Sunday, August 03, 2008

Catching a high altitude high...

We set out early Friday morning to visit Pat's cousin Bonnie on the other side of the state. Zipped past rush hour backups in the opposite direction, and quickly found ourselves amongst the orchards of the Central Valley. An eye-blink later, we started our climb into the rolling foothills of the Sierra Mountains.

A quick stop for a burger-and-fries lunch, a quart of oil to squelch an ill-timed warning light, and we arrived at the entrance to one of the crown jewels of national parks...Yosemite.

We entered Yosemite along route 120, and saw no direct signs of the wildfire that threatened the entry on 140. Fresh breezes sent smoke in another direction, and we found brilliant blue skies. We did pass dozens of weary fire trucks...fresh from battle...returning to a local fire camp to refuel.

Our destination lay beyond the eastern entrance of the park, so our route was the less-travelled Tioga Road, which is closed between November and May. The route winds through high country scenery...other-worldly rolling fields of granite...serene grassy meadows...snow-fed streams and lakes. At nearly 10,000 feet, the Tioga Pass marks the eastern edge of the park, where our route began its steep decline to the valley beyond...the fringes of the Great Basin.

Arrived shortly at the peaceful town of June Lake...and cousin Bonnie's home in the woods...a peaked-roof living room providing evening views of Carson Peak above. Dinner was a short walk away at the Double Eagle Restaurant...a gourmet mountain meal in a cozy dining room with pine-timber ceilings. Hearty grilled meats... mmmmm meat... topped off with a divine warm chocolate cake.

Cool mountain temps made for peaceful sleeping. I awoke in the middle of the night and peeked out at the brilliant, star-filled sky.

On Saturday, a peaceful early morning photo walk. Met a friendly neighborhood tabby named Orange, who had quite the purr-box Still no glimpse of the local bear...although I think I found bear poop. Not quite the same.

Our first trek of the day was a hike up Lundy Canyon in the Inyo National Forest. Multiple tiers of still, beaver-dammed ponds connected by babbling creeks and the occasional waterfall. Grassy shores dotted with red, violet, yellow, and white wildflowers. Aspen, willows, and Jeffrey pines. Fields of rust-red and orange basalt rocks. Darting tree swallows with brilliant blue backs.

Lunch in Lee Vining at the classic roadside Mono Cone walk-up restaurant...a wonderful BBQ western burger topped with bacon, a rich BBQ sauce, and a crispy onion ring really hit the spot.

Took a late afternoon stroll among the bizarre tufa at salty Mono Lake. The tufa are remnants of fresh-water springs making deposits in the salty lake. The lake's water levels dropped dramatically decades ago when springs were diverted to the needy Los Angeles aqueduct revealing the twisted, white tufa towers. A sight like nowhere else I've ever been. Gulls ran along the shore with mouths open to scoop up zillions of tiny, black alkali flies.

On our drive back to Bonnie's house, we stopped along June Lake and Gull Lake to watch the low sun sparkle on the cold blue waters with warmly lit peaks in the background.

Factoid of the day. Learned that beavers maintain their waterproofing by frequent preening using an oil that is secreted from two glands located near the anus. Charming!

Showers to wash away the days dust. Then off to dinner at the most unlikely of hot spots...the Mobil gas station near Lee Vining. The station's popular Whoa Nellie Deli was packed at 8pm. A mouth-watering gourmet menu. Creative fish tacos with mango salsa and ribs with a huckleberry BBQ sauce were popular at our table. Our outside table had just the right breeze, although we failed to notice the lone sleeping bird above who ended the meal by pooping on Matthew. He was not amused :) Paid over $5/gallon to top-off my gas tank...I was not amused :(

On the drive back to June Lake, pulled over to star gaze. The Milky Way crossed the sky. Jupiter shone brightly. Two satellites slid faintly across our view. Matt caught a glimpse of a meteor. What a brilliant display.

Sunday morning, a hearty breakfast at the Double Eagle. Omelets for most. Scrumptious chicken fried steak for me. I promise I will walk it off :)

Bonnie joined us on the first leg of our journey home. We drove back up through the Tioga Pass, into Yosemite, and stopped at the Tuolume Lodge...scattered tent cabins along the picturesque falls of the upper Tuolume River. Dipped our feet in the icy cold rapids.

Said our fond farewells to our gracious host Bonnie, and continued our drive home with a final stop at panoramic Olmstead Point.

Approached San Francisco with the setting sun in our eyes. Weary heads soon to meet familiar pillows.

Pictures soon.

No comments: