We got a late
start the next morning. We were up
early, but we lacked some vital ingredients for breakfast. Unfortunately, the grocery store in June Lake
opens late, so we had to go hunting for eggs.
Out at the main road, we stopped at a deli / gas station, where we found
a dozen eggs for $4. After that, we got
gas for $5 a gallon before heading for the park.
We drove back
into Yosemite National
Park, cresting Tioga
Pass. Beyond, we descended to lovely Tuolumne
Meadows. The campground there was far
from full, and I wished that I hadn’t reserved the campsite at June Lake. June
Lake was fine, but Tuolumne
would’ve been much more convenient.
the campground, we found a picnic area and cooked breakfast. It was a cold morning, requiring hats and
gloves, but eggs, sausage, and pancakes helped warm us up. By the time we were cleaning up, the sun was
above the mountains, and the day was warming rapidly. After several days of tourist activities, I
was ready to get on the trail!
Tuolumne Meadows and headed for Yosemite Valley. We drove out past Tenaya Lake, and enjoyed a nice preview of the
scenery that was waiting for us. The
best view along the road was from Olmstead Point, where we could see Half Dome
and the upper end of Yosemite Valley.
tedious traffic, we reached Yosemite Valley in
an hour and a half. Driving into the
valley was smooth, and we parked in the large day-use lot without any
problem. From there, we could’ve taken a
shuttle bus to virtually any point in the valley. I think we were all tired of driving around
though, so we decided to walk from there.
My primary goal for the day was a hike to Lower and Upper Yosemite
Falls. The falls are justifiably famous, and as it
was just the beginning of July, there was still some melting snow in the high
country to provide water. Bob had been
to Yosemite 7 years earlier, but that trip had
been in September, and the falls had been dry.
the road and then a paved walking path through a meadow in the middle of the
valley. Although we weren’t far from
busy roads, this was still quite enjoyable.
The views of the surrounding cliffs were dramatic, highlighted by the
towering presence of Half Dome at the head of the valley. We headed the other way though, towards the
waterfall we could clearly see crashing down from the north rim of the canyon.
Getting to Lower Yosemite
Falls only requires a short walk, and
apparently virtually everyone who visits Yosemite
makes it there. When we reached the viewpoint
of the Lower Falls, I immediately started
laughing. The entire run of the river
from the overlook to the base of the falls was swarming with people. From our perspective, it looked like a massive
dragon had kicked over an ant hill. We
quickly decided that the view from there was more than adequate. We headed out after a few minutes, eager to
separate ourselves from the masses.
the Upper Falls requires hiking a separate
trail. We backtracked, and followed a
path that circles the valley to the other trailhead. There, we picked up the path that runs to Columbia Rock, Upper Falls,
and beyond. We endured an endless series
of steep, rocky switchbacks that proved to be more difficult than I
expected. Despite the rugged terrain,
the trail was still rather busy. We
passed quite a few hikers before the trail finally leveled off.
stretch of trail led us to Columbia Rock.
This part of the hike featured some nice views of the valley and the
surrounding cliffs, as well as a few wildflowers. The real scenery though was waiting for us at
Columbia Rock. There we were treated to
a grand view of the valley, Half Dome, and distant peaks. Miraculously, the overlook was deserted when
we arrived. Since it was noon, it was
the perfect spot for a picnic lunch. In
addition to the views, we were treated to a refreshing breeze, which provided
some relief from the mid-day heat. While
we ate, we watched an endless series of rafts drifting lazily down the Merced River far below us. Considering the hot weather, that looked like
a great way to kill a couple of hours.
another group of hikers showed up, and we pressed on. A short, steep climb led to more easy
hiking. A few minutes later, we were
rewarded with our first view of Upper
Yosemite Falls. This waterfall tumbles more than 2000’ from
the rim of the canyon. Although it’s
possible to hike all the way to the top of the falls, I was more than content
to enjoy the view from there.
break, we followed the same route back down to the valley. Once at the bottom, we walked back to our
rental car. Then, we headed over to Curry Village
to look for groceries. We picked a few
things up, but found the selection a bit disappointing. Later, we discovered that the store at
Tuolumne Meadows was the best one in the park.
groceries, we checked on the rafting. We
were startled to discover that renting a raft for a couple of hours cost $26
per person. That seemed a bit ambitious
to me, and we decided to skip it.
Unfortunately, the price wasn’t discouraging too many other folks. By next summer, it’ll probably be higher.
point, it was late afternoon, and we still had to drive 2+ hours back to June Lake. We headed that way, skipping the drive up to
Glacier Point. Glacier Point offers some
of the best windshield scenery in the park, but it would’ve required a long
drive out of the way. I guess I’ll have
to save that for another time. Likewise,
we didn’t make it down to the Wawona area of the
features some of the most impressive Sequoia Groves in Yosemite. Unfortunately, there was a wildfire burning
nearby, and it also would’ve required a long drive in the wrong direction. I’ll have to make visits to Wawona and Glacier Point priorities the next time I’m in Yosemite.
We made it
back to camp a bit before dark this time.
We dined on Chicken Fajitas for dinner before darkness fell.
we all saw a UFO. There was a strange
collection of glowing red lights, cruising through the sky above June Lake. The orientation of the lights ruled out the
possibility of an airplane, and the object was moving surprisingly slow. Now, I’m not necessary claiming that the
lights belonged to a spaceship from the planet Beetlejuice,
full of crusty, green aliens looking to give someone an anal probe. But it was definitely a UFO. You see, “UFO” stands for Unidentified Flying
Object. The object we saw was certainly
unidentified, and was definitely flying.
It brought an interesting end to a unique day.
We got an
earlier start the next morning. We had
eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns at the campground, before driving back to Tuolumne
Meadows. There, we stopped at the ranger
station to pick up our permit for the JMT.
I had reserved our permit six months earlier, on the first day they
became available. Getting the permit
went smoothly, and we set out to explore Tuolumne Meadows
wasn’t feeling well, thanks to an accidental overdose of medication the night
before. Bob and I wanted to hike, but
Christy wasn’t feeling enthusiastic.
After a bit of debate, Bob and decided to hike Lembert
Dome. Meanwhile, Christy would take the
rental car down to Tenaya Lake,
where she could relax and get some sun.
Once Bob and I finished hiking, we’d catch a free shuttle bus down to
the lake, and meet Christy there.
dropped us off at the trailhead for Soda Springs. From there, Bob and I followed an old dirt
road towards Parsons Lodge and Soda Springs.
This route took us through Tuolumne Meadows proper, and offered great
views of the meadows and the delightful river running through them. Best of all was the surrounding mountains and
the many open granite knobs dotting the landscape. Along with the scenery, we spotted some
wildlife. Early on we saw a marmot, and
later we passed a deer. It was nice to
see some wild animals, as we hadn’t seen any the day before in Yosemite Valley.
Soda Springs, which are natural although they are now protected by a man-made
enclosure. The springs are carbonated,
and Bob and I couldn’t resist giving them a taste. The experience was quite unique – the water
actually ticked my mouth as I swallowed it.
have a lot of time, so we skipped the restored Parson Lodge. Instead, we followed the Pacific Crest Trail
north. This path led through more
meadows initially, before reaching Lodgepole
Pines. Once in the woods, the hike was a
bit dull. A bit later, we reached a
junction, and turned back east towards Lembert Dome
on a horse trail. This route was dusty
and hot, despite the shady forest. At
one point, we had to stop to let a horse party pass. Finally, we reached the stables and the end
of the road running from the Lembert Dome picnic
area. From there, we followed a footpath
and began working our way around the north side of Lembert
Dome. Before long, we were tackling a
significant climb. The uphill was a bit
abrupt, as the first couple of miles of our walk had been mostly flat.
the junction with the trail to Dog
Lake. We’d heard that Dog Lake
had horrific mosquitoes, so we chose to have lunch near the junction instead. We watched lots of traffic pass by, before
resuming our walk. We passed a small
pond with a nice view of the sheer cliffs of Lembert
Dome, and continued to circle the knob.
Finally we reached the east side, and joined a trail running up the
ridge towards the summit.
from there was fairly easy. Initially we
followed the ridge up through the woods, before the trees gave way to bare
granite. From there, we wandered up the
open rock faces, finally reaching a saddle just below the summit. From here, the route to the summit looks
scary. However, we quickly discovered an
easier approach by circling to the west side of the peak. From there, a short scramble got us to the summit.
From the top
of Lembert Dome, we had a grand view of Tuolumne
Meadows and the surrounding peaks. Far
below, the elegant Tuolumne
River wandered lazily
through grassy meadows as more granite knobs looked on. To the south, west, and north, snowy peaks
reared towards the clouds. I enjoyed
contemplating the view to the south, since the John Muir Trail heads that
way. I was looking forward to hiking
there, but I knew we’d have to make the climb up from Yosemite
Valley before we got the chance.
for a bit, before heading back down.
Once back at the main trail, we continued on our loop, heading south
towards the highway. A long descent
brought us to the road, and we managed to cross it without getting run
over. From there, the trail continued
down to the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge. As
we approached the lodge, we heard a shuttle bus pull away. Crap!
As usual, I’d missed a shuttle bus by mere seconds. At the stop, we found the bus schedule. We had missed the 2:30 bus. Normally, the buses run every 30 minutes, but
for some reason, there was no 3:00 bus scheduled. The next one wouldn’t arrive for another
hour, and we were already running late.
Calling Christy wasn’t an option, as we didn’t have any cell reception.
We stopped by
the river to cool our feet and debate our next move. Christy was expecting us no later than 3pm,
and we wouldn’t be there. I knew she
might come looking for us, but she wouldn’t really know where to look. After a brief debate, we decided to hike a
mile back to the original trailhead. We
figured she would check there first. We
followed the JMT, and arrived back at the picnic area 20 minutes later. We found a few trees that offered shade, and
settled in to wait.
At 3:35, the
next shuttle bus arrived. We hadn’t seen
Christy, but I was afraid that if we both took the bus, we might miss her en
route. So, I left Bob at the trailhead,
and boarded the bus for Tenaya Lake. That way, we figured she would at least find
one of us. The bus ride was smooth and
relaxing. There were only a few people
on board, and after we left the stop at the Visitor’s Center, I was the only
passenger. It’s a shame that more people
aren’t taking advantage of the free shuttle service. I’m afraid the shuttle is likely to be
discontinued if that trend continues.
almost to Tenaya
Lake when I saw Christy
pass by in the rental car, heading the other direction. Crap, again!
I could only hope that she would find Bob quickly, and then return to
pick me up. I looked out the back window
of the bus, and saw her turning around.
Smart girl! We turned into the Tenaya
Lake parking area, and I
got off the bus just as she arrived. I
gave her a sheepish grin, and jumped into the car. Then we headed back towards the campground to
pick up Bob. She had enjoyed a lazy day
at the lake, taking in some sun and watching a huge Mexican family playing
soccer on the beach. She was beginning
to feel better, which was a relief, since we were starting the JMT the next
We picked Bob
up, and headed back towards June
Lake. Before going to camp though, I wanted to make
one more stop. Near Lee Vining, we found the turnoff for the South Tufa region of Mono
Lake is a large salt lake in the
desert east of the Sierra Nevada. In 1941, the City of Los Angeles began diverting fresh water from
streams feeding the lake for municipal needs.
The lake shrank to half of its normal size, while its salinity increased
dramatically. As a result, the entire
ecosystem began to collapse. Fortunately,
local environmental groups were willing to fight for the future of the
lake. In 1983, the State Supreme Court
ruled that the state was required to protect Mono Lake
and other natural resources. A minimal
lake level was established at that time.
The amount of water Los Angeles
was allowed to divert from the lake was reduced. In fact, those reductions are still in force
today. LA won’t be able to increase the
amount of water it diverts until the lake level reaches a specified goal. Due to years of drought, that is likely to be
many years away.
down, down, down through the roasting desert, past a number of extinct volcanic
cones, towards the shore
of Mono Lake. We stopped at the main parking area, and
couldn’t believe the heat. It had been
hot up at Tuolumne Meadows, but down here, at an extremely low elevation, it
was brutal. Despite this, seeing Mono Lake
was high on my priority list. We each
paid a small entrance fee, and followed a paved path down to the
lakeshore. There, we gazed across a vast
expanse of saltwater towards the distant mountains. As you might expect, the highlight of Mono Lake
was seeing the bizarre Tufa formations. Tufa is a calcium
carbonate deposit that looks like rock.
The Tufa rose out of the lake in pinnacles,
bluffs, and spires, each its own unique shape.
We explored the formations, and examined the water, which actually
looked greasy due to the high salt content.
We wandered around the area for a bit, but we didn’t last long in that
heat. 30 minutes later, we were back at
the car and ready to head back to camp.
We made pasta
for dinner. While cooking, Bob asked if
there was anything he could do to help.
I suggested he drain the fat from the ground beef, which I had just
browned. It seemed like a good idea, until
the pan slipped, and the hamburger spilled into the fire pit. Sigh.
That had been our last chance to eat real meat for a while, since we
were beginning our backpacking trip the next morning. Bob felt bad, and to make amends, he drove
into June Lake to find more beef. The grocery store was closed, so he went to a
nearby restaurant and picked up two burgers to go. Once he returned to camp, we added the meat
to the past sauce. At the time, the
events were a little traumatic, but everything worked out in the end.
Continue reading about our trip as we begin our thru-hike of the John Muir Trail in Yosemite Valley.
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