YOSEMITE VALLEY IN WINTER: Surprisingly Warm and Uncrowded

Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park
Earlier this past year I signed up for a conference in Yosemite for the first weekend in February, expecting to see the mountains covered in white and to hike or snowshoe along icy trails. Instead, an unusually warm and dry winter in California made the weather seem more like spring and the only patches of snow were on high north facing slopes. It turned out to be a perfect time to visit the park.
On the valley floor
This was my second trip to Yosemite National Park in the past year. In contrast to last summer, when the valley was flooded with snow-melt filled rivers and waterfalls were thundering down the rock walls, the atmosphere on my recent trip was much more peaceful. While there was still plenty of water coming over the waterfalls, the river had returned to its banks, and there were far fewer visitors. The scenery was spectacular as always.
Tunnel View of El Capitan with Half Dome in the distance
My conference was held at Tenaya Lodge, just outside the park’s Wawona entrance. My friend Gretchen and I came a day early so we could enjoy the beauty of the park before the meetings began. The next morning we drove to the park entrance where we picked up a map and chatted with the ranger. We then continued on Highway 41 through the park (about an hour’s drive) to Yosemite Valley, getting our first impressive view of the valley as we exited the tunnel. The morning light was just making its way over the rim of the canyon walls, framing a distant view of Half Dome. The air was crisp and clear and the view was breathtaking.
Valley View at Cathedral Beach
We proceeded down to the bottom of the valley, making our way to the one-way road that circles the valley, stopping for views of Yosemite Falls and taking a short hike to view Bridal Veil Falls up close.
After parking our car at Yosemite Village, we toured the Visitor Center, which is filled with excellent displays explaining the geological history of the park as well as its natural and human history. (Compared to last summer, we had no trouble finding places to park and there were relatively few people.)
Sculpture of John Muir inside the Visitor Center
We ate our picnic lunch at a table outside the café near the Visitor Center, enjoying the sunshine and warm temperatures. We then visited the Ansel Adams Gallery, filled with prints by the photographer who helped make Yosemite famous. The gallery also had an excellent selection of books as well as a variety of beautiful hand-made art objects.
Beginning of trail to Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall and John Muir Trail
We wanted to do a moderate hike and decided to follow the trail to the Vernal Fall bridge. It was more uphill than we had expected, but after multiple stops to catch our breath we finally made it to the bridge. Other hikers told us that the trail up to the falls was even steeper than the one we had come on! 
View toward Vernal Fall from the bridge over the Merced River
We could see the falls up the creek in the distance and decided that was enough of a view. The hike back to the trailhead, almost all downhill, was much easier! There we caught one of the shuttle buses that circle the park, which took us back to Half Dome Village parking lot where we had left our car. It was time to return to our hotel and get ready for our conference. It had been a lovely, warm winter day.
Post Office in Yosemite Village
See my posts about previous visits to Yosemite in October 2016 and June 2017.

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