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the best sunday Mono lake, yosemite high country

Sunday, July 22 was not the busiest day of my trip to California, necessarily, unless you count the hours I spent on winding roads while listening to podcasts as part of being "busy."

That's debatable. What's not, though, is that I saw more of a variety of beauty in a short time on that Sunday than at any other point in the trip, I think, with the keyword being "variety." It certainly looks that way in the photographs, ones largely from two places within half-an-hour of each other: the South Tufa Area of Mono Lake, near Lee Vining CA (about 20 or so minutes from Yosemite's eastern entrance).

The first stop was Mono Lake. It was one I had planned before even leaving for California, with my plans reinforced by a Yosemite guide who told me that the Ferguson Fire smoke was then coming into the Eastern Sierra part of the park in the the afternoons, while mornings were typically nice. Consequently, I forced myself to get up at 4:45-ish on Sunday. Even then, I thought I was going to be late for a bit.

I did make it on time, it turned out, although just barely. And it was glorious out there.

South Tufa Area, Mono Lake

For more information on Mono Lake and these surreal and ever-so southwestern things called "tufa," see this page. They are, as the linked site states, made of common limestone, but unusually formed. As noted in my last photo blog entry, much of the Mammoth Lakes area is a volcanic caldera region, and Mono Lake is within that area. Its tufa showed up in recent decades due to water diversion for Los Angeles. (I know about all this, mainly, via an on-an-off fixation with the movie "Chinatown," whose plot is loosely based on the Owens Valley water diversion story.)

Anyway, I'll shut up for now. Just look at the tufa!

Suffice it to say that this is a place you should visit, if you're ever in Mammoth Lakes at any time, or in Yosemite during the summer months, when Tioga Road is open. (Just don't get atop the tufa to get better photos, a la some douchey photographer I saw around. There are signs around asking people not to do that! It's an environmentally fragile area. Yeesh!)

OK. Next, we (the royal "we," I suppose) were off to Yosemite, with plans to at least finish one hike, this one of the Gaylor Lakes trail. I'd read about this one in printed and online guides, suggesting that it was wildly overlooked, and gorgeous. It was also, I knew, right past the eastern entrance and, as such, was far less likely to be smoky or hazy.

What I saw was overwhelming, even if the hike initially proved more strenuous than I ever expected. I couldn't stop, though, once I got going. I had to see what was over the ridiculously steep hill I was climbing (600 feet in half a mile, or so I learned later), at over 9,000 feet. Verdict: WORTH IT.

First, some shots from the trail, and up the hill.

Then, the first lake, Middle Gaylor Lake.

yeah, it's real

This was all magnificent enough, but I'd read that there was another lake, and that you could keep going on trails to that one if you chose. the guides were just vague (vague-y, as I put it to one person I talked to on the trail) on this point, and I didn't see a clear route ahead. After walking almost all the way around the lake, however, I found the trail going northeast. I kept going.

I should note that, when going up, I saw no other hikers. I saw three or four people, by contrast, at the middle lake. Again, however, I saw no one going up to the next lake. I only saw marmots skipping around.

Here was the reward for not turning back: Upper Gaylor Lake, one of the most spectacularly gorgeous places I have ever seen. It was a bit otherworldly and strange too, though, in a good way.

At 10,500 or so feet now.

When I turned to my right and walked for a bit, though, I told someone fishing nearby that it made me feeling like yodeling. She laughed and suggested that I should twirl around, like Julie Andrews in the "The Sound of Music." I did a half, self-mocking twirl--this, around the same time as taking this shot.

Shortly afterward, I talked to some older (meaning: older than me, at 51) dudes, who told me about a silver mine above another hill, to the northwest, and other lakes around.

That way, they said. But...

At the same time, they told me I might be running out of time, with rain predicted. I didn't know what to think about that. Even so, I was already just thrilled to have made it this far, and I knew I had to get to Kings Canyon again by the evening, so I headed out again.

I have to climb that hill next to lake again!

Then it was back through Yosemite.

Somewhere off Tioga Road, about 20 minutes or so from Gaylor Lakes, i think. (Google Pixel shot)

As I drove on, I noticed that some Tioga Road hotspots were getting seriously crowded. Then the smoke came in again, about 30 to 45 minutes outside of Yosemite Valley. And the Yosemite Village area looked worse this time.

I did get one interesting photo from my Google Pixel phone, still, on Tioga Road as I approached the valley turnoff--or, at least, it was interesting once I converted the shot to black and white.

I only stopped again toward the western entrance, nearly an hour-and-a-half or so away, at the newly reopened Mariposa Grove, at the western Yosemite entrance. It was crowded there, and scorching hot (high 90s) besides. Then, although it seemed clear, I read a note about how a ranger would not be giving tours of the sequoia grove due to air quality concerns. The heavy smoke had only ended a few miles up the road. So I moved on.

At 6:30-ish, I was back toward the Grants Grove area in Kings Canyon National Park again, checking into the John Muir Lodge. There I had a relatively brief freak out where I couldn't find my wallet, after sorting through my luggage and trying to get things back in order. It was right on the bed, though. Alright, time for a drink, I thought. I had that, and a large pepperoni pizza.

Later, low-level highlights: Stared at some stars, talked to other lodge guests on a side porch, then crashed for the night. I decided to sleep an hour after the break of dawn, not at dawn. Needed it.

Given how active I had been earlier in the day, and all the driving, most of the photos I took during the latter part of the day made almost no sense.

Pre-dinner purchases, at the Grant Grove store. Restaurant maƮtre d' told me it was OK to drink wine straight form the bottles outside, as I waited on a table.
Why was I taking photos with strangers in the frame? Delirium from a busy day.

I will long have fond memories of trying to take photos of the starry sky in another enchanted forest, even so, outside the lodge. Yeah, trying.

Weather trivia: It was in the low 40s when my day began, and was when I started my hike in Yosemite as well. By noon in the Eastern Sierra it was 75. In Fresno, it was 104. At Grant Grove, it was 70.

Next, and Last: The Mist Trail from Kings Canyon

Created By
Ray Mikell
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2018, Ray Mikell

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