The waterfalls of Yosemite are roaring in record volume, but if you want to see them you can’t get there from here. At least not this weekend.
Since early February, the Highway 120 access through Groveland and into the park has been closed due to major damage to the road from heavy winter rains. The damage was in the park, between Crane Flat (the turn off toward Tuolumne Meadows) and the turnoff for the tiny enclave of houses known as Foresta. Anyone traveling to Yosemite along 120 had been detoured at Buck Meadows down to Highway 140 – creating a substantial delay.
The great news is that on May 1 the National Park Service (NPS) is planning to reopen Highway 120 all the way into Yosemite Valley.
As always, the National Park System has an amazing ability to frustrate and confuse the issue.
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Clearly, the road collapse was not the fault of the Park Service. Extreme rains and wet winter weather caused a long dormant spring to come back to life under the roadway, washing out the ground beneath the pavement. What appeared to be a somewhat simple fix has turned into a major undertaking.
Viewing photos of the repair work on a Facebook account you can see the engineers have had to burrow down nearly 100 feet below the existing roadway surface to stabilize and rebuild this section of failed highway.
My frustration with NPS is in its lack of communication and information as to the progress and anticipated reopening of the road. The Yosemite website, posted Feb. 17, tells about the closure and promises regular updates on the work being performed. It also anticipates the road reopening by Easter.
Exactly two months later park employees finally posted a second update, but without any timing information. Then suddenly the good news, posted just a few days before the scheduled reopening.
For those of us who do not want to face major traffic delays or simply want to have our Yosemite Springtime fix without the crowds, there are lots of other options on this side of the park which have remained open during the 120 closure.
Hetch Hetchy is always my favorite early season mountain outing. Plenty of big waterfalls, easy parking and no crowds. En route from the 120 turnoff you drive right past the new Ackerson Meadow, 400 acres that has recently been added to the national park.
On May 7 the “Restore Hetch Hetchy” folks are having a group hike to Wapama Falls and then back to the dam for a picnic lunch. It starts at 9 a.m. and I plan to join with the board of directors to make this symbolic gesture of defiance to the desecration of this lovely valley.
Carlon Falls trail starts just a mile off 120 on the Hetch Hetchy Road. It is a level two-mile hike along the Tuolumne River to a modest but lovely waterfall. While it’s a great summer swimming hole, it is also a pleasant and easy stroll in the woods, close to home.
The Big Oak Flat entrance has remained open and the NPS has graciously waived entry fees during the repair period. This continues to give access to the Merced and Tuolumne Groves of giant Sequoia trees. No doubt the entry fees will be reinstated immediately.
There is no indication of when the passes over the Sierra will open this year, but given current snow levels it might not happen until late in June. So Highway 120 is closed just past Tioga junction at Crane Flat, though the Tuolumne Grove trailhead is accessible.
Recent cool springtime weather indicates the heavy winter snowfall will largely remain intact well into June. That causes some difficulty traveling, but it also means the falls will continue to flow at much greater than normal volume well into early summer. It will be a year to remember for those who make the trip, as soon as the park services says they’re able.
Dick Hagerty, an Oakdale real estate developer active in non-profits. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.