1998 - To Mono Lake, Tioga Pass, and Yosemite
DAY THREE (Thursday):
I'm up depressingly early, crawling out of my damp (nearly
soggy) sleeping bag (even without rain, overnight condensation in the mountains
produces some pretty incredible dew), fixing my last breakfast, and throwing
me and my stuff in the car.
It's off to Yosemite
I go, handing my twenty to the ranger at the pass, then
zipping through the just-dawn lit landscape towards Tuolomne Meadows, Tenaya
Lake, and the rest of Yosemite's highlands.
sun clears the mountains as I hit the Meadows. The day is cloudy, but not
overly so, and everything is damp and green - where it isn't granite and
grey - as I drive along. Just past Tenaya Lake I reach a "scenic turnout"
and stop to get a view of the actual Yosemite Valley - still a good hour,
hour and a half drive away - from an angle most don't get a chance to. I snap
a couple of pictures of the other side of Half Dome and it's off on the
It's just after 8 am as I finally drop the rest of the
way down into the valley proper and slowly head towards Curry Village.
The first thing I notice is that there's actually water
in all the
falls! Okay, that sounds
silly, but this late in the season, most
of the falls normally have dried up, or at least diminished to a trickle
(even Yosemite Falls can get down to a damp leaky-faucet drip if the weather's
been dry). But thanks, once again, to El Niño, all of the Valley's
falls are running full tilt (if not at spring levels - but then, it's
not spring, is it?).
Stopping at several spots along the road, I note that
large sections of the Valley floor are posted off limits to tourists. Many
of these are areas where the Forestry Service is trying to restore the
original flora (a few million tourists can trample a meadow like nothing
else), but others are areas where they're still repairing the damage (both
to nature and the buildings) caused by the massive flooding a couple of
years back. As an homage to that, along with lots of "Under Repair" signs,
there are tons of signs saying "The Water Got This High On January 5th,
1997" - with "this high" being some mark way
above your head.
I drive through the meadows, still full of flowers, and
soon arrive at the Visitor's Parking area next to Camp Curry. I park and
walk back over to the road to grab the bus that loops around the park.
While sitting at the bus stop, I carefully count the number of pictures
taken on this trip, count the number I'm probably going
to use in the Valley (not to mention on the trip home), and quickly deduced
I'm going to need more film. A quick run to the Camp Curry store and I
buy the last roll of APS film they have left, then get back just as the
bus is pulling in.
I don't ride it very long as I'm getting off at "Happy
Isles" to take the trail up to Vernal Falls. According to the map, it's
not too long of a hike, and I've always liked waterfalls.
Well, the trail isn't too long, but it is all
- something that proves to be rather tiring. About two thirds of the way
to the falls, there's a bridge where you can first actually see the falls
and a fork in the trail. One - "Mist Trail" - leads up towards the falls,
the other - "Fall Trail" - heads off east and up, to where I'm not too sure
(at the time). So I go up the "Mist Trail."
At the bridge itself, however, I saw what have to be the
most relaxed, layed-back squirels in existence. They thought nothing
of people sitting right next to them - nor of leaping into the pack you
just put down to steal the nuts within. Heck, after doing so, that
particular squirel didn't even run off. It just walked about two
feet, sat down, and started eating it's stolen booty!
Can you say "very, very
used to people..."
Nearing the base of the falls, the trail continues to
steepen, and now it's slick with, well, mist
from those falls. Soon,
the trail changes from "steep" to a long
set of winding narrow -
and very wet - stone stairs (not
to OSHA standards, I might add).
I start slowly clunking my way up them.
The view of the falls is spectacular, but it's actually
kinda scary. Only a few sections of the stairs have any sort of guard/handrail
sections of the stairs are cut into the side of the cliff
face overlooking the base of the falls, the thundering Merced River, and
lots and lots
of very large rocks. Covered in spray, the stone of
the steps is just this
far away from being too slippery to walk
on and each step is about twice as high as a more normal one, say, on your
front porch. I get about halfway up (from what I can tell) and quickly
decide that the real
problem isn't going to be getting the other
halfway up, but getting the whole
way down. Let's just say I lacked
confidence in being able to walk down those stairs from where I was, let
alone from the top.
where just a bit
- or at least, bringing the map with me - would have helped. That "Fall
Trail" whose destination I didn't know? It also
goes to the top
of the falls, abet, in a slightly more round about way. Had I know, well,
continuing to the top and then taking it
back down would have been
easier. Oh well, next time...)
So I slowly
made my way back down the stairs.
I now understand why most of the other hikers brought some sort of slickers because
by this time I'm, if not wet, at least good and damp (one reason my confidence
level was so down is, well, my glasses lack wipers. It was kinda like looking
through beaded glass) and am taking each step down very
I make it, though - without plunging onto the rocks below,
to be battered, crushed, and washed down into the Valley by the Merced
- and a short (well, not that short...) walk later and I'm back at Happy
I stop to check out the
Center there (where I learn of my unknown
marmot origins), the building of which was once a fish hatchery, then head
back to the bus stop.
My next stop is Yosemite Village: Abet, a brief stop.
I stroll through the store there, pick up a couple of touristy things,
and then I'm off again.
Soon I'm on a bus pulling through the stone entry gates
to the Awanahe
grounds. The Awanahe is one of the park's two luxury hotels
(the other being the Wawona, outside the Valley) and is a gloriously beautiful
building. Classic "this is a building in a forest" style with a touch of
Craftsman and a lot
of money. It still has the feel of the 20's
it was built in (in many ways it is similar to the Grand Canyon's "El Tovar
Hotel"). I tour the hotel, walk the grounds outside, grab several pictures,
and soon return to the bus stop, ready for my next destination.
That's going to be Yosemite Falls. By now (about one
p.m.), though, it's starting to get very
crowded. I get off the
bus at the Falls parking area, start walking towards the falls and there
of people doing exactly the same thing. The
area around the base of the falls is as crowded as any city park (during
a festival!) and, after a few pictures, I leave.
Now, note: I deliberately planned to be here midweek
so that I could miss as much of the crowds as I could. If it's this
bad on a cloudy Thursday, I don't even want to think
the Valley is on, say, a holiday weekend.
Riding the bus back to where I left my car I decide that
my time in the Valley has come to a close. It's getting even more depressingly
crowded and - perhaps more importantly - if I want to get home before
it gets ridiculously late (and if I want to stop any
between here and there), I'm going to have to boogie. So after fixing myself
a lunch, I climb back into my car and head off towards the Wawona exit
and the 41.
Doing so requires looping almost entirely around the Valley
floor again, then the 41 starts climbing the southern cliff face, bores
through the "Wawona Tunnel," and meanders its way south through the Sierras.
About an hour later I pass Wawona itself, and the "Wawona Hotel"
- which looks nothing so much as like an enormous antebellum
mansion on top of a very green grassy slope, right next to the highway.
A few minutes later, I'm pulling off the main road and heading towards
"Mariposa Grove," one of the redwood groves within the park.
is a classic hunk of redwood forest: The huge trees, the fallen
logs (with little signs telling you when and from what), and the meandering
forest path leading you from tree to tree. There are quite a few people
about - though no where near the levels there were in the Valley - but
it remains a serene, beautiful spot. Still, I soon get tired of walking
uphill (and that "meandering forest path" is all
uphill), the clouds
overhead have pulled together (with sounds of thunder in the distance),
and so head back to my car.
Less than a mile down the road I hit the southern entrance
(or in this case, exit
) to Yosemite. I'm still in National Park
sorta, though: The "Sierra National Forest," to be precise. And a couple
of miles later I hit my last planned stop of the trip: The "Yosemite
Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad."
Hey, you don't think I could go an entire trip without
railroad related, did 'cha?
Actually, I had also wanted to make a stop at "El Portal,"
one of Yosemite's two western exits, and the end of the line for the now
gone "Yosemite Valley Railroad"
(it ran from Merced to El Portal for decades),
it was just outside
of the park. So I had a choice, either visit
there and miss Wawona, the Mariposa Grove, and the YMSPRR (and
stuck with a much longer trip home), or visit there and be stuck with another
twenty dollar entrance, or peg that as something for my
to the area.
"I'll take door number three, Alex..."
The YMSPRR is an old logging railroad that carried it's
last log in 1931. Since then, about four miles of track have been restored
for tourist use. You can either ride one of the cars pulled by the the
railroad's 1915 "Shay" engine (a type of steam loco I've always found fascinating,
what with all the gears driving the wheels), or on one of the "Jenny" railcars,
the power for which come from old engines from Model "A" Fords.
I don't have time to actually ride the train (something
I last did back when I was about eight), but I do have time to explore
the shops/museum, and wait for the Shay to slowly chug its way back to
the station ("slow" is a Shay's top speed). It finally steams to a halt
(while I take pictures) and I steam to a start, heading on south on the
I'm slowly dropping out of the mountains now, heading
for the Central Valley
. As I drop, the cloudy skies slowly clear -
accompanied by temperatures not so slowly rising.
Soon I'm tooling through Fresno, and it's now about nine-hundred
degrees (and that's less of an "exaggeration for effect" than I'd really
like). I switch over to the 99 south and pretty much try to see just how
fast a decade-old Civic can go. I make one quick stop in Selma for a Big
Gulp (I have returned to the lands of the mini-mart) and basically just
burn my way towards home, only two-hundred miles away now.
I reach the southern end of the Central Valley, just about
to climb up into the Tejon Pass, with the sun just setting. As I climb it grows
darker. Soon I'm descending into the L.A. Basin wrapped in full-night.
A brief half-hour spin along the 210 and I'm in Pasadena once again. Dead
tired, but home from a nifty little trip.
All Linked Pictures Copyright of The Sites They're Linked To,
All Non-Linked Pictures Copyright 1998 - David William Johnson