National Parks Magazine tagged me to research and write an article on those Yosemite experiences the vast majority of park visitors don’t know they can have: everyone goes to the valley, looks up at Half Dome, takes pictures at the waterfall, and promptly leaves, missing out on almost all of the park. So, with guidelines that were basically “not the valley”, two friends and I went to Yosemite to discover what everyone was missing. From an experiential standpoint, this was a wonderful and easy assignment, despite the travel involved. From a writing standpoint: very difficult. Nature inspiring and varied that it allows writers to really stretch and flex, but it’s also very often unreachable even with the best effort and vocabulary.
This was the cover story for the Spring 2012 issue, and I suggest getting your hands on a physical copy for the gorgeous pictures. In the meantime, check out the full piece over at the NPM site.
For a loftier perspective on the surrounding country, consider taking the trail to the uppermost Gaylor Lakes—a moderate, four-mile round-trip hike over 860 feet of elevation change. The forest stones offer natural stairs, so the terrain is easily navigable even where it’s steep. Be sure to turn around periodically for sweeping views of the valley below you, like meadows nestled among the peaks and Mt. Dana and Mt. Gibbs stretching up to shake off any clinging clouds. At the top of the pass we caught our breath, glimpsing the lake below but unsure that anything could possibly compare to what we’d already seen. Descending the hill planted us right at the edge of Middle Gaylor Lake, a dish of mercury ringed by granite crests and fed by a snowmelt stream; a panorama of Yosemite’s western ranges peeked out from the vanishing shoreline. Putting aside the trail and following the stream to Upper Gaylor Lake took us out of time completely; there was no sense of Sunday, or of July. There was only a place empty of footprints and silent but for the occasional sound of snowpack settling under the sun. We munched our crumbled Pop Tarts before embarking on the last stretch of our Gaylor journey: rimming the lake and climbing the last hundred yards to the historic Great Sierra Mine. The ruins of its stone cabins dot the slope, a far cry from the silver riches the mine promised but never delivered.