Dan's Outside

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

Over Tioga Pass on Opening Day

When I heard that a) the Merced River was about to reach its peak flow and b) Tioga Pass Road was scheduled to open on June 5 I quickly put together a one-day quick trip to Yosemite last weekend. This is a bit of a tradition for me – to get up there for at least a quick look at the spring waterfalls and to try to get over the pass as soon as possible after it opens.

For a one-day up-and-back trip (amounting to a bit more than 20 hours on the road, all told) I have to start early. So, long before dawn I was up and in the car and on the road in the dark. The sun comes up – duh! – a lot earlier this time of year, so it was getting light by the time I stopped in Oakdale for a quick on-the-run Starbucks breakfast and got right back on the road. In order to arrive in the Valley by sunrise I would have had to be driving by 2:00 a.m., and that didn’t happen, but I did arrive relatively early and before the really big crowds were out and about. I spent a few minutes at my favorite first view on El Cap and Half Dome along the road just past the turnoff to Foresta and then headed down into the Valley to make my traditional first stop for a thorough drenching under Bridalveil Fall.

I spent a bit more time in the Valley before realizing that the crowds were growing way beyond my comfort level. I don’t blame folks for flocking to the Valley for a scene like this: all of the waterfall in full flow, the sound of falling water everywhere, seasonal falls that aren’t usually seen, new green growth everywhere, flooded meadows, and a warm and clear spring day. But since I can come back on less crowded days, I decided that the drive over Tuolumne would be at least as special and much less crowded.

As I started up 120 I soon saw significant amounts of snow, and by the time the road rose to 8000′ of so the snowpack was pretty continuous. The higher peaks appeared to be in full winter mode still, and I was surprised to see lakes like little Siesta Lake completely frozen over. I’ve been over Tioga before soon after the road opened, but the amount of snow remaining from the cold and wet May and the generally wet winter was quite impressive. Tuolumne Meadows itself was completely covered with snow, excepting the large areas flooded by the surging Tuolumne River. (The entire meadow area just upstream from the bridge by the campground entrance was completely flooded and there were only a few inches between the rushing water and the underside of the bridge.

I continued on up to the pass with a goal of grabbing an early dinner at the Whoa Nelly Deli in Lee Vining. At the pass there were still several feet of snow with plow cuts being five to six feet tall in places. Tioga and Ellery Lakes were almost completely frozen over, and quite a few people were still going back-country skiing in the area. After stopping for dinner in Lee Vining (and grabbing a quick espresso at Latte Da) I headed back up the pass to shoot late afternoon and evening light before heading home.

Ice and Snow on Tioga Pass and Tioga Lake

Ice and Snow on Tioga Pass and Tioga Lake

I made this photograph at Tioga Lake as afternoon shadows from clouds and nearby peaks stretched across the frozen lake surface with Tioga Pass and Kuna Crest looming beyond. (Photograph © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.)


June 8, 2010 Posted by | Sierra Nevada, Trips, Yosemite | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Over Tioga Pass on Opening Day

Over at my photography site – another epic two-day sierra shoot

I spent the weekend shuttling around areas ranging from Yosemite Valley to Mono Lake to Mariposa grove. The story is posted at my photography web site.

June 8, 2009 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Over at my photography site – another epic two-day sierra shoot

Spring in Death Valley

I spent about four days in the Death Valley National Park area last week, doing photography in familiar and new places. This has become something of a spring break tradition over the past few years. (Photography from the trip has started appearing at my photography web site and will continue to do so for the next week or so.)

On the final day of this trip I was more or less run out of the park by a huge dust storm. I’ve experienced several of these in the past, but this one pretty much takes the cake. Due to a lucky turn of events in the morning I was able to exit the park faster than I might have otherwise.

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. so that I could head to my planned photography location well before dawn. My plan was to shoot until mid-morning and then swing back through the campground at Stovepipe Wells to strike camp before heading out of the park later in the day. But because I got up quickly I found myself with a few extra minutes, and I changed plans and struck my camp in the dark before heading off for photography. I was very glad about this a few hours later!

Before dawn I arrived at the iconic Zabriskie Point. I hadn’t necessarily planned to shoot there, but I thought there might be some interesting clouds on this morning, and that can make for something very special at Zabriskie. Turned out that the clouds did not materialize, but despite this development and the tremendously windy conditions I managed to spend a productive couple of hours shooting. As I finished up I noticed that a few scattered clouds were developing over the ridges to the west, east, and north – but this was more or less in the forecast.

As I drove back up the Valley toward Stovepipe Wells the clouds began to get a bit thicker… and I noticed a very ominous haze around the summit of Tucki Mountain above Stovepipe Wells, a haze that I recognize as the warning sign of a dust storm. (I’ve experienced two in the past, so I have at least a bit of experience with them.) As I continued on up the Valley it became apparent that there was a huge, thick, dark cloud of nasty looking dust all the way across the Valley before Stovepipe, and just before the road turned left to head west across the Valley I drove into it.

It immediately became twilight dark, strong winds buffeted the car forcing me to slow to 45 mph or so, and the sand was streaming across the roadway. Visibility became quite bad as I passed the Mesquite Dunes area and at Stovepipe Wells it was dark and no one appeared to be outside. I was very glad that I had packed up earlier – it would have been a real mess trying to strike my tent and pack the car in this meteorological awfulness!

The photo below shows the beginnings of the dust storm across the Valley near Tucki Mountain, with one final glimpse of blue sky showing through.

Dust Storm, Death Valley

April 5, 2009 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Spring in Death Valley

Could It Be That I Have All The Gear I Need?

Nah. Not possible. But…

I am going on a rather substantial pack trip later this summer, as I do every summer with a group of my friends. (The basic idea is a west-to-east transit of the Sierra Nevada that climaxes at the summit of Mt. Whitney.) I’ve been backpacking for decades, but it seems like before every trip there is some piece of gear that I just must have – a replacement for something that has worn out, a better version of something I already own, or a new item that I haven’t used in the past.

During the weeks before a relatively long trip like the one mentioned above I begin to consider the packing process. It isn’t an all-consuming thing at this stage (that doesn’t happen until 10:00 p.m. the night before I leave. ;-) but I begin going over my mental list and considering changes to my equipment. I’m somewhat disappointed that so far the most substantial new equipment need I can come up with is… well, nothing.

But I think I’ll survive… :-)

July 29, 2008 Posted by | Commentary | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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