Last Saturday afternoon was cloudy and cool in Sonora so I headed to Yosemite Valley. The weather would keep a lot of people away, and there would still be plenty to see.

I left Sonora about 1:30 p.m., parked on Southside Drive at the Four Mile Trail parking area and started walking about 3 p.m. Most people I saw wore insulated jackets or rain gear. It felt cool with temperatures in the mid-50s to high 40s.

The valley floor was adorned in yellow, gold, brown, rust and red. Meadows near the Merced River were straw-colored. Oak, bigleaf maple and cottonwood leaves were yellow and tinged with red. Low cloud cover shrouded the upper reaches of El Capitan and Half Dome. It began drizzling by 4 p.m. as I walked east past Sentinel Bridge.

Light filtered through the cloud cover to turn North Dome and Royal Arches a flat shade of alabaster white as more clouds moved east up into Tenaya Canyon and across the face of Half Dome.

Turning back to the west and toward the setting sun, Sentinel Rock loomed up in plain view with dark, wet streaks of rain overlaying grays and dark grays of its granite face.

Just after 5 p.m. bright sunshine broke through from the west and lit up part of the Valley floor below Sentinel Rock, glanced off the Merced and amped up fall foliage colors to where the scene resembled a painting.

By 6 p.m., light winds scrubbed Half Dome’s face of cloud cover and sundown light tinted clouds above Clouds Rest and Tenaya Canyon shades of pink, blue and gray. I’d walked a couple miles at most. I returned to my car and made it back to Sonora by 8 p.m.

The next day I drove up to Pinecrest to see what the reservoir level looked like and to walk the 3.7-mile loop trail.

I started walking at 3:30 p.m. and decided to take the counterclockwise route, along the shaded southeast shore. The water level was down, and most people fishing from exposed rocks wore hooded jackets and long pants.

I took my time and it was about 4:30 p.m. when I reached the far east edge of the reservoir, where the South Fork Stanislaus flows into the man-made lake. A solitary fisherman on the bridge over the river said he’d caught two trout so far.

Looking east up toward Cleo’s Bath, bright sunlight slanting lower on the horizon turned sugar pines and white fir in the South Fork Stanislaus watershed deep green, and brown in places where drought-kill and beetle-kill were setting in.

By 5:30 p.m. I was walking across the crest of Strawberry Dam and the sun was hiding behind the nearest ridge above me. It lit up banks of low-lying, east-moving cloud cover to the northwest. I made it back to the marina and west shore beaches just before 6 p.m., where two young women asked me where to find the trail.

I showed them both ways, clockwise and counterclockwise, and they decided to take the same way I’d taken earlier. Daylight was fading fast and they assured me they did not intend to try to walk the entire loop trail in darkness. I found my car where I’d left it and made it back to downtown Sonora by 7:30 p.m.

Reporter’s note: Before I began working for newspapers in the early 1990s, I spent seven years with VisionQuest and Outward Bound as a paid, certified wilderness instructor and emergency medical technician accountable for groups of felony offender teens, court-ordered children and adult Cuban refugees. I am in my mid-50s, and anyone who walks OK on their own can keep up with me anywhere.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.

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