Trip to Yosemite: Part 1

I attended Ray summit, a distributed computing conference in San Francisco in September 2023, and took the opportunity to visit Yosemite national park while I was in California. I drove out to Yosemite on Sat morning, and checked in to a hotel about 30 min from the park. I arrived at the hotel around 4 and still had a few hrs of daylight left, so drove out to the park right away and did the Mariposa Grove hike that weaves around some of the biggest Sequoia trees in Yosemite. The biggest attractions are the Fallen Monarch and Grizzly Giant.

A shuttle picks you up from the parking lot and drops you off to the trail head, about 2 miles away. From the trail head, it is about a 2 mile round trip to Grizzly Giant, meandering through the other attractions in the grove. The hiking path is well-paved and climbs gently. There are several information displays along the way providing interesting bits of information about the Sequoia trees. The last shuttle leaves the parking lot at 5:30 PM, and the last shuttle from the trail head to the parking lot is at 6:30 PM. I just made it to the parking lot in time to make the last shuttle. The park stays open until much later, so you still have the option of walking the 2 miles from the parking lot to the trail head if you miss the last shuttle.

There are bathrooms with plumbing at the parking area and at the trail head. Pit toilet at the handicap parking area 0.1 miles from the Grizzly Giant, and more pit toilets just below the Mariposa Grove Museum in the upper grove.

The Fallen Monarch. We don’t know when or how this giant tree fell.
The grizzly giant and me. It is around ~2000 years old, and a lot bigger in reality than what it looks in the picture!

There are several information displays around the trail that provide interesting information about the sequoia trees. I’ll list a few that I found particularly appealing.

  • Sequoia trees originate from seeds no bigger than an oat flake. A mature sequoia can produce as many as 400,000 seeds per year. Only a lucky few find the right mix of soil moisture, temperature and sunlight necessary to germinate and grow
  • Sequoias never stop growing. They continue adding volume throughout their lives. Giant Sequoias are the largest trees in the world by volume, but not the tallest. The coast redwood trees are taller
  • How do these trees survive the notorious California wild fires? That answer is the tannin in their bark, which can be up to 2 feet thick. The tannin also provides protection from insects and disease. Fires don’t just bring destruction–they open the forest canopy to sunlight and reduce competition from nearby trees. This is essential in the growth phase of sequoia trees.
  • The roots of Sequoia trees grow out, not down. Their root system can extend 100-200 feet from the trunk, often forming networks with roots of other sequoia trees, sharing resources rather than competing for them.
  • Giant Sequoias can consume hundreds of gallons of water every day. Most of the water comes from snowmelt, which flows along the surface of the ground into wetlands or filters underground through loose soil

After walking around the trail for an hour, I headed back to the parking lot to make the last shuttle. The shuttle was waiting at the stop when I arrived. A park employee on board the shuttle asked us if there were people behind us. Several people said yes, and the shuttle waited for a few minutes to pick up a few late arrivals. However the shuttle got quite full and the park employee had to turn down several people from boarding the bus. It wasn’t a big deal though as it is only a ~2 mile walk to the car parking lot.

I listened to a fascinating podcast about Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan on the way back to my hotel. So often in history, the twists and turns in the lives of a few individuals can reshape the destinies of entire nations. In Jinnah’s case, his falling out with Gandhi and the Indian National Congress in general because he felt usurped and marginalized by Gandhi, and didn’t like increasing focus on Hinduism in the Congress leadership (which had been a secular party focused on self rule for all Indians in its early years) resulted in the founding of the Muslim League, centered on protecting the interests of Muslims in India. During WW2, as clamor for independence got louder and more strident, the British jailed most of the Congress leaders, including Gandhi and Nehru. This gave the Muslim league (whose leaders weren’t jailed) free reign to drum up Hindu-Muslim rivalry and advocate for the creation of a new state for Indian Muslims, despite that Hindus and Muslims had coexisted peacefully in India for hundreds of years, since the founding of the Delhi Sultanate in the 12th century. After WW2, Britain was weak and under loads of debt. They just wanted to get out of India and ultimately agreed to the partition of India and the creation of the state of Pakistan. This resulted in the separation of families, widespread violence and untold misery for millions of people. I remember my grandmother telling me stories from that time. I was too young to comprehend what she was saying at the time, but I now know what she must have been referring to. A fascinating, but sad story that also hits home for me.

Next day, I did the the Mist trail, that leads up to Nevada falls, with Vernal falls along the way. Those are two of the most spectacular waterfalls in Yosemite. This will be the subject of the next blog!

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