About a week ago I was in the Tuolumne Meadows/Tioga Pass area to do photography for three days. Tuolumne was at an especially wonderful point in its annual seasonal evolution: almost all of the snow was gone from the meadow, though there were still impressive patches among the trees, there was still water everywhere including in large pools in the meadow, the new grasses and meadow plants were coming up and turning the meadow green, here and there the first wildflowers of the season were starting to appear, snow still was thick on the surrounding ridges.
As I drove slowly through the meadow at one point I followed a SUV that appeared to be a “family car” with mom, dad, and kids inside. Looking more closely I noticed that above the back seat there was a large flat-panel monitor showing some movie… apparently so that the kids wouldn’t be “bored” by the very thing they drove so far to see.
Strange. And sad.
It occurred to me after I moved this blog to the new URL that some new readers might arrive here without the context that some who followed the old version of the blog might have. One big chunk of that context is my photography – the thing that often takes me to the places I write about here.
While I did travel to Yosemite last weekend largely to see and experience the transition from winter to spring in the Sierra, making photographs is a very important part of such trips. I don’t post them all here, but I do post a new photograph every day at my photography blog: G Dan Mitchell Photography.
Additional photographs from opening day along Tioga Pass Road are already posted there, with more to come from TP Road and Yosemite Valley.
During a typical May we would be making our first drives over Tioga Pass and wondering if there might be enough snow left to keep Mammoth open until July 4th. The past two years were more typical and even drier/warmer than usual. However, this year is shaping up to be unusual. The overall precipitation for the season was (yes!) above normal – which is especially welcome after a few years of below normal precip. On top of that this has been a very cool and wet spring. During a typical May it usually feels more like early summer in the Sierra, but this year it has been more like an extended winter. The storm fronts have continued to pass through and even now in the latter part of May there is a string of cold, wet storms lined up to pass across the Sierra.
So, when will Tioga Pass Road open? I don’t have any inside information but I do know the history (average historical opening date is May 29) and I follow the current reports at the NPS and elsewhere. The road was reportedly plowed through recently, but this does not mean that it is yet ready to open. There is always a lot of additional work to take care of including clearing side roads and parking areas, patching road damage, and so forth. My hunch is that the NPS would like to get it open for Memorial Day Weekend in another week, but that this may be a challenge this year – especially if the forecast of another cold week with the possibility of snow pans out.
While the delay in “opening the high country” can frustrate some of us who want to get up there early, there are compensations. When the road does open, it is likely that we’ll see a lot of snow still in the high country – not like a few previous years when it seemed all too much like summer all too quickly. Even better, the heavy snow fall and late melt promises a long, green summer season and tons of wildflowers. (OK, and tons of mosquitoes, too – but let’s try not to think about that, OK?)
Yosemite blog also posts about the troubling irony of a naming a Sierra highway after Muir.
Sierra Nevada fans, especially those trying to get to the “east side” from the Bay Area and those on the east trying to get to Yosemite Valley, watch eagerly each spring for the opening of Tioga Pass Road, the trans-Sierra route through the park. The opening date varies from year to year based on a range of factors: the amount of winter snow fall, late storms, the condition of the underlying road, and so forth. Over a period of many decades the average opening has been very close to the end of May. However, I’ve been up there earlier in dry years, and during one memorable wet season in the mid-1990s the pass did not open until July! (I drove over shortly after it opened and was amazed by the amount of remaining snow and by the unbelievable amounts of runoff water everywhere.)
So, when will it open this year? If anyone knows, they aren’t telling – and, in any case, Mother Nature has a way of throwing surprises at us. The NPS does offer periodic updates, and sometimes you can “read between the lines” and get some idea of when the opening might be. (And I understand from some friends who know about these things that the word does start to get out informally a bit before the official announcement. For example, it might help if you knew someone working on the road clearing…)
This winter produced a somewhat above normal snowfall, though not anything record-breaking. The season has lasted a bit longer than usual, with new snow still arriving as we approach the beginning of May. Both of these factors suggest a somewhat later opening than in the past few years. Some work on the clearing is already underway, as per the link above. However, it isn’t enough to simply plow across the pass. Various kinds of debris (fallen trees, rocks, etc.) must be dealt with, turnouts and side roads must be opened, and avalanche dangers must end.
I have no inside information on this at all, but I’m going to guess that we’ll see an opening fairly close to the historical average day of May 29.
Yes, it is the anniversary of John Muir’s birthday today.
At one point when I worked in a bookstore I read much of his published writing. While his language is clearly that of a different era, once you get past that it is impossible to be unaffected by his exuberance and intensity about his subjects – mostly familiar subjects but some that are a bit unexpected.
Although spring is still a few weeks away, California is waking up from winter. (Or, calming down after winter, if, like me, you enjoy the wilder weather of the winter season.) Several things make me think of this, the most immediate being the annual SF Gate article announcing the return of Yosemite’s waterfalls. (Actually, they usually don’t go away completely even in the winter – they just reach their astounding peaks sometime in late spring.)
As I’ve traveled around California in the past few weeks, visiting LA and spending five days photographing Death Valley, I’ve seen one of the best spring wildflower displays in several years come to life. Act quickly, and you can still see it. This is also the “green season” in the oak grasslands of California.
All of this has me thinking about summer and the melting of the winter snows… and returning to the Sierra high country.
I just came across an interesting story about the ghost town of Bodie at SF Gate. Bodie is the abandoned mining town (and California state park) east of the Sierra Nevada between Bridgeport and Lee Vining in a particularly inhospitable part of the high desert. The story does a fine job of relating the difficulties of living there in the winter, claiming that by some measures it is has some of the roughest winter conditions in the lower 48 states.
A Tom Stienstra article at SF Gate reviews an initiative to fix the gross funding problems with California State Parks. The governor and the legislature have used this California legacy as a gambling chip for the past couple of years, and it has to stop. The parks are too valuable to the state in so many ways to risk their health.
Although the preponderance of evidence clearly points to warming global temperatures in recent years, there are those who prefer not to accept the evidence. One thread that got a lot of coverage during the past few years was the claim that poor siting of weather stations used to acquire long term temperature data had biased the trend towards an imaginary increase in average temperatures.
It turns out that the deniers had a valid point about the siting of the measurement equipment. Quite a few stations were “poorly sited” – too close to buildings, near vents, next to parking lots, etc. All of these factors could throw off measurements and create faulty data.
So, were the deniers correct that the evidence of warming from these stations was the result of poor siting?
It turns out that they had it exactly backwards. Careful studies comparing the results from the poorly sited stations to the results from properly sited stations show that the poorly sited stations were actually biased to produce incorrectly COOLER readings than the correctly sited stations. To state it another way, the deniers were correct in noting that measurement sites were not optimally placed but when the biases from incorrect sites are accounted for it turns out that the rising temperature trend is confirmed… and perhaps slightly more significant than scientists first believed.
Not that any of this will given the deniers a moments pause…
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