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 airplane is not my idea of safe transportation and certainly not a method of tourism that I consider natural, it was incredibly wonderful.
We started at the small Pine Mountain Lake airport and followed Hwy 120 towards Yosemite. Parallel to the Tuolumne Canyon, we apparently floated into the park and headed straight for Half Dome. In what seemed like seconds before kissing each other’s faces, we turned around and glided gently over Yosemite Valley with unique views of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls.
Sentinel Dome, a hike that starts a little before Glacier Point seems like a wonderful place to hike, offering 360 views of the Yosemite and Sierra Nevada peaks … and not that many people either because it’s not directly on the road .
Swooping back through the valley, we turned Half Dome. Surprisingly, from this point of view, the huge rock is actually quite narrow, and more of a wedge than a dome. The cables don’t go up the rear, but the north side edge, nothing I had anticipated.
We follow the Merced River into the 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 food and water services and sleeping cabins at their disposal to make their hiking days more enjoyable without the need to carry a large load to eat / sleep for a week . There are 6 cabins of this type that take you through the most beautiful and quite remote parts of the park. From the air we could often see the campgrounds and the trails along the rivers.
We continued over the Tioga Pass and got to see a distant Mono Lake and the decent one off Highway 120 at Lee Vining.
Completing our tour, he took us to the southern parts of the Emigrant Wilderness; at Hetch Hetchy, Lake Eleanor and Cherry Lake; all of the man-made lakes that support the San Francisco water system. Then we drove around Groveland and landed safely.
If you decide to take an aerial tour of Yosemite, you can expect this vision at different times of the year. It’s also true for a ground-level visit to Yosemite:
- Spring: Raging waterfalls, lots of bright green growth, high-altitude snow
- Summer: A browning of the green areas, some water still falling, an intense green of the pines.
- Autumn: Rare and few waterfalls, golden wheat color in green areas, very little snow
- Winter: A wispy white land of wonders, bright blue skies, some light water falls.
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 not to 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 just below us. But the funniest thing was when, all of a sudden, I found myself sitting in the middle of a super breeze. I had nothing to attribute all this wind to and decided that the plane had chosen this inopportune moment to take off and I was the only one who knew. Larry could feel my tension and was calmly explaining that the turbulence was Mother Nature’s burp or something. I had to ask for his hand and show him that his plane had blown a hole somewhere and had an air leak. He calmly turned off the air conditioning and everything was fine in my world again.