We almost missed Tuolumne Meadows. The “welcome sign” to Inyo National Forest on CA Route 140 at the summit of the Tioga pass was our third clue that we drove past it. As driver, my first clue was seeing the meadow itself. The second was passing the now-closed visitor station.
After driving more than an hour on the winding road from Yosemite Valley, I just wanted to get “there”. In a park the size of Rhode Island, I have yet to see 90 percent of it. So, before leaving the following day, and while the road remained open (snow closes it sometimes from November through May), three of our group of campers wanted to explore more of the park. In late November, Lembert’s Dome was warmer (55 F/ 12.7 C) than it had been in the Upper Pines campground in the valley. The snow depth marker poles along the highway were signs that it would be a bad place to trek cross-country in mid-winter.
On the way up to the Meadow, we had stopped at Olmsted Point which is a large glacier-polished cap of granite from which you can see Clouds Rest and Half Dome in the distance. Large boulders that perched on the slab, a sign told us, were deposited there by a glacier that scoured the valley ten millennia ago. We continued on, passing Tenaya Lake which looked very cold but might be worth a dip were it mid-July. Turning back from the Tioga Pass gate to Yosemite, we wanted to visit a site for RV camping near Tuolumne Meadow. But then I saw Lembert’s Dome.
I was risking a twisted ankle with the wrong shoes for granite climbing, so after a brief ascent I chose the trail to Dog Lake instead. While my companions climbed Lembert’s Dome,
I met a Navy veteran about my age and his wife exploring the country. The man wore a t-shirt that said he had been in San Diego for one of the college bowl games, I forget which, that caught my attention,and my “retired Navy” ballcap got us swapping sea stories and travel destinations. Farther down the trail to the lake, I met a couple dreadlocked Europeans. They had the stamina for a long hike at 9000 Ft (2743 m), while I returned to the parking area to find my fellow explorers.
With the 2018 annual camping trip now a memory, I am looking ahead to Spring 2019, when I would like to explore the Eastern Sierra for a week. As for one of our party’s casual remark about some winter camping in the mountains this year, I pretended not to hear. Or perhaps he meant car camping in the Anza-Borrego Desert east of San Diego. January -February, when the wildflowers bloom. That is a good time to hike the southern end of the Pacific Crest Trail.