We had not been to the Sierra Nevada all year — maybe not even last year, either. So it was getting well past the time when we owed it to ourselves to go off and see the mountains again. With various intervening commitments, it was the first weekend of November before we could book rooms, this time at the Tenaya lodge, just south of Yosemite at Fish Camp. We made a long weekend of it, Friday through Monday.
Friday, 3 November 2011
We usually enter Yosemite from the north, along highway 120. But there had been an early season storm in the bay area that had moved on into the mountains, and before we reached Moccasin, we saw a sign that said tire chains were required beyond Buck Meadows. I had thought of the chains before we left home, but hadn’t brought them, imagining a cool or cold autumn adventure with a minimum of snow. It’s a long alternate drive to Mariposa, where we were able to get into the valley without going into the snowy high country.
As it happened, we were in the valley at exactly the right time. Soft, wet, clinging snow had fallen overnight, and the valley was just unbelievable. We would normally go on something of a hike, but the snow encouraged us (me) to take photos instead. We did do the short Happy Isles walk (first time ever) and went out on the John Muir trail a little ways. But low temperatures reduce the capacity of batteries, and my camera gave up. Well, if you can’t take photos, what’s the point!
Besides, the weather had deteriorated a bit, and it was time to head on down highway 41 to the south end of the park. This road also climbs to about 6 000 feet, where there was enough snow to keep the driver alert. We intend to spend tomorrow at the south end of the park, so for today, we just drove on through, down to the lodge.
Expensive place. The bar did indeed have Samuel Smith’s oatmeal stout (a rare treat!), but including tip, it cost $8. We walked down into the town, such as it is, but there’s nowhere else to eat without driving some considerable distance, into Oakhurst, for example. Dinner at the lodge was good but equally pricey. Oh, well, we don’t do this very often. (And truth be told, $60 for two of us is in line with a good restaurant in the bay area, anyway.)
Saturday, 4 November
Breakfast at the lodge is also expensive, but we value the convenience. Fairly hard freeze overnight, and I used a credit card to scrape the rime off the car. Well, not a credit card, actually a Starwood preferred guest card, which is possibly the lowest value card in my wallet. (When I tried to enter my number in a recent reservation, I was told my membership had been cancelled due to inactivity. So I stayed somewhere else… .)
Drove into the park, where we turned off to the Mariposa grove of giant sequoias. Beautiful winter wonderland. If we had dessert first — yesterday — today was a second dessert. Not hot chocolate fudge brownie decadence, as was yesterday’s dessert, but still pretty special.
It’s hard to appreciate the scale of these trees, but we later saw someone standing beside one of them for a tourist photo. His full height was only up to the top of the exposed root bulge.
The grizzly giant, above. That first arm to the right is two meters in diameter. The fences around the trees are to protect the shallow roots from the hordes of tourists. They think (know?) that excessive traffic around the roots will (might?) shorten the life of the trees.
The one on the right is called the clothespin tree, and we understand why.
This deer is not even slightly afraid of humans. We watched him forage for quite a while, from only five or ten meters distance. When he decided to move on, we were also on the move, and we had a classic intersection conflict (below).
He was about one meter away, waiting to see who would go first. I was on the right, and I am also higher in the food chain. “Thank you, I’ll go first,” I said, and I did.
When we returned from the hike around the giant sequoias, the parking lot — empty when we had arrived — was overflowing, with people driving around waiting for a spot. We’re early people, and glad of it. On to Wawona, where we checked the hotel with the thought of maybe a late lunch or early dinner at a more reasonable price. Of course, there are no more reasonable prices to be had in tourist country, besides which, the hotel restaurant is closed from 1:30 to 5, the likely time during which we might want to eat.
So after checking the art gallery, we went for another hike around the meadow / golf course. A couple of hours, pretty flat, and very nice. No snow to speak of, so it was easy going, just a bit of mud once in a while.
One of the interesting things we saw on this hike was a snowflower, the remnants from last spring. These are really pretty when they first emerge, and then start looking ratty as they get past their growth spurt. This one is very well preserved. We saw another pair on the morrow, equally well preserved. Nice.
Rather than stopping at the Tenaya lodge again, we went on to Oakhurst, where we drove through the town in about seven minutes, and decided on El Cid, a Mexican restaurant that we had noticed just before we got into town. Not bad, and we had a window seat overlooking as many as twenty goldfinches attacking bags of birdseed.
We stopped at a grocery store and bought beer, which we drank while mellowing out in our room.
Sunday, 6 November
It snowed six or eight inches overnight. No credit card for the car today, just my arm and gloved hand to sweep the snow. We drove into Oakhurst for breakfast; below three thousand feet, it was a cool and pleasant day. The Old Kettle restaurant, pleasant and friendly. We thought to go off into the Minarets wilderness east of Bass lake today, maybe lower with better weather, and certainly different from Yosemite.
Well, it wasn’t lower, and the national forest roads are not maintained in winter. Slush and then snow up to the Fish creek campground, where we left the car at 4 700 feet. We had thought of taking French trail down to the dome-dam at Mammoth pool, but the trail was snowy and steep in places, and after an hour or two, we turned back.
The day had warmed up, and the road was more slushy than snowy, so we drove on as far as the mile-high lookout, from which we got wonderful views of Mammoth pool and the Ansel Adams wilderness.
This is the only dome dam I know about, really a terrific idea!
The view across the wilderness. At the fork in the canyon, far background, we see Balloon dome, so-called because someone thought it looked like a hot air balloon being inflated, still mostly lying flat, but starting to rise.
They say that, with binoculars on a clear day, you can see the ski lifts at Mammoth mountain from here, on the eastern side of the Sierra. A great view!
Above, the mile-high lookout itself. We wondered whether the city fathers of Denver would come here to certify it. If so, they would have had to go away grumbling: it’s actually something over 5300 feet above sea level. You get a little extra for your money in California.
It’s the Minarets wilderness; the minarets are rocks that are worth seeing (I’ve been here before, by bicycle), but that part of the mountain was fogged in, and we didn’t see them today. An excuse to come back someday.
We talked about trying for some more hiking around Bass lake, far enough down to have little or no snow, but Jacky was cold and wet, so we just headed back to the Tenaya lodge. Stopped at the Redinger lake overlook on the way; just below us somewhere lies a point said to be the geographic center of California.
Monday, 7 November
I had a 6 AM conference call, which I did from our room. Jacky had a 10 AM webinar, ditto. So I went out by myself to explore Lewis creek, a little hiking area near Sugar Pine whose trailhead we had noticed as we drove back and forth to Oakhurst.
I had no map, no information whatever, so it was not a hike with any particular objective. As Friedrich pointed out, “Die Reise ist das Ziel.” Cold, crunchy trail, but not so steep that I had trouble with it. I went north, simply because the trail in that direction went uphill.
I liked the fine detail inside these bubbles of ice.
Upon my return, I discovered that there’s a waterfall (Corlieu fall) only ten minutes from the trailhead in the other direction. I needed to get back to the lodge by 11, and didn’t have time to go to the foot of the waterfall. Here’s a stop-action shot near the top of the fall.
We packed up and headed out. We thought it might be nice to hike for an hour or two near Bass lake. Again without a map, we stopped at a forest service office, and were advised by a ranger to drive on down the west shore to Spring Cove campground, just beyond which was a trailhead. So we did.
Very little snow here, lots of vegetation. Tall pines that shed needles everywhere, but the understory is so thick that we mostly see small pines, ferns, oak seedlings, and above all, manzanita! Very pretty.
By mid-afternoon we were back at the car, ready for the drive home, which we reached some time after dark. Eat dessert first? Yes, indeed, but four desserts in four days? We have to admit that that’s pretty decadent.