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Entries about tuolumne meadows

Sep 17 - 20 - The Highlands of Yosemite

Mountain Passes, the air at 10,000 feet above sea level, Hiking through scenery that is so beautiful it hurts your eyes to look at it,

sunny 15 °C

We left Carson City, heading south on Highway 395 and the road steadily rises, fist through Devil's Gate Summit, at 7500 feet, and then Conway Summit, at 8150 feet before dropping into the sleepy little town of Lee Vining, pop 545. Lee Vining is near Mono Lake, which is so salty you can float in it, if you are inclined to swim there. We planned on meeting George and Karmen Reid for a 3 day visit to the Tioga Road portion of Yosemite National Park.

We stopped at the Conway Summit for lunch and a picture of TaJ with the summit sign. While there our friends George and Karmen appeared like magic. They had been out visiting a ghost town while awaiting our arrival.

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We stopped at the Mono Lake Visitor Centre for information on Yosemite. Jenny and I also bought our $80 pass that gets us into all US National Parks for the next year.

Our plan was to get a first come/first served campsite in Tuolumne Meadows Campground the following morning. In the interim, George and Karmen had gotten us a site at the Lee Vining Forestry Campground, on Tioga Road.

It was cold on our trip up. Here is a frost covered meadow:

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We got TaJ set up at the campsite and the four of us headed up into Yosemite for a looksee and to check out how to get a campsite the following morning. Now, Lee Vining is at 6800 feet above sea level. In order to get to Yosemite we climbed the Tioga Road through the Tioga Pass, 9950 feet above sea level. To say the road was steep would be an understatement. It winds along cliff edges that take your breath away. This road is so steep that it closes as soon as the snows hit in November.

We learned at the campground office that for the first time this summer the campground is not full. It also closes for the season in just 8 days, so we are really on the cusp of the tourist season up here. We went to the visitor centre where a ranger was doing a presentation on what to see and do it the highland portion. Here we learned that the Yosemite Valley gets the lion's share of the annual 8 million visitors each year. Less than 3 million people visit the Tioga Road area.

This entire upper section of the park is at 8500 feet above sea level. For people like us, who live at sea level, there is considerably more work just to breathe up here. Both George and I are feeling the effects fairly quickly, but we are told we will adjust.

We also learned that last winter, at the area around the Visitor Centre there was 42 feet of snow last winter. The park buildings in this area, particularly those that house summer staff, have canvas roofs, which are taken off for the winter and the snow simply fills the space inside the buildings. To permanently roof them would invite collapse, like the roof of this closed lodge.

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We returned to Lee Vining, where we picked up some camp essentials and George and Karmen bought pork spare ribs for dinner back at the camp. For the first time since Alaska we had a campfire as there is no ban on campground fires here. It was great to sit around a fire, have a beer and supper outdoors. The rib dinner was great. Night is falling quickly here, with sunset at 7pm and full dark by 7:30pm.

We turned in early, with plans to hit the road for Tuolumne campground at first light. The lineup for campsites starts about 8am and the office opens at 9am.

Our drive up the hill with TaJ on the back was uneventful. The steepness of the road really affected our gas mileage on the hill climb.

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We managed to get campsites quite quickly and had our camp set up by noon. George and Karmen were directly across from us in a cul-de-sac area of the campground. There are 171 sites in all here, in a rugged and service free campground. No electricity, no water, and only simple toilets. All food must be stored in bear proof containers. Each site has one of these and the rules state you will be fined, and/or evicted, or both, if you break these simple rules. There are many black bears in the park and they must be protected from silly people who might get them killed simply by feeding them.

Our afternoon was taken up hiking locally to the campground. We did a 3 mile round trip on flat terrain to Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge, which used to the be the meeting place for the Sierra Club. The Lodge was built in 1915, and is a marvelous structure.

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There is a soda spring near the lodge, where cold carbonated water bubbles up out of the ground.

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George had purchased a straw that purported to let you be able to drink any water anywhere. It would purify the water and make it safe for drinking. He decided to give it a try here at the soda spring. The problem is it is short, and you have to get right down onto the water source to get a drink

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A bit later both George and I took a nap along the river. It might be the effects of the thin air, or it might just be because we are in our 70's now, and a nap is a good thing.

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There are lots of young people here, with massive amounts of energy. Some of that energy is expended climbing this dome.

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There are many groups heading out for backpacking adventures deep into the park. The park, even in September, is teeming with young people.

You can even go out on horse back into the wild.

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We decided to go out to see the sunset at Olmsted Point, where the setting sun lights up mountain peaks at the end of the day. Night falls quickly up here.

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Our plan for the next day was to drive out to El Portal, near the entrance to the Valley portion of the park. We hoped to find an r/v park just outside the park entrance that could accommodate us for a 2 night stay while we explored the Yosemite Valley. It is interesting to see where a tree can grow, this one right out of the rock face.

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The drive out was spectacular, with a wild downhill ride along Big Oak Flat Road. We left the park and eventually came upon the RV park that we had emailed the previous day. No one was in the office, and the set of rules pinned on the wall did not indicate a happy place to stay. The office was empty so we decided they did not want our business.

We headed back up the long road to the highlands. This stone arch is right after the entrance to the Yosemite Valley.

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We had brought the makings for bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches and stopped along the road for lunch.

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Once back up top we did the Tuolumne Grove hike to some massive trees. The hike is 1 1/2 miles downhill, and then 6 miles back up :) or at least that is the way it felt. A 450 foot elevation drop on the way down, means you have to climb back up. We were all pretty well beat by the time we finished this, but the effort was worth it.

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Once back at Tuolumne Meadows we attempted to find a campsite down in the Valley portion of the park. All of the campsites there must be reserved, and at this late date only a cancellation will get you a site. George was able to get a site, but there were no other cancellations so we were out of luck. We could have gone down there and waited around to see if a site would come open late in the day, but the uncertainty was not something we were willing to live with. The Valley is crowded with tourists and traffic is a nightmare so Jenny and I decided to pass on visiting that part of the park.

We haven't mentioned the temperatures yet, Each morning it was so cold. Most of the time I had a toque on my head and we were both bundled up. Lows of 0 C and highs of around 17 C during the day time

On the 20th we parted ways with George and Karmen. They headed out for the valley and Jenny and I headed out of the park on Highway 120, leading toward Merced and the fertile part of California. Along the way we noticed many dead trees. A search on the internet gave us the information that 29 million trees have died in the past 6 years due to drought and bark beetles. In many places along the road crews were cutting down dead trees and clearing the brush.

We found the most amazing highway. We took highway 49 from Coulterville to Mariposa, a distance of just 30 miles of so. The road wound up and down along a valley. There was evidence of many recent fires scorching the completely dry hills.

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The road was steep and winding. At one point we stopped after a long downhill and the brakes on our Pilot were smoking. It was that steep.

We ended the day at an RV park in Delhi California, with full services. It was time to get our laundry done, get this blog up to date, and to have a shower after 4 days of dry camping. In a day or so we will be heading for our next adventure...Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 06:09 Archived in USA Tagged yosemite tuolumne_meadows Comments (2)

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