Sep 092010
First Glimpse

In my previous post, I described the itinerary for day 1 of the Great Sierra Circuit.  In a nutshell, we grabbed snacks for the road from our local Los Angeles farmer’s market and hiked at the uncrowded Sequoia gem called Nelder Grove.

On the second day of our Sierra road trip, we headed into the legendary Yosemite National Park.  But not before we made a short detour for a ride on an old steam powered rail car…

Day 2:  Yosemite to Bishop, with detours

  • We hit the road early to catch the first run of the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.  Okay, it’s sounds romantic, it looks romantic (from the pictures), and yes, it’s even dog friendly, but my advice–unless your group includes a hard core train buff–is to skip this activity.  It’s a sweet little train depot, with an impressive steam locomotive, a touristy “panning for gold” stand, and very clean bathrooms, but the ride itself is not worth your time.  Plus, by the time we got into Yosemite, the traffic was at a standstill.  My advice – get up super early to beat the crowds into Yosemite, and maybe you will even get in to see the Mariposa Grove.  By the time we got into the park, the Mariposa Grove was at capacity.
  • Once we were in Yosemite (see the park map here), we planned to check out the dog friendly sights and grab a bite of lunch at Curry Village.  Dogs are allowed on paved paths in Yosemite, and that includes Bridal Veil Falls.  Despite the crowds of tourists, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the beauty and power of the falls.  Of course, we got soaking wet, but that was part of the fun.
at Bridal Veil Falls
  • Afterward, we strolled along the paved path and watched one of those classic National Park scenes, where you see someone doing something totally foolhardy, and you wonder whether you should say something.  As we leaned against a stone bridge, admiring the rushing river downstream from the falls, we noticed two people tottering from boulder to boulder in the middle of the river in search of that perfect shot.  Predictably, it wasn’t long before one of them fell into the stream (withough dunking the camera, thankfully!).  The whole incident looked more cold than dangerous, so we just watched it all unfold from the bridge.  I guess that’s why national parks contain signs that say things like, “no swimming” above a waterfall, or “no feeding bears”.
Classic Yosemite Valley
  • Other sights you might want to cover with your family or pup: walking the meadow boardwalks, gawking at the climbers on El Cap (don’t forget your binoculars for this trip!) and stopping to admire the numerous magnificent vistas into and out of Yosemite Valley.
Climbing the Big Walls
  • The idea of covering the highlights in Yosemite Valley in mere hours probably sounds ridiculous to Yosemite fans.  But truthfully, I wouldn’t have been able to handle the crowds and traffic jams a moment longer.  If you want to peruse the Valley more thoroughly, come back in autumn, after school starts.
There is no road trip without Peanut M&Ms
  • After covering the Valley, our itinerary took us on Tioga Road, through Tuolumne Meadows and over Tioga Pass to the east side of the Sierras.  Tip: Make sure that the pass is open when you plan your trip.
  • If you’re in Yosemite during the spring, like we were, you may see brown bears grazing on new grass near Crane Flat.
Brown bear eating . . . grass!
  • We also found some much-needed breathing room from the crowds in Tuolumne.  Mounds of snow still lined Tioga Road at that elevation, and there were few cars and even fewer rangers.  We went for a snowy hike at Olmstead Point, where we could gaze out over Half Dome and the canyons that tumble down into the Valley.  We could have taken a longer hike or stopped to explore the Tuolumne Meadows, but we had to cover a lot of ground before we reached Bishop for the evening.
Leaving the crowds behind, in Tuolumne.
  • On the several hour trip to Bishop from Tuolumne Meadows, the Whoa Nellie Deli at the Mobile gas station (intersection of Highway 120 and 395) is a good place to refill your car and your stomach.  Because of our time constraints, we skipped the favorably-reviewed food, in order to catch the remaining sunlight over Mono Lake.
  • Just north of the junction on Highway 395, we stopped at the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center, where visitors can walk an interpretive trail and study examples of basalt rock.  The visitor center is not located at the edge of the actual lake, however.  If you have time, I recommend taking the extra drive to the South Tufa Grove, where you can walk the shores of the lake and shuffle through swarms of tiny alkali flies, a historic food source for native people and birds alike.  In the summer, naturalists lead one-mile walks from South Tufa Grove at 6 pm.  Mono Lake hosts the second largest population of nesting California Gulls (after the Great Salt Lake in Utah) and was/is the object of a contentious water battle between environmentalists and the City of Los Angeles.
Mono Lake at the day’s end.
  • Our destination for the night was Bishop.  Stay at La Quinta if you have a pup; stay at the Creekside, Best Western if you want a splurge.  Camping is plentiful and can be free.
  • Tips: This Circuit involves a lot of driving.  If possible, extend your trip and stop at more sights, for instance:
    • If you don’t have a dog, and it’s not too crowded, take some more time to explore Yosemite.  On our trip, the summer crowds were more than oppressive, and I was ready to leave the Valley after an hour or two.
    • If you have extra days, consider a side trip to the ghost town at Bodie, a summertime ride on the Gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain, or a visit to the Devil’s Postpile (all dog friendly).

In my next post, I’ll cover our last day on the road: The Alabama Hills.

  2 Responses to “The Great Sierra Circuit Part II: Yosemite Valley to Mono Lake”

  1. Was your dog permitted on the trails in Tolumne Meadows? I’m planning a trip, but didn’t see any paved trails near there, so wondered if you know something I don’t! :-)

    • Nope, I just scrambled around on the rock faces, without going into the woods or fields. We were there pretty early in the season, so there weren’t a lot of other people. I kept off the vegetation and made sure we didn’t leave anything but some (wet) pawprints in the snow. Have a great trip!

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