Alaskan RED

A lifelong Alaskan learning about the world one backroad at a time

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National Park Tour Part Two – Yosemite

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.

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National Park Tour Part One – Crater Lake

While we were driving through Oregon, we decided to drive through the south side of the Columbia Gorge and up through the Deschutes River valley. This twisting winding drive down one side of the river and up the other would have been really fun in a sports car! Returning to the river for some rafting and fishing are definitely on our list. We dropped down into Bend Oregon and passed through quickly, hoping to stop at the Lava Beds National Monument at sunset but we were greeted with locked gates – closed for the season. So on we went, hoping to find somewhere to stay along the road before the turn off to Crater Lake but nothing really presented itself – again, several things were closed for the season. On we went to Klamath Falls where we checked into a Shiloh just off the highway.

Up early the next morning, we drove back to the turnoff towards the Lake and crossed wide flats of cow country and a couple small settlements that included some small cottage type lodging options – wish we’d taken the chance to drive in here the night before. On we went towards the mountain in the distance until we finally left the flats and started driving up into the pine forest. We stopped to take a picture of a river canyon and were amazed by both the chill in the air and the pine scent it carried. Onward and upward and we came to the visitor center where we bought a National Park Passport and put the first stamp in it. Then came our first decision – do we drive the loop clockwise or counterclockwise. As the driver and photographer, I chose – counterclockwise so the morning sun would be behind us as we looked at the lake.

We stopped early on to walk up to a viewpoint and found that the elevation does take its toll on a couple of sea level dwellers – the air felt thin – but the view was well worth it and the forest was so peaceful.  While the star is the lake, the trees are equally amazing in their own ancient, twisted way.P1050550~2[1]

The view from the first overlook is a rock formation called Phantom Ship – it is possible to see it from other viewpoints as well so you really get a see its different sides.

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Back in the truck, we found the road to be very twisting, narrow and some areas of sheer dropoffs on the side,  but the views were well worth it. There are many viewpoints to see the incredible color of the lake and a few places to picnic, though none have a view of the lake.  However, there is only one place to get to the water and it is supposed to be a very steep dusty trail – we were going to try it but it was the only truly busy area outside of the the visitors centers so we skipped it.

At another viewpoint, you can see the crater wall and a rock formation called the Castle – it is a completely different color as the wall it perches on and reminds me of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.


While we were there, this little chipmunk came out to visit.  He was obviously used to people and seemed ready to run up my pant leg looking for a handout.  When I had nothing to offer, he ran up on the sign and posed for this perspective shot.


Back down the mountain, we stopped again to look over the river canyon and some interesting formations in the walls of the canyon – hollow spires of soil that looked like fairy temples.  We did not see those on the way up, pointing out that driving both directions around the lake would also have been a good idea.  I think a return trip will be on our list.