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So my goal for the next day (my second and last full day at Yosemite) was to drive up to the "high country" -- Tuolumne Meadows and so on. Which is quite the drive. It doesn't look that far on the map, but it's still 55 miles, and what you don't realize is that when they post speed limits of 25 mph, they really mean it.

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(As usual, click through for larger versions.)


No, like, they REALLY mean it, because an awful lot of the roads are two-lane, narrow, have no guard-rails, feature drop-offs of several thousand feet just beyond the white line, and you're sharing them with people who have rented RVs and are driving them around up here.

I scrupulously obeyed the speed limits, and used the pull-outs a lot to let people pass me. Something about the way it was so noticeable that there was just no margin for error -- you put a wheel wrong on some of those turns, and they'd need a helicopter to figure out where your car would end up.

The word "plummet" was banned from the car, is what I'm saying. (*there's still a few people around who will get that.)

The first thing I did on my drive around and up towards Tuolumne was stop at the Tuolumne Sequoia Grove. It was in my Easy Day Hikes book, and was billed as "smaller than but also much less mobbed by tourists than the Mariposa Grove".

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I was mightily impressed by my first look at the Giant Sequoias. They're indeed really, really giant. "Can't really photograph them effectively with a little camera" giant. The one above is, obviously, a dead one that they cut a tunnel into long, long ago, so that people could drive carriages and cars and stuff through it. The Mariposa Grove has two such tunnel trees, one of which fell over years ago when they figured out that sequoias are very tall but have relatively shallow root systems and when you let people and cars walk all up to and around and through them, that compacts the ground and interferes with what little moisture they get and kills the roots and BOOM. Obviously this one didn't topple, but it had seen better days.

With hindsight, I would probably skip doing this grove. It was fine, don't get me wrong. But it took a bit over an hour to do -- it was only a mile walk from the parking to the trees, all downhill, but the problem was it was all uphill on the way back, which took longer; about a 400 foot elevation gain. I was intending to hit the Mariposa Grove on my last day anyway, so I wouldn't have missed seeing some giant sequoia. But it would have been nice to have the extra hour in Tuolumne Meadows.

I was also, at that point, conserving my energy and trying not to further fuck up the knees and everything that I'd already fucked up with the stair-climbing the day before. (My left knee is *finally* feeling better. But that first day after the Vernal Fall hike, things were touchy, and I was trying to be really careful not to over-exert any of it because I didn't want to miss out on doing what I still wanted to do. By the end of this day, I hiked a further 7 miles or so, all of it between 6000 and 8500 feet.)

So -- more driving driving driving. And what I was driving through started looking like this:

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I didn't know it, but when I pulled over to take the above pic, I was very near Olmstead Point, which is a famous look-out that's kind of a must-stop on the Tioga Road. (i.e. what highway 120 through Yosemite's high country is called).

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I had pulled over and gotten out of the car and taken this picture before I actually realized, "Holy cow, that's Half Dome from the north!" I hadn't realized that the big deal about Olmstead Point was that it gave you a view back towards Yosemite Valley.

To the right of that photo, the bare exposed rock slope was something you could walk out onto, and it had big glacial erratic boulders scattered across it. (Some people at the top of this photo for scale):

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I did walk out there, but didn't like the pics I got as much.

An enterprising person had set herself up on the viewing platform with a telescope on a tripod, and a tip jar, so that folks could look through it at Half Dome and see the people climbing to the top of it. I just used my camera's maximum zoom to get a look.

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Perhaps you can't tell which are the people doing the climbing. Here, let me help:

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They are all in a neat row like that because during the time of the year (not winter) when you are allowed to climb Half Dome at all, they bolt some lines of cables onto the slope for people to haul themselves up and down it. Even so, I'm still looking at that and thinking it looks nutty. Half of me kind of would like to do it someday, and half is just wincing thinking about what coming down must be like. (Coming down is always so much more precarious than going up, as well as harder on the legs/knees/hips.) And, as I related yesterday, it's a long hike from the valley (16 miles, I think?). It takes all day to do. But obviously, lots of people do it.

Leaving Olmstead Point and driving on, I soon began to get glimpses of Tenaya Lake:

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It's a midpoint on Tenaya Creek, which flows down into the valley to join the Merced River (it's what we saw yesterday, what creates Mirror Lake when it floods with snowmelt.)

Tenaya Lake was just gorgeous. It has some nice picnic areas and a really nice beach at one end (perhaps it doesn't have that in spring, when the water level is higher, I don't know).

I would note, however, that it was about 65 degrees up there that day. Which was GREAT, because the forecast for down in the valley was like upper 80s, and I'd far rather being hiking around in cooler weather. (Generally, I really lucked out on this trip. My 3/4 days in Yosemite were a stretch of relatively cool weather bracketed by highs near or in the 100s. Had I hit a stretch of the latter, I might have lost the will to do anything; I was so thoroughly sick of hot weather at that point.)

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The reason for the orange arrow on the above picture will become apparent when you see the next two in the sequence:

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I'm not really a rock-climber type, but I could totally see the appeal to people of wanting to climb all of these bare granite cliffs and domes.

My first goal when I got to Tuolumne Meadows (elevation 8500 feet) was an easy, flat hike recommended by my book that provides a look at the two forks that come together to make the Tuolumne River (which then flows through the aforementioned meadow, and onward to Hetch Hetchy valley, where it was dammed to create a reservoir to provide water and power for San Francisco). This was a lovely little hike, pretty easy, which was just my speed at that point. First, the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne, which was very rocky and burbly and scenic:

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And then over a very shallow ridge to a couple of bridges over the Lyell Fork:

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This. This right here might just win out as my favorite spot in the park. (It's a really close thing, and there are a lot of spots I loved in the valley as well, but...) Like the other people here, I wished I had the time to just sit and bask for a while. I'm not sure I can even fully explain what was so appealing about this spot. (The guidebook had promised it would be, but as usual, it was hard to believe that until I stood there.) It doesn't even look particularly dramatic -- the mountains beyond it are probably 10,000, 11,000 feet or so, but since you're at 8500 feet already they don't look that significant. It was just... really, really nice.

(I really liked these rivers/creeks where they would flow very broadly and shallowly over essentially a flat-ish bed of solid stone. The stretch of the Merced between the Nevada Fall bridge and Emerald Pool, yesterday, was a lot like that. I'm sure in spring when the snowmelt is running, these are deeper and wilder. At this time of year, they're very low and inviting. You just *so badly* want to take off your shoes and wade in them. They would only just cover your feet.)

There's a trail that follows this part of the river up through its valley, which is apparently a lovely walk, and again... something I'd love to come back and do, because it seems just idyllic.

Right under that tree on the right, there was a little fall and a little riffle and some accumulated gravel bed, where for just a few seconds I spotted what I think must be a little trout fry, no longer than my hand.

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Just... yeah.

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On my way to the Lyell, I paused for a moment -- when I had the trail all to myself -- and built my own little stone cairn. I wondered if anyone else who had walked the trail ahead of me would be surprised at its sudden appearance on their way back.

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On my way back, nearing the end of the trail and the car, I happened to look up and see the top of Lembert Dome, a big granite feature that dominates one end of the Meadows, come into view.

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Not climbers as such, but walkers. Another tempting thing for the to-do list, but another time, since the afternoon was getting on.

The last thing I did up there was a walk across the Meadows, to take a look at the Parsons Lodge and Soda Springs. Most of the meadow is trail-less, except for this one that goes across the wide part of it (and then onward to become part of the Pacific Coast National Scenic Trail).

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Above is lopsided Lembert Dome, looking east. (The previous pic was looking at it from the south.)

And here, it looms over the Tuolumne River through the meadows, downstream of where the previous two forks have come together:

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At Soda Springs, just one of the bubbling springs in the foreground, with the meadows beyond, looking south:

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The meadows, with the Tuolumne river visible, and in the background, Unicorn Peak on the left and Cathedral Peak on the right:

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Heading back towards the valley, I decided to stop at the other end of Tenaya Lake to get some pics of its more dramatically backing mountains.

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This was the picnic-table and grill-supplied end, and the Stellar's jays were fearless. (Easy enough to get a shot like this when the bird is literally 4 feet from you.)

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As the drive back approaches the valley, its familiar features start to intrude into view around every curve. Here, the top of El Capitan on the left, and of course, Half Dome:

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I had kind of intended to end this day by driving past the valley and up to Glacier Point, for its spectacular views and hopefully dramatic sunset lighting. I was running a bit later than I would have liked (another point at which I could have used that hour+ spent at the sequoia grove), but the plan was squashed when I got to the Wawona Tunnel, and a construction worker was holding up traffic. Lots of construction on highway 41 (the southern route into the park). After waiting for about 15 minutes in an unmoving line, it was becoming impossible to tell when they might actually let us through, and although the drive up to Glacier Point beyond was only about 16 miles, I'd already learned a lot about how long that can take at the slow speeds on these roads.

Fortunately, I was right beside the big Tunnel View pull-out -- another of those cases where YNP has realized over the years that when people emerge from the tunnel, the vista of the valley ahead is so arresting that they want to stop right there, so you might as well provide them with a place to do so.

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I have a feeling that this might be one of the most over-photographed scenic vistas in the United States (perhaps second only to the Grand Canyon?). From left to right: El Capitan, the peak of Cloud's Rest, Half Dome in the center, Sentinel Rock kind of lost against the bulk of Sentinel Dome, and finally the Cathedral Rocks, with Bridalveil Fall below them (the dark part on the cliff, with the juuuuust visible trickle of water).

No, really, it's not completely dry:

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Remember that view. You'll see it again tomorrow.

The only other notable thing from that day was that I signed up for a night program that took us out to a meadow where we could really see the stars, with a ranger guide who had this cool laser-pointer thing that was so powerful it really did create a long, visible pointer that she could use to trace the various constellations. So that was neat. It was nice to see the Milky Way, and get some stars and constellations pointed out that I hadn't felt sure of before. It was also kind of nice to hear that YNP considered this night-sky view as a part of the wilderness they were preserving. For people who come from cities, it's not something you get to see very often.

Tomorrow: a few things still to do on the way out of Yosemite.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
maxineofarc
Oct. 15th, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
How does one pronounce "Tuolumne?"
eregyrn
Oct. 15th, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
"tuh-wall-o-mee" or "twall-o-mee", kinda slurred, apparently. (One place I've seen says the mnemonic is "To All o' Me", and that final "n" is silent.)
jenlev
Oct. 15th, 2010 10:56 pm (UTC)
:::photography related squeeing:::

These are really fabulous photos. As always, beautifully framed and just frelling gorgeous!

elishavah
Oct. 15th, 2010 10:58 pm (UTC)
Soooooo pretty. I really need to hit a national park at some point.
rednikki
Oct. 16th, 2010 02:57 am (UTC)
Come out here to California! We have loads! And our state parks are just about as good.
rednikki
Oct. 16th, 2010 02:56 am (UTC)
The funny thing about looking at these photos is...well, I went to the Ansel Adams exhibit at the Monterey Museum of Art (the big one, with 70+ photos) twice. And...well, there's several of your shots where I recognize the spots because I saw them in Ansel Adams' shots! Yeah, yeah, Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridal Veil Falls, but I was expecting those. It was when I saw your photos of the beach at Tenaya Lake and thought, "Hey! I've seen that place but without any people in it!" that I was taken a little aback.

Great photos! Clearly, this needs to be a trip emdiar and I do next year. Although next year is our "Appellation Trail" year, so it all hinges on whether there are wineries between here and there. (I'm sure there are. There MUST be.)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )