Last summer I had the opportunity to take an aerial tour of Yosemite with my flying friend, Larry Jobe. What Visions! While a small craft plane is not my idea of safe transportation and certainly not a method of touring, I consider it natural, but it was wonderful and breathless.
We start at the small airport at Pine Mountain Lake and follow Highway 120 towards Yosemite. Running parallel to Tuolumne Canyon, we seemingly floated into the park and headed straight for Half Dome. In what seemed like seconds before kissing face to face, we turned around and glided gently over Yosemite Valley, enjoying unique views of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls.
Sentinel Dome, a hike whose trailhead is a bit before Glacier Point seems like a wonderful place to hike – it offers 360 degree views of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada…and it’s not as crowded either because it’s not directly on the way .
Swooping through the valley, we toured Half Dome. Surprisingly, from this vantage point, the massive rock is actually quite narrow, and more of a wedge than a dome. The cables don’t come up through the back, but up the north side edge, nothing like I had anticipated.
We follow the Merced River into Little Yosemite Valley from one hiking camp to the next. I was only remotely aware of this visitor experience, but what a wonderful deal. Hikers can reserve space in the field camps and have all the water and food services and sleeping cabins at their disposal to make their hiking days more enjoyable without having to carry a large load to eat/sleep for a week. There are 6 such cabins that take one through the prettiest and quite remote parts of the park. From the air we could often see the camps and the trails along the rivers.
We continued over Tioga Pass and could see a distant Mono Lake and the wide drop off of Highway 120 towards Lee Vining.
Completing our tour, he took us through the southern parts of the Emigrant Wilderness; to Hetch Hetchy, Lake Eleanor and Cherry Lake; all the man-made lakes that support the San Francisco water system. Then we circled around Groveland and landed safely!
If you decide to take a Yosemite aerial tour, you can expect this sight at different times of the year. True also for a ground level visit to Yosemite:
- Spring: Raging waterfalls, lots of bright green new growth, high altitude snow
- Summer: A gold of the green areas, some water still falling, deep green of the pines
- autumn: Rare and special waterfalls, golden wheat color in grassy areas, very little snow
- Winter: A wispy white wonderland, bright blue skies, some light waterfalls.
There were a handful of controlled burns, so the air wasn’t crystal clear, but the memories will be!
I must admit I only asked Larry once if he thought I was high enough to not hit the steep mountain and only once did I notice that if I slowed down a bit I could wash my hands in the river right below us. But the funniest thing was when I suddenly found myself sitting in the middle of a super breeze. I had nothing to blame for all this wind and decided that the plane had chosen that inopportune moment to fall apart and I was the only one who knew it. Larry could feel my tension and calmly explained that the turbulence was Mother Nature’s burp or something. I had to ask him for his hand and show him that his plane had blown a hole somewhere and was losing air. He calmly turned off the air conditioning and everything was fine in my world again.