Devilís Postpile is an unbelievable looking rock formation hidden along the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. Hot lava cooled and cracked to form unnatural looking basalt columns 60 feet high that resemble a giant pipe organ. It looks like a smaller version of Devils Tower in Wyoming, laid out against a cliff wall. The formations are so straight edged that itís hard to believe this place wasnít carved by human hands, chipped away with the stone waste left lying along the ground. Youíve got to see this to believe it.
I turn back towards Mammoth, and then retrace my route north to Mono Lake, a eerie 700,000-year old body of water near the entrance road to Yosemiteís backcountry. At Tioga Pass, Californiaís highest road at 9,945 feet, I crest the Sierras and enter Yosemite. Passing along ponds, granite domes, and horned peaks carved by the Ice Age, I stop at the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. The Camping Gods are at it again. Thereís a status board here listing all of the parks campgrounds, and only one is available, Crane Flat. But thatís outside Yosemite Valley, and I wanted to spend the night on the valley floor. Most of the campgrounds are closed for the season, while others are still closed from the great winter flood of 1996. The one I wanted to stay in is full, already, at 3:00 on a late fall Monday. I call the lodge in Yosemite Valley to see if I can get a room, but they only have tent cabins at Curry Village. 39.95 plus tax. Not exactly a dream deal, but I get the experience of sleeping in the Yosemite Valley. Iíll take it.
Further west, along Tenaya Canyon, I get my first view of the valley at Olmsted Point, where I can see the world famous granite monolith rising a mile above the floor. But the real views come as I ride around the other side of Yosemite and enter the valley from the west. Here lies the unconditional beauty of El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks, with Bridalveil Falls pouring over the granite walls. This is art in the reality of the world.
When I reach the Valley View, I canít help but think of Ansel Adams and his pictures of Yosemite. Adams and Yosemite just go together, like America and apple pie. Itís hard to think of one without the other. Although he photographed many places throughout the west, Ansel Adamsí images of Yosemite are his most memorable and famous. And in many cases they are actually better than being here. I can say that because I now know it is the truth.
More often than not, a photograph fails to reveal the moment, to share with the audience what it was like to be there at that instant. You take a picture and, later, you view it and remember what it was like, but youíre always a few steps away from the experience and the true beauty of the moment. But Adams' photographs seem to bring us right there, to that moment and place. He spent years of his life here in Yosemite, working in all kinds of weather, waiting for the right moment, waiting for the right light. He worked his technical skills like magic, and that magic simply glows off his visions.
Ansel Adams (http://www.anseladams.com) believed that exposure to the public would eventually hurt this place he loved so much. He actually suggested that camping be banned from the valley floor, as he saw an incredible increase of visitor traffic through the park during his lifetime. Heíd rather have 1,000 people spend six days here, than 6,000 spend one. Iím sure he wouldnít approve of my staying here only one night, in a tented cabin, with a wooden floor, at Curry Village. But Iíll have the experience of spending the night here in the valley; of watching the last light reflect off Half Dome, turning the granite a glorious orange; of walking through a meadow and standing two feet from a deer; of waking up at dawn and feeling the first rays of the sun reach the valley floor. Oh, Ansel would have liked that.
Thereís an invisible bond between riders and it extends beyond a simple wave as we pass one another. Yesterday I rode with a guy on a Blue BMW K1100 up the road to Tahoe. Earlier in the day, I rode with four kids on rice rockets, Japanese sport bikes. Approaching Park City, I followed a super fast lady on a super fast R1100S. In Colorado, I rode with two guys from Michigan, one on a BMW and the other on a Triumph. In Montana, I rode with the legendary Joe Mandeville for 50 miles. In Buffalo, during the morning rush, I followed someone on a Kawasaki as he led me through the traffic, beckoning me along.
We rarely speak, but as we ride we share the same feelings, the curves and sensations. And it joins us for a moment; a fleeting instant of unity between strangers; a link between the sky and the road, with our motorcycles in between.
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