at the waterfalls and cascades and pondering the eons it took for glaciers to form the valley and then for rivers to carve out its amazing contours and features – and how everything keeps changing, rock by rock, and will keep on changing through eons to come.
I don’t generally take vacations to dwell on my insignificance relative to geological processes, but as all of this stuff floats through my mind, I find that I like the experience more if I have a bit of “inside information” about the whys and wherefores of what I’m seeing. In years past, I was quicker than I am now to share what I know with my wife and anyone who happened to be with me, but it wasn’t long before I learned that most people are happier with their own thoughts in such awesome surroundings. So now I usually just kick back and enjoy the scenery – and study a bit as well.
My summer’s getting off to a great start, and I hope yours is, too.