Having whetted your appetite with my last post, I hope you will be looking forward to reading about the second half of our trip to California – I’ll begin: We’d spent a fabulous week on the coast and were readying ourselves for the next part of our adventure. We packed up the hire car and set off the following morning, heading inland towards Fresno. We didn’t go into the city but instead took a detour through the hot, dry farmland around the outskirts. Before long we were leaving the sprawling almond and pistachio groves behind us. The horizon which had been flat and featureless, developed lumps and grew rapidly more inviting as we drove on. Having located our B&B on the edge of Oakhurst, the gateway to Yosemite, but been unable to check in for a couple of hours, we decided to explore the local area.
We drove to Bass Lake and consulting the map took a route which would bring us out in a nice circle back to where we began. The road on the map looked to be about a 40 mile round trip which seemed perfect. In reality it was nearer 100 and there was an unpaved section in the middle which we weren’t expecting either!
We carried on regardless and returned safely, to our relief, having driven almost the entire of the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway – it was impressive with various viewpoints, a few new flowers and we even made it up to the snowline at about 8000ft. There were sections of the forest which had clearly had a relatively recent fire and were still completely black. To top it off we had a brief glimpse of a Coyote on the way down. I didn’t take too many photos of that excursion though, mainly because once we left the paved road, we weren’t sure if we had enough fuel or ground clearance on our vehicle to get down the mountain safely – lesson learnt if we ever go back!
We duly checked in and, the following morning I was very pleased to find some lovely wildflowers within a stone’s throw of the house. One such was a Brodiaea with a rather lovely common name, Ithuriel’s Spear, which was a beautiful pale blue/mauve.
Another was this attractive pale yellow Triteleia from the same family, which is known as Foothill Pretty Face.
We spent our first day doing more local exploration, including a wonderful trail called the Shadow of the Giants. It goes round a small grove of Giant Sequoia trees which is outside Yosemite itself and therefore not as well known – we saw fewer than half a dozen people in the three hours we were there. Photography was tricky as there were few decent spots to capture the grandeur of the trees but we enjoyed ourselves greatly nevertheless.
The following day we rose early and ventured into Yosemite, making our first stop at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. It was a beautiful morning and we were lucky to be some of the first visitors.
We had been told that we were unlikely to see much wildlife in Yosemite but soon found this to be untrue – we were amazed how oblivious other visitors seemed to be to the Chickarees and Chipmunks running around the forest floor alongside the path. There was even a pair of White Headed Woodpeckers chasing each other round the trunk of a pine tree.
Moving on we drove to Glacier Point. It was quite literally breath-taking! Having been unable to see into the valley before this, we rounded a corner and the whole panorama was laid out before us in glorious technicolour.
Having spent a while marvelling at the incredible vistas we drove on into the valley to work out our plan of attack for future visits. We made a brief stop at Bridalveil falls where we watched the water being blown off the cliff completely in the breeze. We also paused for elevenses on Cathedral beach which was a lovely peaceful spot on the banks of the Merced river. On our way back out of the valley we stopped for a walk at Wawona Meadows.
We found a wealth of wildflowers here too including, among others, a very pretty blue and white Nemophila called Baby Blue Eyes, California Pink (which is actually a red flowered Silene) and a type of Fritillary called Brown Bells.
On the way back to Oakhurst we also saw a beautiful Woodpecker called a Northern Flicker on the side of the road.
The next morning we set out once more for Yosemite. This time we headed straight into the valley, parked up and began the punishing hike up towards Vernal Falls. My ankle still wasn’t great so we were only aiming for the bridge near the bottom but it was exceedingly steep in places. There were some lovely views and I managed to snap this Steller’s Jay stealing a bite of somebody’s lunch by the bridge!
Having returned to the bottom of the trail, we made our way towards the Mirror Lake. The lake was lower than normal due to the drought and, as a result, not as calm as it might have been which spoilt the reflections slightly. It still made for some lovely views and the odd reasonable photo too.
On the way back to the car we came across three Mule Deer browsing in the undergrowth only a few feet from the trail. It was amazing how many people walked straight past them. Photographs were difficult because of the thick bushes but it was a wonderful experience to see them so close.
For a change of scenery on the way out of the park we took the long route back via the North entrance, pausing at Wildcat Falls and winding our way alongside the Merced before heading back through Mariposa.
This would prove useful as we were planning to walk part of a famously good wildflower trail the following day, and finding the trailhead was a little tricky if you didn’t know what to look for. Needless to say the next morning we found it easily and set off towards Hite Cove, following the valley of the South Fork of the Merced on a rather narrow path along the steep slope.
The flowers were not as spectacular as I had hoped, again owing to the dry conditions. Nevertheless the variety of species was there, just in smaller quantities. There were several species of Brodiaea, lots of a large yellow daisy type flower called Madia, blue Lupines, Owl’s clover which I particularly liked, orange Tufted Poppies and white Fairy Lanterns to name but a few. I found a wonderful large lime green and black caterpillar which I later discovered would become a White Lined Sphinx Moth – similar to our Striped Hawkmoth in the UK. There were some lovely butterflies too though the warm weather made them rather skittish. I did get this pleasing shot of a Variable Checkerspot that was a little more obliging.
Later in the day we decided to approach Bass Lake from the South side and see what there was to find there. We spotted a Bald Eagle way off in the distance which was very pleasing but no good for photographs. Eventually we moved on to a smaller lake called Manzanita Lake where we had better luck with a posing Osprey. The light was not brilliant but all things considered I was quite happy with the resulting images and it was an enjoyable way to end the day.
Another day dawned and we had found an opportunity to explore another area before we left. We took a couple of less trodden roads near Mariposa which were supposedly good for wildflowers, birds and wildlife in general. This time we were prepared to leave the tarmac behind!
Things were looking promising as we passed a stream which still had water in it, albeit not very much. There were a few nice patches of pink Clarkia beside the road and a stunning Western Kingbird posed for a portrait.
Elsewhere we came across swathes of Royal Larkspur in deep, sumptuous blue and a few spikes of white nestling amongst more pink Clarkia and yellow Pretty Face. It was a glorious sight, particularly when a Sphinx Moth started feeding from the flowers. Unfortunately the whole lot was behind a barbed wire fence at the top of a very steep bank which did not make for good photographs but the vivid colours were unforgettable.
Further along, the road opened up into dry grassland and rolling hills again and we started seeing curious birds called Western Meadowlarks. They do indeed have a nice song like you’d expect a lark to but are more Starling-like with a beak that seems a bit too big for their body. Unlike our Starlings though they had bright yellow breast markings contrasting with brown speckled plumage on their back. The scenery was slightly bleak but rather lovely in its own way.
There were masses of Ground Squirrels everywhere too and a few other birds as well including this lovely Black Phoebe.
As we neared the end of the road we had a fantastic close encounter with a Red Tailed Hawk which sat on a fencepost eating a rodent that it had caught.
It was a perfect end to a wonderful holiday and the following morning we drove back to LA with heavy hearts to be leaving such a magical place behind.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my trip. Next week I will tell you about a few shots that I took closer to home.