Yosemite Valley is popular for good reason. It's a stunningly beautiful place. If you could just manage to get rid of the other million people loitering about, it would be paradise. While we spent most of our two weeks in the park mostly away from the Valley, there is not way to totally avoid it and really you should not do that anyway. It's something that has to be seen and if you do it later in the afternoon, you can avoid some of the crowds, at least those that are day tripping.
Do yourself a favor and use the park's free shuttle bus and just get on and off where you like. You'll spend a lot less time than you would trying to find a parking spot.
One of the top sites in the Valley is El Capitan. This 7500 foot sheer rock formation is a favorite of climbers who scale the vertical face. You can hike to the top via a long trail from the Valley or an easier one from Tioga Road.
Its hard to beat the sight of Half Dome rising in vertical splendor from Yosemite Valley. But the park's other famed peak, which rises about 3,600 feet (1097 m), is another one that will make you pull your car over and stare in awe. The Captain's sheer vertical rockwall is a favorite of climbers, who can be seen on summer afternoons, inching their way to the summit.
This huge granite rock stands 3,593 feet and is claimed to be the largest of its kind in the world. When first approaching the Yosemite Valley one will see giant walls of rock on either side with several waterfalls plunging to the valley. The rock walls and valley were carved by glaciers 15,000 years ago.
El Capitan attracts rock climbers from around the world and can take up to a week to scale. It's common to see visitors parked on the side of the road sitting in the meadows and looking up with binoculars.
A mountaineering school is located in Curry Village.
The largest granite monolith on earth rises over 3000 feet above the Valley floor. You'll get the best views from either El Capitan Meadows (see my intro picture) or from Bridalview Falls across the road and to the west. It's also one of the best places to see experienced rock climbers scaling the rock. Incredible!
There are several places just off the valley roads where one can park, open up the sun roof, relax, admire the gorgious block of granite that is El Cap, and then try to spot the climbers. Since El Cap is perhaps the busiest climber's rock in the world, there are always climbers somewhere on its face. Most people can't spot them because binoculars are necessary from most roadside locations, so don't forget to bring binos. Even with a good pair of binos, it can take careful study of the huge rock expanse. I've got a 36x (12x optical) with image stabilization on my digital camera, but it took a combination of spotting with the binoculars and a lot of luck with the camera before I could get even semi decent images. Professionals would need a big lens worth many thousands of dollars to do this work. I shoot quite a number to get just a few semi-decent ones. Check my results. Click on the photo to the left to expand and compare images. The climbers still look like beetles climbing in these low-resolution images created for the website. The General View image of the mountain is optically zoomed quite a bit, and provides a good reference for the optical challenge I had to face for the other images. Recently, I had a VT friend on the forum insist that digital zoom was unnecessary and that any image taken in full optical zoom can be later cropped and zoomed in Photoshop. Here, climber images show a considerable need for magnification and digital enhancement to even locate where the climbers are positioned. So, while I'm a fan of good glass and optical lenses, this is one situation where that extra digital zoom push was necessary to even get the shot. Good luck with your binoculars and camera. It also helps to have good software for additional image enhancement, as I had to adjust contrast, brightness, tone, and of course, sharpness for these images.
El Capitan dominates the Yosemite Valley! Geologists think the majestic El Capitan was created 96-102 million years ago.
This giant block of granite stands over 3,000 feet high. It's a popular site for climbers, who come from around the world to test their skills.
GEOLOGIC INFO: El Capitan is comprised of a particularly tough 'granitic' rock. Although it appears to be of solid granite, there could be fractures behind and parallel to the cliff face. Granitic rocks originate deep within the earth while it is under great pressure from overlying rock, which can be miles thick.
I suggest the best viewing site for this mega monolith is at the end of the Wawona Tunnel. There you'll also see Bridalveil Falls.
For more geologic information see: Yosemite National Park/Rock Formations in Yosemite Valley; Roadside Geology of Yosemite Valley by Garry Hayes; The Geologic Story of Yosemite Valley by N.King Huber.
Rising almost 3,000' straight up from the valley floor, El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in the world.
It is one of the most famous rock-climbing spots in the US. On any given day, you will probably see several trying to make their way to the top, but be fore-warned, it's not for beginners.
Standing at 7,569 feet (3,000 feet of vertical granite), El Capitan is absolutely breathtaking. If you look carefully, you will often see specks (people) attempting to climb to the top. I was happy to snap a few pics and view it from the ground.
The legend of El Capitan is that it was created during the time of the animal people. As two bear cubs slept on a large flat rock near the river, the rock grew until the bears scratched their faces against the moon. The mother bear called on all the animals to rescue her babies, but none succeeded until the lowly inchworm crawled slowly to the top and led the cubs to safety.
See my main "Moonlit Yosemite" tip for more information - this is a classic picture from Tunnel View, the only difference from the normal pictures is that I took this at night and luckily for me the 15 second exposure worked!
If you like this picture - please let me know!!
If you're flexible about when you're visiting Yosemite I would recommend checking out a calendar which tells you the phases of the moon!
One day, I'll be climbing El Capitan!
I spent a lot of time just staring through my binoculars, watching the climbers (I counted 16 at one stage) moving up centimeter by centimeter.
Climbing is one of my favorite things in life, and one day I'll be climbing El Capitan, the most beautiful mountain in Yosemite!
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