Time: Oct 8-9, 2016
Place: Eastern Sierra (via Yosemite)
Company: Wife and Daughter
Day 1: We left the house early at about 8:15 am and headed east towards Yosemite. Tontu was little scared of car-sickness and was not keen on this vacation but somehow we coaxed her that she will be fine, and miraculously nothing happened to her despite some steep winding curves. There were no traffic issues and around noon we entered the Yosemite National Park. Our last time here was in May 2012 and scenery was lush green all around. Now, since summer was ending, the scenery was different. We went via the same tunnels, the breath-taking view of the valley and down all the way to the Bridal Veil Falls. It was more of a mist now than a falls. After a quick lunch, we headed to the loop road at the very end of the valley. On the way, we passed couple of deers, munching grass very close to us! We then took a small hike to a small stream (Merced River actually) and then took the shuttle bus around the loop.
Then took the car again and parked somewhere on the curb to take some pics in front of the huge rock structures especially the half dome. After that, we drove around and parked near the El Capitan for some more pics. This place is really cool with two huge granite cliffs and a vista in between. We had missed this last time we were here. It is like being surrounded 360 degrees by towering mountains. Apparently the Merced river flows through this vista but since it is trickling these days, we couldn’t even see it. We spent some time soaking in the magnificent views and scenery until almost 4 pm. Then we left the valley and headed to the exit. There was one more place where we wanted to go – the Glacier Point – but we were hard pressed for time and hence we ditched it. Our main destination was the Eastern Sierra Fall colors and anything in Yosemite was a bonus, especially since it was second time!
Thankfully, we reached a vista point called "Olmsted Point" where we could get down and stretch and take some pics. Olmsted was the landscape artist who designed Central Park in New York. I first read about him in an Erik Larson novel. This vista point was a beautiful place where we could see the half dome cliff, some strange looking glacial rocks and even hike up on them. It was chilly, yet sunny and all around were great views. After some time there, continued on the Tioga Road and soon reached the Tioga Pass. This Pass is another awesome place, with mountains all around and the road carving through the mountain pass. Superb scenery and great driving route. It reminded us of the Eastern entrance of the Yellow Stone – which is akin to this Eastern entrance of the Yosemite! The road here really climbs down at an extremely rapid rate and very soon we were on the Mono Lake.
Mono Lake is a strange lake in the sense that it does not contain fresh water lake. It contains salt water with no outlet and hence it is extremely pungent to smell. Kind of stinky too! There are some strange looking standing structures called Tufas, and those are due to the salt contents that got deposited when the lake had a higher depth. We took some nice pictures and with the setting sun, the pictures came out really well. However, it was again very chilly.
Our final stop for the day was at our motel – Willow Springsmotel near Bridgeport. The road to Bridgeport from Mono Lake is also super awesome. The road has a steep ascent and once again climbs up to over 8500 ft in elevation and then descends quickly too. But by this time, it was pitch dark and we could not see anything. We could only feel the climb and the descent. Thankfully, we reached the motel soon enough, had a quick bite of homemade dinner and retired for the night. It was a long day of driving – almost 300 miles – and we were all exhausted.
Day 2: The goal of this vacation was Fall colors, and we hoped to see fall colors in Eastern Sierra, based on the information given in this website. There were too many places to see here and hence we shortlisted on a few of them – The Lundy lake, The June Lake loop and the Mammoth Lake. Our expectation though was in the opposite order – with Mammoth Lake having the max colors and Lundy being the least. However, when we went to Lundy lake, we were surprised with beautiful yellow colors. We spent some time taking some pictures and then headed to June lake loop.
Our first stop on the June Lake loop was the Silver lake. The superb yellow on this lake was reflecting on the lake and it was an excellent photo-opportunity. The lake too looked very serene. We had high hopes on June lake but that lake had absolutely nothing! We were wondering if we should proceed to Mammoth Lake or not because so far, we had not seen any orange/red colors yet. After some assessment of where we were and how much time we had, we thought we might as well continue on for some more time until we reached Mammoth Lake and then head back home.
We went to ML via the ML scenic loop road hoping there were some colors. However, there were no colors. It was scenic, yes, with superb trees but no colors. We then started climbing up the Mammoth mountain but still could not see any colors in the horizon. We realized these trees had not peaked yet and so headed to the visitor center to check if there were any nearby places to see some more good colors. We had to stop at a couple of places to know where the VC was located but finally found it.
At the VC, we were told that the Lundy lake and the Silver lake were at the peak and Mammoth was still at 10%-25%. That meant we had already been to the peak colors of this region and there was nothing much to see. There were more but they were far and apart or had to be hiked. Considering it was already noon and we were a long way off from home, we decided that it is better to head back home, and we were done with the colors for this season!
After a quick stop at dominos where we had nice pizza, we started on our way back. It was almost 1 pm. Just as we entered the Tioga Road, there were more colors and we stopped at a couple of places to take more pictures. Satisfied, we re-entered Yosemite National Park and headed to the Tuolumne visitor center to collect a souvenir. None available, we were told to get them at the Western entrance visitor center. So we continued on the Tioga road for about an hour or two more. Once at the Western entrance visitor center, we got our souvenir and headed back home out of the National Park boundary.
Rest of the journey was uneventful. Tontu never slept the entire journey (lasting over 600 miles) nor did she seem bored (albeit occasional Are we there yet?s). She didn’t even see iPad nor read any books, just kept playing with her "Teddy Rao"!! And despite winding roads, she didn’t get car sick. It was miraculous! We got stuck in the traffic a little as we neared the east bay area, and we all were tired sitting for such a long time. At Dublin, we stopped for dinner and that was refreshing. Finally, we reached home at about 10 pm.
Overview: We always felt that we had missed some key points in Yosemite when we went the first time – like the Tioga Pass, the El Capitan views and the Glacier Point. We could do two out of the three this time. And clubbing this with the Eastern Sierra Fall colors was good because that would allow us to go via the Tioga Road. We were lucky to get the motel near Bridgeport for less than $100 at such short notice (booked only one day in advance).
All in all, a well-packed two-day trip. Would have been nice if there were more colors though. It was mostly yellow and not much orange-red. There was one thing we didn’t do right – not going to the visitor center first instead of last. If we had done that, then we could have planned the road trip on day two better. But anyways, we visited two out of three peak areas which is good. This was our fourth vacation in four consecutive months. Will there be a fifth?!