December has been a quiet month in the Central Valley of California. Since Thanksgiving we’ve been living in Turlock for J’s weeks of radiation therapy. That’s going well, and the doctor is happy with his progress. Our holidays were peaceful and pleasant; we spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve at home and went out for small shopping jaunts and walks around the local lakes.
J has wanted to take me up into the mountains to “drive to the snow”, as he phrases it, since we got here. In his mind it’s the only proper way to enjoy snow; being surrounded by the stuff as it falls from the sky is no fun at all. Around Christmas, the weather just wasn’t cooperating; every day that we had time to make the drive it was raining in Turlock (it’s been a very wet winter this year so far!) and thus snowing in the mountains. Without chains for the truck, the only way for us to make the trip safely was to wait for dry roads.
We finally got our chance on the first day of the New Year. After several dry days in a row, we drove up to Yosemite via 140 (El Portal road), stopping in Mariposa along the way to check the route with the locals. Reassured that the roads were dry, we arrived at the Park in the early afternoon and spent a gorgeous sunny day in the Yosemite Valley. Plenty of folks had the same idea, and there were lots of families sledding the low hills and building snowmen in the meadows
I thought the snow would only be on the mountaintops, but once we were in the park the ground was covered with a good 6 to 12 inches of snow. Lying in the shadows of the forest and along the flanks of the mountains, it was just lovely. We drove the valley road up to the Visitor’s Center and back, stopping along the way to take pictures wherever the pullouts were clear of ice
I expected the vistas, and they were splendid. What I hadn’t expected was getting up-close views of the wildlife. We parked at the trailhead to Yosemite Falls, and I was standing on the sidewalk taking a picture of Half Dome when J quietly said: “L, look to your left.” I knew what was to my left, and dismissively said, “yeah, I know, the Falls...”
“No,” he said, “the deer!” I turned to see a young buck standing in a tangle of branches from a fallen tree, not 20 feet from the sidewalk. As we watched, he settled back down amidst the branches and lay there, placidly chewing his cud and watching us incuriously. He was hidden in plain view, so well camouflaged that the three people walking along right past him didn’t see him until we mentioned he was there.
Right after that, we took the icy, snow-packed trail out along Yosemite creek to the Falls viewing area. We were walking gingerly along (good boots but no chains there, either) and had stopped just before one of the trail bridges to chat with a toddler and her mother about their holidays (good, from what I could make out of the toddler’s cheerful babble.) While we were standing there, I noticed a group of folks jogging towards us behind their dog… wait. Thick forelimbs, tufted ears, coloring - that’s no dog! I hollered and pointed: “J! LYNX!”
The lynx was coming right at us and for a moment I thought it might actually cross the creek on the bridge, but at the last second it darted down the back and crossed on the snow pack, coming up the other side and finally vanishing into the woods just to our right. It passed close enough that I could clearly see its face, wearing the same testy expression that our cats get when we’ve made them move or otherwise thwarted them. Sadly, the camera wasn’t on, and I was too busy yelling and pointing to get a picture before the lynx easily evaded its pursuers and vanished into the forest.
That was the highlight of the Yosemite Falls area; we continued on to the viewing area and I got some good pictures of Yosemite creek and the falls. I put the best of my photos on Flickr, here: Yosemite 2013.
On the way out of the park, we stopped and got some great pictures of Bridal Veil Falls cascading down and vanishing into a chasm of ice-hung rock. And last but not least, at Pohono Bridge we spotted a coyote, who crossed the road in front of us and kindly waited in the clearing alongside the road until I could get a good picture of him. It would have been better had I remembered that my camera actually has a zoom, but I just had enough presence of mind to fumble it on and roll down the window to take snapshots as the truck idled past him.