On day two of our visit to Yosemite, we decided to take a guided tour and learned some interesting things. For instance, the tallest sugar pine tree is in Yosemite (sugar pines are the tallest of the pine trees) and has the longest pine cones (from about 10 to 20 inches long). No wonder those squirrels in the insurance commercial could dent that car! Bridalveil Fall was so named because it resembles a bride’s wedding veil. However, the waterfall did not evoke romantic notions with the Native Americans who lived nearby. Rather, they called it “Spirit of the Puffing Wind” and told their children that if they ventured too close, they could get carried away by that spirit!
The Tunnel View is one of the iconic scenes from Yosemite where one can see El Capitan, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, Sentinel Dome, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall. Its beauty is truly breath-taking! Our tour guide also showed us a “baby sequoia” that was about 150 years old (about the size of a normal pine tree). We were able to see some rock climbers who were protecting themselves against hot sun by enclosing themselves in some sort of protective wrap that made them look like giant beetles on El Capitan and other monoliths that were being scaled. We also learned that two climbers had died the day before (brought up by one of the attendees on the tour).
Bears and other wildlife live in Yosemite as well, so there were bear-resistant enclosures all around the park. We were told the story about vistors eating lunch in one of the lodges when the park rangers sighted a bear outside the windows. As the staff were trying to move visitors away to a safer area, a group of foreign tourists were eagerly taking photos. Some of them even tried to go outside to get a better picture! Fortunately that story ended well.
We had been a little nervous about Tioga Pass being open for our trip, having read that the latest the road had opened was July 1 back in 1998. Fortunately for us, the road opened on May 21 with all of the snow a few days before we arrived. Tioga Pass is at an elevation of 9945 feet. As we drove along we passed by many scenic areas including Tenaya Lake, pictured above. We found a place to eat our lunch and met other people who were visiting the park, including one couple who were from Los Angeles and were visiting for the weekend.
As we traveled toward Yosemite Valley along Big Oak Flat Road, the winding road brought us to Cascade Creek, pictured below. On one side of the bridge was a waterfall, and on the other, the water continuing to cascade down the valley.
We continued to the Southside Drive, where we beheld our first view of El Capitan before we headed to our hotel. More about Yosemite Valley next time.
On our way to Yosemite we decided to visit Mammoth Lakes, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is about 45 minutes from Tioga Pass, the east entrance to Yosemite National Park, and two hours from Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States (which we glimpse after we left the Death Valley corridor). According to the visitor’s guide, Mammoth Lakes sits on the edge of the Long Valley Caldera, a 20-mile wide extinct “supervolcano” that erupted around 750,000 years ago. Subsequent volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and glaciers formed the area that visitors flock to today for the natural beauty and the winter sports of skiing and snowboarding. In fact, during our visit we saw people skiing down the slopes at the beginning of June!
Mammoth Lakes is home to the Inyo Craters, a consolidated gold mine, the Mammoth Lake Basin (which contains several lakes), an earthquake fault, Hot Creek geological site (which contains five hot springs and gas vents), and the beautiful Minaret Vista. In the photos below one can see the Minarets, Mt. Ritter, and Banner Peak, the latter two being just beyond the Volcanic Ridge.
We certainly appreciate my brother Tracy’s suggestion to make this a stop on our journey!
Death Valley wasn’t even on our original destination list. Fran had images stuck in her mind from her childhood viewing of “Death Valley Days” that included cattle skulls and stark desert scenery. Since it is one of the hottest places in the United States as well, traveling there during the hot June weather didn’t sit very well with her either. My brother Tracy (who lives in California) insisted that it was worth a stop, so we put it on our list to take a drive through. What unexpected breath-taking beauty awaited us as we began the descent to- and below sea level!
According to the National Park Service, Death Valley is located “between the Amargosa Desert in Nevada and the Inyo National Forest in California”, and “is transected from east to west by California Highway 190.” The word “amarga” means “bitter” in Spanish (probably the water). We are glad that we made it the logical place to begin our foray into the Golden State. This was in Twenty Mule Team Canyon.
This photo was taken from inside the car as we were perched atop the hill on the road and couldn’t get this view any other way. We read that two Star Wars movies were filmed here at Death Valley–Episodes IV and VI–representing Tatooine in different locations, including Twenty Mule Team Canyon.
We didn’t make it to Badwater Basin, which is the lowest elevation in North America (at -282 feet), but this close to the turn-off to get there.
Now we head on to our overnight destination in Bishop. The next stop: Mammoth Lakes!
May 31 began the long-awaited trip to see as much of the state of California as possible in two weeks. With maps, hotel addresses and camera in hand we made our way to Las Vegas on the route that we planned to enter the Golden State. We stayed with my cousin Rick and his wife, Nelia, that night. It was a nice visit here because I had never been to his house before, and I hadn’t seen much of Rick since we have been adults over the past 40 years. He has a nice back yard with a pool and a view of the mountains in the distance. I gave Rick a number of photos of him as a toddler that I had found looking through family history pictures, and he and Nelia had fun looking at these.
Rick was trying out a diet that is high protein and fat but has low to no carbohydrates to see if it would help lower his cholesterol. Fran had made some cherry-carob chip squares and lieblings to share with the family. Since lieblings have low carbs (honey and carob), and the peanut butter and tahini are high in unsaturated fat, it was a great choice for Rick to have as a dessert. After a comfortable night and a scrumptious breakfast the next morning, we said goodbye to Rick and Nelia and their family, and we headed out on our next leg of our journey–Death Valley.