The best Yosemite waterfall no one ever sees

Inspired by a painting that a friend of ours did, and the stories that she told of a 130 foot Yosemite waterfall that neither of us had ever seen, Tom and I set out this weekend to hike to Alder Creek Fall. I’ll point you to YosemiteExplorer.com for full hiking trail details and descriptions. As always with a new trail, there were many discoveries to be made and we really enjoyed ourselves.

At one point, the trail crosses a ‘fire line’, with itchy, scraggly dried branches lying everywhere on one side, and the ash-filled open space of a recently burned forest on the other. Fire is so important to the ecosystem here. It’s amazing how far we’ve come from the days when fire suppression was the only management policy, but as with many things, it seems like the more we learn, the more we realize there is to learn.

Living tree totemThere are several cool things about hiking through a recent burn area. One is the holes left in the ground where trees have burned into ash, leaving a pit and tunnels where the roots led out. Also stunning are all of the tree totems that are left behind – amazing charcoal sculptures that seem to defy gravity. They are difficult to photograph because they blend into the vegetation behind, but we were both stunned when we found one impossibly balanced burnt out trunk that still had living needles at the top. Near the end of the hike, we found a short stump that had been seriously undercut, and not only was it still standing, but it managed to support Tom’s weight as well.

Tom lifting piece of railroad trackAt one point, the trail merges onto an old railroad grade, with the ties stacked neatly in piles in the center of the trail, or in some cases still buried in the ground. Tom even found a piece of track. The thought of a not-so-old-as-all-that railroad constructed specifically for the timber industry seems so incongruous with the current National Park designation, but it is a fitting reminder of how things change. How they have changed in the past and how they could change again in the future if we let it.

Tom defying gravityThe Fall itself was more than worth the hike, as we rounded yet another bend in the heavily forested trail and were treated to open granite and roaring water. I thought it was 150-200 feet tall, Tom guessed more like 70, so our friend Kay, who estimated 130 is probably right. Usually is. We ate our meager ‘lunch’ of fruit and a few nuts, and then wandered along the river a short distance trying to find a safe way to the other bank. There were many places that would be easy to cross if the water was just a little lower, and Tom probably could have found a way anyway, but I was nervous, and willing to be patient, so we turned around. There was a wonderfully precarious glacial erratic on the far bank, and I hope it hasn’t toppled before we get a chance to return.

If the trailhead were a little closer, I could see visiting more often for a short run. The first uphill stretch, is too steep for me to run in my roly poly condition, but the trail itself is remarkably smooth and runnable. It would be a great run for Tom, and who knows – I’m supposed to be getting in shape after all.

unidentified flower on the trailWhen we got back to the car we calculated a rigorous 40 minute mile pace for our exploration – due to the fact that we stopped so often. We heard robins, mountain chickadees, Stellars jays, a “motormouth” robin that was probably a black-headed grosbeak, and dozens more that we couldn’t identify. Although we spent many long minutes gazing up into the trees trying to find the birds themselves, we had basically no luck. We photographed a bunch of plants that we also can’t identify, wishing that somehow we could get a direct feed from Michael Ross to get not only the answers, but the stories behind the answers, and wandered off the trail more than once to take a look at some promising-looking boulders in the trees. From the time that we left the roadway until we returned 5 hours later, we’d seen no other people.

On the Road to Certified Internet Webmaster-dom

The CIW Certification PathwaysI’ve bitten the bullet, and ordered out for the CIW Foundations course. That comes with 3 (by all accounts giant) textbooks, practice exams, online teaching aids and a voucher for the exam at the end. From what I understand the Foundations course covers all the internet basics from networking, to mark-up languages to… well I guess I’ll find out.

Once the Foundations course is done, you then have the option of picking a specialty. Time to buckle down and get an education… again.

One of the (many) great things about this job is the emphasis on learning and growing, and I’m loving that part of it especially. For example, Brian is buying this course for me, and has given me a lot of support and leeway on taking it. (He said that I needed to sign some sort of “I won’t get the education and leave right away” agreement before he’d pay for it. I haven’t, but I think we both know deep down that it isn’t really necessary.)

Now I have a double goal for the summer. Get back in shape, and pass the CIW exam. Wish me luck.

Wildflower Walk with Michael Ross

Lupines and Poppies above El PortalOn February 12, the California Native Plant Society sponsored a free wildflower walk led by Yosemite-area naturalist Michael Ross, and breaking out of our normal routines, Tom and I decided to see what it was all about. Simply amazing. It was a ‘wildflower walk’ which meant that it focused on flowers, but the thing is, if you follow a guy around for half a day who is a trained naturalist and who has been living in the Yosemite area for 30+ years you can’t help learning a little bit about birds, butterflies, wasps, caterpillars, fire ecology and a myriad of other things too.

We wandered up into the hills behind El Portal (just outside the park boundary on Hwy 140), and were treated to hillsides covered in carpets of poppies, lupine, popcorn flowers and more that Michael said was the best display he’d seen in 20+ years. He and Ann, another wildflower surveyor, and CNPS member, speculated that because of the amount of rain received last fall and the grasses which normally grow up to obscure the flowers were not as prominent.

Michael Ross leading our walkSome highlights (hope I get the details right – please let me know if I should make corrections):

We were treated to sightings of some rare plants, including Condon’s Wooly Sunflower, and another Condon plant that grows only in a few small patches, including one just off the side of the road.

We had a few examples of how difficult it is to tell the difference between different species of flowers. For example, there are 150 species of Popcorn Flower (a small white flower) in California alone, and in order to tell them apart you need to have information like whether or not their seeds have scratch marks. The difference between Phacelia and Saxifrage genus is whether or not the style is split. Time to start learning plant parts.

Fiesta flowers, a beautiful purple flower that prefers steep shady environments, got their common name because if you pick the flower something on the back of the flower, maybe the sepals?, act like Velcro and you can stick them to your clothing.

The rare Condon Wooly SunflowerWe stopped to take a look at a Thompson’s Sedge, a rare find in this region. Like the Sequoias, this unassuming tuft of greenery also requires fire in order to thrive, and has become less rare now that we have reversed our policy of fire suppression. Michael listed a couple of other plants that are also being rejuvenated in the area due to the new wildfire management policies.

There are small predatory wasps which lays their eggs in a particular kind of caterpillar. The larvae consume the caterpillar from the inside out, ending with the vital organs, and then pupate into their adult forms. Amazingly, these wasps also have a parasitoid microscopic wasp that ride on them, and looks like a small dot with the naked eye.

Shieldleaf is part of the mustard family and the seed pods have a pleasant peppery taste and have been called “mountain wasabi”.

You can use Staghorn lichen to dye wool.

The list goes on and on.

2 Weeks of Travel

View from NYC hotel

Two whole weeks on the road, and I’m finally settling back into the regular world in Yosemite.

The first stop was the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference in NYC. The chance to immerse myself in SEM and SEO, learn about what is creating buzz in the industry (like all of the social marketing outlets, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook to name a few) was quite a luxury for someone as new to the field as I am. It gave me a real leg-up in figuring out what was important, and also what is possible, in terms of creating and marketing yourself on the web.

Brian and The Desert Tray

Hanging with the Crew, and exploring NYCs restaurants and bars was a real departure from my normal life, and I discovered pretty quickly that I just really like my sleep. We had a great time though, and I rarely eat so well. This is a picture of Brian after the dinner-sized appetizers and a thick chunk of steak, contemplating the desert tray, during our dinner with iCrossing. He wasn’t alone in being over stuffed, but still tempted by the after dinner treats. Chocolate cake… mmmm.

Even with all that exploration though – there were so many NY things that I didn’t see. Didn’t explore Central Park. Didn’t take the subway (we were expensing the taxi rides, and did a bit of walking). There are many good reasons to go back and check it out again.

Skiing in VT

When I got to VT, I found out that my niece and her friend had also been in NYC during the time I was there. It’s a quick trip for them from their home, and M’ana is a veteran, so they saw a lot of the city.

VT was great. We did quite a bit of XC skiing. It was a joy to ski the flats and rolling terrain that we don’t have here. The hills are shorter than ours, but brutally steep. In addition to getting to spend some excellent time with Tom’s parents, and all of his siblings and their families, we also managed to sneak in a visit to Aunt Polly, Uncle John and Aunt Barb, Greg B., Jeff B.