I remember some years ago when I took the opportunity to drive through the redwoods in Northern California, a park employee recommended Yosemite as the premiere California park destination. I’ve always remembered that and so it made the short list of required stops for this road trip.
On our way south from an overnight in Alturas in northeast California, we came over a hill and got a surprise – Mono Lake with its white edges and tufas spread out below us. We stopped at the visitor center for a closer look and enjoyed the exhibits explaining how tufas are formed including a replica that was made to be touched. Tufas are created when underground spring water containing calcium leaches up and mixes with lake water containing carbonate and forms crystals which build hills over time.
After exploring the lake, we decide to stay in Lee Vining, a small town whose claim to fame is that they are the gateway to Yosemite and has hotel prices to prove it. The Lakeview Motel is clean and convenient but only the upper section has a view of Mono Lake from several miles away. As its late in the season, some of the shops and restaurants are closed but we found a diner dinner and hit our pillows early.
After a walk for coffee in the morning, we begin the drive, climbing up to 9949 feet at the entrance to the park – Tioga Pass. From there we drive into what turns out to be our favorite part, the rocky upper portion of the park with gnarled trees growing out of bare rock, smooth flows of rock topped with random boulders, and beautiful Tenaya Lake.
We continue on and drop down yet another twisty winding road to Yosemite Valley where we can look up at El Capitan and see Half Dome from the bottom. It is pretty with a lovely creek running through boulders, but it is busy even on an offseason weekday so we don’t stop for our planned picnic here. Instead, we climb back out of the valley and choose to return the way we came rather than drive out to the south through Mariposa or out the west entrance. It is just as beautiful in reverse and we take time to check out a couple of campgrounds in anticipation of our next visit before stopping at Tenaya Lake for a picnic and a bit of wading. (It wasn’t that cold, honest!) I’ve been itching to climb the rocks and we finally stop at one turnout where clambering over the rocks affords us a beautiful view of the valley.
All the way back out of the park, we talk about what we want to do during our next visit.