Yosemite National Park, CA – Waterfalls and Ephemerals

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February 18, 2013 by Deb W. Trotter

Yosemite Valley
What do you think of first when you think of Yosemite Valley in the springtime? Half Dome? El Capitan? The Ahwahnee Hotel? There are many iconic landmarks there, both natural and manmade.

How about Yosemite Falls? Or Bridalveil Fall? Or Vernal Fall, up the Mist Trail? Beauteous, bounteous, thunderous flows of water are as much a part of the Yosemite springtime experience as are its massive, silent, granite sentries. Along the valley floor, the Merced River curls and tumbles its way west after first plummeting over Nevada and then Vernal Falls. And there are at least a dozen other waterfalls that plunge or cascade with audible gusto into the valley from above, some year round, some only when winter’s snow is melting, or during and after a rainstorm. These latter types of falls are known as “ephemerals” because of their transitory character.

Many of the falls can be seen or heard from various points in the Park; some require hiking, some do not. (As always if you’re planning to hike in a National Park, check with the Rangers for trail conditions.)

Bridalveil Fall is part of the valley view from the west shortly after you enter Yosemite National Park.

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Valley

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Valley

You can see Yosemite Falls, upper and lower, from many places in the Park, even without getting out of your car.

Upper and lower Yosemite Falls

Upper and lower Yosemite Falls

Getting to the top of Vernal Fall requires a trek along the Mist Trail from the Happy Isles of the Merced River.

Vernal Fall from the Mist Trail

Vernal Fall from the Mist Trail

Along the trail to Vernal you might catch a glimpse of Illilouette Fall in the distance. You can get closer to this fall and hear it from above by hiking from Glacier Point on the Panorama Trail.

Illilouette Fall

Illilouette Fall

And Nevada Fall roars over the brink about a mile by trail above and beyond Vernal. You can also get to the top of Nevada on the Panorama Trail from Glacier Point.

Nevada Fall

Nevada Fall

Behind Curry Village an ephemeral called Staircase Falls appears as if by magic when it rains, and disappears when the weather is fine again.

Staircase Falls

Staircase Falls

A short walk from the Ahwahnee Hotel you will find another ephemeral when the snow is melting in the spring. Royal Arch Cascade owns the vertical granite wall, combining soft water and hard rock, temporary flow and permanent feature in a thundering visual display of nature’s artistry.

Royal Arch Cascade

Royal Arch Cascade

As is true of any National Park, no return visit is a repeat of a previous one, so if you haven’t been to Yosemite recently, go back. We plan to take a day trip today to try to see “nature’s firefall,” an ephemeral on El Capitan called Horsetail Fall as it catches the sunset’s fire and pours it into the valley. If you’ve never visited Yosemite National Park, isn’t it time?

[Update: February 19, 2013. A late-developing, thin cloud cover was enough to douse “nature’s firefall” last evening, so it was a non-event. But the Park was lovely, enveloped in a chilly and quiet winter day.]

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2 thoughts on “Yosemite National Park, CA – Waterfalls and Ephemerals

  1. lylekrahn says:

    I definitely need to get there some day.

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