Yosemite Cliffs Put on a Water Show

The meltoff from record-breaking winter snows in the Sierra Mountains is sending torrents of water pouring down the granite cliffs of Yosemite National Park. Sasha Khokha of NPR station KQED says tourists are thrilled at one of the wildest waterfall displays in memory.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In California, record amounts of mountain snow are contributing to one of the best spring waterfall displays in the history of Yosemite National Park. Sasha Khokha of member station KQED reports.

Mr. ANDY FRISTENSKY (Ranger): ...who is a Californian.

SASHA KHOKHA reporting:

Ranger Andy Fristensky is leading tourists on an afternoon walking tour of the park.

Mr. FRISTENSKY: My name is Ranger Andy. This is a wild place where sometimes wild things can happen.

KHOKHA: Wild things have happened this year. Swelling rivers flooded roads here two weeks ago and forced the park to shut down for a day. This Memorial Day holiday some campsites in the floodplain are closed. But Ranger Andy tells the group more water is good for the park.

Mr. FRISTENSKY: 'Cause we all rely on it. Even if you don't live around here, I guarantee that people have been affected by water that started as snow in Yosemite National Park because that snow then melts, goes down river, maybe collects in a reservoir, which may be irrigation for agriculture down in the San Joaquin Valley. And I'm sure a lot of you have had some California fruits and vegetables that were fed by the Sierra snowpack.

KHOKHA: Along the way Ranger Andy points out what he calls ephemeral waterfalls. They've appeared suddenly as melting snow spills over the granite. Ranger Andy's tour stops about a thousand yards away from the base of Yosemite Falls, one of North America's tallest waterfalls. He says the water is too loud and generates too much wind to bring the tour much closer. From here, visitors can clearly see the falls. They look like a comet with a massive tail. Steve Soars(ph) of Santa Clara, California, has visited the park dozens of times since the 1960s. He says the falls are more dramatic than he's ever seen them.

Mr. STEVE SOARS (Santa Clara, California): To me it looks like a piece of heaven. I've been here when nothing is coming down this falls, I mean, no water whatsoever--sometimes a little trickle; sometimes a nice fall that in the past we would have said, `Man, those were nice falls,' but nothing like this. This is the best.

Ready? Let me get back a little further here. Get that waterfall in there. Ready, one, two...

(Soundbite of camera clicking)

KHOKHA: All that water pouring down the cliffs creates a marshy carpet for a meadow wedding. Photographer Diane Sipple of New York wanted to get married in the park Ansel Adams made famous. She and her new husband, Larry, slogged out into the soupy ground, braving the mosquitos to tie the knot. She says they didn't expect this.

Ms. DIANE SIPPLE (Photographer): Not quite this much water.

LARRY (Diane's New Husband): Not this much water, but, yeah, this is wonderful.

Ms. SIPPLE: We knew the waterfalls would be beautiful. We knew this time of year that there would be water. We just didn't know there'd be quite as much as there is.

KHOKHA: At nearby Bridal Veil Falls, the road leading to the trail is flooded. Rita Lang(ph) of Richmond, California, had to take off her new sandals to wade in the icy water.

Ms. RITA LANG (Richmond, California): Trying to see the falls. Woo!

(Soundbite of waterfall)

KHOKHA: People coming down the path drenched tell Rita Lang and her husband, Quentin(ph), that their umbrella won't make a difference.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. QUENTIN LANG (Richmond, California): We weren't up there 30 seconds...

Mrs. LANG: It's unbelievable.

Mr. LANG: ...15 seconds.

Mrs. LANG: Unbelievable. It was just like you're--coming down all around you. You can't even finish going up the path.

KHOKHA: The Langs grabbed their umbrella nonetheless and decide to brave it. As they walk up the path, clouds of mist billow and soak them with water.

Mr. LANG: Oh, boy. That's cold.

(Soundbite of squealing)

KHOKHA: The waterfalls are expected to remain giant, drenching visitors for at least two more weeks. For NPR News, I'm Sasha Khokha in Yosemite National Park.

Unidentified Man: Don't we need to kind of wait for it to kind of lighten up a little bit?

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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