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Leaf Peeping in Yosemite Valley

We were very curious what those fall colors were up to in Yosemite Valley, so we took a little drive to see how they were shaping up. It was also worth taking that little hike to explore along the Merced River where we were rewarded with gorgeous reflections in the river. Parking at the Ahwahnee Hotel, we hiked up the Mirror Lake Loop to see what those dogwoods and maples were up to. We saw quite a few critters on this trip and I caught some of them in a somewhat compromising situation. . .

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: About 7 Miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Range: 3,996′ – 4,205′
Date: October 23, 2014
Maps: El Capitan and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Topographic Quad

Mid-October to mid-November is the time of the year for the best fall colors in the Yosemite Valley. We did some road hunting for reflections and color, driving alongside the south side of the Merced River, stopping at pullouts that looked promising and walking down to the river to take a closer look.

We discovered wonderful reflections of El Capitan.

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Sometimes it is difficult to determine where the reflections begin and where the land begins.

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Reflections of the contrails looked like they were playing tic tac toe in the sky.

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Maple leaves were in various stages of turning their bright yellow while some of the other trees had already lost their leaves and others hadn’t started yet.

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OK, it is time to talk about that situation that I had with the deer and the river. It was one of those moments when I wish I had the video rolling. . .but I didn’t. I was composing a picture that shot up the river and had some nice reflections of the rocky bank when through the camera lens, I spotted a deer crossing the river. How lucky was that, I thought!

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I zoomed in a little to try and catch the reflection of the deer in the water surrounded by those reflections.

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And then this happened. That deer was peeing in the river! I couldn’t believe that I captured that. But the show wasn’t over yet!

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I spotted two more deer crossing the river in the same place that the other deer had crossed.

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And that second deer did the same dang thing in the same exact spot. What are the odds of that?

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By now, the third smaller deer had caught up with the second one as it had finished up. You can see that it took a drink in the exact same spot as the two previous deer had done their business. They all wandered on after this. I wanted to share this with those of you who drink untreated water directly out of the Merced River because you think it is safe. Just saying. . . I would think twice about that.

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How can you top the show that the deer put on for us? By taking a closer look at more reflections in the river of course.

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As we worked our way up the river, we started to get reflections of Half Dome.

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We got back in the car and drove toward the parking lot at the Ahwahnee Hotel. As we turned the corner, here was a beautiful buck munching his way through vegetation right along the road.

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Parking our car at the Ahwahnee hotel, we started hiking up the trail toward Mirror Lake, which has no water in it this time of the year so don’t be fooled by the name. BTW, we did meet people on the trail asking us for directions to Mirror Lake, expecting a nice lake.

We spotted this gang of possible outlaws heading down the trail so we stood well off the trail to give them room to pass.

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You never know what you will find along the trail and these two cute cairns that someone had created were right along the side of the trail. These stacks of stones, called cairns, are traditionally used as trail markers. This trail is well marked and these are not necessary but they are very artistically put together.

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The trail was beautifully lined with fall leaves in places. (Photo by Gail Gilbert).

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The fall color in the dogwoods was a mixed bag. In some areas, the leaves looked like they had dried up before becoming that beautiful red color. In some places they were just barely turning. But in a few places they were beautiful!

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As we headed up the trail, we could see a lone deer busily munching away at the edge of the trail. We stopped for a while to let it move on and took some pictures from afar, but that deer was not moving, so we slowly walked by, getting within a couple of feet. Although the deer kept an eye on us, it did not move. That must have been a really good buffet it was eating from! Can you spot the deer? It has pretty good camoflage.

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We stopped for a little bit once we reached the bridge across Tenaya Creek. So little water! Wow! But I could spot 2 sets of cairns way up on a rock near the creek. You can see them if you look closely at the first picture, in the middle. I zoomed in to get a better view for you.

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We continued on the trail along side the south side of Tenaya Creek. Once we reached the old rock slide area, we discovered an area of rusty weeds in red, browns and tans that were beautiful.

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We had a pretty good lunch spot along Tenaya Creek where we could see the reflections of the ferns putting on a show for us.

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We were almost back to the Ahwahnee Hotel when we spotted this bear that was working on an old down log. It must have been successful finding those grubs or bugs because it remained quite busy in its work. Unfortunately we had great views of his rear end as he worked, so it was difficult to get a good shot.

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What a beautiful day we had in the valley and who would have guessed that we would have had so many close wildlife viewing opportunities. Depending on the weather, I figure the next couple of weeks or so will be a nice time to do this hike and see some nice color. Of course, we could get a storm and it could blow all of the leaves off the trees but I guarantee it will still be gorgeous!

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