Sierra Nevada & Yosemite


Yosemite is a relatively small valley in the southern half of Sierra Nevada.


Nature carved Yosemite Valley during the ice age and it used glaciers to sculpt graceful valleys, gouge out sheer cliffs, and polish the granite to a shine. The last glacier to sweep through the park melted a mere 10,000 years ago, that’s a blink of an eye in geological terms.

Valley’s greatest hits: El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Fall on the right, the green Valley floor below, and glorious Half Dome front and center.


For centuries native tribe of Ahwahnee inhabited the Valley. It was paradise on earth- a citadel-like hideaway filled with sweet water, edible plants, and wild game. All that changed in the first half of the 19th century, after Mexico gained control of California, and beaver trappers started venturing into the Sierra Nevada from the East, searching for fresh hunting grounds, away from the over trapped Rockies. The pace of change hastened when far more precious gold was discovered and the Gold Rush of California started in 1848. Fortune seekers arrived from Europe, China, Australia, and South America as the news spread; by 1850, 300,000 people had flooded the state, pulling out gold from Californian mines and streams. This did not bode well for the native tribes, as newcomers competed for territory, food supplies, and gold.

Albert Bierstadt painting — The Domes of Yosemite — private commission, 140 square foot!!!

The Hall of Fame

John Muir: A Man of the Mountains

Of all the eminent artists and thinkers that Yosemite has nurtured, none has been more celebrated, more influential, and more romanticized than John Muir. His passionate nature writing helped inspire the modern nature conservation movement, and his tireless efforts were vital to the establishment of Yosemite National Park. His arrival at the little-known valley in 1868, at the age of 30, as a sheepherder, was humble. In later years he rambled about the landscape, meticulously studying nature, landscape, and taking notes. In 1892 he co-founded the Sierra Club and became its first president. Muir’s rich and poetic writings spanned the gap between literature and science. His later life was dedicated to the cause of Yosemite Valley and lobbying for its conservation.

Ansel Adams–the photographer

Yosemite’s best-known photographer, he developed a level of craft not seen in the work of his predecessors. An early advocate of the notion that photography could exercise the same aesthetic principles used by fine artists, he also became a forceful advocate for the conservation of the wilderness.

“La natura è il mio regno” — Ansel Adams

Other Yosemite’s Artists

In the mid-19th century, the western world was processing the industrial revolution and experiencing a rapid disappearance of old ways of life. Urban squalor and ghettoes had started pushing nature away. Such discoveries of the transcendental riches of the landscape thus molded the art and literature of that era. It strived to capture the face of God in the wild richness of nature. Literature expressed spiritualism tied to the wilderness; writers who explored such themes included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Henry David Thoreau. A parallel trend into this intellectual moment came with paintings of Yosemite by a recognized artist, Albert Bierstadt, in 1863.

Looking Down Yosemite-Valley — Albert Bierstadt, 1865

Adventure Sports

3000-foot cliffs. Thundering waterfalls. Sparkling granite domes. Yosemite Valley is without question the rock star of the park. Just 7 miles long and less than one mile wide, it’s home to six waterfalls over 1000 feet tall and enough jaw-dropping scenery to keep one in a perpetual state of arousal.

El Capitan (the Captain or Chief–in Spanish)

This massive granite monolith rising 3600 feet above the Valley floor is the world’s largest hunk of unbroken polished rock, the Kohinoor of American rock climbing. Use binoculars to spot grasshopper climbers scampering across El Cap’s series of cracks and ledges, including the famous ‘Nose.’ Once the night turns inky, and the eyes adjust, one can make out the pinpricks of headlamps dotting the rock face. Listen, too, for voices.

“Your legs feel like fried bacon after a day of climbing and descending. It’s a roller coaster ride, but no one is pulling you up the mountain. You’re headed toward Yosemite more than 4,000 feet of pounding the pedals. You are aware of every movement because your thighs feel tender with a sensation of pain. You push on, toward the final ascent into the valley. In front of you is a monster mountain-El Capitan. Your eyes grow wide. You take a deep breath. Suddenly, you feel only wonder.” ― Frosty Wooldridge

Half Dome

If Yosemite Valley is a Mecca of polished rocks, the Half Dome is its Kabah. This is a granite monarch, the park’s spiritual centerpiece. And it’s a shapeshifter–looks different from various viewpoints. Rising over 4800 feet about the valley’s floor it sports a rounded hunchback and a sheer northwest face (hence the name Half Dome).

Clouds Rest–Olmsted Point–Tioga Road

California Bears

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls — A long flowing ribbon of 2400 feet, a three-tiered waterfall — individually the three tiers form Upper Falls (1430 feet), Middle Cascade (675 feet), and Lower Falls (320 feet)
Bridal Veil Fall- elegant 620-foot waterfall. Frequent gusts of wind fan out the waterfalls’ lower curtain, giving it the appearance of a white Lacy veil. The Ahwahnee people call it Pohono (Spirit of the Puffing Wind), as gusts often blow the fall from side to side, even lifting water back up into the air.

The Firefall

For nearly a hundred years until 1968, the firefall was one of Yosemite’s quirky popular sights. Every summer night, an immense pile of red-hot embers got pushed off the edge of Glacier Point, creating a glittering waterfall of fire that tumbled down the 3000-foot cliff. At 9:00 PM sharp, a master of ceremonies would shout out, “Let the Fire Fall” and the embers would come tumbling down while live music played in the background. However, as “Leave No Trace” wilderness ethic took hold, in 1968 the Park Service permanently ended the spectacle.

Horseshoe Fall. Photo Courtesy — Wayne Hsieh

Mariposa Grove

The grove is the cathedral of gigantic sequoias with over 500 trees rocketing to the sky. Here one feels Lilliputian, walking amongst these giants, standing over 200 feet tall and with a girth base of 30 feet in diameter. They wear a coat of spongy, cinnamon-red bark, often marred by blaze scars, and juniper-like needles. These trees can weigh up to 2 million pounds and live over 2000 years. Some of these giants were around when Romans were learning to wear a toga!

Bodie Ghost Town

A quirky slice of Gold Rush history, well preserved in a time warp, where one can imagine the lawless Wild West, and hear the quick-draw-bar-room brawls. Bodie sits nearly 8,400 feet up in the Bodie Hills in Mono County, California, about an hour northeast of Yosemite Park.

Photo Courtesy — Praphulm, Flickr

Mono Lake

Just south of Bodie is Mono Lake. It’s a pale gray inland sea and its ghostly Tufa towers make it seem like a swimming pool on some alien planet. The surrounding shores sport a day-old stubble of sagebrush and zillions of buzzing alkaline flies. The lake contains about 280 million tons of dissolved salts, and the water is more than twice as salty as oceans.

Photo Courtesy — Wiki Media

Tahoe Lake

The lake shimmers like a cup of Ambrosia, in an expanse of cobalt blue, at 6000 feet, cupped within snow-crowned summits rising 8,000 to 11,000 feet around it. The pristine water in its bowels is enough to supply each person in the US with 50 gallons of water per day for 5 years; the evaporation from the lake surface each day could supply a city the size of Los Angeles for a few years.



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Ajay Goel

Ajay Goel

This is a place where I post essays and random musings.