I awoke at 4:30 am to ensure I did not miss the first caravan for the detour around the rockslide. I waited in line in the semi-darkness and almost started crying with relief as we drove over the bridge. The rockslide, which I had not seen since the end of May, has moved quite considerably since then. I gazed at its massive size with a combination of respect and annoyance. If it had not tossed my life into chaos this summer, I would be more excited at witnessing such a significant geologic event. I can now retire my air mattress and stop living out of the suitcase in my car!
I have been sleeping at the YA office, watching movies on my laptop at night and working in the early mornings in my pajamas. I was always taught that geology is an excruciatingly slow process—but I wish I could bribe Mother Nature into letting the whole ridge fall down quickly so we can get on with our lives.
Woke up to lights flashing and sirens wailing at 3:00 am. In my half-asleep state, I thought the last portion of the slide had finally fallen, but it turned out the safety lights in the YA office had gone on after a late night power failure. Back to sleep. I would really like to go home!
After setting up the computer system for the Tuolumne Meadows store, I decided I needed a break from technology and took a quick hike up Juniper Ridge. Ranger Margaret Eissler describes the ridge as having the feeling of “utter wildness” and I agree. As it rises over Tuolumne Meadows, it’s only a stone’s throw from the bustle of civilization, yet on top of the ridge the terrain appears untouched by any human endeavor. Ancient trees greeted me and Johnson, Unicorn and Cathedral Peak beckoned me from across the meadows. The viewpoint also afforded me a good perspective of the abundance of water from our wet winter and spring.
As a student of weather, one would think I would know better. I needed to do a seven-mile run and by the time I was able to break away from work in the evening, I could hear rumblings of thunder in the high country and the sky above Half Dome glistened darkly. I reasoned, somewhat illogically, that the storm might simply pass over the Valley and I could probably finish my run before it got too bad. As I considered my options, a friend, Chuck Carter, assured me I’d be fine. When you receive assurance from someone who regularly skis down mountain cliffs, it adds strength to your rationalizations. So I dashed off, and not surprisingly at El Capitan meadow the storm descended in earnest. Lightning flashed above and a heavy rain soaked me to the skin. As it had been unbearably hot the last few days I welcomed the bath, but the threat of electrocution took some of the enjoyment away. However, I have since decided to plan my speed work in thunderstorms as I logged in a personal best time for the four miles back to the Visitor Center that day!
Two late openings in a row. I looked back at the history since 1980, and the only other time the road opened two consecutive years in a row after June 1st was in 1997 and 1998. Here’s a look at the snow levels compared with last year on Mt. Dana.
CalTrans announced at a community meeting that they had contracted with Teichert Construction to erect two Bailey bridges to make a detour around the slide. The anticipated timeframe is 90 days. AND THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING!
I had promised to take my friend Kimi and her ten year-old son Anthony up to the top of Half Dome this year. Other friends, Iris, a young college student, and Patricia, from Heyday Books, joined us. We could not have picked a better day! The wet winter and spring had produced a bumper crop of waterfalls and I had never seen the mist trail, well, so misty. The crowds were minimal (for Half Dome) and the friendly, fair-weather cumulus clouds in the sky threatened no rain. After the long hike, Team Half Dome rewarded itself with pizza at Curry Village, a well-earned meal.
Know thy enemy. Tonight I ran down to the slide for a glance at our nemesis. A small crowd had a gathered on the banks of the river and we all stood mesmerized. The slide had assumed mythic proportions in our community and the reality did nothing to dispel the legend. It was like staring at a dragon emerging from a cave, nostrils smoking. Plumes of dust rose from the constant motion of the rock. None of us were in a hurry to leave, as we did not want to miss any of the action.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse! At our community meeting, CalTrans announced it would be six months or more before the road would open. Also, an electric tower that supplies most of El Portal and the park’s electricity is located right next to the slide and could fall at any moment; a rerouting of the lines is a priority of PG&E. Last, but to use the cliché phrase, certainly not least, the higher than normal water levels in the Merced pose a danger since if the remaining millions of cubic yards fall it would dam the river. What else could happen? The slide could fall and reveal a menacing prehistoric monster that had been trapped for eons that would wreak terror on the populace. Not likely, but at this point I would not be surprised at any new development.
What a relief, I thought as I packed up my things, to be able to drive directly home. Five-hour commutes certainly take a toll. I contemplated stopping at Sal’s, the taco truck that journeys to El Portal every other week, but the long line at the truck deterred me and I decided to just go home. After all, I had been sleeping in the office for five days. I loaded my air mattress into the trunk and drove down 140, thinking life could now return to normal. At the site of the slide, I waited in line until it was my turn to go through the one lane detour. I could see clouds of dust coming from the slide, but wasn’t overly worried as small pieces had been falling regularly. The flagman waved me through, and I thought he looked a bit nervous. Once I arrived on the other side, I passed our bookkeeper waiting to pass on her return to El Portal and I gave her a wave. Home, here I come!
Four hours later I received a call from our poor bookkeeper, telling me she had just arrived home. The rocks had fallen once again blocking the road. I had missed the slide by minutes.
Fail-proof axiom to determine splendor of the of the seasonal waterfall show in Yosemite: The higher Beth’s disappointment with Tioga Pass opening late the better the waterfalls.
Although I was hoping for an early opening of Tioga Road, the waterfalls in Yosemite Valley are roaring!
CalTrans had the road cleared and was starting to let traffic through when rocks began falling again. A runaway boulder smashed a small truck, but luckily no one was hurt. Back to square one.
Springtime in Yosemite—wildflowers, waterfalls and rockslides. Every regular commuter on highway 140 knows that spring brings rogue boulders in the road. But the slide that occurred last night was more than just a few boulders. In 1999, when I began my job at the association, this portion of the road was closed for a few weeks due to a rockslide. Let’s hope the road gets cleared in a few days this time.
We had to abandon our long planned trans-Sierra today and I am very disappointed. Yet it would have been foolish (if not deadly) to pursue it. Major storms were forecast for the entire week and the avalanche danger rating was extreme. Unfortunately, my companions do not have the flexibility of making the trip at another time this season. Next year!
While out on a ski, I met Mike Tollefson, the park superintendent, and Art Baggett, a legendary Sierra skier and State Water Resources Control Board chairman. They were returning from Bridalveil Creek and warned me that the snow had melted enough to make a crossing further ahead impossible. I have really enjoyed working with Superintendent Tollefson. He truly cares about the park and provides strong, positive leadership.
The Society of Forensic Engineers & Scientists held their annual conference at the Ahwahnee and asked me to give a presentation about the park. I have to admit to being a bit daunted (and intrigued) after seeing some of the programs they offered—“Samples of Glass Failure Analysis – Wine Bottle, Jam Jar, Olive Bottle” and “Plastic Welds and Metal Wedges – Failure Modes of Large Diameter Pipeline Joints.” The dinner conversation, however, proved to be fascinating. Thinking it appropriate, I titled my own talk: “CSI Yosemite: Investigations into Yosemite’s Natural World”
Journeyed up to Badger Pass today to ski with my good friend Dick Ewart. He’s been a ranger in the park for over thirty years and I can’t think of a better person to hike or ski with. His knowledge and enthusiasm are vast. Since we’re both native New Englanders, we also speak the same language. We had a great ski in fresh powder and lightly falling snow. If you visit the park in the winter, don’t miss his daily snowshoe walk; in the summer, you can enjoy his fun sunset talk at Glacier Point.
We were sure proved wrong in believing Little Rock would be boring. The Rolling Stones were staying at our hotel, we ate dinner in the restaurant with a Supreme Court Justice, and a tornado caused a power outage at the airport and delayed our flight home. I didn’t even mention the ducks that rode the elevator in the hotel. And people think California is crazy!
P.S. If you see Steve Kemp, my colleague who works in the Great Smoky Mountains, please remind him that the abbreviation for Arkansas is AR, not AK. The mix-up made for some embarrassing moments.
We’re on our way to the annual Association of Partners for Public Lands convention in Little Rock, Arkansas. I am looking forward to visiting the Clinton Library and relaxing in the tubs at Hot Springs National Park. Our airplane ride from Fresno provided some wonderful aerial views of Kings Canyon.