Bryce Canyon National Park is an amazing spot, first and foremost for the geologic features that are present there, hoodoos. These ancient rocks are the main attraction of the park, and there are many viewpoints that overlook these rocks, and there are many excellent trails that wind in between the hoodoos.
The first thing you notice when you enter the Mariposa Grove in the dead of winter is the silence. (http://youtu.be/uImXDsJ4VNA) The distant rumble of buses, the clarion call of horns, and the screech of car brakes are all gone. The babble of a multitude of voices speaking the languages of the world is also gone. Even the mild chatter of squirrels and scrub jays fighting over food is gone as well. There is nothing but silence. Then, you hear it. You hear the slight sliding sounds of snow shifting off of tree limbs before hitting the ground with gentle whumps. You hear the distant rustle of branches being shifted by the cold winter wind. Then, you hear the voices of the trees, groaning and cracking under the weight of snow and ice, shifting their limbs, and delving their roots into the sierra soil, and you realize that even though man is gone, and there is no noise, the grove is not really silent, it has just reverted back to its state of nature.
And that is what you realize second, as you stand before the Grizzly Giant, and other massive monoliths of the Mariposa Grove. You realize that Yosemite only became a park in 1864 when Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, and before that, these Giant Sequoias were there. You realize that even before that, when Galen Clark “found” the Mariposa Grove in 1857, these trees were already there. That when the Declaration of Independence was signed, these trees were still there. That the trees were there when Columbus discovered the New World, and that they were there well before that, as the Grizzly Giant is over 2,400 years old, and was there, in that spot, well before the modern world. That’s when you realize that you’re standing in a spot that is timeless, meaning in this case, that it is almost outside of time – these trees have existed like this, withstanding the depredations of hot, cold, fire, ice, and more in the same spot and in the same manner for millennia. If standing in that spot doesn’t blow your mind and make you feel like you could be standing there at any time for the last 2,400 odd years, or that those trees have stood there before man knew them, and will likely be there after man knows them, then there’s nothing I can say to you to make you wonder and marvel at this aspect of nature. But for the rest of us, let me give you some directions!
Directions: If there is enough snow, NPS will have closed the summer access road to the Mariposa Grove, and there will be parking immediately next to the Entrance Station off of Highway 41 at the South Entrance of the park. From this lot, it is a two mile ski/snowshoe/walk to the Grove. Astute readers will note that I have provided three options to get to the grove and have not recommended one particular method. This is because you yourself will have to judge how the conditions are to determine which method of transportation will be the best for you. Last year, I walked in as there was a solid base layer of snow that I would not posthole through. I also chose to walk because I had torn off my cross country ski boot binding the day before, but that’s another story. In any event, the two miles up the road is an easy, mildly sloping trek/ski/snowshoe. Should you elect to stop here, your mileage will be four miles roundtrip. Should you elect to continue on (as highly recommended above), your mileage will vary between six (6) to eight (8) miles roundtrip. All of the mileage that you will accrue heading through the grove is mild; and even if you elect to go the full eight miles, or longer, I would rate this as an easy to moderate trek/ski/snowhoe.
Tips: Snowshoers, don’t walk in the cross country ski track. Cross country skiers, don’t ski over snowshoers. Hikers, don’t walk in the cross country ski track, and don’t fall on snowshoers. Do note that the bathrooms at the Grove will likely be closed due to winter conditions, so plan accordingly. And, speaking of planning accordingly, be prepared for winter conditions on your excursion, because if you’re doing this in the wintertime, it will be cold. Above all else, take your time, and be prepared for a magical experience. Aaaaaaaand, don’t shout, just in case there are other people there trying to have their own magical timeless moment. Also, watch out for falling snow from tree branches. It can be a cold, sudden surprise.
See you on the trail!
More Information: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=134999, http://www.yosemitehikes.com/southern-yosemite/mariposa-grove/mariposa-grove.htm, http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/mg.htm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariposa_Grove
Mountaineering is often and popularly known as “the freedom of the hills” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountaineering:_The_Freedom_of_the_Hills). I posit that if mountaineering is the freedom of the hills, cross country skiing is the freedom of the hills, valleys, meadows, ridges, and any other terrain that accumulates a sizeable amount of snow that you can ski upon. I know, not nearly as catchy. But forget being catchy: it is fun. If there’s enough snow, you can go just about anywhere on cross country skis. In Yosemite, the major cross country skiing areas are the Badger Pass/Glacier Point Road area, and the Crane Flat/Tioga Road area. (http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=134994http://www.yosemitepark.com/badgerpass.aspx, http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=134996)
While Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove areas are quite stunning, the truth of the matter is that these areas are at lower elevations and may not have enough snow to snowshoe or cross country ski, particularly in late winters and dry years, (So far, 2011 appears to be a very dry year compared to 2010), so you will likely be headed out to one of the above two areas should you wish to snowshoe or cross country ski.
Both areas are great spots to ski, either for single or multi-day trips into the backcountry. It’s hard for me to identify one of these areas as my favorite, because each has unique opportunities. For example, the Ostrander ski hut off of the Glacier Point road is one of the most stunning crystal blue lakes in the Sierra, and it’s next to a great ski hut. Then again, heading into the high country up the Tioga Road is not to be missed either. However, if you don’t have the time – or energy for a long ten mile or more ski, or multi-day trip, the Gin Flat Loop near Crane Flat is another great beginner run.
Directions: Coming from either the North or the South, take Highway 120 to Crane Flat. From there, head East on Highway 120/Tioga Road for approximately .5 miles (depending on conditions/your car’s ability to handle such conditions), at which point the road will be closed. There will be parking available well before that point, either at the Tuolomne Grove lot, or the winter parking lot for Highway 120. From where you park, the Gin Flat Loop starts almost immediately at the gate; or as this link says, .2 miles from the closed gate. (http://www.backcountryskitours.com/pages/tours_1300/1303_tour.htm).
From the gate, you should see the sign featured above, and the route is well marked from that point out. I definitely agree with NPS that the best way to do this loop is to head up via the trail, and ski back down the Tioga Road. While this trail doesn’t have too many expansive vistas, it is a great beginner loop, and a great place to get out and enjoy some high country backcountry skiing. There’s great scenery on the trail – after all, you are skiing in Yosemite – and you probably won’t see too many people as you are up in the high country. Personally, I like to cut off Tioga Road in a few places on the way back down to the trailhead to get in some longer runs, but those detours do lead to a lot of extra uphill traversing, which can tire you out if you don’t have skins. If, for some reason, you don’t take any detours, this run will run you 6.25 miles in roundtrip distance.
Tips: As with any cross country or downhill run, this route is the best right after a storm has rolled through the area. On days like that, you’ll have ample opportunities to lay down fresh tracks in many areas. Also, while this area is not the most remote due to its proximity to Crane Flat, do take the proper precautions for winter travel in terms of being properly equipped, as you could be in for a long cold night should disaster strike leaving you out on the trail alone.
See you in the powder!