Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hike among white blossoms, incense cedars

Incense cedar in Yosemite National
Park. Photo courtesy Yosemite NPS.

Forested segment runs 4.6 miles
from Wawona Road/Calif. Hwy. 41

A classic Western walk through a ponderosa pine and incense cedar forest awaits day hikers on the Wawona to Mariposa Grove Trail in Yosemite National Park.

Rather than do the entire trail, which will be a bit much for younger kids, instead do a segment of it for a 4.6-mile round trip. Late spring or early summer mark the best time to see wildflowers on the trail.

To reach the trail, take Wawona Road/Calif. Hwy. 41 to Wawona village. It’s about 4.6 miles from the Yosemite south entrance. At the village, turn north on Chowchilla Mountain Road into the Wawona Hotel and park there. Head behind the hotel to the last uphill building, which is Moore Cottage. A sign marked “Two Hour Trail Ride” is about 50 yards uphill at the trailhead.

This is a stem that leads to the actual Wawona to Mariposa Grove Trail. Once you reach the trail junction, go right/southeast on the trail proper.

The segment described here is fairly flat covered by clumps of trees. While that’s easy on the knees, you’ll need suncreen as the trail heads through some open areas.

Magnificent trees
If hiking in May or June, watch for the showy white flowers of the Pacific (mountain) dogwood, which appears amid the ponderosa pine and incense cedar between 2500 and 5000 feet elevation. The trail is close to the tree’s range in altitude and its southern limit on the continent.

In a little more than a half-mile, the trail splits, forming a loop. Go straight (that is, right/southeast).

While the ponderosa pines along the trail here do not carry a strong scent, they do tower and offer a pretty, distinctive bark. The cinnamon-colored trunks with their black crevices can reach over 235 feet tall. A bit of trivia: The trees seen in those famous black and white videos of nuclear test blasts are ponderosa pines. The U.S. Forest Service transplanted 145 pines in the Nevada desert so the military could determine what affect a nuclear blast would have on a forest.

In contrast to the ponderosa pine, the incense cedar is quite fragrant and perfumes the air as you hike, especially on a warm day. The trees grow up to 150 feet high.

Shortening/extending the hike
In another 0.75 miles, you’ll reach an intersection with the loop that split at the last junction. Turn onto the loop (that is, go left/northeast). You’ll notice that the first 40 percent or so of the loop boasts a denser forest than the first part of the hike.

In 1.5 miles, the loop rejoins the main trail (This is the first junction that you passed). Go right/northwest here and return the way you came back to the Wawona Hotel.

If you have walking preschoolers, you can further shorten the hike by turning back at either the first or the second junction of the main trail with the loop. This way you skip walking the loop.

Alternately, to extend the hike, rather than take the loop, keep walking southeast to the Grizzly Giant in the Mariposa Grove. Going one way, this a six-mile hike. Take the Wawona-Mariposa Grove free shuttle bus back to the hotel and your vehicle.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.