Day 288 – Yosemite and Beyond, September 30, 2011
From Reno, I followed Highway 385 south to Mono Lake,
located just east of the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park. Mono Lake, nestled in a basin of sagebrush
bordered by volcanic peaks is over 760,000 years old, making it one of the
oldest lakes in North America.
The lake has no outlet.
For thousands of years, streams have carried their minerals into the
lake and evaporation has removed water from it.
As a result, the mineral content has risen to almost 10 percent. The salty waters afford swimmers a delightful
sensation of buoyancy. While fish can’t
survive in these alkaline waters, it is still one of the most productive lakes
in the world. It supports millions of
brine shrimp, alkali flies, and migratory birds.
In fact, Native Americans who lived in the Mono Basin
collected the abundant alkali fly pupae and used them as one of their main food
sources. The Kutzadika’a traded with the
Yokuts for acorns. The Yokuts called the
Kutzadika’a the Monache meaning “fly-eaters”.
Monache was shortened to Mono by the early explorers in 1850 and it is
how the lake got its name.
A picture of the lake’s tufa is what attracted me to the
area. Much to my chagrin, due to the
snowy winter, I believe the lake’s high water level covered much of the tufa, but
there was still some to be seen on its southern shores. These strange calcite formations are formed under the water’s surface when carbonates in the water combine with calcium from fresh water springs that feed into the lake. Over time, the hardened minerals pile up
forming knobs and spires.
After visiting Mono Lake at 1,951 feet above sea level, I
followed Tioga Pass road through the eastern entrance of Yosemite up to 9,945
feet, the loftiest highway pass in the Sierra Nevada. The drive led me through golden meadows, past
numerous alpine lakes, beneath the shade of evergreens, and offered spectacular
views of some of the park’s many granite peaks and domes.
We made brief stops at a handful of pullouts along the way
including a visit at Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake and Olmsted Point. Tuolumne Meadows is the largest subalpine
meadow in the Sierra Nevada. Numerous streams wind through the golden
grasslands attracting a handful of deer.
Tenaya Lake, once named Pywiak (lake of the shining rocks)
by Native Americans, is surrounded by massive granite domes, a rock climber’s
paradise. Its blue waters and sandy
shores offer a lovely place for picnicking and fishing. Petey and I simply admired the view.
Olmstead Point is named for famed landscape architect Frederick
Law Olmsted (1822-1903) when Tioga Road was opened to automobile traffic in
1961. Olmsted is best known for his
design of New York’s Central Park. He
was the chairman of the first commission to manage Yosemite Valley. The overlook affords commanding views of
Tenaya Lake and its surrounding peaks.
In addition, a geologist pointed out to me the most
fantastic part of the view from his perspective; the glaciations evidence and
a checker board pattern. Chambers of
magma deep within the earth slowly crystallized over 100 million years to form
hard granite rock. Over time, erosion by
rivers and glaciers formed and polished the rock. In addition, large rocks toppled down on the
bedrock as ice melted away.
From the overlook, we continued west to a spur road leading
to a trailhead to May Lake. The poorly
maintained, narrow road wound through the forest two miles to a parking area
which led to a variety of trails. I took
the trail to May Lake which basically ascended 1.2 miles up to the lake. The view of the lake was somewhat
anticlimactic relative to the views the zig zagging trail provided of the
granite peaks blanketed in dark clouds, yet reflecting still reflecting light
from the sun in the west.
I had planned on making May Lake my final stop before going
in search for a campsite outside the park.
The ranger at Mono Lake suggested that the park was full and that I
could camp anywhere along Evergreen Road just outside the northwestern entrance
for free. As I headed west along Tioga
Pass Road, I came to a screeching halt.
VANilla was one of many cars in a line that ended up stretching more
than three miles. The road became our
parking lot for three hours as firefighters and rangers managed a forest fire
that was started by a lightning strike a week ago. Park visitors threw Frisbees, skateboarded,
and even jogged in the open lane while we waited to be cleared through the
smoke and flames. Others skipped into
the woods to relieve their bladders while some drivers simply gave up and
turned around. I guess they didn’t need
to get to the western side of the park, as exiting and going around the park
would have taken longer. After I edited
some photos and read a bit, Petey and I had dinner in VANilla and took a short
walk before we were finally directed in the dark through the burning forest.
We eventually made it outside the northwestern edge to
Evergreen Road where we found a spot to pull over. It was not exactly how I had pictured
it. Others were pulled over as well, but
we were more or less stretched out along a two lane highway. With the thought of active bears, a fire
burning, and on a roadside, I expect it will be a restless night…ETB