Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hike beneath aromatic cedars, pines on spur

Grove of California incense cedars. Photo courtesy USDA.

Walk heads up mountain
in Yosemite National Park

Day hikers can enjoy a walk through a forest of stately cedars and sugar pines on a spur of the Alder Creek Trail in Yosemite National Park’s Wawona area.

The 1.5-mile out-and-back trail is a spur leading to the lengthy Alder Creek Trail, which heads into the Yosemite backcountry to an impressive 100-foot waterfall. That long trip at best can be shortened to about 12 miles length and will take several hours to complete. This segment, however, offers plenty for families with children to see and enjoy.

To reach the trail, take Calif. Hwy. 41/Wawona Road about a couple of miles past Wawona. Turn right/northeast into a pullout on hairpin turn. Cross the highway to the Alder Creek Trailhead.

Cedar and pine
The trail climbs uphill, briefly paralleling Mosquito Creek to the left/north. Though a steady climb, the aromatic scent of the incense cedars will have you intoxicated with clean mountain air.

The California incense cedar grows tall and narrow. It can reach heights of 90 feet with a trunk diameter of a yard. Because it’s drought tolerant, the tree often is used as an ornamental plant, and because of its soft wood that doesn’t splinter, is the preferred material for making wooden pencils.

Sugar pines grow primarily to the trail’s left (which generally is to the north). They’re the tallest and most massive of the varied pine trees, reaching the same height as cedars though of a smaller diameter. If the bough tips are bent, it’s due to the pine cones’ heavy weight.

Below your feet, watch where you step. The mountain misery shrub boasts a sticky (though pleasant scented) oil that will stick to your shoes. From May through July, you’ll notice when you’ve come across mountain misery as their quarter-sized white flowers with yellow centers are in bloom.

Violets and songbirds
From March through June, you also might spot mountain violets in bloom. Despite their name, the flower primarily is yellow with dark purple backs.

All along the trail, songbirds typically provide a sweet concert from above. Several types of songbirds live in this area, but they are difficult to spot as they stay high in the canopy of cedars and sugar pines.

After a half-mile, the trail begins to level and sugar pines dominate. At 0.75 miles, the route junctions the actual Alder Creek Trail leading from Wawona to Alder Falls. This marks a good spot to turn around – and the hike is all downhill from here.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.