Day One of an n-day trip to Salt Lake City and destinations still undetermined. I’m in Lee Vining now after driving from sea-leval Berkeley out of the Bay Area, across the Valley, through the foothills and Yosemite and up the Tioga Road to Tioga Pass, elevation 9,945 feet. It was dark when I got to the top. I stopped for a few minutes to take in the stars and planets — Jupiter scraping the top of Mount Dana as it rose — and spotted the International Space Station making a pass almost directly overhead. Then it was back in the car for the plunge down through canyon to Lee Vining, where I’m staying tonight. I walked up the road to the region’s most famous Mobil gas station to have dinner (well, the gas station is part of a roadside stop with a store and a better-than-you-could-possibly-have-expected-in-these-parts restaurant. Tonight they had carnitas tacos. Really good).
It does occur to me that sometime maybe I’d like to take a whole trip in daylight. My brother John was just telling me tonight from Montana that he just went over a stretch of road the two of us drove after dark last year and he was staggered at how beautiful it was. All I can tell you about that piece of highway is that it had all the standard lines and markings.
Today, driving after dark was pretty much inevitable because I didn’t leave home until a bit after 2 p.m. I think sunset was about 6:30. Why start after 2? See the headline above. It’s all the stuff the got compressed into a few hours before departure. One would think I’d learn at some point. But not yet.
I have a sense of when I’ve stayed on one topic too long, and this is one of those times. But bear with my carrying on about Tioga Pass just a few minutes longer. As mentioned (and pictured) earlier (and then mentioned again, elsewhere), I drove up across the pass last week on a blitz-style Yosemite tour with my nephew Max. I also brought a sound recorder along and wound up talking to people we met along the way, and that led to a radio story that aired Thursday morning on KQED’s “The California Report.”. Oddly, because of a problem with the The California Report site, the link to our airing of the story is still acting weird for me. story. But the piece also aired on KPCC in Los Angeles, and here’s the link to the story as it played there:
That’s Mount Dana, elevation 13,057 feet above sea level, just south of Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. The picture was shot from a ridge above the Gaylor Lakes just north of the pass, elevation about 10,500.
My nephew Max and I drove across the Tioga road on Wednesday, and it’s a trip that will leave an impression for some time. As I’ve said elsewhere, this is country that’s normally far beyond the reach of the casual winter traveler. The Sierra this high up is usually buried in snow. Beyond that, it can be cold and harsh in a way that’s utterly foreign to us Northern California lowlanders. The day we were up there, it felt like the temperature was in the high 40s, at least, and warmer in the sunlight. There was no wind. I was wearing shorts, though that was pushing it a little. Plenty of others have journeyed up to this strangely accessible alpine world. A local outdoors writer did a blog post last week about a couple guys who had driven up to hike Mount Dana–yeah, that peak pictured above–in running shoes.
All the weather forecasts show that this midwinter idyll, made possible by a long, long dry spell accompanied by unusually mild daytime temperatures, is coming to an end. The forecast for the end of the week is blizzardy: snow, then more snow, with high winds. And already, the weather has changed. Today’s high is for a high of about 30, with 50 mph winds gusting to 80 mph. Tonight’s forecast: a low of 10, with a westerly wind of 60-65 mph gusting to 105 mph. I have a picture in my head of being blown clear off this ridge.
More on this later. For a rather short trip–we were only on the road across the high country for a few hours–it filled my head with impressions.