We decided to stay on the valley floor today in order to explore what it has to offer. In reading about the park, there's a lot to do here and everyone seems to have a favorite and some conflicting advice. We had intended to take a bus up to Glacier Point and then walk the 8 miles back down to Yosemite Valley (this is Glacier Point to the left), but the morning buses were already booked up. One of the other walks that I had read about was the Valley Floor Loop - which is, in total, a 13 mile trail that circumnavigates the valley floor. While there are lots of tourists at the famous sites on the valley floor, everything I read suggested that the loop itself would be pretty empty - and it was.
Today wasn't "Death Valley hot", but it was in the mid 90's which can be uncomfortable on a long hike. We decided not to do the entire 13 miles, but instead target the sites that we specifically wanted to see. First, we went over to the visitor center to get more information and get our first up-close view of Yosemite Falls (picture to the right). This is the tallest waterfalls in the United States, and the 5th tallest in the world. After swinging back to our lodge to pack more water (we found out at the visitor center that there are only pit toilets - no potable water - anywhere along the trail), we were off. Soon, we were looking up at Sentinel Rock (picture on the left) - during the spring there is a waterfall that comes off the face called Sentinel Falls, and it's the 7th tallest waterfall in the world.
As we hiked along we meandered through meadow and forest, many times along a river. Throughout the vast majority of the day, however, the scenery was dominated by El Capitan (pictured here on the right) - the largest granite monolith in the world. We both recognized it from various pictures, paintings and nature shows. This is a famous destination for rock climbers (no thanks - too high for us). It was a magnificent view that changed from different angles.
At last, we reached our destination - Bridal Veil Falls (left and video below). While most of the tourists there were scampering around on the rocks (they had driven there and walked the 0.4 miles up to the falls, rather than our 6 mile hike to get there), we were satisfied to sit and admire the beauty. After a short 2.5 mile hike back to El Capitan, we decied to catch the shuttle back. Instead of getting off right near our lodge, however, we did get off about a half mile away so that we could get a good picture of Half Dome (right) - another formation that we recognized from pictures (there are lots of those here).
The Loop Trail was nice and quiet, which allowed us to appreciate our surroundings and even see some more wildlife. There were these beautiful blue birds all over the place. I'm not sure what they're called (more extra credit for my students). We even had another deer encounter! While we were walking back from Bridal Veil falls, we stopped suddenly and there was a buck about 20 feet from us, frozen. After a moment assessing us, he slowly walked off into the woods (check out the video). Moments like that are when it really pays off to not just drive to the destination.