Yosemite and Mono Lake

July 11-14, 2008
Highlights: Tenaya Lake, Toulumne Meadows, Mono Lake, storm driving back over Tioga Pass, hike up to Vernal Falls; covered bridge at Knight's Ferry.

We just got back from a 4 day trip to Yosemite with a little side trip to Mono Lake and it was FABULOUS!

First we went with our friends Carol and Brian and Sylvia and Michael and their respective kids. Carol absolutely loves Yosemite and makes the effort to call one year in advance (I think as soon as the reservation desk opens, like at 7am) so she can secure reservations at Curry Village. And when I say reserve, I'm talking about 3 or 4 cabins and we are the lucky recipients of her astute planning and generosity.

We left Friday morning at a leisurely 9:30am and got there by 1:30pm. I hardly noticed since I was knitting much of the drive. However, there was one incidence on the way that upset Portia terribly. We ran into a traffic jam caused by a dead deer in the road which had obviously just been hit by a car. A motorcyclist was down on the side of the road; cars were stopped on both sides of the road; people were out of their cars trying to direct traffic. Pierce and Phoebe were too young to really comprehend what happened, but poor Portia cried and cried for miles afterwards.

Fortunately, arriving in Yosemite and playing at the Merced River helped her get over the trauma. We spent the entire afternoon there and would have stayed longer but we needed to check-in to our tent cabins and get some dinner.

The next day we escaped from the Valley and its forecasted 100 degree heat for cooler climes up in Tuolumne Meadows.

At 8600 ft, Tuolumne can be 20 degrees cooler than the Valley. We spent more hours by the water, this time Tenaya Lake, where the kids built sand castles, hunted for "crystals", and rode the floaty dragon.

Kids have this wonderful ability to suspend time. I, on the other hand, always seem to have my mind on the next thing and in this case it was Mono Lake, also known as California's version of the Dead Sea.

So we cajoled, tricked and dragged the kids away from Tenaya Lake promising them we were going to another lake. "Yeah, but can we swim in it?", they asked.

Turns out you can!! Though Tristan recommends it only for those who enjoy the taste of alkaloid, salt and shrimp.

Here are some amazing facts about Mono Lake:
  • One of the oldest lakes in North America
  • Mono Lake and its basin includes 14 different ecological zones, over 1000 plant species, and roughly 400 recorded vertebrate species.
  • Mono Lake serves as a rookery and feeding ground to millions of migratory birds including 85% of California's seagulls
  • The Wilson's Phalarope, a small shorebird, stops at Mono Lake to refuel, then continues its migration to South America by travelling 3000 miles, non-stop, in 3 days
  • Mono Lake has no outlet, ie all the water that flows into the lake never flows out, but is only lost thru evaporation, hence its high mineral and salt content
  • The 15 year battle to save Mono Lake finally resulted in a 1994 ruling by the State Water Resources board requiring the City of Los Angeles to reduce its diversion of Mono Lake tributaries by an average of 67% and restore the lake to 1963 levels.
If your interest has been piqued, you can check out monolake.org or better yet, visit the lake itself!

I wished we could have stayed longer and explored the ghost town, Bodie, as well, but we had dinner reservations back at Tuolumne, plus we could hear thunder and see the storm clouds rolling in. That compelled us to get back in our cars and climb 3000 ft back up and over Tioga Pass which at 9945 ft is the state's highest auto pass. The pouring rain and the sheer drops off the side of the road made for a dramatic drive back.

Dinner at the Tuolumne Lodge, followed by drive back down to the Valley = 35 degree difference in temperature.

The next day, Sunday, we hiked up to the Vernal Falls footbridge and then the dads and older kids went all the way to the top of the falls.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Happy Isles, playing in the Merced River, clamboring over the rocks and diving into the wake of a waterfall.

Another thunderstorm dumped on us in the late afternoon, but not before our kids went on a Ranger walk and earned their Jr. Ranger badges, something they started at Yellowstone and are now hooked on.

When it rains and you're staying in a tent cabin, there's not much to do but hang out in your tent cabin. Fortunately, we had good company and the kids had their games, electronic and board, and I had my knitting!

On the last day, Monday, we tried to get our sorry butts out for a hike, but by the time everyone was ready to go (mostly waiting for all the kids to finish their bathroom business which always proceeds linearly, never in parallel), we were standing at the shuttle stop realizing, what's the point? We might as well just go to the swimming pool and call it a day. Hmmm, didn't hear any complaining from the kids on that call.

But all good things must come to an end and at 2pm it was time to make the 4 hour drive home. Tristan however was still itchin' for one last hike, so while everyone else headed home, we made one last stop in the park at the Tuolumne Grove trailhead. I got to bow out since Phoebe had fallen asleep in the car, but Pierce and Portia hiked with Tristan down to the grove of giant sequoias.

We stopped for dinner at the 50's Roadhouse Diner at Knight's Ferry, a place I had always been curious about, having seen the signs every time coming and going to Yosemite. Even though it's seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it turned out to be a friendly, neighborhood-type of place with cowboy regulars at the bar and posters of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis covering the walls. We even made some new friends of the equine persuasion.

One last little adventure awaited us. Our waitress told us about the covered bridge around the corner, so of course we had to go check it out. At a length of 330 ft, the Knight's Ferry Covered Bridge is the longest historical covered bridge west of the Mississippi. The current bridge was built in 1863 and restoration work was done in 1989 to repair wear and tear caused by car traffic which was prohibited after 1981. What a hidden gem and a satisfying end to our Yosemite excursion!


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