Heather and I wanted to have a little vacation this year, but with Covid restrictions and seemingly everyone else on the planet booking hotels, it became a little difficult to plan. Back in May we thought it would be nice to book a few days away in July. Well, that search lead me to find a place on the Eastern Sierra for September.
For many years, we had an annual camping trip at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite’s high country. When the grand kids were old enough, we’d take them along too.
My first trip to Tuolumne was when I was a child, maybe 6 or 7. It was one of my mother’s favorite places too. Heather and I started camping about 20 years ago and it became something of an annual spiritual retreat for us. Due to health, work, and traveling other places, we’ve been away for a number of years.
Getting reservations to camp there can be difficult. Normally you have to book in March and need to be on-line at the very minute reservations open or you won’t get a spot. This year we weren’t sure that the camp would even be open and with just getting settled in our new home, we decided this wasn’t the year to camp.
However, we came up with a different plan. From our old home in San Jose, it normally is a good four hour drive to Tuolumne Meadows, but from our new home in Reno, you can get there from the east in about three hours down highway 395. At the junction of 395 and 120, the Tioga Pass Road, is the town of Lee Vining and Mono Lake. Tuolumne is about half hour drive from Lee Vining.
Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra is a favorite travel area for us, so we booked a motel in Lee Vining for a couple of nights. The plan was to drive down and visit Mono Lake, see a few sights and spend one day up in Tuolumne.
Nothing is ever that easy. For the first time ever, Yosemite is requiring reservations for day visitors. If you don’t book in advance, you won’t get in. Another reason why the July trip happened in September – it was the fist time I could find both a motel room and day pass for Yosemite available for the same day.
We worried that the recent fires in the Sierra might affect our trip, but our route was not on any of the evacuation routes or near an active fire. One good thing was that we found that the smoke was a lot less the further south we went.
The ride down did take us through the Tamarack Fire burn scar on 395. It was sad to see how much of the forest had burned. It was also strange to see what had burned and what hadn’t. In the middle of burnt trees there was a green field. Some buildings were burnt down, while others were fine. Through the middle of it the highway seemed to have suffered no damage.
Sadly, many of the areas we wanted to see around Mono Lake were closed. The Inyo National Forest area was closed due to fire restrictions so areas we wanted to see like the Panum Crater, south tufa area, and places further south near Mammoth were also closed. We did get to see the Mono Lake Vistor center and visited the Mono Committee’s book shop in Lee Vining. The Mono Committee is the group that is fighting to save Mono lake. (the picture I posted last week was of one of the islands in Mono Lake).
What I found strange is that the National Forest closed, but right smack in the middle, Yosemite National Park stayed open. Made no sense to us. Also it should be noted that the part of the Inyo National Forest we wanted to visit is basically desert – no trees and little to burn.
Our day in Tuolumne Meadows was filled with visiting familiar places and renewing old memories. It was also a bit frustrating. There was a major road construction project going on and most of the parking areas weren’t usable. I guess it’s needed as there hasn’t been any improvements to the road or parking in the area that I can remember – say over the last 50 years. It’s nice that they’re fixing some of the problems, but it wasn’t nice to have to deal with all the construction stuff during our visit.
One other thing we noted with sadness – the meadow is dying and being take over by pine trees. When I was young, you could see for a couple of miles across an open alpine meadow. The meadows were wet and full of life. This year we could see the damage from years of drought and the effects of a warming climate on the area. Where the meadow used to be, there is now pine trees about four to six years old. It won’t be that many years from now when the meadow will be a forest. If the climate keeps changing, it will be a high desert in a few more decades.
Sad to see the damage being done to our world.
On a happier note we drove back through the little town of Walker and came across this little place selling yard art and other quirky things. We’ve been looking for a focal piece for the front of our house and found this really cool stagecoach with two horses:
The store owner delivered it today and we love it. Yes, she loaded it in her truck and drove two hours to deliver it. How’s that for service?
I expect we’ll be doing more along the Eastern Sierra.