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Yosemite - Tuolumne Meadows, CA

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - 9:45am by Lolo
236 miles and 5.5 hours from our last stop - 6 night stay


Day 1 - Arrival in Tuolumne Meadows

Lembert DomeLembert DomeWe have been to Yosemite so many times that I really don’t have much new information to add for our readers. However, it does provide a place for Herb and me to store our photos and remember where the heck we have been.

As with all camping trips to Yosemite, this one was conceived five months ahead of time, and successfully implemented at 7:00 am (PST) on March 15, when the reservation window for July 15 through August 14 opened. As I have mentioned in previous Yosemite postings, this is a stressful process that must be carefully planned and executed - multiple computers and quick fingers on the keyboard are a must, as all campsites are grabbed up within 5 minutes.

The boys love climbing in Yosemite, and Herb and I love the fact that they still like hanging out with us, so we were delighted that we now had a meetup planned for August - even if their busy schedules only allowed it to be for a weekend.

Tuolumne MeadowsTuolumne MeadowsThe concept of “family” has grown over the years, as girlfriends have been added, and even the parents of girlfriends. Fortunately for Herb and me, not only did the boys choose great girlfriends, but the potential in-laws are pretty cool as well. Tommy’s girlfriend Erin’s parents would be spending the weekend with us in Tuolumne and Andrew’s girlfriend Celeste’s parents would be our partners at the eclipse. We have known Celeste’s parents for years, but this was to be the first time we would meet Erin’s parents, so we had to be on good behavior.

We got to the Tuolumne Campground late afternoon on Tuesday and were extremely pleased to find that we were assigned a handicapped spot, which was very level and large enough to accommodate all our guests. Now, we wouldn’t have to get up early in the morning to wait on line for a first-come-first-serve site for Erin’s parents. Thank God, because the line actually begins forming at 6 am for a 9 o’clock office opening - and it is pretty darn cold at 6 am in Tuolumne.

One little glitch in our planning was that there was no longer any cell coverage whatsoever at Tuolumne Meadows, making our meet up plans with Erin’s parents and the boys a bit more challenging. In years past, there had been just enough coverage in certain spots to receive and/or send an occasional text, but for some reason not totally explained to me by the ranger, even this tiny bit of connection was no longer working. He did, however, say that he thought I could get a little bit of coverage at Olmsted Point, 10 miles back along the Tioga Pass Road. We would visit this spot several times before the weekend to give and receive updates. My need to be connected with the outside world drives Herb crazy.

Day 2 - Hiking to Polly Dome Lakes, Beaching on Tenaya Lake, and Meandering through Tuolumne Meadows

Polly Dome LakePolly Dome LakeSmoke, smoke, and more smoke! This was not a good wildfire season for northern California and Oregon. The fire that was literally hanging over us this time was near Bridalveil Creek, far away in the southern end of the park, but not far enough to avoid its impact. Thankfully, however, it was under control, so it was more of an annoyance than a danger.

So much for our hope of finally doing the 14-mile (RT) hike to Clouds Rest. The views would be non-existent, and the air quality was so bad that an asthmatic, such as Herb, would have difficulty breathing on such a strenuous hike.

We decided on something more modest, the 6-mile (RT) hike along Murphy Creek to Polly Dome Lakes. The nice thing about this hike is that the trailhead is located right across the street from the picnic area on Tenaya Lake, so we could just enjoy the beach afterwards without having to worry about getting a parking space again.

We had done the beginning of this hike the previous year when we climbed here with the boys, but this time rather than veering left to the rock face, we continued along the creek until we reached a small pond. From here, we left the main trail and made our way right, sort of bushwacking at times, to get to the largest of the Polly Dome lakes.

While not nearly as spectacular as Clouds Rest would have been, or so many of the other hikes we have done in Yosemite, it was peaceful and serene place to have a picnic lunch.

After the hike we grabbed our beach chairs out of the car and went in search of the perfect beaching spot on Tenaya Lake. It’s hard to go wrong here as the lake, with its glacial blue waters and surrounding granite domes, is one of the most beautiful in the Sierras.

We concluded our evening with a stroll from our campsite out to lovely Tuolumne Meadow. We would do a further exploratory when our guests arrived for the weekend, but for now, we just found a quiet spot along the bend of the river to sit and have a glass of wine.

Day 3 - Kayaking to Paoha Island on Mono Lake

Chillin' on the MoonChillin' on the MoonHerb loves desolation and the feeling of being miles and miles from civilization and the nearest human being - with the exception of me, of course. Since I was going to be exposing Herb to lots of socialization this trip, I fully recognized that a day of complete solitude would do wonders for his disposition and group harmony.

So, off we went to an old favorite that was sure to deliver - Paoha Island in the middle of Mono Lake, about 3 ½ miles from the Navy Beach kayak launch. Its difficulty to reach and its barren, moon-like landscape pretty much guaranteed that we would not encounter another soul.

The drive from the Tuolumne Campground to Mono Lake is a highly scenic, 45-minute drive, a.worthy activity in itself. When we got to the launch parking lot, we were surprised to find no other cars, even though it was an extremely calm morning - perfect for kayaking.

Old Resort on Paoha IslandOld Resort on Paoha IslandIt's funny how deceptive distances are on the water. The island was just a little over 3.5 miles from Navy Beach, but I could swear that it kept moving further and further away the more I paddled. Thankfully, the lake was calm, at least for now. We would have to keep an eye out for changing conditions because the winds usually pick up in the afternoon making kayaking extremely difficult.

After about an hour and a half, I paddled up onto the beach beside Herb’s kayak and stepped out onto the crunchy, white, moon-like surface. We were standing on volcanic material that had once been lake bottom until a volcanic eruption pushed it 290 feet to the surface about 350 years ago. This place truly is otherworldly.

In the distance we were surprised to see a man-made structure - a dome-like, metallic building practically hidden in the brush. I figured it was some kind of research facility, but later found out that this was once the site of a small resort that catered to people with tuberculosis, who came for a cure in the hot springs on the island. In hindsight, I wish we had battled our way through the brush to peak inside.

Herb meets calcium carbonateHerb meets calcium carbonateWe spent an hour or two exploring, reading, and just enjoying the solitude. It was quite hot and eerily still, until a light breeze began to pick up, cooling things off a bit. I was very much enjoying the effects of this breeze until I realized what that breeze meant - the afternoon winds that kayakers are warned about was coming.

I started running around throwing my stuff in the kayak, urging Herb to hurry up and do the same. Already our nice smooth. glassy lake was taking on a rougher appearance - no white caps yet, but I feared they wouldn’t be far behind. Herb didn’t seem nearly as concerned as I was - sure, he was stronger and had a faster kayak.

I spent the next 3 hours paddling non-stop against 15 mph winds and 2-foot waves, yelling not very nice things at Herb most of the way. I don’t think he heard much of it, but I’m sure he got the gist of my mood.

Mono Lake is extremely salty, so as the waves washed over us and the water evaporated, leaving the salt behind, we became totally covered in a white chalky substance. We looked like mimes. I couldn’t even see through my sunglasses. I was not happy.

After what felt like 2 days, we finally reached Navy Beach, where there was now a fairly good-sized crowd, swimming and playing on the beach. Everyone sort of just stared at us while we pulled our kayaks on shore.

It wasn’t until I got a closer look at Herb, all covered in white, like a mime, that I realized how ridiculous we must look. I still had some venting planned, but at the sight of him, all the anger just flowed out of me and I started to laugh.

We could have grown our own tufas from all the calcium carbonate that came off of us in the shower.

Day 4 - Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows

Hanging out at Tenaya LakeHanging out at Tenaya LakeIt was Friday and today we would get company - Erin’s parents in the early afternoon and the kids late that night.

After a trip to Olmsted Point to get cell coverage last night, we had arranged with Erin’s parents to meet them at the Tenaya Lake beach, across from the Murphy Creek trailhead sometime in the early afternoon. We would be the ones with the two kayaks covered in calcium carbonate.

Right on time, a couple that I recognized from FB photos, strolled down the beach and introduced themselves as Erin’s parents. Within 10 minutes we felt like old friends.

I lent Richard my kayak and he and Herb enjoyed a paddle around the perimeter of the lake, which really is stunning. The crystal clear water also served as a well-needed rinse from yesterday’s adventure. The kayaks were red and yellow again!

Tuolumne MeadowsTuolumne MeadowsThat evening after helping Richard and Beth set up camp, we headed out to show them the Meadow. We started on the trail by the Visitor Center, and in about a 1/2 mile crossed a footbridge over the river, where we were treated to lovely views of Cathedral Peak, Unicorn Peak, the Cockscomb, and Echo Peaks to the south and Lembert Dome to the north.

A short distance past the bridge, we turned left towards the Parsons Memorial Lodge, a rustic structure built entirely from local logs and granite by the Sierra Club in 1915. It was named for Edward Taylor Parsons, who was the club’s director for 10 years and heavily involved, along with John Muir, in the unsuccessful fight to save Hetch Hetchy. The Club used it as a meeting house and library.

Today the Lodge is used to hold the Tuolumne Meadows Summer Series of lectures by renowned photographers, writers, musicians, storytellers, and environmentalists. It’s nice to know that it is still being used to inspire visitors to appreciate these wonderful surroundings and to instill a need for stewardship to protect them.

McCauley Cabin in Tuolumne MeadowsMcCauley Cabin in Tuolumne MeadowsJust above the Lodge stands the old wooden McCauley Cabin, built by John McCauley in 1912. Today it is used to house park personnel. An interesting tie-in between this cabin and the Parsons Lodge is that the founder of the Parsons Lodge Summer Series, Margaret Eissler, lived in the McCauley Cabin for several summers when her parents were caretakers. There is even a picture of her as a little girl standing in front of the cabin with her family.

We retraced our steps back to the junction for Parsons Lodge and Soda Springs, and continued a short distance to another historic structure - the Soda Springs Cabin, a small log cabin built by John Baptiste Lembert in 1889 over a bubbling, naturally carbonated spring. A surprising fact is that geologists have no idea how or why the springs formed.

Lolo enjoying the water from Soda SpringsLolo enjoying the water from Soda SpringsBeside the cabin, there was a man with several large water bottles, one of which he was sipping from. Without too much prompting, he began telling us of the wonders of the carbonated water that came from this spring - “No better water on Earth,” as he described it. He reminded me a bit of an 1800s traveling salesman hawking bottles of elixir. He urged us to try some.

Richard dove right in, filling one of the cups we had brought along for drinking wine. Beth followed suit. They loved it. “Quite minerally,” they said.

I was a bit skeptical at first - and the sign warning of possible animal contamination didn’t help -- but, not wanting to feel like a weenie in front of our new friends, I took a tentative sip as well. “Quite minerally,” was certainly an understatement.

Herb and Richard stalking troutHerb and Richard stalking troutI was about ready for some wine to wash down the minerals, so we set up a blanket near the stream where Herb and Richard could try their luck at fly fishing. Herb had had the foresight to bring along his fly rod and a box of flies. After examining the choices, they selected a tiny Adams as their weapon of choice. Richard, who had considerably more experience fishing in small streams, stressed the importance of sneaking up on trout, as they are very skittish and have a very acute sense of sight. Beth and I sat happily amused, sipping our wine while watching our men crawl through the underbrush towards their prey. It was a noble effort, but alas at the end of the battle it was Trout 1, Herb and Richard 0.

The only thing I love more than pristine, natural beauty is having some history thrown in. Add a good cocktailing venue along a river to that and you have the makings of a perfect evening.

Day 5 - Rock Climbing at Murphy’s Creek

Andrew and Tommy climbing at Murphy's CreekAndrew and Tommy climbing at Murphy's CreekAndrew, Celeste, Tommy, and Erin had arrived late last night, ready and raring to use their short time in Yosemite doing what they enjoyed most - climbing. Herb and I enjoy climbing as well, so we decided to join them, while Beth and Richard went off for a hike to Cathedral Lakes.

We chose the Murphy Creek climbing area, both for its numerous interesting routes, as well as for its convenient access. Parking in Tuolumne on a summer weekend can be an event in itself, so situating ourselves in the Tenaya Lake lot across from the trailhead would allow us to both climb and enjoy the lake afterwards.
Accessing the climbing area took us along the trail that Herb and I had followed a few days back on our way to Polly Dome Lakes. However, this time after about a mile and a half, we left the trail, which at this point was rock slab, and headed left toward the obvious rock wall. It required a bit of bushwacking and rock scrambling along the way.

Once there, the boys used the Tuolumne climbing guide, which has photos and detailed descriptions of each route, to get to the base of the climbs they wanted to start with. There was a wide selection of crack climbs ranging from 5.7 to 5.11, so there would be something for everyone to have fun on - even me.

Tommy climbing at Murphy's CreekTommy climbing at Murphy's CreekI love the conviviality of hanging out with the kids while they climb. Also, they are so nurturing encouraging to me - real role reversal here. They convinced me that I could do a 5.7 called Frogger, which I did, and later a 5.9 called X Wing, which I struggled through falling a few times, but eventually completed. The rest of them (including Herb) did those as well as a 5.8 called Pac Man, a 5.11a called Penguin, Cafe and a few others I can’t remember.

The other thing that the boys had encouraged me to do was to get my lead belay certification so that Herb and I could be somewhat self-contained. I actually did belay him on a lead climb, which freed them up to be simultaneously working on their own climbs.

Afterwards, we met Beth and Richard back at the beach on Tenaya Lake. I could see that Andrew and Celeste were itching to do more climbing, so I volunteered to drive them up the road about 5 miles and drop them off at Olmsted Canyon to do a climb that they had on their list. So many climbs, so little time seems to be their driving force.

As promised, we picked them up an hour later on our way (actually this was in the wrong direction) to get back to the campground.

That evening, we all combined food and had a wonderful feast.

Day 6 - Rock Climbing at Olmsted Canyon and Farewell

Celeste on Ivory Tower CenterCeleste on Ivory Tower CenterIt was Sunday, and everyone had to leave by mid-afternoon (except lucky Herb and I), so we split into two groups. Tommy, Erin, and her parents went for a hike in Tuolumne Meadows, which would allow Richard to fill up the empty water bottles he had been collecting with mineral water from the Soda Spring.

Andrew, Celeste, Herb, and I went to Olmsted Canyon, where we had dropped Andrew and Celeste off the previous night. Celeste had fallen on the last move of a 5.10a climb called Ivory Tower Center, and wanted to go back and have another go at it.

On her first attempt, she once again made it to the final move before coming off. Undaunted, after a brief rest, she went back for another attempt and got it. Andrew breathed a sigh of relief as he now knew there would be peace and harmony in the world.

There was nothing on this wall within my range of ability, but Herb did take a shot at the Ivory Tower as well, and Andrew lead a 5.11a climb called Tideline.

It was getting around that time for the working folk to get back to San Francisco, so we hiked back out and met Tommy and Erin at Tenaya Lake. Her parents had already started their long trip back to southern California. After a round of hugs, the kids hit the road as well.

It seemed so quiet again to just be the two of us. We took another walk out to the meadow that evening. It is such a peaceful and serene place - with the exception of 4 people, with cameras at the ready, stalking a poor mama bear and her three cubs that were sauntering across the meadow minding their own business.

Another Yosemite adventure had come to a close. Tomorrow we would head north towards Crater Lake and then onto Solartown and the eclipse!


Tuolumne MeadowsTuolumne MeadowsIn my past Yosemite National Park trip stop descriptions, I have focused on Yosemite Valley. However, this time our foray into Yosemite included a few days in beautiful Tuolumne Meadows along the Tioga Pass Road in the northern part of the park.

Tuolumne Meadows is very different from Yosemite Valley. At an altitude of 8,600 feet, it is high country and therefore, considerably cooler and wetter. As its name implies, Tuolumne is a beautiful sub-alpine meadow along the Tuolumne River, surrounded by rugged snow-covered mountain peaks and glacially-carved granite domes. The rock is porphyritic granite, which has a tendency for exfoliation, resulting in the distinctive dome shapes that are found here.

Hiking and rock climbing are extremely popular in this section of the park and tend to be much less crowded than the Valley. In contrast to the big walls in the Valley, the rock climbing routes on the major domes in the Meadow are shorter.

There are very few services in Tuolumne and the Tioga Pass Road is usually only open from Memorial Day through late October / early November, depending on the snowfall. During the summer (mid-June to mid-September), camping is available at Tuolumne Meadows Campground. It is extremely popular, so reservations are strongly recommended. However, there are also many sites saved as first-come-first-served. There is also a small grocery store, grill, post office, and gas station.

Yosemite - Tuolumne Meadows location map in "high definition"

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