Yosemite’s High Sierras

Tioga  001Tioga  002Tioga Road (Hwy 120 East) is the gateway to Yosemite’s High Sierras and the only eastern entrance to the park.  It is the highest elevation highway in California. The next road to cross the Sierra Nevada is located 200 miles to the south. Tioga  058

Tioga  004Tioga  003Tioga  052Tioga Road is usually closed between the end of October and the end of May.  So we were pretty lucky that it opened in early May this year.  Unfortunately due to a light snow year – more bad drought news. We planned a drive out the 46-mile  road, known as one of the most scenic drives in America.   Then we planned to drive another 13 miles out past the park gate to Mono Lake. But when one of the spokes on Hector’s bicycle broke, we realized that the closest place that had good bike repair shops (Yosemite only repairs the bikes they rent) was the town of Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth Lakes is another 30 miles south of Mono Lakes and now our drive was going to be a lot longer. So off we went with Angel in tow. There is some striking mountain scenery in this high elevation part of the park.  Also meadows, mountain lakes and lots of smooth glacier scraped granite cliffs and domes.Tioga  009 Tioga  057And there’s a grove of sequoia trees, which we skipped since we’d just been to Sequoia National Park.Tioga  007 Tioga  008And we of course had to stop to see the famous distant overview of Half Dome at Olmstead Point. The elevation at this point is over 8,000 feet and the temperature had dropped considerably from that of the valley.Tioga  006Tioga  005Tioga  011 Tioga  010We also spent a little time by the beautiful alpine Tenaya Lake.  Tenaya Lake is the largest easily accessible lake in this area. Angel discovered some snow and had to eat some.  Something she hasn’t seen much of during our adventure. Tioga  014Tioga  013Tioga  012 Tioga  018Tioga  016Next along the road was Tuolomne Meadow, the largest meadow and a great place for spotting wildlife – where we saw a very handsome coyote, still apparently wearing his winter fur coat.Tioga  015Tioga  017 The road continued to climb.  Other lakes still had snow and ice on them.Tioga  020 Tioga  019Tioga  022The road reached 10,000 feet at Tioga Pass, near the east entrance to the park. We left the park and headed down the steep grade to Lee Vining, then south to Mammoth Lakes. We found a bike shop in Mammoth Lakes almost immediately and thankfully they did the work while we had lunch. Perfect. But while having lunch, it began to snow! A light snow, but a real snow. I had a slight panic moment since the National Park is quick to close Tioga Road for snow and we were over 40 miles away from the park entrance.Tioga  021 Tioga  023Some quick research on the internet showed that Tioga Road was clear, this weather was local.  Crazy how altitude changes weather – we’d now been in weather from low 30’s and snow to low 90’s in one week! Tioga  024Tioga  027We headed back and stopped at Mono Lakes as planned.  Another place we visited years ago, and we couldn’t wait to see this surreal place again. We hiked on the very nice (and dog friendly) one mile South Tufa Trail.Tioga  025 Tioga  026Mono Lake is a saline lake that provides nesting habitat for two million annual migratory birds and also has the second largest population of California gulls. Many of these birds feed on the brine shrimp that thrive in the saline waters of the lake. Tioga  028Tufa is limestone that forms when underwater springs rich in calcium mix with lake water rich in carbonates. This forms calcium carbonate (limestone) which settles as a solid around the spring, and over time grows into a tower. The formations are very other-wordly. Unfortunately, our long day meant all we had time to do in Mono Lake was this short hike, so it was a quick visit.Tioga  029 Tioga  032We returned to Tioga Road on a weekend when we figured the valley would be really busy, this time to watch the sunrise over Tenaya Lake. So, at 4 a.m. we packed sleepy Angel into the car and took off.Tioga  035 Tioga  030It was a beautiful calm morning and the lake was like glass.  Hector likes to say that karma rewards those who work for it.  Our getting up early was certainly well worth it.Tioga  033Tioga  041Tioga  034Tioga  042Tioga  039Tioga  037Tioga  038 Tioga  047We spent several hours there.  The lake has some great picnic spots and we had a picnic breakfast and walked around the lake.Tioga  036Tioga  043Tioga  046 Tioga  048   Then we headed back to Tuolomne Meadows and took turns walking around since Angel is not allowed in the trails.  The picnic area around Tenaya Lake we figured was a “developed” area.

Tioga  049 Tioga  053Tioga  059Tioga Road has many interesting sounding trails, but many of them were still pretty wet from snowmelt.  So we largely kept close to the road and enjoyed the unique and dramatic scenery.

Our day in the Sierras ended with a picnic lunch by Yosemite Creek, which ultimately becomes Yosemite Falls.

Tioga  056Tioga Road is a great place to get away from the crowds in the valley and experience the alpine environment that comprises the vast majority of Yosemite.  And we were pretty lucky to experience a little piece of this beautiful area this early in the spring. ~ BrendaTioga  040

25 thoughts on “Yosemite’s High Sierras

    • Hi T! Yep, pretty much to ourselves. It was pretty cold up high and I think the valley is the big draw. We saw a few folks, including the always present German tourists, but not many.

  1. This was like a breathtaking walk down memory lane for me. We adored our time in Yosemite and Hector’s stunning photography and your wonderful prose brought it all back to life for me. Thanks! 🙂

    • Thx LuAnn for your kind words, Yosemite is so literally awesome everywhere you go you almost lose perspective. Any one of the many features would be a tourist draw by itself in any other setting and in this park they are lined up one after another mile by mile. Very photogenic! Hector

  2. Another jaw dropping captures. I admired you guys for getting up early to catch the golden hour. Stunning and stunning especially the reflection pictures!
    Is that what you bring for lunch in your drives, pretty fancy but very yummy!

  3. Gorgeous! Love the lunch. Is that Sprite or sparkling wine? You two sure know how to do things right!

    • The lunch was fab, it’s definitely wine – only way to go in a beautiful place like this.

    • Funny how that works in the national parks. There had to have been a zillion people in the valley that day. Just go off the path a bit and you have the place to yourselves! Hugs for all the Solis clan …

  4. What a gorgeous picnic spot you found, almost in Tenaya Lake! Lovely captures of reflections in the various lakes. And I hope that sparkling beverage was Prosecco or something similar to go with that yummy gourmet picnic! :-

    • Thx Laurel. That was the best picnic table ever! We laughed when we saw it the first day and said we needed to come back to it. Chilly though … But I was sure happy to see the glassy lake. As soon as the sun comes up so does the wind. It is just a fleeting few minutes of calm during which I ran around a lot with my tripod 🙂

      The wine for lunch that day was a Vino Verde. Light and refreshing.

  5. Hi!
    Found your blog today via Aluminarium’s blog. Love your blog. Beautiful photos and stories. I have to ask about the lunch. Serrano ham or Prosciutto? French baquette or Pan de agua del pais?

    • Welcome to our blog! Thanks! lol. An inexpensive lunch considering how nice it was – prosciutto – from Costco, French baguette, some nice cheeses from Trader Joe’s and farmers markets, an inexpensive Vino Verde from Trader Joe’s and a random salami. But we do love Serrano and pan de agua as well.

    • Hector is the photographer, thank you. If you go, you may want to avoid the two peak months of July and August, it gets really crowded. May is pretty good but starts getting crowded late in the month, and I hear that late September, early October can be nice also – but if it snows, the park requires tire chains, so it’s a bit of a balancing act to pick the right time. Hope you make it.

  6. I don’t have the words to describe how gorgeous the photos are. I was just looking through them a second time. The reflection photos are unbelievable, especially the ones with the yellow trees. I really had to study the reflection photos to understand. The photo of Angel is beautiful:) Thanks, Hector for sharing:)

    • He works hard on his photography. Glad you mentioned the yellow trees – they aren’t yellow, but the yellow was caused by the reflection of the sun during sunrise! Isn’t that amazing! It was a beautiful still morning, perfect for the reflections. Hector says thank you.

  7. I don’t have the words to describe how gorgeous the photos are. I was just looking through them a second time. The reflection photos are unbelievable, especially the ones with the yellow trees. I really had to study the reflection photos to understand. The photo of Angel is beautiful:) Thanks, Hector for sharing:)

  8. Yummy photos!! Just found your blog via Wheeling It. A happy find. We are full timers too. In Alaska now but heading for eastern California in the fall. Looking forward to the area you covered in this post. Thanks!

    • Hi Lenore, welcome to our blog and thanks for the compliment. Hope you find our info useful. We’ll be headed to Alaska next summer so will probably pick your brain. Safe travels!


      • Happy to share. I’m writing up the posts for the Inside Passage cruise now. Check them out if you’d like:

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