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Impressions of Yosemite

I just returned from a short visit to Yosemite National Park and plan to share a few photos from that trip over the next couple of weeks, including the image above, a photo I created on the banks of the Merced.

Though Yosemite remains as breathtaking as ever, visitors can clearly see the effects of the drought—now in its fourth year—throughout the valley. Especially at the falls. With the snow pack at just 5% of capacity, the volume of water in both Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls has been significantly reduced. At times, the winds racing through the valley reduced Bridalveil Falls to little more than mist. Before the drought, the water thundering down to the valley floor over Bridalveil sounded like a freight train. This year, it’s more like a whimper. The usual cacophony was also muted at Tamarack and Cascade creeks, where only a handful of falls and cascades could be seen in an area usually teeming with a wondrous display of aquatic vitality.

Likely due to unusually warm temperatures this winter and early spring, Redbud made an appearance in the valley at least a week earlier than they normally do. (Some still could be seen in bloom during my visit.) And the Dogwood, too, began to pop ahead of schedule. Last year, they appeared during the second week of April, but during my late March trip, I could find Dogwood blossoms in all the usual places, catching the eye, bringing sparkle to the valley, and offering a sure sign of spring and rebirth.

But it was also impossible to ignore the toll that climate change and the ongoing drought has taken on the pines. Driving around the park and especially from such lofty viewpoints as Tunnel View, you can easily notice how many pines, ravaged by pine bark beetles, have turned brown. Bark beetles have devastated trees in Glacier National Park and other Rocky Mountain parks and wilderness areas, and now they’re blighting Yosemite (and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest), as well. It’s very disheartening to see. And the site of so many dead and dying trees this early in the year does not bode well for the fire season this summer.

As I write this, I hear that a storm has brought rain and snow to the park—snow and ice enough temporarily to close Route 120. Hopefully, it will bring enough precipitation to invigorate the falls, bring added vitality to the creeks and the Merced, and encourage more blossoms and wildflowers to make a seasonable appearance.