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.
The vanity never stops. This is me out on Tenaya Lake in Yosemite the week before last. My nephew Max snapped the picture and titled it “The Ice Whisperer.” What I was after was the sound–a lot like the sound of whale calls–emanating from the lake as the ice expanded and reacted to the strollers and skaters on the surface. You can get a vague idea of the sound, in between passages of me crunching around on the ice, from the audio clip below. Note: I was the only one in shorts out there, prompting one person to say, “I hate you. But thank you, because I think that’s going to make it snow.” The lake is under a couple of feet of snow right now after a series of storms that started last Thursday.
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.
We’ve been giving my nephew Max, a University of Iowa freshman who until this week had never been west of Des Moines, a crash winter tour of our slice of central/northern California. (A little bit of deja vu here: He’s making his first trip west about a month before his 19th birthday; I was about two and a half months shy of 19 when I made my first visit out here in 1973, starting out on a Chicago-to-Oakland ride on Amtrak).
What’s the one place you’d take a new visitor to this part of the state (I mean after you got done with Fisherman’s Wharf)? For me, it’s Yosemite, a part of the state I have visited only infrequently but which I think leaves an unforgettable impression. Also, I confess I wanted to get up there because of the historically dry weather we’re having–so little snow so far that the Tioga Pass road, which rises to nearly 10,000 feet, is still open (more on that later).
As always happens with me and my trips, we were a little on the late side getting out the door on Tuesday. But we had plenty of light, and stopped frequently along the way to check out the sights and take pictures. We checked in to our little cabin just outside the park entrance, then headed for Yosemite Valley, a little more than 25 miles away (the reasonably priced lodging down there was all booked, and I didn’t see springing for the Ahwahnee Hotel for one night). We got down to the valley floor just as the sun was crawling up the granite faces hanging above–notably El Capitan and in the distance, Half Dome. We parked near a bridge over the very serene-looking Merced River and snapped away as the sun faded and night came on. Then, finally feeling the cold (I was wearing shorts, of course), we went to dinner and headed back to our cabin.
Sleuth astronomers in Texas announced last month that they had unraveled a minor mystery from the career of Ansel Adams: The exact date and time he shot one of his most famous images, “Autumn Moon.” By locating the site from which Adams took the picture and doing lots of number work, the astronomers figured that the shutter snapped at 7:03 p.m. on September 15, 1948, The team calculated the same alignment of Earth and moon occurs precisely every 19 years; thus, everything ought to line up the way Adams saw it at 7:03 p.m. on September 15, 2005.
Armed with that knowledge, there was only one thing for Adams geeks to do: Go up to Yosemite to try to capture the scene. Ben Margot, an Associated Press photographer who was snapping pictures for the Alameda Times-Star when I was there in the early ’80s, was one of those who made the trek. SFGate has his story (and some of his images) of the event.
(Naturally, the copy editor in me screams, “Autumn Moon”?! It was still late summer!)
(And here’s another, less neutral take on last night’s photo-pilgrimage. I also note that that post and others freely use the copyrighted Adams and AP images.)