Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Departure from Yosemite, Mariposa Grove

I wrote this as a continuation of other posts which I intend to write but have not yet completed. The context, as you may already know, was my birding/naturalism trip in Yosemite National Park last week--there are many things I'd like to say concerning the trip but those things will have to wait a bit.

Since I was to leave early the following day, I bid everyone farewell on Friday evening after we returned to the campground from a late-night mountain “star trek” (as Victor one of the tour leaders called it) with a volunteer park ranger. Though the Crane Flat campground contradicted it’s name in almost every respect—it is neither flat nor were there any cranes to speak of—I was fortunate to have secured a nice level spot for my tent and I slept so well I can’t even remember how well I slept. Good thing too because we had a long day ahead of us on Saturday. I was equipped with lightweight backpacking gear so my tent was easy to dismantle, my sleeping bag stuffed comfortably back into its sack (they rarely do you know) and everything was packed away in the Honda by around 6:30 a.m. the next morning.

Before exiting the park Christopher wanted to see the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias located near the southern exit to the park, so we made a short trek around the grove to see some of the most notable trees including the massive “Grizzly Giant” and the “California Tree” (which had a tunnel carved through the base of the trunk back in 1895, and now serves more or less as the ‘replacement’ for the “Wawona Tunnel Tree” which fell back in the 1980’s). I found a very cooperative White-headed Woodpecker for Christopher to see, and we also got to watch a Mule Deer nibbling on some bushes while a fawn sought shelter in the dense green grass below. The grove was extremely peaceful and hushed at that early hour.

As a side note, I had an interesting encounter with some tourists, which proved to be both a cause of consternation and amusement all at once. It went something like this.

Setting: We were standing at the trailhead reading about the grove when a muscular man in a navy t-shirt with a backpack approached us, followed by his wife and two young daughters.

Tourist guy: “Hey, what’s worth seeing here?”

Me: “Well, the whole grove is really beautiful but I would definitely recommend visiting the Grizzly Giant. It’s pretty spectacular.”

Tourist guy: “Hmm, the sign says 0.9 miles. *mumbling to himself* We need to be back in time to catch our plane… Alright honey, this guy says we should see the Grizzly Giant, but let’s make it fast. Come on.”

They walked about 200 yards down the trail, but I knew we would see them again…a prospect which did not excite me—they were friendly but that guy had a very recognizable “This-had-better-be-as-good-as-you-say-it-is” tone of voice which caused me to wonder what my fate would be if he was unimpressed with ‘my trees.’ We passed them as they were admiring a huge uprooted sequoia along the path, commenting on how old it must be, and taking photos. A few minutes later I located a White-headed Woodpecker foraging in a small pine by the trail, and as Christopher was viewing it through my binoculars and I was trying to get pictures, the family caught up with us. Their curiosity was immediately piqued.

Tourist guy’s wife: *in hushed tones* “What is it?”

Me: “We’ve got a White-headed Woodpecker—see, there he is, flying to that larger pine!”

Tourist guy’s wife: “Wow. We get a lot of woodpeckers at home, you know, the ones with the red on the head…”

NOTE: Nearly every species of woodpecker in the U.S. has some red markings, usually on it’s head. Clearly I’m not dealing with an avid birder, but that’s fine because non-birders usually get excited about almost any bird—either that or they give you a quizzical grin or a polite, “Ahh, I see…” and keep walking.

They moved on. We left the woodpecker to continue it’s systematic insect persecution, and continued towards our destination, passing the family again. This time the man noted that there weren’t actually that many clusters of sequoias in the grove, to which I responded, “Yeah, this is completely different type of forest than the Coastal Redwoods inhabit, it’s much more dry and sparse.”

We skedaddled onward. I hoped that my response had proven satisfactory. Despite the hard-to-impress nature of this particular tourist I had one tree up my sleeve which I was sure would knock his socks off. Grizzly Giant is probably the largest sequoia in the park, measuring about 20 feet in diameter and stands around 200 feet tall. Would he be impressed? Did it compare to all the sequoias he had seen up in Tuolumne Meadows? What would be my fate if his response was something like, “You told us to walk a whole mile just to see that?!”

He was, of course, very impressed. They all were. Big relief.

We all gazed in awe at the gargantuan tree towering above us, with gnarled branches as thick as trees protruding from its weathered trunk. All of the sudden.

Tourist guy: “Hey it looks like the top is broken off! I wonder where it went…”

He eyed me suspiciously…ok he didn’t, I made that up.

In my mind I was saying, “It wasn’t me! I didn’t take it!” But coolness and reason prevailed and I offered the natural explanation, “When you’re the tallest thing around and you’ve stood there for thousands of years storm damage will naturally take its toll.”

The tour group of which I was now the involuntary leader walked a short way down the trail to the next attraction, the California Tree.

NOTE: When you find yourself in this position (ie. answering everyone’s questions and offering reasonable explanations for natural phenomena) there is one thing you must do. Stay ahead of the group and frantically read every plaque and piece of information you can find about anything and everything so that you can stop the group and explain everything before they get the chance to read those same signs. It’s necessary to maintain the illusion that you really know what you’re talking about.

We admired the blackened heartwood of the CA Tree, which was covered with carvings and initials—so many that the letters were indecipherable. Just as we were about to head back to the parking lot…

Tourist guy’s wife: “Hey look! A bird! Just like you’ve been looking for. You should look at it through your binoculars!”

Me: *without raising my binoculars* “Oh, yeah. A Robin.”

Christopher and I took the 1.1 mile return trail, since the tourist family had opted for the slightly shorter 0.9 mile trail. We had some good laughs over that whole incident.

P.S. I will post pictures later


Stephen Bittner said...

That's fantastic!

"Yeah. It's a robin." :D Good stuff.

Benjamin said...

Thanks Stephen, it was definitely an amusing experience--you don't often meet tourists like that!