over the pass and down to the desert

The day we left Yosemite National Park, we drove north out of the valley towards the Tioga Pass Road.  This was the part of our visit to the park that I was looking forward to the most.  Because most of my visits to Yosemite have been in the off-season, and the road over Tioga Pass is closed eight or nine months out of the year because of snow, I hadn’t been over Tioga Pass since about age five.  I don’t remember anything at all from that trip.  So this was, to all intents and purposes, one of my alltime favorite things — a stretch of road I’d never seen before. 

We stopped for gas at the junction.  It was over $4 a gallon, but not by much, and was not by any stretch the most expensive gas I saw on the trip.  Then we headed east.  The first twenty miles or so reminded me greatly of the endless lodgepole pine forests of Yellowstone, although the pines (I don’t know the variety, much to my chagrin) of Yosemite are much larger. 

The first view we reached was at Olmstead Point, named after the guy who designed Central Park, and also worked in Yosemite for a while.  The views there are amazing:

That’s the back of Half Dome in the distance

 We also saw lots of lovely wildflowers:

Yet another variety of penstemons — we saw at least half a dozen different kinds on this trip

A mariposa lily, which I’d never seen growing in the wild before

 I love adding flowers to my life list (not that I keep one, except in my head).

I love these, too:

A bronze relief of the landscape at Olmstead Point

 A number of these reliefs are scattered strategically through Yosemite.  There was one at Yosemite Falls, and one at Glacier Point, too, and probably several others that I missed along the way.  They’re tangible, touchable, graphic demonstrations of exactly how rugged this landscape is.

The next landmark along the way was Tenaya Lake, named after one of the last of the Indians who lived in the park.  It is a picture perfect alpine lake.

Tenaya Lake in the distance

And much closer up.  Note the young woman sitting on the rock.

If you look just below the big green spot in the middle of the photo, and just above it as well, you’ll see who she was looking at.  Climbers, who are everywhere in Yosemite.

 Our next stop was completely unplanned.  A buck mule deer came charging across the road from between some rocks, far too quickly for me to react to it, and he whammed into the side of the car, bounced onto the hood, slid across, and bounced back down to the pavement, where he ran off down into the woods.  Fortunately there was a pullout nearby, because I was absolutely shaking and gibbering. 

There is a new slight dent in Kestrel’s left front fender.  It was lined with stray deer hair.  But it is barely noticeable unless you know what you’re looking for, and that was the extent of the damage, to us and the car.  I really hope that the only thing the deer got out of it was a big bruise on his back end. 

I’m so glad his antlers didn’t go through the windshield.  It certainly could have, because he and I stared at each other for a split second that lasted for several hours as he slid over the hood.

After that, Tuolumne Meadows, while lovely, was something of an anticlimax.

I don’t know the name of that mountain, alas.

Or that one.  But the river is the Tuolumne. The stick is a guide for the snowplows.  The snow gets measured in the yards up here.

This is actually on the east side of Tioga Pass, outside of the park entrance.

 Once we left the park, the road dropped like a stone in switchback after switchback.  Tioga Pass is 9943 feet high.  Lee Vining, the town where we spent that night, is 6781 feet, in the high desert next to Mono Lake (more on Mono Lake tomorrow).  The distance by road between the two is slightly under 13 miles.

And between the two is the difference between mountain meadow and arid desert.  Midway between we saw prickly poppies:

Beautiful to my eye, but common as sand to my west-Texas-bred friend Mary

 We arrived in Lee Vining in time for a late lunch, which we ate at a place called Whoa Nellie Deli, that I’d read about in one guide book or another.  It was good, but nothing to write home about.  We spent the rest of our afternoon dealing with the practicalities of travel — laundry and groceries and getting everything cleaned up and reorganized.

It was nice to be back in a real motel room…