From the Valley to the Peak

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We left Yosemite to the east which afforded us a chance to see a huge section of the park that, at least from the looks of things, doesn’t get the traffic we found in the Valley. The Eastern section is high Sierra at its finest. Anchored by Toulumne Meadow and the granite domes of Medicott, Fairview, Pothole and Lembert, the trip out via HWY 120 is just wonderful.

Fredrick Law Olmstead and his son were involved in the first commission to study and recommend preservation of Yosemite – in fact Olmstead was its Chair. In addition to the no doubt satisfying work, he was rewarded with a named view point. From Olmstead Point, you can see the magic of all the geologic forces at work in Yosemite – glacial, erosive, etc. – and the instructive (for Olmstead, I expect) way that trees find the right spot in the landscape. We both found it to be the best view in the park, with a sweep from Cathedral Peak to Tenaya Lake and Canyon, across Little Yosemite Valley, to the backside of Half Dome and Mount Watkins.

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Toulumne Meadow is the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierras. As the gathering point for a number of hiking trails it plays the role of coordinator – gathering the sweeping views together with the macro ones – tiny wildflowers against stark granite domes with stately pines establishing perspective.The bulk of this is a result of giant glaciers melting when the temperature warmed. In their wake they left odd random boulders and scoured smooth granite domes and pooled and they dried in great meadows. Standing in Toulumne Meadow, one can gain an appreciation for climate change and its affect on Yosemite once many years ago – as for what caused it then, and whether this will all be frozen again one day, that is for the experts, I am but an observer.

When you leave Yosemite to the east you do so via the Tioga Pass and Mono Lake area. In and of themselves, these are worth this route. As frustrating as it was to find Walker pass when we entered the Sierras several days ago further south, it was exhilarating to rise to and descend from Tioga. Looking east as you make it through the views are vast and varied. Mono lake needs water, but its spot in this saddle of the Sierras is a post card one.

We took HWY 6 across the Nevada California border and then stayed with it all the way across the state to Ely and then Baker where we entered Great Basin. From Tonopah to Ely is a trip through a different world and time. Never have I experienced straighter stretches of asphalt as far as you can see through a landscape of volcano, sage brush and moraine. High elevation is deceptive and the temperatures never got out of the 60s all day. Along the way recent ghost towns prove that sustaining yourself out here is hard. Hotels, gas stations, what look to have been brothels, all vacated in the last 20-30 years slowly give back material to the landscape, silent but very telling.

And then there was this – the Lunar Crater. A small square sign in the middle of an otherwise laser straight and un marked road, with those words followed by 9 miles and an arrow. The direction was a dirt road that disappeared over a rise in the sage brush. We, of course, stopped, turned around and followed it. For it to be an actual lunar crater, would require it to be on the moon – an unlikely destination, but hey, if there was a chance…what it is is a gloriously huge, completely unexpected, and wholly undocumented (save for the little sign) impact crater from something that came from another place. I’m guessing meteorite, but, that’s just a guess. It was wild and fun and exactly why you wander like this. A 30 minute detour we will both remember, laugh, speculate and tale tell about for a long time.

Otherwise, the ride is a steady climb over various ranges until you reach Baker and enter the park. Our campsite is nice, with noisy Lehman Creek at our doorstep, and well wooded to provide privacy. A leisurely morning will yield to, we hope, active fish. So far, the Basin is indeed great.

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