The busy summer is over and it might be time to go to Yosemite. We were concerned about the fire at Yosemite Valley because we didn’t want to see Half Dome in smoke. But we finally took a short visit to Yosemite to get a taste of it.
Took Highway 120/Tioga Road at Lee Vining – gateway to Yosemite from eastern Sierra, we were heading to Yosemite. I have been waiting for this moment for so long! Shortly after we drove on Tioga Road, a mountain with a long flat top lay in front of us. It was like a natural Great Wall crossing along the back of the mountain. Nature showed its wild side with naked rocks and reddish peaks on the mountain range. Rocks tumbled along hillsides. The highway carved along the mountains carrying millions of visitors to Yosemite. An odd shaped light colored giant rock protruded high on the cliff at the big bend of the road. Heading towards the big bend, the gorgeous view of the deep Lee Vining Canyon unfolded beneath. Rusty colored mountains soared above the canyon and hazy mountains lied in the distance.
The canyon was cut off by a dam. A couple of small waterfalls fell from the dam. Ellery Lake appeared at the base of the snow covered Sierra mountains. We passed a 9,000 feet elevation marker. As we approached the Tioga Pass, we saw some people walking by the road looking exhausted. The Tioga Pass Resort established 1914 was deserted by the road. There were several campgrounds near Ellery Lake. Traffic was not bad along the road. After a while, we arrived at Tioga Pass with an elevation of 9,945 feet. This is also the entrance to Yosemite National Park. There was a sign “Tioga Pass Run Finish Line” by the ticket booth. Now we realized that those hikers on the road were in the race. The waiting line at the entrance was short, and we entered Yosemite NP shortly. Yeah! How excited I was!
It was only 58° F outside at 11:15 a.m. I felt the air was thinner, too. We drove by the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Permit Office, and saw the parking lot was full. Stephen did part of Pacific Crest Trail when he was a backpacker. Traffic in the park was a little bit slow. Driving at 30 miles per hour sure slowed down the traffic. There was a grocery store near Tuolumne Meadow. It was also a stop for the shuttle buses. Behind the store is Tuolumne Meadow campground. Using shuttle buses are encouraged in summer to avoid congestion. There was quite a crowd by the store. And there were lots of vehicles parked along the road, too. It said that 20,000 visitors could go through Yosemite Valley in a busy summer weekend. We were glad that the traffic was not bad today.
We stopped at Tuolumne Meadow Visitor Center. It had a nice display of rocks, plants, pine cones and butterflies in the park. Sugar pines have the largest pine cones with a length of about 18 inches. The big hunk of a pumice volcanic rock was super light. I learned that naturalist John Muir spent ten years exploring Yosemite and he and other advocates convinced Congress to establish Yosemite as a national park in 1890.
A gigantic piece of granite rock, Lembert Dome, abruptly stood up high above Tuolumne Meadow. There were other domes by the road, too. We pulled over by Tenaya Lake and saw people were looking up to the cliff by the lake. Rock climbers were climbing on the bare wall of granite cliff! Wow! There seemed to be several groups of climbers. One climber was near the top. Quartz sparkled on the granite cliff.
Girls in bikinis laid on the nice sandy beach by Tenaya Lake. The water of Tenaya Lake was clear and warm. One girl took a swim in the lake. A boy and a girl launched their kayaks and rowed onto the lake. From the beach, we saw those rock climbers climbing along the cliff against the blue sky.
The road winded along Tenaya Canyon taking us to Olmsted Point. The parking lot was filled with vehicles. A huge boulder – a glacial erratic stopped on the bedrock. The bedrock was carved with lines into squares. We saw smoke coming from the valley. Looked across the woods, the iconic Half Dome appeared in the distance. The smoke didn’t reduce its charm, however. A sign told us that the fire was a managed fire. People were standing on top of a huge granite bedrock looking towards the valley. That might be the Olmsted Point. We walked up the massive bedrock. There were glacial erratics scattering on the bedrock. Gaps were on the bedrock as if it was cracked. There were irregular shapes of polished area on the bedrock. Stephen said they were glacial polish. And he was right. When we stood on top of the giant rock, the dramatic vista displayed in front of us.
It was a breathtaking view with the round back of Half Dome facing us. To the left was the massive granite face of Cloud’s Rest. Through the binoculars, we saw a line of hikers climbing on the Half Dome. Incredible! The granite face of Cloud’s Rest, one of the largest in the world, was equally impressive with its 5,000 feet height. An ancient Sierra Juniper bent low with its twisted trunk kissing the rock. It was amazing that it was still exuberant with green leaves. Its trunk shone with reddish color from the touch of millions of visitors. At the edge of the bedrock stood a small pine. It looked like it grew from the gap of rock. We had no idea where it gets its soil and nutrients. The spirit and strength of the trees are so inspiring!
It would be a long day if we continued to Yosemite Valley. But we didn’t plan to do it. So we went as far as to White Wolf and returned. We took a look at the campgrounds in the park on our way back. It would take 3 to 4 days to tour around Yosemite. The scenic drive along the Tioga Road was spectacular and gave me a glimpse of the beautiful Yosemite. I was grateful for the efforts of naturalists to preserve this magic land for the public to enjoy. And I look forward to see more of Yosemite.