Saturday, September 29, 2012

Under the tent cabin in Yosemite - by Lily

When we entered Curry Village campground in Yosemite, rows and rows of densely packed white tents immediately attracted my attention. My heart sunk. This looked like the scene in the Harry Potter movie where..

And yeap, these are the so called “tent cabin”, where we’d spend three nights in the park. Despite the high price and difficulty of booking, we saw only three beds inside as we entered our cabin. It was hot inside, but there’s no sight of AC, no TV, no Wi-Fi, no shower, and the only outlet was plugged in for the heater. Good thing we didn’t need the heater at night, so we had one outlet to use for charging our three cameras. But since we were there to enjoy the scenery in the park, we decided to make do with the accommodations we got.
As it turned out, we really didn’t need all the other “necessities”. The shower house was reasonable enough to take care of our needs. After a full day of hiking, all we needed was a good night sleep. The temperature did cool down quite a bit at night. We sat outside our tent, watched clouds moving by mountain peaks, and gazed stars above our heads at night. We heard voices and languages of all kind. The last night, we turned off the light early and chatted. We told funny stories and talked about interesting people we met during the trip, we talked about summer camps and upcoming school year. Somehow the kids started a conversation on attitude and gratitude. It was just the perfect family bonding time.

The next morning before checking out, we took a picture in front of our tent cabin as a memory.

Note: A week after we returned home from Yosemite, a scaring news came - that there was Hantavirus in Curry Village, and people stayed there from June to August were potentially exposed to the  potentially deadly virus. I read related news, searched internet about the diseases the virus can induce.  We were fortunately that we did not stay at the outbreak area - "signature tent". I have been very carefully to monitor the status of the whole family since. I asked Nicholas to read and summarize what he read about Hantavirus.

Appendix:  Hantavirus at Curry Village Yosemite  - by Nicholas

Hantavirus is a rare disease found in the droppings and saliva of deer mice. In California approximately 14% of mice carry the disease. 36% of all reported cases of Hantavirus have resulted in death.

Signs and symptoms of Hantavirus present themselves 1–6 weeks after exposure and initially appear like a common cold; symptoms in the first 1–4 days include fever, chills, muscle aches, especially in the back and thighs, nausea, and cough. Signs and symptoms become increasingly serious afterward. The types of Hantavirus that cause HPS in the United States cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

Early medical attention is critical for individuals who contract Hantavirus. Early medical attention can increase the chance that a Hantavirus patient will survive. Found especially at Yosemite in Signature Tent Cabins at Camp Curry Village, The National Park Service Office of Public Health has confirmed six cases of Hantavirus that have been linked to Yosemite National Park. Two of the six cases have resulted in fatalities. The other four individuals are improving or recovered. Approximately 3,000 registered parties have been contacted through email, mail or phone calls to inform them of the recent cases of Hantavirus and to advise them to seek immediate medical attention if they exhibit any symptoms of the virus. The National Park Service has closed the Signature Tent Cabins at Yosemite and has intensified building inspections and assessments and cleanings throughout the park.

My father was worried about me because I had flu recently. But he was not too worried since we did not stay in a Signature tent cabin. Nevertheless we are susceptible to the virus, we must be very careful.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lembert Dome at Tuolumne Meadow - by Lily

Note: Tuolumne Meadow is a major attraction at North Yosemite. 

By the time we reached Tuolumne meadow, it was already well into the afternoon and the clouds were gathering above our heads. The 7-mile trip to Cathedral lake was out of the question. So we decided to give the shortest trail a try, 2.8 mile loop to Lembert dome with an elevation gain of 850 feet. The first section of the trail was 0.7 mile of steep uphill. After a few minutes on the trail, Allan decided to back down. He was really tired with a headache after several hours of driving on the forever winding road in the mountain. To make sure he’d be able to drive us back to Yosemite Valley, it’s better for him to rest a while. Nicholas decided to stay and “protect” his dad. So Justin and I charged on.

The steep uphill was no match to what we did at Nevada Fall two days ago. We kept a fairly steady speed. Fifteen minutes later we heard loud thunder and felt a few splutters of rain. We decided to go forward for another ten minutes while watching the weather. The rain drops were on and off and I saw people ahead of us. So we continued. Soon we reached a rather flat path into the woods. It’s hard to see where the road was leading and where the Lembert dome was. “I hope it’s not just a trail circling the dome” I said to Justin half jokingly. Then we reached at a fork with an arrow pointing the uphill route to Lembert dome. Following the path we arrived at the foot of a giant rock. 

Thunder continued to threaten us, but we were emboldened by several groups of people on the rock. We easily climbed up the lower portion of the dome and reached a plateau. The peak of the dome soared in front of us. Like many other domes in Yosemite, it’s a granite formation with one steep side and dome shaped on other sides. The easiest path going up was at least in a 50 angle above the ground, by my estimate. “Are we going up there?” I asked Justin in an incredulous voice. “Of course! I’m going.” With that he was on the rock. I took out my camera and captured a few shots of him in action taking the steepest path up to the peak. Soon he disappeared behind the crack and out of my sight. I hesitated, and then decided to give it a try. Taking the easiest route, I inched my way up. It was not as hard as I had thought. Using both hands and feet I had a good grip on the rock. However after climbing a quarter of the way up, I was blocked by a steep step. I considered my options, and decided to throw my backpack up the step then pulled myself up. After several maneuvers I joined Justin at the top of Lembert Dome. The wind was blowing; the sky was covered with dark clouds. The Tuolumne meadow spread under my view, I could only imagine what it would look like if it were on a sunny day. We saw the cathedral peak, its unique symmetrical form was easy to spot and hence its name. Darkened by the heavy clouds it looked grave. Justin was holding up his camera trying to capture a grand shot of the lightening. Fortunately he agreed this was not a place to linger in this weather. We needed to get down.
We packed everything other than the cameras in my backpack and planned to drop it step by step. But at the first drop, Justin let go of the backpack before it sat steadily, and the backpack started to roll down the slope all the way to the bottom of the dome, towards a group of people taking pictures down there. We loudly yelled to get their attention. Thankfully they heard us and stopped the backpack for us. Without that burden, getting down was much easier. We took caution so we wouldn’t roll down ourselves down, like the backpack. By the time we got down the dome it was only a little over one hour and 15 minutes since we had separated from the rest of the family. 

We took the path leading to the closest parking lot hoping to catch a shuttle that would transport us to where our car was parked. There were no cell phone signals in the area, and therefore no chance to ask Allan to drive over. A drizzle had started. We quickened our footsteps passing a group of young men. When we reached the parking lot we saw a shuttle that had just turned and left. The next one would come in half an hour; we’d get back faster if we walked the way. The drizzle had become a steady light rain. We took out our rain jackets and headed to our car. As we made the last turn to the parking lot the rain drops were getting bigger and bigger. We ran! Allan and Nicholas were surprised to see us back so fast, after only one hour and forty minutes.

Allan had his nap, Justin and I felt refreshed, and Nicholas took more pictures of deer and studied all the trail maps. Together we headed back to our camp site at Yosemite Valley.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Crystal Cave at Sequoia National Park - by Nicholas

             On our recent trip to California to visit Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Park, one particular time at Sequoia really interested me. That time was at Crystal Cave, the only cave in Sequoia open to the public. At the ticket gate towards the start of the trail leading down into the cave, we were asked to step on a blue mat with Lysol and water on it to disinfect our shoes. This was to insure we would not potentially infect the bats in the cave, with WNS. WNS is white nose syndrome, a disease that starts as a white fungus on a bats body. During hibernation it wakes up bats earlier than usual making the bats starve. It started out in the East, in New York, but it’s already spread to several parts of Oklahoma, our tour guide said.

After following a short trail down to the entrance to the cave we sat down near the mouth of the cave and waited. As soon as the previous group departed and everyone for our tour was at the entrance of the cave, we followed our tour guide into the cave which was a cold 50 degrees Fahrenheit inside, and began our tour. Our tour guide was a young man,  employee of a non-profit organization working with Sequoia National Park. He was hilarious and I enjoyed his talks and explanations about the cave. 

We entered through a spider web-like gate and started a walk through the cave. I went through several rooms while taking many pictures particularly of stalagmites and stalactites, and the intricate designs on the wall made by running water. In the tour we stopped in 3 rooms and our tour guide introduced the room and pointed out several interesting places. In the first room we stopped at we saw many stalactites and our tour guide explained how the cave was formed and away we went walking deeper into the cave. At the second room which explorers named after musical instrument, Justin, my older brother correctly guessed that the musical instrument was a pipe organ on his 1st try. In the organ room we stayed and listened to his interesting explanation of the explorers who found this room, and how over long periods of time water formed this cave and pretty designs. 

In the next and final room, also the largest room in Crystal Cave we turned off all the lights and imagined the animals which lived in the cave and how they survived and adapted in this dark cave. Then the lights came back on and we had a chance to examine the room. We all exited the cave and suddenly found that the tour was over. The tour had seemed to be so short. However I had a great time and really enjoyed the tour including the 15 minute scenic trail on the way back.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Biking in the Yosemite Valley

After hiking on the the strenuous Nevada fall trail, we changed our plan of going to North Yosemite the next day to biking in the Valley. It was an excellent decision.

We were so tired from hiking to Nevada Fall. The next morning, all of us got up late. I got up around 7am, and the rest of family around 8am. we finished breakfast around 9am. When we finally rent the recreational bikes from the "green tent", put on sunscreens, it was almost 10am.

The bikes we rent are single speed with wide handlebars. The braking on this bike is achieved via back pedaling, like children's training wheels. So one can not pedal too fast. It is good for sightseeing while biking though.

It was a Sunny day. The sky was dotted with white clouds, and there was a light eastern breeze.

Justin and Nicholas led us out of Curry Village. Right across an intersection, a large meadow was on our right, where I strolled in the morning. We continued toward Yosemite Fall direction, and in a few minutes, we were passing another large meadow. Looking up we noticed that there was water running at both upper and lower Yosemite Falls, which were dry the previous two days. The rain in the mountains the previous night replenished the creeks for the water falls. We were lucky to see the water falls - because at the time of summer, the falls actually are expected to dry up per Yosemite Guide. We stopped near the falls to enjoy the scene and sight, took a few pictures, and moved on.

Passing a small forest, we reached the Merced river, and a wooden bridge was in front of us. Another view of the Yosemite Falls, with the half full Merced rive at forefront. It was a beautiful sight nevertheless.

On the way to Happy isle, we crossed the meadow north of Curry Village again, a deer was grazing in the meadow, with the trickling Yosemite Falls in the far away background.

Gently pedaling along the level, paved bike trail at moderate speed,  though it was close to noon, a bright Sun overhead, we did not feel hot at all. We enjoyed the approximately 10 mile "8" shaped biking trail in two hours comfortably.

At the end of the bike ride, we went to an ice cream parlor to indulge ourselves with scoops of ice cream.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Starry Sky over Yosemite

A dark sky full of stars has been mystic, appealing  and attractive to me. I can look at the sky for minutes without doing anything or thinking about anything.

During our eight day Sequoia, King Canyon, Yosemite Trip, despite the varying weather at day time, the sky seems to be always clear at night, and it was dark. Thus we had plenty of chances to see a dark sky full of stars. One night at Sequoia, Justin and I looked the starry sky as we walked to hotel room from WiFi area.. The second day at Yosemite, after the hike to the top of Nevada Fall, Justin went to WiFi area, Nicolas was reading in the tent house, Lily and I walked outside to watch the starry sky.

The best star gazing time we had during the trip was on the third day of our visit to Yosemite. That day we participated a night ranger program "starry skies over Yosemite" starting at 9pm. We were lucky to star gazing that night -the sky was darker, the stars were brighter to naked eyes because it was "new Moon" - no Moon in the sky,

As we waited for the ranger to come, the Sun set, stars started to show up in the sky - initially I could only see a handful stars overhead. As it was approaching 9pm, our surrounding was totally dark - I could barely see my own hands, and the sky was full of stars, I could easily see the Milky Way.

The ranger hosting the event lead us to a softball field near Yosemite Fall for star gazing.

Tarps were laid on the ground, and we were asked to lie flat on the tarps and look at the sky.

Lying flat on the tarp totally changed our perspectives: we only saw the sky, no surrounding reference. The sky was full of bright stars. There was this huge group of stars right on top us, seemingly in a light fog - that is our galaxy - the milky way. Away from milky way, the stars were not as densely populated. "how do you feel?" the ranger asked us, "feel really small" - was the most common answer.

Indeed we are small even only compared to the sheer size of our own galaxy: the Milky Way is 100,000–120,000 light-years in diameter, the earth's distance to Sun is only ~ 8 light minutes; our Sun is a like a drop of water in the "ocean" of Milky Way which contains 200 - 400 billion stars

The brightest star in the Sky, Sirius, is more than 8 light years away. The Sirius we saw was what it was more than 8 years ago. As the ranger talked about some very basic constellations, big dipper, little dipper, ...and important stars - such north star - a shooting star swept through the sky - a split of a second, it disappeared. "Wow".  The ranger digressed, asking us the size of a shooting star, someone in the audience answered "size of a grain of sand"!

Since we were at the floor of Yosemite Valley, the surrounding mountains blocked the stars near horizon - such as the bottom of the big dipper. It was nevertheless a beautiful night: dark sky, bright stars.- a night full of wonder of nature.