Open for Business Despite the Flood

As 1996 came to a close, Mother Nature did some Spring cleaning. She scrubbed Yosemite Valley with a wall of water. The flood swept away hundreds of picnic tables, anti-bear food lockers, resident housing, bridges, and cars. The Merced river crested eight feet above flood stage and eroded away Highway 140 like a 49er's placer mine. Yosemite Lodge suffered damage and the historic chapel submerged. Bears woke from their hibernation to snack on food freed from the lockers. To add insult to injury, in March a rock slide hit Happy Isles, the start of the Nevada Falls trail, for the second time in a year. Surveying the devastation, the park superintendent said, "The Valley will never be the same."
After closing for 2 1/2 months, the Valley re-opened March 14. Park administration plans to use the flood as an opportunity to change the way people use the Valley. They floated the idea of allowing cars by reservation only, which may be in place by the time you read this. Some riverside camp sites will not be repaired. Before the flood, Congress increased the entrance fee from $5 to $20, and the Golden Eagle annual pass went from $20 to $50.

Yosemite's trails took a hit in the floods, and the Park has no firm repair schedule. At present (May 1) the Yosemite Falls trail is damaged but passible. Trails to Nevada Falls, Glacier Point, Tenaya Canyon, and Taft Point are closed indefinitely. The trail to Nevada Falls, which is the beginning of the John Muir Trail, is the top priority for repairs. Officials expect to find damage on the road to Tuolumne Meadows once the heavy snowpack melts, and the Hetch Hetchy road is closed.

Expect a late summer. The snowpack is double normal. Rangers warn that a layer of ice from a winter rain hides under newer snow. Spring avalanche hazard will stay high until the sun melts the ice.

Still, there are advantages to disaster. Since the park reopened, the Valley has been unusually quiet. Usually 10,000 or more people streamed into the Valley on a Spring weekend, now a fraction hazard the trek. Workers have cleared much of the mess, and a first time visitor would scarcely notice that something was amiss. Sauntering on the Valley floor without crowds and noise recalls the Valley of the 40s or 50s before California's population swelled and modern roads made access easy, a moment of peace before the hoards return.

-- James Martin, Mountain Zone Contributor

Just the Facts:

Yosemite Information:
(209) 372-0200

(live operator):

(209) 372-0265

Campground Reservations:
(800) 436-7275

Lodge Reservations:
(209) 252-4848

Wilderness Center:
(209) 372-0347

Mountaineering School:
(209) 372-8344

Photos by
James Martin

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