Olmsted Point

What is it about this view?

Is it the bare rock? The absence of forest throughout much of this scene certainly contributes to its beauty. Granite is laid bare here, with sparse stands of conifers residing in the habitable fractures. Gray slabs, horizontal, diagonal, and vertical, define this land. Streaks of black, red, and orange decorate the slopes, layers of rock seem to peel back in places, like someone sliced through a geologic onion. Sightlines are clear with so little vegetation in the way, and eyes easily trace paths that feet might follow along the exposed stone.

Is it the knowledge of what made these features? The evidence of glaciers is clear to me, though John Muir had to struggle to convince his contemporaries of this truth. The polished rock and the graceful curves in the slopes attest to the action of ice, not water. Water makes steep, v-shaped valleys. Ice makes a gentler u-shape, smoothing away like a frozen block of sandpaper. The artistry of glaciers takes a long time, but not as long as the processes that gave the glaciers this medium. For millions of years, the granite formed deep underground as magma cooled and hardened in subterranean cracks and caverns. For millions of years after that, these igneous intrusions were slowly uplifted towards the surface, higher and higher til snow accumulated in the early Sierras, glaciers formed, and the carving began. This scenery has been in the works for some time.

Is it the light? This isn't the most brilliant of sunsets, but it is truly beautiful. Low clouds near the horizon have created an interesting effect. A few minutes ago, there was a premature sunset as the light left Half Dome and Clouds Rest and the gray of an overcast dusk settled in. It did not last long, though, for now the planet's spin has brought our star back into view and a band of light hits the mountains again. Its lower extent, defined by the ridges to the west, is a hard line while its upper bound is a soft fade where light shines through the margins of the clouds. Tinges of pink, purple, and yellow color the skies beyond Half Dome while a fleeting burst of orange washes over the rocky heights. Now the light dims again, perhaps for good. Blue pervades the scene. There is still light in the sky, but it is muted. The colors are fading. Even desaturated, this view is sublime.

Is it the quiet? We're at the most popular view on the Tioga Road, in the middle of summer, during a gorgeous sunset. Where is everyone? They are clustered on the concrete, standing behind tripods feet away from their parking spot while the hum of evening traffic rolls along the road behind them. I am sure they're getting lovely photos. I have fallen into that trap before, too. Tonight, though, we walked away from that spot, down the trail, over the rock to here. Here, there is quiet. The road can't be heard or seen from this spot. Looking back, all is rock and tree. A short distance away from us are a couple of other intrepid souls that undertook this quarter-mile walk, but that is the extent of the crowd. It is peaceful here, easy to focus on the wonder of the land. The road made this place easy to get to, but it is not the best point for observation. Walk away from the pavement, get your feet in touch with the real ground and let them carry you out here. Not far, just over the hill. The noise will fade and the view will open. Then you can sit and contemplate just what it is that makes this such a lovely spot.


Naturalist, Photographer, Cartographer