Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

Three Days in Tuolumne Meadows

I spent the first three days of this past week in the Tuolumne Meadows area, camping in Tuolumne and getting in some quality day-hiking and photography time.

I arrived on Monday and (surprise!) easily got a camp site at Tuolumne. Apparently lots of people don’t understand what an early start we’re having to this year’s high country summer season, and the crowds had not yet arrived. I actually had my pick of campsites when I arrived and I don’t think the campground filled that night.

After setting up my spartan campsite and hanging out for a bit, I headed up toward Tioga Pass with a general plan to visit the Gaylor Lakes Basin. The Basin is a short but steep hike over the ridge right above the entrance station, and it is a beautiful, wide open area of alpine tundra with several lakes, wide-spread clumps of trees, and lots of large rocks set into the open landscape. There are great views back towards Tuolumne Meadows and the Cathedral range, including Cathedral Peak.

I dropped from the ridge into the Basin in the late afternoon and spent the next hour or so exploring the area below the large lake where the trail comes down. My goal was to find a few likely subjects for sunset photography, and I soon found several, in particular a group of three dead trees. I set up for my primary photograph with nearly an hour of not-quite-there-yet light, and settled back to enjoy my surroundings while the sun dropped towards the ridge to the west. Soon the light began changing quickly and I went to work, beginning with the composition that I had already set up and then moving on to quickly shoot several other scenes before the light faded completely.

Three Snags, Gaylor Lake

Three Snags, Gaylor Lakes Basin. Yosemite National Park. July 2, 2007. Copyright G Dan Mitchell.

(More photographs will appear during the coming week at G Dan Mitchell | Photography. Yes, some of them are in color.)

By now the light was nearly gone and I was starting to regret leaving my headlamp in the car. I headed back up over the ridge and carefully picked my way down the other side in the twilight, finally arriving at my car around 9:20. I didn’t get dinner until nearly 10:00 p.m. back at my campsite.

On Tuesday, I got up very early and headed back up to photograph the small tarns near Tioga Pass. Finishing that, I headed back to Tuolumne for breakfast – finally! By about 9:00 I was ready to start an all-day hike out towards the Young Lakes area, so I headed on over to the the Lembert Dome parking lot and was on the trail around 9:30.

The day’s hike clearly revealed just how dry the Sierra Nevada is this year. In a typical early July (much less a wet year like the past two) much of my hike would have been through very wet and even snowy areas. This time I barely saw any mud at all, and no snow whatsoever. My favorite spot on this hike – a meadow before the last junction to Young Lakes – did have some lupine in bloom, but things were already going dry. After lunch and a visit to the ridge above this meadow I finally started back toward Tuolumne. Near the end of the hike I decided to take the .2 mile lateral trail to Dog Lake. Although I’ve hiked all over the Tuolumne are for years this was my first visit to this large, shallow, and quite peaceful lake. I stuck around for a good hour and a half so that I could photograph the sunset on Mounts Dana and Gibb.

Dog Lake

Dog Lake. Yosemite National Park, California. July 3, 2007. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell.

Once again, having indulged in sunset photography while still out on the trail, I arrived back at camp in the dark.

On Wednesday I was lazy and did not get up at the crack of dawn to do more photography. Once I did get up I ate breakfast and broke camp before making another visit to the area between Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass. I then headed back down Tioga Road and stopped to photograph Tenaya Lake. I’ve photographed there before, but this time I thought it would be an interesting challenge to shoot in midday light and with a completely clear sky.

Rocks, Tenaya Lake

Rocks, Tenaya Lake. Yosemite National Park, California. July 4, 2007. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell.

Although it was now early afternoon, I wasn’t quite ready to leave the park yet. I went up the old road to the May Lake trailhead, loaded up my pack, and hiked quickly to May Lake. This spot is filled with a lot of memories since it is the place that I took each of my three kids on their first pack trips when they were three years old. (If any of them are reading this… yes, the “lightening tree” is still standing. :-)

After a quick visit to the lake itself I headed up the route to Mt. Hoffman, the peak that towers directly above May Lake. The route is more of a very tough hike than an actual climb – most of the trail is quite obvious, though there are a few sections where you have to fake it a bit. I finally stopped at the highest summit (there are three lower ones) for a short break before heading back down the steep and gravel/rock covered upper section of the route.

Done now, I started the drive back home. A surprising highlight of the trip home was watching fireworks displays of various sizes going off in many of the small towns out there.

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July 6, 2007 - Posted by | Trips

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