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Yosemite National Park By Air - Another View
By Lynn Upthagrove

Last summer I had an opportunity to take an aerial tour of Yosemite with my flying friend, Larry Jobe. What Visions! While a small craft airplane is not my idea of safe transportation and certainly not a method of sight seeing I consider natural, but it was breathlessly wonderful.

We started at the small Pine Mountain Lake airport and followed highway 120 towards Yosemite. Paralleling the Tuolumne Canyon we seemingly floated into the park and were headed straight into Half Dome. At what appeared to be seconds before kissing the face, we turned about and slid smoothly over the Yosemite Valley taking in one-of-a-kind views of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.

Sentinel Dome, a hike who's trailhead is just a bit before Glacier Point looks like a wonderful place to hike to—affording 360 Yosemite and Sierra Nevada peak views...and not so many people either because it isn't directly on the road.

Swooping back up the valley we looped Half Dome. Surprisingly, from this vantage point the massive rock is actually fairly narrow, and more of a wedge than a dome. The cables do not creep up the back, but up the northern side-edge—not at all what I had anticipated.

We followed the Merced river up the Little Yosemite Valley from one hike-in camp to the next. I was only remotely aware of this visitor experience, but what a wonderful offering. Hikers can reserve space in the back country camps and have all the services of food and water and sleeping cabins available to them so that their hiking days are more enjoyable without the need to carry a big load for eating/sleeping for a week. There are 6 such cabins that take one through the prettiest and fairly remote parts of the park. From the air we could often see the camps and the trails next to the rivers.

We continued over Tioga Pass and could see a distant Mono Lake and the sweeping decent of Highway 120 into Lee Vining.

Rounding out our tour took us over the southern bits of Emigrant Wilderness; on to Hetch Hetchy, Lake Eleanor & Cherry Lake; all man-made lakes supporting the San Francisco water system. We then took a spin around around Groveland and landed safely!

Should you decide to take an aerial Yosemite tour, you can expect these vision at different times of the year. True also for a ground level visit to Yosemite:

  • Spring: Raging water falls, lots of bright green new growth, high elevation snow
  • Summer: A browning of the grassy areas, some water still falling, deep green of the pines
  • Fall: Rare and sparce water falls, golden wheat color in grassy areas, very little snow
  • Winter: A wispy white wonder land, brilliant blue skies, some light water falls.

There were a handful of the controlled burns going on so the air wasn't crystal clear, but the memories will be!

I have to admit that I only asked Larry once if he thought he was high enough to not hit the pending mountain and only once noted that if he slowed down just a little I might be able to wash my hands in the river just below us. But the funniest was when all of the sudden I found myself sitting in the midst of a super breeze. I had nothing to attribute all this wind to and decided that the airplane had chosen this inopportune moment to peel apart and I was the only one that knew it. Larry could feel my tension and was calmly explaining about turbulence being Mother Nature's burp or something like that. I had to ask for his hand and show him that his plane had burst a hole somewhere and was leaking air. He calmly turned off the air conditioning and all was well again in my world.

Lynn Upthagrove, along with her husband Victor, own the Charlotte Hotel, a 10 room bed and breakfast inn in Groveland California, on the way to Yosemite.

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