At Happy Isles is a Nature Center that includes a variety of excellent exhibits for young and old alike. For example, there is a audio exhibit that matches the foot prints of various animals to the sounds they make in nature. Also, there are stuffed bears, cougars, and other wildlife to show children what the animals look like, even if they don't get a chance to see them in nature. Nearby is the walk through the Fern Grove. Interestingly, the Happy Isles Nature Center, which is rarely overly full of tourists, was the sight of an extraordinary landslide in July of 1996. When the slide occurred, a blast of wind knocked down some 1000 trees, damaging part of the nature center itself, and killing one hiker. See the link below for a geological description of exactly what happened in this remarkable natural event.
About a mile from Camp Curry, up the canyon that exists between Half Dome and Glacier point, there flows a part of the Merced River that is entirely white water over huge boulders, some of which have developed into islands of sorts. The path this way is entirely accessible to those with disabilities, as it is mostly covered with asphalt, and in several places pedestrian bridges span the river's noisy torrential flow. For those driving, there is an unpaved parking lot at the foot of Glacier Point, in a place where the garbage dump was once a favorite place to view scavenging bears. The dump is now completely cleared, of course, but the area remains open and ideal for those wanting use Happy Isles as a trailhead for even multiple day hikes. From the parking lot a trail leads parallel to the paved entrance to Happy Isles, leading ultimately to a unique wetland bog of thick with ferns and wildflowers. Happy Isles is a very pleasant place to meditate on the white water sounds. In places, one will notice that in the past, boulders blocked the river's flow, creating a place for vegetative debris to create islands of sorts, and eventually trees fill in to make the island solid. In another place, a tree miraculously braves the river itself, clinging to rocks as the water rushes around its base. Happy Isles is the trailhead for hikes to the top of Glacier Point, Half Dome, Nevada Falls, Upper Yosemite Valley, and other places, some of which can be completed in a day hike by the most intrepet and physically capable hikers. But, Happy Isles itself is an easy hike for children, senior citizens, and the disabled.
This is the starting point for many journeys--most importantly Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Half Dome and the John Muir trail. If coming from the campgrounds, this will offer your first pretty view, plus a chance to buy an overpriced snack before you head out.
If you pay attention, you may notice evidence of the disastrous avalanche of 1996 and flood of 1997. The Happy Isles Bridge miraculously survived both.
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