Saturday was the day set aside for some serious walking and climbing, and I made good on that plan. I followed, after a fashion, two moderate hikes scouted by Ranger Vickie Mates.
But first I made the drive up Merced Canyon from Mariposa to the park entrance, following CA 140 along the south side of the canyon. The sight of the abandoned bed of a one-lane road running along the north side of the canyon is somewhat disconcerting. Sections of the old road are crumbling and overgrown after perhaps a mere half-century’s disuse.
However, not completely disused: the road jumps to the north side of the canyon (via a pair of temporary truss bridges) to get around a quite impressive rock slide. Between the signalized waits to traverse this section of the canyon and Monday’s trip up and down CA 270, I realized that driving through a damaged canyon is California’s answer to the Outer Banks’ wait for the impromptu ferry boat that crosses a new hurricane-opened inlet.
But back to the hiking. From the main parking area south of the visitor center, I took the “El Cap” shuttle bus to Camp 4 and the head of the trail that climbs to Upper Yosemite Falls. Following Ranger Mates’ advice, I climbed 1000 feet to some very nice vistas of the falls at Columbia Rock, then pushed on to one more look about a hundred feet higher. But I knew I would not have the juice to make it to the top. Lots of company on this trail: I heard a lot of German spoken. On the return descent, the slippery sand worn from the granite steps made me glad I’d brought my stick. I spotted a few White-Throated Swifts (Aeronautes saxatalis) in the valley. 3:30 up and down.
Along this trail and elsewhere I found examples of paintbrush (Castilleja sp.), a hemiparasite of plant roots now placed in the broomrape family. The green leaves shading to red at the distal end should have been a clue that I was not dealing with a conventional wildflower.
These rather tame squirrels in the park are an unexpected ID mystery. The pale “shrug” and non-bushy tail don’t match any of the candidate species I see in the field guides, but I suspect I’m dealing with nothing more exotic than a Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus).