Sunday, 24 August 2014

The world of the very big, the very old and the very beautiful

For our second day in Yosemite, we drove about 30 miles away from the main valley to a small village called Wawona, which was the historic centre of the park. Today Wawona is a tiny settlement of about 160 people. It has a large Victorian hotel, a golf course and a visitor centre with log cabins from the old pioneer days of the mid 19th century. (On the right is a photo of one of the old log cabins) Although it's only 30 miles away, it takes about an hour an a quarter to drive to Wawona from Yosemite valley because the precarious road that hugs tightly to the side of the colossal mountains kinda slows things down. The national park authorities have thoughtfully failed to place any crash barriers on the 300 degree corners, which boomerang you out to the edge of the mountain, giving you a few moments to teeter on the edge before the road pulls you back in. Presumably this is so that everyone can get a good view.

So why did we chose to leave beautiful Yosemite valley, with it's highly organised shuttle-bus system and plethora of signposts that greatly appealed to Vincent's desire for order and organisation? Because at Wawona, we would find something just as good: The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. I've mentioned Giant Redwoods in a few blog posts and they deserve the mentions - they are very impressive trees. But Giant Sequoias are something else. The Giant Sequoias we saw were about 1,500 to 2,000 years old and about 200ft tall. Just ponder that for a moment. They are living things. They are up to 2,000 years old. That's much older than you and me. It's even older than the United States of America. Two thousand years. They have lived through fires, earth quakes, a mini-ice age or two, and they are still going.

This is before I get onto the size of the Giant Sequoias. Giant truly is the right word. If you look at the base of the tree in the picture above, you might be able to just see me and Vincent with our arms stretched out, trying to make ourselves as big as possible. (Which, incidentally, is what the signs in the park advise you to do if you see a bear or a mountain lion). If you find us in the photo (I'm wearing a red T-shirt and Vincent is in white) you might start to get a sense for how big these trees are. In the photo on the right, we're standing at the foot of a particularly tall Giant Sequoia called "The Grizzly Giant", because part of its base has been blackened by fire. These trees are so big though, that they can withstand forest fires, and they actually thrive when there are fairly regular fires because the fires keep the forest floor clear of other vegetation.

I like the way that several trees have names and defining features that seem to give them personalities. I really liked the pair of trees called "the faithful couple", who have grown together so closely  that their roots have fused together and over the last millennia or so, they have essentially become one tree. This is very cheesy, but seen as I'm on honeymoon and allowed to be a bit romantic, I'm going to point it out anyway: in our wedding ceremony our friend Mona read an excerpt from Captain Corelli's Mandolin  which said that true love was like having "roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom has fallen from your branches, you find that you are one tree and not two". It seemed to us that it was a good omen to have come on honeymoon and found a pair of old trees that had actually done this. 

Once we'd trekked around the Mariposa Grove, we headed back to Yosemite valley again. On the way, we drove up to a famous viewing station called Glacier Point where we found spectacular views of the park. As we drove along through the wilderness, there were other cars on the road, but not that many and we were alone in the forest quite a lot. Suddenly, as we rounded a corner, we were confronted by.....a bear! A real live bear! I don't think it's name was Yogi and it definitely didn't look like the sort of bear that would join in with a civilised picnic, but it was a very cool bear nonetheless. It lolloped across the road with an undulating, but deceptively speedy gait, before trundling off into the woods. We'd already seen plenty of videos of bears breaking cars apart to get at food, so we were quite pleased that it didn't stop to say hello and we simply drove on, intermittently exclaiming - "It was a bear! We just saw a bear!"

Unfortunately, I did not think to take a photo of the bear and I didn't really have time to anyway. So in case you feel short changed by the lack of bear photos on this post, here is a picture of a similar bear, that I found on google.

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