on October 19, 2008
Yosemite is a big place. It’s a 90-minute drive from Mariposa Grove to Yosemite Valley. Shortly before the turnoff to the Valley, you reach another to Glacier Point. It takes a half-hour to head down this road, which gradually approaches the rim of the glacier-carved rim. There are a number of turnoffs and trailheads, but we’d reluctantly pared our itinerary back to Glacier Point itself, passing on hikes to Taft Point and Sentinel Dome, or a climb from (or descent to) the Valley floor.You reach Badger Pass Ski Area after about four miles of climbing on Glacier Point Road. The road turns straight north here, with the parking area for Taft Point 3 miles ahead on your left. The road bears northeast at this point, running parallel to the Valley below. Through the trees, you can frequently see out to the rim of the valley and across. The day had suddenly turned cloudy, and we were a little concerned about arriving at Glacier Point under something other than the perfect blue skies we’d had earlier. With a mile to go, we stopped briefly at Washburn Point, about a mile south of Glacier Point. There’s a great view of the Half Dome and the east end of Yosemite Valley, and if the road and terrain stopped here, Washburn Point would be the most celebrated view in Yosemite (if not California, North America, or the world). But in another two minutes, we parked in the large lot and began walking out to Glacier Point. We had plenty of company; we hadn’t arrived here until nearly 11 am, and parking was limited, but not zero. Glacier Point is more of a complex than its name implies. From the parking lot, a path runs northwest past a set of restrooms (there were enough people here that both my daughter and I had to wait in substantial lines here on our way back to the car). In another 600 feet, you reach the base of the point, which then extends off to your left. Don’t hurry out there, though: directly ahead of you are views out over the eastern end of the valley. We spent almost 30 minutes here, taking panoramic shots, chatting with other visitors, and just laughing with each other about how spectacularly beautiful it was.You move away from the rim to ascend the remaining distance to the Point, which is nearly a quarter-mile. There are sets of stairs, but also a wheelchair-accessible path that runs to the west of the original route. In a few minutes, we were at the observation deck, which extends over 100 feet in split-level fashion, nearly dropping straight down to the valley floor beyond the stone wall. From here, you have a complete view of Yosemite Valley from east to west. It’s jaw droppingly gorgeous. Laid out in front of you are half a dozen waterfalls, the classic shape of Half Dome, and countless rocky peaks. Every place you look, a little concentration rewards you with more details. Looking down on the Valley with binoculars, we picked out the places we would visit next, found the Ahwahnee, and followed the course of the Merced River through the middle. Gazing across at the north rim, you could see the class u-shaped hanging valleys carved by glaciers, with streams flowing at the base of the u and cascading hundreds of feet downward. It was nearing the middle of June, and although the peak runoff was past, there was still water flowing everywhere you looked. It was tough to leave. We walked up and down the length of the patio, and lingered at the northern end for a while. We eased the pain of departure a little by popping into the concession building for ice cream.On a longer visit, I’d love to descend one of several trails that summit here. I’m guessing that a descent would not only be easier, but would allow you to face the gorgeous scenery. It’s a four-mile path (along of all things, Four Mile Trail), and I’m confident it would be worth the shuttle ride out, or even a return trip for your car.
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