Mount Ngungun – Glasshouse Mountains NP

The Glasshouse Mountains sit upon the interior of the Sunshine Coast, the dramatic rise fo their peaks making for some spectacular scenery. They were named by Captain Cook for quite a literal reason: ‘These hills lie but a little way inland and not far from each other, they are very remarkable on account of their singular form of elevation, which very much resemble glass houses which occasioned my giving them that name…’ (from his 1770 Journal).

Their geology is quite interesting, as they are in fact ancient volcanic plugs, formed when molten rock filled vents within the volcanoes or intruded beneath their surface to form hard rocks. These rocks remained even after erosion removed the surrounding volcanic cones, forming the peaks we see today. The area has also served as a significant meeting place for Aboriginal people to gather for ceremonies and trading.

Mount Ngungun is the 6th tallest of the Glasshouse Moutnains, standing at 253m. The walk to the summit is just under 3km return (took us around an hour to go up and back). The track mostly consists of open forest with an understory of ferns. A good pit stop is halfway through, where a rock overhang and cave sits, and a view opens up towards Mount Tibrogargan.

IMG_0623.jpg

The summit itself is very rewarding. It provides spectacular, uninterrupted, 360-degree views of nearby Mount Tibrogargan, Mount Coonowrin and Mount Beerwah. There are plenty of rocks to scramble around to catch a different perspective of your surrounds, provided you are fairly immune to vertigo!

IMG_0630.jpg

IMG_0626 2.jpg

IMG_0655.jpg

IMG_0633.jpg

Grey skies threatened a downpour of rain while we were at the summit. This veiled the mountains in some pretty mist, but luckily for us, raincoats were delayed until we were back to the safety of the car. The rain deterred us from further mountain climbing, but we were grateful to have snuck in at least one summit climb!

 

Advertisements

Cooloola Recreation Area – Great Sandy National Park & Rainbow Beach

We had intended to hit up Fraser Island during our trip to QLD, but the limited 4×4 capabilities of our SUV and the prohibitive cost of day tours meant a trip to the lower reaches of the Great Sandy National Park were a necessary alternative.

The drive from Noosa being 40 or so minutes longer than expected, our first stop at Rainbow Beach was to grab some welcomed fish and chips, fuel for an afternoon of exploration.

Our first stop was the Carlo Sand Blow, named after one of Captain Cook’s deck crew. A short (600m/1.2km return) walk through the forest leads to the spectacular moonscape-type spot. Upon arrival you are treated to 360 degree views across the ocean and into the interior of the park. Hangliders were preparing to make the leap off the edge of the sand blow upon our arrival, perfectly framed by the royal blue sky.

The Blow is essentially a geographical feature formed by the accumulation of blown sand. Grains are lifted from the bluffs on the coast by prevailing winds blowing from the Pacific, forming patterns across the dune.

We crossed the blow (sneakers ending up saturated by sand), to reach the marker for the entrance to the Cooloola great walk, which we tracked for a kilometre or so before doubling back to the car.

DSC_0901.jpgDSC_0899.jpg

DSC_0915.jpg

Next up, we walked a few kilometres along Rainbow Beach itself, taking in the expansive views along the coast towards Double Island Point. Unfortunately, the allure of the location is spoiled to an extent by the thoroughfare of four-wheel-drives speeding along the beach (access is allowed to 4wd vehicles on this stretch). Nonetheless worth the stroll.

DSC_0942.jpg

DSC_0936.jpg

With only a couple of hours of daylight ahead of us, we pushed on to our final task, a walk to Poona Lake from the Bymein Picnic area. It is a 4.2km return walk to the lake, but note that it seemed to feel a little longer than that (have to trust the signs though I suppose)!

The rainforest we passed through is absolutely glorious, complete with soaring trees (a bunch of kauri and hoop pines), piccabeen palms, strangler figs and an orchestra of insects sounding to accompany us at what seemed like 100 decibels.

DSC_0950.jpg

DSC_0952.jpg

The track has one steeper section in the middle, but nothing a reasonably fit person couldn’t handle. In any case, all hills are forgiven upon arrival to the lake itself, which was perfectly dappled by the late afternoon sunlight for our arrival. The walk and it’s destination also provide some welcome respite from the 4×4 scene, as access is only by foot (and lucky for us, we were the only ones there)! The lake is very clean, and perfect for a swim (it is a reddish brown colour from all the tannins but nothing to be concerned about).

DSC_0961.jpg

DSC_0965.jpg

DSC_0970 2.jpg

In spite of human/4×4 intervention, the Cooloola Recreation Area retains its natural appeal, you just have to find the right spots to enjoy your day minus the fumes and hum of engines!

Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk – Baroon Section

After an earlier attempt was foiled and replaced with a Noosa Headland walk, the skies cleared and we headed towards the Blackhall range to complete the Baroon section of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk. The goal of the day was to make it all the way to Kondalilla Falls, but we were slow off the mark in arriving at the starting point, so were open to shortening the 20km walk if necessary.

The first section is a touch over 2km, and brings you to the Baroon Pocket Dam Lookout, with some sweet views of the dam through a steep valley that is home to Obi Obi creek.

IMG_0535.jpg

After here, a sign recommends only experienced hikers continue. Nothing to be too put off by, as the track mostly just becomes slightly less defined and steeper.

DSC_0870 2.jpg

The walk descends via some steep switchbacks from here towards Obi Obi Creek where the terrain changes quite sharply, with wet sclerophyll bushland giving way to dense riparian rainforest, complete with plenty of palms and strangler figs.

DSC_0878.jpg

It was at this point I came within millimetres of stepping on a small green tree snake, an encounter leaving both parties shaken up!

One at the bottom, we found a green lagoon had formed in the creek to give a cool jungle vibe and a nice photo op.

DSC_0882.jpg

From here the walk is pretty flat and smooth sailing. However the time constraints we were wary of had come to fruition, so we decided to turn back around 6km in, just before flat rock.

 

The hardest part of the walk back is returning back up the hill from the creek to the Baroon Pocket Dam Lookout, but it wasn’t as horrible as we feared during the descent. We were left with sufficient energy to complete the two short detours to lookouts near the entrance point.

DSC_0885.jpg

Plenty of goannas, bush turkeys and the occasional snake grace the walk, making for a great game of spotto.

Once our 12km return walk was complete, we drove up to Montville for a well-earned feed at the Burger Pit (recommended) and a breather beside the town’s stunning views.

IMG_0539.jpg

Fueled up, we drove to Kondalilla falls, where our walk would have terminated, and took the short walk to the swimming hole at the top of the falls.

IMG_0542.jpg

Unfortunately, I was too busy enjoying the swim to take many pictures of the falls themselves, but I did manage a snap of the view ahead as twilight began to settle:

IMG_0543.jpg

Noosa National Park Eastern Loop

A hinterland walk was planned for Christmas day, but the BOM radar’s forecast for electrical storms deterred us. Plan B was therefore set in motion, a shorter loop around the Noosa National Park headland.

DSC_0817.jpg

We set off from Sunshine beach, making the steep climb up to devils kitchen and towards Lion Rock, some enviable views caught along the way.

DSC_0828.jpg

DSC_0839.jpg

The ‘coastal track’ then passes along Alexandria Bay, which today was flooded with an array of Cnidarians (some looking nastier than others!)

DSC_0840.jpg

DSC_0841.jpg

DSC_0842.jpg

DSC_0843.jpg

DSC_0844.jpg

At the end of the beach section, we detoured to check out Hells Gates, which was a flurry with American tourists, before turning back to meet the Tanglewood Track, which weaves through the interior of the headland. Here we were welcomed with the cooler air of a more subtropical rainforest type ecology.

DSC_0853.jpg

DSC_0858.jpg

Eventually, Tanglewood met with the Alexandria Bay track, leading us back to our car with some nice open views along the way.

DSC_0865.jpg

All in all, we traversed around 5-6km, a good warm up for attempt #2 to hit up the hinterland on Boxing Day!

 

DSC_0845.jpg

G.O.R Weekend

It’s been a little while between posts, due more to slackness with uploading than lack of outdoor activity! To get back into the swing of things I thought I would report on our recent spontaneous weekend road trip down the Great Ocean Road to make the most of some fleeting sunny weather that is an infrequent occurrence during spring in Victoria.

We headed inland on Saturday afternoon in order to save some time and reach our intended camping destination with some sunlight remaining in the day. Johanna Beach campsite was our choice due to our dog accompanying us on the trip (bookings required, but we had no problem booking on the way). Dogs are permitted on-leash at the campsite and the adjacent beach.

Often it would be fair to assume dog-friendly campsites to be the less appealing of those available, but this is not the case here. Sites are set in grassy meadows behind the sand dunes which were perfectly framed by a light mist and some glorious afternoon sun inviting us to collapse into our picnic rug with some cold beers.

img_0225

The beach itself is similarly picturesque and its relative isolation from major towns and border of dramatic cliffs means it is neither busy nor dirty. There are plenty of rockpools to explore and waves for our pup to chase.

img_0185

img_0220

img_0200

After a pleasant night at Johanna, we drove through Great Otway National Park towards Apollo Bay then Lorne, where we parked at Allenvale Mill before taking the 5km return walk to Phantom Falls, which is also leashed-hound friendly. The walk follows St George’s creek before cutting through some easements on a pretty orchard onto a further riverside stretch that led to a fairly steep uphill access track, eventually descending down some steps to reach the base of the waterfall.

img_0245
IMG_0258.jpg

img_0264

We soaked up the atmosphere amongst the rocks and enjoyed the refreshing spray from the falls before returning to the car.

img_0283

From there we energised ourselves for the drive home with some lunch and a swim at the beach, capping off a perfect doggie weekend away, despite a total lack of prior planning!

img_2039

Wilsons Promontory – Eastern/Southern Circuit

The Prom always manages to leave its visitors awestruck, is meditative vistas and astonishingly diverse array of landscapes seldom disappointing. We had visited a year ago and taken on the well-worn trails of the Mount Oberon and Lilly Pilly Valley hikes. However, we were left with a hankering to delve deeper into the park’s wilderness, something best achieved by completing one of a multitude of overnight hikes.

Being Essendon and Richmond supporters, unsurprisingly neither of our teams would be playing in the AFL Grand Final, so the newly designated public holiday provided us with the long weekend we needed to complete our intended trek. The plan was to tackle the 3-day/2-night circuit beginning at Telegraph Saddle, descending to Sealers Cove, following the coast to Little Waterloo Bay before returning inland via Telegraph Junction to our starting point. All in all this made for a 36km journey.

As on any springtime weekend in Victoria, pleasant weather was far from certain, and the reports in the lead up to our hike suggested we were in for an onslaught of rain. Undeterred, we made our way from Melbourne, packs and wet weather gear in tow.

DAY 1: 10-11km

DSC_0520.jpg

Upon arrival, it was good to see park management had found a solution to the huge overflow of cars usually encountered at telegraph saddle, the point at which many visitors to the park commence their respective adventures. A shuttle system has been put in place whereby we could park our car in a designated bay at Tidal River before jumping on our bus to the saddle.

The hike starts with a steady climb, passing by evidence of the floods that ravaged the park in 2011. The floods closed the trail at the time, and it is testament to the efforts of management that it has been re-opened, landslides and associated damage requiring a big repair job.

DSC_0527.jpg

IMG_0395.jpg

DSC_0525.jpg

The climb concluded as we reached Windy Saddle, an oasis-like patch of green grass perfect for a quick rest.

DSC_0530.jpg

From here the terrain and vegetation make-up shifts quite dramatically. dry, sandy paths turn to thick, muddy trails (our boots would be caked with sludge for most of the trip from here on). Tree ferns and other temperate rainforest plants begin to dominate the landscape. Trickling creeks and views into deep valleys definitely make up for the mud.

DSC_0532.jpg

DSC_0536.jpg

Eventually, the descent leads to a long boardwalk section, which leads you through a pre-historic looking swamp, leaving you looking over your shoulder for dinosaurs. The cool breeze and frog calls provided some welcome respite after our sweaty efforts.

DSC_0553.jpg

DSC_0558.jpg

DSC_0564.jpg

DSC_0573.jpg

Finally, the Cove itself comes into view, and as on previous visits, it was utterly idyllic. On arrival, you can’t help but collapse into the golden sand.

DSC_0578.jpg

IMG_0419.jpg

While last time I was greeted by a pod of dolphins, today a rainbow made an appearance to frame the shining turquoise water. Instead of the constant hum of cars, rolling waves are the only sound to disturb those who make the trek to the beach, which is only accessible by foot.

DSC_0589.jpg

It is hard to believe given the beauty of the location, that it had such a violent history. The name ‘Sealers Cove’ as expected is a nod to the sealing and whaling that went on in the 1700s and 1800s. Once the seal population dried up, the opportunistic settlers switched their environmental destruction method of choice to logging, further disrupting the fragile ecosystems of the area. Finally, the park was protected at the beginning of the 20th century, starting the journey towards its recovery. Luckily, the only remnants of this bloody history today are the jetty stumps that peak out from the sand at the centre of the beach.

We had scheduled our arrival to coincide with low tide at 5.15pm (you can check online beforehand what time this will occur, or check with park staff). A manageable wade through the shin-deep Tidal River brought us to the hikers campsite, where we settled into the already busy camp (luckily the fernery and some large boulders provide a sense of seclusion despite the traffic).

DSC_0597.jpg

DSC_0634.jpg

DAY 2: 13-14km

The second day is always infinitely more difficult than the first, as fresh legs are replaced by the stiff joints and bent spines that come with a night spent in a tent. Unfortunately, the incursion of a bitey bull ant and the breaching of our supposedly waterproof tent hadn’t helped our cause. Nonetheless, we pushed on, the silver lining being that most of the expected rain seemed to have dried up by morning, no more than a spitting here or there experienced for the rest of the weekend.

The initial climb around the coast towards Refuge Cove revealed further impressive vistas across the glassy oceans, a layer of mist now hanging above the surrounding mountains.

DSC_0652.jpg

DSC_0655.jpg

DSC_0657.jpg

Refuge Cove itself is home to a boaters campsite, and upon arrival, we took some time to read the engraved pieces of driftwood installed at the camp.

DSC_0666.jpg

After cooking up some lunch, it was time to push on, so we said goodbye to the sailing ships docked at the Cove and started what would be one of the more difficult stages of our trek.

DSC_0660.jpg

DSC_0672.jpg

The climb up to Kersops peak was pretty steep and relentless, but rewarded us with yet another remarkable view across the park. It was nice to get a bird’s eye view of how far we had already travelled.

DSC_0689.jpg

From here, the stated 1.5 hours remaining to Little Waterloo Bay managed to draw out to a much further timeframe for us. Given this, we were hugely relieved to arrive at the camp, stopping to soak up another sunset over the white sandy beach.

DSC_0705.jpg

DSC_0718.jpg

DAY 3: ~12KM

The final day of our trip was undoubtedly my favourite, not only because of the shower I was holding out for upon finishing, but also because of the incredible natural encounters we were to have.

DSC_0721.jpg

After a short river crossing and following the beach via a boardwalk, the track turns inland, through sand dunes and intermittent marshy swamps. The journey to Telegraph Junction then turns to an almost desert-like landscape, a remarkable shift given we had been trudging through rainforest only a day before.

DSC_0722.jpg

DSC_0732.jpg

DSC_0747.jpg

A friendly currawong seemed to be finishing the trail with us, hopping along between trees as we walked.

DSC_0761.jpg

Finally, we reached the junction, from which point the rest of the trail follows a management track. This starts off very flat, but as you approach the Saddle, a steep climb begins, winding up the side of the mountain. There is nothing like busting your gut to finish off an adventure. We reached our starting point, sweaty and jubilant, our celebrations cut short as we began a final sprint, noticing the shuttle bus was about to take off.

As always the Prom was equal parts inspiring and challenging, and the blue skies we were lucky enough to experience provided the perfect backdrop for our trip. No doubt like many others privileged to live just a short drive away, we will be returning again to tackle another of this precious park’s other hiking adventures.

Overnight Hikes Park note – with distances/times

Brisbane Ranges NP – Ted Errey Nature Circuit

Despite its close proximity to Melbourne (just over an hours drive), Brisbane Ranges National Park has managed to creep further down my to do list for far too long. So when a friend and I managed to find some corresponding time off and a nearby hike fitted the bill for a good day’s activities, I decided to bump it up the list.

The Park’s unusual geology is said to have preserved the existence of a number of plant species that have otherwise vanished from the region. A fifth of Victorian plant species can be found within its relatively small boundaries. Spring is therefore the best time to visit the park, as wildflowers are in full bloom.

IMG_0330.jpg                                        IMG_0333.jpg

IMG_0336.jpg

IMG_0332.jpg

Grass Trees are another prominent feature, despite the threat of the root rot disease Phytophthora cinnamomi (Cinnamon Fungus).

IMG_0300.jpg

Evidence of bushfires from 2006 are still visible and the regeneration that has occurred since brings further colour to the landscape.

IMG_0293.jpg

The agenda for the day was to complete the Ted Errey Nature Circuit, starting at Anakie Gorge Picnic Ground. The walk begins by following Stony Creek through Anakie Gorge, which sounded as though it had a healthy frog population. This section takes you past some old ruins and over a series of rock crossings along the creek. Next the climb up the ranges begins. The rocks underfoot are quite loose, so caution would be advised in wet conditions or where walking without sturdy shoes. The rocky landscape did seem to attract a number of wallabies, who spied on us throughout the climb, but generally managed to jump off before we could do the same to them! There is plenty of birdlife to be spotted too. Unfortunately what I believe was a Yellow Tufted Honeyeater managed to escape my camera.

The lookouts at Nelson and Outlook add only a few minutes extra to your walk and should be mandatory, as both provide sweeping views across the gorge and towards extinct volcanoes and distant canola fields. It is great how remote you feel in the park after only a short drive from Melbourne and a stroll up a hill!

IMG_0301.jpg

Parks Victoria lists the walk at 8.3km, with some extra side trips that can be added to bring the distance up if you choose . It is recommended you leave 3-4 hours to complete it, but we comfortable finished in three despite some extended photoshoots at the lookouts! The description of the walk was pretty spot on, as it was for the most part pretty flat (or close to flat), aside from the early climb towards Nelsons Lookout. Blue markers direct you through the walk, but can be unreliable at stages (forks with little direction), so it is probably best to carry some from of map.

 

Overall a great trip you could probably sneak into a morning with an early start, or combine with some other walks or nearby parks such as the You Yangs.

This weekend we head off on a 3 day jaunt at Wilsons Prom, so another post is sure to come next week!

 

 

 

Urban Bushwalk #1 – Valley Reserve

Given that I like most I don’t have a massive amount of opportunity to get out of the city, I thought I would post a series of urban/suburban walking spots. The aim will be to find spots that offer a bush escape without needing to leave metropolitan Melbourne.

The first urban bush walk is through a park I discovered while living in a share house in Mount Waverley a few years back. Valley Reserve is made up of 15 hectares of remarkably intact native bushland plonked down in the heart of suburbia (only 5-10 mins from the train station too!) The park serves as an important habitat corridor for a number of native flora and fauna, along with the adjacent wetlands and Scotchmans Creek area. Within a hundred metres of the carpark you could easily mistake this for a national park trail further afield.

IMG_0091.jpg

The Reserve has seemed to have undergone a bit of development since my last visit, with much more interpretive signage surrounding the walk, explaining revegetation efforts and the details of species to be found in each area. A super rad adventure playground was also installed a few months ago, and it is both sensitive to the aesthetics of the park and has awesome equipment (I am a child at heart).

IMG_0094.jpg

 

As for walks, there are three main signed walking routes you can take through the park. Your best best is either to combine the tracks (taking some time at a few spots with a field guide perhaps to see what birdlife you can ID) or to continue on as I generally do towards the Scotchmans Creek Trail and Mount Waverley Wetlands.

Other than on the ‘Woodland Track’ (which protects remnant forest) you can take you pooch along for the walk (so long as you pick up their poop and keep them on their leash!)

Dusk would also be a great time to visit the park, and perhaps also to take part in Melbourne Water’s Frog Census.

Comment below if you have a suggestion for the next #urbanbushwalk

 

Big Sur Coast

Almost 4 months after our return home and I have finally found a moment to publish my final post from our USA trip. It seems fitting that this part of the trip was one of my favourites, and capped off our time in our surf wagon cum camper van perfectly.

After driving through the night from Yosemite and a search through the darkness for an available campsite, we finally found a spot in the wee hours of the morning at Morro Strand Campground. A cool breeze across the ocean served as an unwanted alarm clock, and freshened us ready for a short drive to the utterly charming Cambria, where we spent a night at the super cute Bridge Street Inn (a converted Presbyterian church with all the fittings you might expect in your grandmothers house).

IMG_1268.jpg

Now in a much more relaxed state, our drive took us further up the coast towards San Simeon, where our first pit stop was to check out the Elephant Seal Rookery. The beach and its huge population of furry friends had attracted plenty of visitors, and the seals themselves didn’t seem to mind their gawking onlookers (who luckily respectfully kept to the boardwalk). The seals return here every year (since 1990), the pregnant females having arrived some 2 months before us. This time of the year (mid march), the pups had been around for a few months, and most of the adults had returned to sea, save for the ENORMOUS dominant males, who stick around until the last female leaves. The weaned pups were mostly testing out the water in rocky tide pools, apparently building up muscles and reducing body fat. This facilitates their readiness to go out to sea themselves and to begin foraging before they return to the beach to moult and later breed. Not unlike human children, these guys were pretty loud and vocal, and were hilariously rustling for space on the beach. Observing their interactions could easily keep you occupied for hours, especially as you get caught up with anthropomorphising your favourite ‘characters’ amongst them.

DSC_0327 2.jpg

Our walk for the day was a short but sweet walk up some of the Salmon Creek Trail. You can pretty much hike as long as you like until you run out of steam here, with a few options to turn around to rack up up to 6.5 miles.

DSC_0421.jpg

We turned around after 1.5 or so, having soaked up some sweet views of the coast along Highway 1 and the waterfalls of Salmon Creek, and having amassed a cool collection of wildflowers along the way.

DSC_0424.jpg

 

DSC_0425 2.jpg

Our campsite for the night (Kirk Creek) was undoubtedly one of the best we had encountered (although I feel I may have allotted this title a few times over by now). It is hard to beat sleeping atop a dramatic cliff, the misty air perfectly framing the sunset. Having arrived early to secure a spot, we ended up wiling away most of the afternoon here, save for a short trek down to the beach to watch the sea otters go by.

IMG_1311.jpg

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park & McWay Falls provided the setting for most of the following day, and it did not disappoint. A huge backlog of cars were parked along the Highway here, mostly to check out the falls, which made us wonder how you would even approach visiting the region in summer when the crowds explode. Apparently the cascade previously flowed directly into the sea, however fires, landslide and highway construction works lead the beach to expand its reach. This means the water now falls amongst the sand, making for a pretty unique sight. A short (approx .7 mile) trail allows you to get a full perspective of the falls. You have probably seen the pictures before, but no harm in adding another to the mix.

DSC_0392.jpg

Our goal was then to complete the Elwoldsen Trail, which kicked off from the other side of the Highway. This hike combined pretty much everything we hoped to gain from the Big Sur Coast. Plenty of old growth redwood forest is found in the lower reaches of the walk, and as you start to gain some elevation, you are rewarded withs weeping views across grassy meadows brimming with wildflowers.

DSC_0397.jpg

DSC_0428.jpg

DSC_0436.jpg

Finally the ocean again becomes visible, before you descend again into the canyon. The walk totals 4.5 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,600 feet.

DSC_0388 3.jpg

DSC_0454 (1).jpgOur last day in this magical region was celebrated with some local beers and tasty pub fare at the Big Sur Taphouse, before we head off across the Bixby Bridge towards Santa Cruz and beyond before returning to SFO and finally back home.

IMG_1296.jpg

It is probably apt to reflect upon the trip as a whole. I have to say the National Park Service and various state park services we encountered do a pretty awesome job of managing America’s natural assets. While having to pay sizeable amounts for entry into parks seemed pretty foreign to us, you definitely get value for money, as rangers are incredibly helpful and visitors centres provide a wealth of information. All the facilities we encountered were top notch. A definite goal for when we inevitably return some day will be to try some more backcountry hiking to escape the crowds and soak up even more of the country’s incredible beauty. Of course this would require much more planning which we mostly avoided on this trip, deciding on the bulk of our route as we went!

IMG_1319.jpg

Time now to get down to recording some more hikes closer to home!

Yosemite NP

I think it is best not to get yourself too down about inclement weather conditions, as sometimes they reveal new perspectives on landscapes that you otherwise wouldn’t have experienced. After all the clearest days can be experienced through any number of photography collections, but the textured light that shines through cloud can feel much more unique.  This was pretty much our experience during our 2 night stint at the famous Yosemite National Park. Our hopes were high for Yosemite, with the dramatic landscapes captured through the photographs of artists such as Ansel Adams providing inspiration for our trip to the US in the first place. We woke on our first morning (after arriving late at night to the Wawona Campground) to drive up to the valley, where a huge deluge of snow greeted us. We had planned to tackle a walk or two that afternoon but the snowfall was too heavy. A little downhearted, we instead joined in on a ranger walk around the valley on the search for some endemic fauna. The focus of the walk was to find some Ensatina, a genus of salamanders that have been described as a ‘ring species’. The following diagram and this site help explain what this means, but basically the group forms a horseshoe shape around the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. While each of the populations can interbreed, the two furthest or ‘end’ species cannot (although gene flow may occur between then). Therefore they provide great evidence for evolution, show how populations diverge from one another genetically in a way that usually only is seen over a great deal of time.

ensatina.gif

SOURCE

We did in fact manage to track one of these guys down pretty quickly (although after the untimely death of our camera battery), apparently no easy feat according to the ranger. And as he pointed out it is always a pretty special thing to come across a life form you never have before, especially one so unique.

With day one breaking even, we hoped that day two would give us a chance to get into some walks and avoid leaving Yosemite with dry boots. Luckily the snowfall had ceased during the night and the morning was fairly clear, revealing the huge granite rock faces the park is famous for.

DSC_0295.jpg

Feeling hopeful we set off for our walk, the destination being the Vernal and Nevada Falls on the ‘Mist Trail’. We kicked off from ‘Happy Isles’ where a herd of deer were getting plenty of attention and seemed very used to their human company (and most people seemed to be respecting their privacy by refraining from patting).

DSC_0060.jpg

The first section was  quite busy, and climbed up gravel to a bridge where most people seemed to be checking out Vernal Falls (about 1.5km in) before turning back. As flagged earlier, yesterdays weather had really been a blessing in disguise as the path was steaming and the trees sweating to provide a stunning setting.

DSC_0153.jpg

The track became increasingly snowy as we continued to approach Nevada, and a series of steep switchbacks kept us alert.

DSC_0185.jpg

Each turn gave a different glimpse over the Valley, until finally the awe inspiring vista across to the falls was revealed. And lucky for us even Half Dome managed to peak out briefly from behind some clouds. You could really feel everyone around you at Liberty Point being inspired by this special place, and it was one of those spots (Crater Lake was another) where we simply didn’t want to turn back and leave.

IMG_1236.jpg

Of course all good things must come to an end, and after a quick walk to Mirror Lake and Yosemite Falls to round out the day, we headed back towards the California Coast in the dead of night, marking down Yosemite as a place we would definitely need to return to in another season to take in the full range of its visual performances.

IMG_1240.jpg

DSC_1020.JPG