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Falls, Flyboy, and Fire Watch (Whiskeytown NRA, Yosemite NP)

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

Sunday, 31 July 2022, Curry Village, Yosemite NP

For an NPS site, Whiskeytown NRA flies under the radar. Unless you're a boater who enjoys the large reservoir, chances are you haven't heard about it. I had heard of it, but knew little about it. When we passed it on Wednesday, heading toward Lassen, it surprised us to see no 'bathtub ring' around the reservoir. Most western reservoirs (think of Lake Mead!) have dropped millions or billions of gallons of water due to the extended drought, leaving shores stained white from years of submersion spanning the gap between old and new shorelines. In Whiskeytown's case, the water project that created the reservoir mandated that the water level remain constant - they'll only drain as much as arrives. In part, the weight of the full lake helps deliver water at a high pressure to provide more efficient electricity generation.

When we stopped at the viewpoint, we noticed a buoy line across the lake near the dam. An interpretive sign explained why:

not to keep boats away from people, but to separate water from water. This buoy line holds a screen that prevents water in the upper part of the lake from reaching the dam (the lower part does not reach lake bottom). A similar screen is installed near the lake's incoming stream. These two screens force the cold incoming water to flow through the bottom of the reservoir and back out again, while the upper water stays around and gets warmed up. Though that lets humans enjoy the warmer water, that consideration did not come in to play. Instead, the intended beneficiaries are the spawning Chinook salmon, which require water temps of 56° or above to reproduce. Fascinating.

This park came about in the 1960s, with much not known of the land surrounding the reservoir-to-be. In fact, only twenty years ago a ranger discovered a previously unknown waterfall on Whiskeytown Creek. Pretty impressive, since it happened to be the tallest (known) waterfall/cascade in the park. The ranger recommended this waterfall when we asked him for a good, fairly short hike in the park: We figured we only had 9:00-11:00 to hike before we'd need to leave to get Ron to the airport for his flight home.

The James K. Carr Trail leads 1.43 or 1.7 miles to the falls, depending on which sign you trust. The poster at the trailhead called it "a steep and strenuous trail' - great, just what we needed after Cinder Cone yesterday. The trail began by dropping into the creek valley before it began a steady rise paralleling the creek. The trail didn't stay at creek level, but climbed further toward a ridge. Soon we lost the comforting gurgle of the flowing water, leaving us in silence.

Eventually the creek caught up to us, marked by the return of the babbling. After crossing a picturesque bridge,

the water noise grew - and there was the falls!

That only took 44 minutes.

I shot a few photos of the falls, and of rivulets just downstream.

When I looked up, I saw Ron holding a pipe bannister as he worked his way up steps carved into the stone. I followed him,

and - voila! - more falls! and more photos, of course.

Nice! We liked the ranger's recommendation.

Hiking down took less time than going up, putting us well ahead of schedule. We missed the turnout for another falls close to the road, so we hit the highway and put a wonderful week in the rear view mirror. Under three hours later, I dropped him off at Sacramento International, sorry to see him go. Thanks for the companionship, Ron!

I had to endure another hour of driving on I-5 with Sacramento-area traffic before the exit for Central Valley Hwy beckoned. Soon I left traffic behind as I cruised past roadside orchards. Oh the radio, I finally found a station that played REAL oldies - from the 60s and earlier, not stuff from the 90s. I found myself getting Happy Together with the Turtles, or identifying with their angst as Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield lamented how You've Lost That Loving Feeling. The California mood came on as I wondered how low I could go, singing along with the radio. Even heard songs that must have never made it out of the state - how could I have missed out on Please Don't Talk to the Lifeguard?

After letting me rock out for miles, K-Vintage faded into static as I entered the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The road gained elevation, curving tightly around the brown hills. Unlike Whiskeytown, the reservoirs I passed had bathtub rings to mark the extended drought. Before long I could see stands of burned trees, remains of earlier burns, while I looked for signs of the current fires.

I entered Yosemite through the northern entrance. As I drove in, I noticed a haze dimming the air, adding shades of gray to the remote valleys. Soon the clouds overhead began sprinkling, which helped clear the air and re-opening vistas. On my descent into the Valley, I caught sight of Half Dome.

Despite the fires, looks like I made it!

Now to find my way to my accommodations. My reservation said 'Curry Village' - but why does the park pamphlet call it 'Half-Dome Village'? Apparently the park is in the midst of name changes. Luckily the road signs still mentioned Curry Village, so I could find the complex. The Village challenged me to navigate, filled with camp store, restaurants, rental shops, check-in office, and over 440 tent cabins.

It took several minutes of wandering, but I managed to get checked in and found my way to my reserved tent cabin. The accommodations were basic: two cots, blanket, sheets, pillows, a light. That's all I need! After ferrying my bags to my room, I checked out the camp store for breakfast supplies, and headed to the café for dinner. Outside, the granite walls of Yosemite Valley towered overhead in the fading light, hinting at the wonders awaiting me tomorrow.

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