The afternoon sun was turning the color of an egg yolk as Marsha Eason gazed up at the granite edge of El Capitan in the Yosemite Valley, giving her tour group of a dozen speechless visitors a 10-minute wrap to move on to the next spot.
“They’re in awe,” Eason grinned. “It’s awesome.”
There was plenty to be awed by. After years of drought, the park’s thick snowpack was melting, engorging its famous waterfalls and pushing the Merced River to the brink of flooding.
“This is the first good water we’ve seen since 2010,” said Eason who leads tours for Discover Yosemite Tours.
Over the nearby din of the swollen river, Eason pointed out that two people had already drowned this season in another nearby park. She said the river was running cold, swift and deadly. Still, she predicted the park’s bursting water scenery would draw many visitors anxious to see the park spring to life.
“We’re going to get more visitors this year,” Eason said. “They’ll come in droves because we haven’t had any water for quite some time.”
Already in the pre-Memorial Day period, the park was bustling with people. Parking spots were rare and coveted. Thick crowds jockeyed for spots along trails and on shuttle buses. A ranger touring a reporter in an official park vehicle had to skip some sights because there was no place to park.
“With the increasing amount of visitors, it’s creating some challenges for us,” National Park Ranger Scott Gediman said.
Last year, a record 5 million people visited the park. And that was before nature turned on the spigot.
"With the incredible waterfalls going right now, it’s attracting a lot of people," Gediman said.
Adding to the congestion were numerous detours as the park service made modifications to some existing parking lots to better accommodate the heavy traffic. Rangers urged visitors to plan trips during the week to avoid the weekend mayhem. Above all, they urged patience.
The abundance of melting snow was not only feeding the park’s famous waterfalls like Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls, but it also was sparking water flows that didn’t even have names. Rivulets of water could be seen snaking down granite cliffs and along hillsides creating the impression entire mountains were melting.
“The water is phenomenal right now,” said visitor John Boyd. “It’s roaring faster than I’ve seen it in quite a few years.”
But the melting snow was also causing concerns of flooding — and danger — as the Merced River hovered just below the 10 foot flood stage. Park officials temporarily closed the swift moving river to all rafting and kayaking. With plenty of snowpack left in the mountains, some worried the worst was still ahead.
“The peak of it hasn’t even started yet,” said Eason. “Right now, we have about 20 feet of standing snow up on the top, so once that gets hot and starts coming down, there could be flooding.”
For now, the most visible result of all the water was the flood of visitors stemming into the park — gazing up as climbers made their way across the face of El Capitan, getting soaked at the base of waterfalls and making their way through one of nature’s most spectacular creations.
Even after leading countless tours through the park, Eason was still impressed.
“I’m excited every day,” she said.