Natural Perspectives: Nature’s magnificence in Yosemite


Last week, Vic and I rented a vacation house on a fork of the Fresno River in Oakhurst with our friends Paul and Sue Hertzog and their delightful 15-year-old daughter Katie. Paul and Vic have been friends since they lived in France and shared a house during college days at Stanford. If the name Paul Hertzog sounds familiar, that’s because he wrote the music for “Kickboxer,” “Bloodsport” and several other movies.

The game plan for this trip was to go into Yosemite National Park during the day and cook gourmet meals at the house every evening. The house had a huge kitchen and a deck under the oak trees where we could sip wine while watching the river flow by below. We were in heaven.

On our first full day at Yosemite, the five of us piled into our car. We stopped at the overlook just after the tunnel for that first spectacular view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. Then, thanks to road construction work, we were stuck there for the next half hour. No worries, we ate a picnic lunch tailgate-style and enjoyed the view. If you’re going to Yosemite this summer, be aware that crews are working Monday through Friday on a major improvement project along State Route 41, the main approach from Southern California.


I could hardly wait to get to the base of Bridalveil Fall, my favorite in the park. When we arrived, we found it swollen with spring snowmelt and more beautiful than ever. We normally visit Yosemite Valley in the winter. As this was my first June visit to Yosemite Valley, I was surprised by the size of the waterfalls and the raging rivers.

Winds whipped the torrent of water from the waterfall into a thick swirling mist, blowing it onto hapless but happy hikers at the vista point at the bottom. A sudden downpour couldn’t have drenched us more. I was soaked to the skin in an instant, laughing like a schoolgirl.

Several stops and many photographs later, we arrived at the Ahwahnee Hotel, where we stopped for dessert and coffee. I picked up a nifty item in the hotel gift shop: a reusable shopping bag that folds into a little pouch with a little carabiner attached. I can clip it to my purse and always have my own shopping bag with me. I generally remember to bring reusable bags to the grocery store but don’t have one with me when shopping at other stores. Now I’ll never be without one. That’s one more small step for the environment.

We went our separate ways in the park the next two days. Vic and I hiked into Mariposa Grove to see giant sequoias. These trees are so spectacular that the largest of them have been given names. Fallen Monarch is a tree that is stunning even in death. The 25-foot spread of tortured roots claw at the sky in perpetually frozen splendor. Experts estimate that the tree has been dead for centuries, yet it persists due to the remarkable ability of the wood to resist decomposition, amazing generation after generation of visitors. It is the only tree that people can stand next to for photographs. To protect the fragile roots of living giant sequoias, park personnel have encircled them with protective fences.

We continued our short hike past the Bachelor and Three Graces, up to another sequoia named the Grizzly Giant. At 1,800 years of age, the Grizzly Giant is magnificent. Its lowest branch is seven feet across and bigger around than the trunk of any non-sequoia tree in the park. And that’s just one branch on this magnificent giant. Vic said the sequoias are like old friends that he doesn’t get to see nearly often enough.

We took a slightly longer path back down to the parking lot and were surprised to find ourselves alone. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to get away from the crowds. The next time we go into Yosemite Valley in summer, we’ll take one of the open-air trams through the valley. There is a fee for the trams, but they have an interpretive audio track. The shuttle buses, which we have used in the past, are free and very convenient.

On our last day into the park, we drove from Oakhurst to Mariposa on State Route 49, then took State Route 140 into the park. The Merced River was out of its banks, a glittering silver monster that raced to its rendezvous with the Pacific Ocean. The waterfalls emptying into it presented dazzling spectacles, each one attracting hordes of photographers.

Hillsides burned from recent fires were painted with a blazing palette of wildflowers: pinks, purples, yellows, blues and whites. Some slopes were solid bluish-purple with lupines. Others were pinkish lavender from masses of a lovely wildflower known as farewell-to-spring.

At one point, Vic and I stopped for a picnic at the side of the Merced River, with deep patches of snow still on the ground. A doe and fawn browsed in the forest clearing across the river. I didn’t want to leave, but other delights awaited us. At Olmsted Point, we saw two yellow-bellied marmots that were thoughtful enough to pause in their search for food so I could snap their portraits. I didn’t think it was going to get any better than that, but I had one more surprise coming.

On our way back down the mountain, we noticed an unusual number of cars stopped at a meadow. Vic wondered aloud what they might have found to look at. Then I saw it. A bear! A beautiful golden-colored black bear. That sounds like an oxymoron, but black bears in the western U.S. come in many shades of brown as well as black.

Vic screeched to a halt and got out his spotting scope. I grabbed my camera. I was photographing the big golden bear when Vic spotted a yearling cub. The bears were about 600 feet away on the other side of the meadow, behaving as wild bears should. They were eating grasses and forbs, not begging for human food handouts. As the rangers say, a fed bear is a dead bear.

But people feeding bears isn’t the only hazard that bears face. Park personnel have erected yellow signs all over the park. Each sign has a photo of a bear and lettering that says “Speeding Kills Bears.” We thought that these numerous signs were randomly placed reminders to obey speed limits, but it turned out that each sign marked a spot where a bear had actually been injured or killed by an auto. It was a grim reminder of how much humans impact the wild world.

Waterfalls, wildflowers and wildlife were just some of the delights of Yosemite in June. Please visit my blog at for more photos of the trip, plus videos.

News flash! On Monday, the Huntington Beach City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Huntington Beach Community Garden group.

The next step is for Southern California Edison to enter into an MOU with the city to allow use of the site at the end of Atlanta Avenue, which may take another 30 to 45 days.

The garden group still needs to obtain liability insurance, clear the land, install irrigation lines and a water meter, lay out plots and pathways, set up raised beds and fill them with organic planting compost.

All of this is going to take time, plus a considerable amount of money, materials and labor. We’ll tell you more about that in the next week or two.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at