Day seven: Bishop

A bright, sunny day dawned. Breakfast was busy, like a motorway service station. We had a ‘valley floor’ tour booked or so we thought until we checked in last night. Turned out we didn’t even though we’d booked the hotel at the same time and we had a room. It meant that we were down in the lobby at 9.30am putting our names on a waitlist for our tour which was fully booked. Luckily some people didn’t show and we were back on schedule and on the bus.

Mercad River and El Capitan

The tour visited some places we’d been before, and some we hadn’t but it did give Graeme the opportunity to look too. We were regaled with stories about climbers on El Capitan; they carry a lot of equipment, even sleep up there, as it can take 3 to 5 days to climb its 3600 ft; fire; controlled to assist the cedar redwoods in opening their pine ones, accidental, malicious or natural (lightning strikes). Water, snow melt to fill the waterfalls that are all but dried up at this time of year. Yosemite and Bridalveil had trickles from up high, Vernal had quite a bit. And bears. We didn’t see any as there are laws in place to encourage them avoid humans. The bear is the state symbol but the Golden bear was hunted to extinction. The ones in the Park are black bears even if they are brown… Finally history, how the valley was found, settled and turned into a national park. But I lost my Panama hat in the wind on the way round. I needed three hands for the hat and the camera, guess I’ll have get a cowboy hat after all.

We left Yosemite village, after hearing what I thought was prolonged, loud thunder but was in fact a rockslide; they happen regularly apparently. Heading towards Tioga Pass, winding roads lined each side with tall pines slowly giving way to scrub hills, sporadic pines and lots of solid granite, stopping at Omstead Point giving us the above ‘back’ view of Half Dome.

Tenaya Lake, a high mountain lake, was reached by a pleasant stroll through woodland. A lovely sandy beach, sunbathers and dinghies, this was obviously a destination for locals. At 8000 ft it was windy but sunny.

Tenaya Lake

Tuolomne Meadows looked like we should have been in Switzerland, in fact a lot of the mountainous areas reminded us of the Alps. The area was swarming with hikers, or at least their cars. Unfortunately it was the wrong time of year for the wild flowers the meadow is famous for. We spotted a couple of mad rock climbers halfway up the sheer cliff of Lembert Dome.

Mad rock climbers

Tioga Pass itself is also the exit for Yosemite National Park and we had a late lunch (again) just after at Tiago Pass Resort. Cute diner, with seating round the central area, and excellent food. Tiago Lake and Elery Lake followed with snow (just a bit) being spotted on the higher peaks to squeals from me. I love snow.

Descending from 9945 ft at Tiago to about 7000 ft was a vast flat plain with Mono Lake dominating the landscape. This lake is 2.5 times saltier than the sea and highly alkaline. It is home to its own ecosystem and calcium carbonate tufus, where the mineral laden spring water leached through the briny lake forming these strange columns. And there were flies, thousands and thousands of black flies, but they weren’t interested in us - they swarmed all over the mineral laden rocks at the water’s edge. Next to Mono Lake were some young volcanoes. I swear one of them was venting but we didn’t get to see for sure.

Mono Lake
Small volcanoes

The June Lake loop, aka Californian Switzerland, is four glacial lakes the last of which flows the reverse direction to the glacier that formed it. We took a detour to see these very blue lakes and witnessed a brush fire, with helicopters ferrying water to put it out, before descending onto a large plain and into Bishop.