Over President’s Day Weekend, I went to Yosemite National Park with ten other students from my dorm. I was there for two nights and one full day, and I had an incredible time. I had never been to Yosemite before, and I finally understood why people rave about it so much. With its iconic mountains and spectacular views, it was a great opportunity for me to disconnect, have a change of pace, and enjoy being in nature.

I took many photos while I was there, and I’ll share some of my favorites with you throughout this post. First are some pictures I took as we drove into the valley (click on the pictures to make them bigger):


We then parked the car and began our hike to Vernal Falls. It wasn’t a super long hike – only 1.5 miles from base to summit – but it was almost all uphill. Needless to say, I was sore for two days afterwards. Here are some pictures I took on the way up:


After about an hour of hiking, we finally came to Vernal Falls. According to the National Park Service’s website, Vernal Falls is 317 feet tall. A few of us hiked down near the bottom of the falls and got very wet! Here’s some pictures of the waterfall:


Once we saw the falls, we tackled the narrowest and steepest part of the trail, and arrived at the top of the waterfall, where we stopped for lunch. At the top, there was a small lake and some very small waterfalls that fed into it, so we clambered across the lake on some logs and had fun exploring. We got very close to some of the small waterfalls, and it was very exhilirating to hear the loud rush of the water. Here’s some pictures of the scenery at the top:


I thoroughly enjoyed this hike, and from the pictures, it definitely seems like there’s enough water in Yosemite right now, despite the drought. But unfortunately, that is not the case. While many of the waterfalls are doing okay, there is not nearly enough snow. After all, it is February. Here’s some pictures that I took of some iconic Yosemite landscapes, compared to similar photos taken in February in previous years:

 
There is definitely a noticeable difference between these photos, even in the ones taken one or two years ago, but isn’t this just a coincidence? Maybe I just went on an abnormally dry weekend and there has been plenty of snow this year? Unfortunately this is not the case. Throughout my whole trip, I just saw a tiny bit of snow on the highest parts of a few mountain tops. It hasn’t snowed there for over 2 weeks and, according to this weather forecast, isn’t supposed to snow again until March 7th. What’s happening in Yosemite is representative of snowpack conditions throughout the state of California. A survey performed on February 17th found that in most areas of the Sierra Nevada mountains, snowpack is only 20-25% of what it should be at this time of year.

So why is snow important? When snow melts in the spring, it flows down from the mountains and supplies homes, businesses, and agricultural operations. According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, California receives 75% of its precipitation in the winter, so snowpack is a really crucial water source for the state. 2014 was the third consecutive year of drought in California, and the shrinking Sierra snowpack demonstrates how dire the situation really is. Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University, has released a study that connects the California drought to climate change. As the planet warms, extreme weather events like droughts, tropical storms, tornadoes, and blizzards will only increase in frequency and intensity.

My trip to Yosemite was fantastic, and it was such a joy to see such beautiful scenery and spend some quality time in nature. At the same time, it reminded me of how precious and important these natural resources really are, and how critical it is that we as humans do everything in our power to protect the environment for future generations.

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Photo Attributions:

Robert Pearce’s photo of El Capitan is from http://www.flickr.com/photos/27439559@N08/5523893557

Phil Hawkins’ photo of Yosemite Falls is from http://philhawkinsphoto.com/#/landscape/yosemite-national-park

Jessica Carpenter’s photo of Half Dome is from http://jessicacarpenter.zenfolio.com/landscapes/h569AA1CE#h569aa1ce

Dennis Oliver’s photo of Yosemite Valley is from http://dennisoliverphotography.com/gallery/yosemite-february-2014/