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Meadow or Field: Nature-Watching at Yosemite

According to the National Park Service, a ‘meadow is an ecosystem type composed of one or more plant communities dominated by herbaceous species. It supports plants that use surface water and/or shallow ground water.’ Meadows support many diverse species, and can be indicators of the health of the hydrology of a watershed. For example, Tuolumne Meadows, the large alpine meadow on the eastern side of the park, is studied constantly to ensure the health of the area. As the Tuolumne River and the groundwater nourishing the meadows eventually becomes drinking water for San Francisco, there are human implications as well as the obvious ecological.

For our part, however, we had fun playing in different meadows within Yosemite. As mentioned in several prior posts, Tuolumne, being absolutely gorgeous in the summer months with bright green grasses, patches of wildflowers, and high Sierra scenery, is a much loved spot. With easy hikes and small domes for the kids’ climbing pleasures, Tuolumne Meadows is a place we will return to again and again.

In Yosemite Valley, there are expanses of meadows, some with iconic boardwalks for hiking through as seen in many Instagram photos. These were convenient for taking a closer look at the variety of grasses growing throughout the meadow. With the granite and conifer backdrops, the walkways were also a convenient spot for our own afternoon photos.

Meadows in Yosemite Valley

In addition to hiking through meadows, Sami and I were able to watch the local wildlife on this trip. On our drive through the valley the week prior to our camping stay, we observed a large group of deer grazing in the meadow near the road looping through Yosemite Valley. Unfortunately I did not catch any photos as I was behind the wheel, but it was still a pretty cool sight to see. When we returned to camp the following Thursday, we had the opportunity to slow down. We did some birdwatching and made observations about other wildlife in the park, especially those animals that hung around where people frequented- and dropped food.

We saw a variety of birds, from small members of the sparrow family to birds of prey that soared above. The most exciting bird for me was the common, but pretty, bright blue Stellar’s jay foraging on a trail in the valley. Sami liked watching a large raven eating a lollipop on the side of the Lower Falls trail.

In addition to many birds, there were many California squirrels that took the opportunity to grab any crumb of people food. One squirrel was so bold as to take a cookie from the top of our bear locker when our backs were turned for literally seconds.

The squirrel found a stray piece of cilantro at our campsite.

I have yet to see any bears at Yosemite. I suppose this is probably a good thing, however others in our party were able to spot bears. In past trips we’ve always just missed them, as was apparently the case on this trip. This time, the kids spotted a bear to the side of the road when I was driving. We have spotted many cute mouse-like pikas, which are more closely related to rabbits and hares, as well as marmots on other trips.

Yosemite is a great place for wildlife watching of any sort. As always, be respectful of the nature around you. Never intentionally feed the animals, and practice bear-safe practices. We made sure to use the bear lockers to store food and other scented items, including our toothpaste and essential oils. We were also careful not to speed in the park. Speeding is a leading cause of preventable death for bears at Yosemite National Park.

If plants are more your thing, Yosemite is wonderful for exploring different habitats. From the high Sierra alpine meadows, to the upper and lower montane forests with tall pine trees and even giant sequoia groves, there’s plenty of biodiversity to make for some fun observations. There are also many beautiful hikes. Either way, Yosemite National Park is a great place to enjoy some happy trails.

Pretty pines

For more information, check out Yosemite National Park- Plants or Animals.

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