For those with an appreciation of Photography and with general knowledge, Yosemite National Park located in central, California was made famous for its iconic photographs captured in the 1940′s by Ansell Adams. His Black and White images capturing Angel Falls & the valley floor are an important piece of research for any aspiring photographer and for those who have seen a picture go Yosemite, the chances are that they will have seen one of his images without knowing. Whilst this article is not about Ansell Adams, it is about Yosemite and a slightly unique take on what it has to offer.
Given the awe inspiring views that this park has to offer, it seems strange therefore to write about views which can only be gained during the hours of darkness, yet this is a time when our sense come to life on one of the many night hikes that are on offer. Night hiking within National Parks are increasing in popularity and I first came across these when visiting Bryce Canyon in June. Seeing the tiny pin pricks of light from helmet torches as hikers navigated the tall spires of the hoo doo’s was an impressive and eerie sight, so when the opportunity came to take a night hike trip I jumped at the chance.
The trip I took was organised by Tenaya Lodge, located just outside the National park limits and explores the forest trails which are covered with the tall pines associated with this park. There were three groups of 12 people spread out at intervals to make the experience fun, yet safe. Our tour started at sunset and our guide, Lynsey provided the group with solar torches and explained that we would be walking through the forest for about a mile in total. Having read that it is recommended not to venture out into the forest at night with wild Bears and the ability to get disorientated, this only added to the atmosphere as the darkness fell and we ventured deeper into the forest. We soon discovered that this trip was not only about night hiking, but about exploring what the forest has to offer. Pine needles which are edible and have a citrus like taste, a gooseberry type of fruit with spines and a sweet berry that looks like a raspberry, nothing was off limits, including that is forest worker ants!
Having heard the far off shouts and screams from the previous group in the dark, we should have been prepared for what was about to come as our guide led us to our forest dining location. ”They taste like blueberries” Lynsey confirmed who also offered to join us if we ate three. Although none believed this, in an instant, grandparents, parents and children began searching the stump for our evening snack, forgetting the dark and delving their hands into a tree stump flashing their torches with excitement. Now I have to confess that I didn’t try one, but from those that did, there was, I am told, the slight hint of Blueberry! “There’s no more” Lynsey triumphantly announced to loud groans before leading us deeper into the forest although this only made the children search the forest floor with more purpose.
The deprivation of sight and walking in the dark with just a torch heightens the senses and we all became more aware of what was around us, what we were walking on and what we were hearing. The creaking of the trees as they move back and forth and the faint roar as the wind passing through the pines was unforgettable. As was the distant (and not so distant) sound of leaves moving and twigs breaking as animals, birds and insects alike, take back the forest, as they do every night. Something that until you’re right in the middle of, it’s hard to have an appreciation of.
The tour meandered through the trail and led us past more nocturnal appearances. Millipedes crossing our paths on their way to sanctuary, Crickets taking a break and seemingly happy to wait for us to pass and bats feasting on midges illuminated by our torches above the creek. The sound of their squeaking to each other as they found they way through the night air barely above our heads in the dark, was a truly unique experience. Throughout the hour we had spent most of the time looking down at the forest floor although, possibly the greatest view was above us. With almost zero light pollution and on a cloudless night, Yosemite offered a canopy of stars and constellations to rival any night time view. Having said that and having visited both Zion and Bryce Canyons in the past 6 weeks, this is a view that National Parks offer in abundance for those willing to look up and just watch. “I had a boy of 8 on a trip that had never seen a shooting star a few weeks back” Lynsey explained. “until that night that is”. Looking up with the Plough, Orion’s belt and the faint outline of the milky way clearly visible, all framed by the silhouette of the tall pines, It didn’t take long for the night sky to duly oblige the tour had provided yet more shooting star newbies with their first view at what is an unforgettable experience.
With the night hike coming to an end, we returned to the access road and began the short walk back to our starting location full of new facts, experiences shared and some decidedly new dining experiences undertaken.
There was it seems however a twist in the tail as a voice in the darkness cried out “I’ve found another ant”. Apparently all that talk of looking up hadn’t distracted some of the youngest members of the group from looking down. Lynsey, true to her word, duly obliged and the group arrived back at the hotel with more than just an appreciation of flora and forma!
The night hike was organised through Tenaya Lodge, Yosemite national park and cost $15 per person for 90 minutes.