Tioga Pass and Oakhurst (Oct 21-22)

After a breakfast of granola bars and kettle chips, I set out to begin my day’s journey. The scenery was fantastic, and it was nice to get a good look at it. I’d missed a lot, riding this way in the dark. Owens Valley is nestled in between two sets of mountains. I found it interesting that people seemed to be farming near the foot of this one. In the desert, it must be a unique challenge.

This gigantic pipeline brings water to Los Angeles, 233 miles away. It had to have been at least seven or eight feet across. Back in the early 1900s, it began sucking the area dry, putting the local farmers out of business, so the pipeline is controversial, to say the least. The story is famously retold in the film Cadillac Desert, but I haven’t yet had the time to watch it.

“Los Angeles gets its water by reason of one of the costliest, crookedest, most unscrupulous deals ever perpetrated, plus one of the greatest pieces of engineering folly ever heard of. Owens Valley is there for anybody to see. The city of Los Angeles moved through this valley like a devastating plague. It was ruthless, stupid, cruel and crooked. It stole the waters of the Owens River. It drove the people of Owens Valley from their home, a home which they had built from the desert. For no sound reason, for no sane reason, it destroyed a helpless agricultural section and a dozen towns. It was an obscene enterprise from the beginning to end.” – Morrow Mayo, The Story of Inyo

I found my way to the 395 and headed north. It was a nice, clear day, and I couldn’t help a small grin as I thought of the Oregon weather I had left behind. Along the way I saw this strange cloud. I’ve never seen one like it before, it almost seems whipped!

Before I knew it, I was at Lee Vining. I topped off my tank, not knowing where gas would be in Yosemite or how much they would charge for it, and headed up highway 120 towards Tioga Pass.

The road slowly climbed up the canyon.  Photos can never do the view justice, can never properly express the vastness of a given space.  At just under 10,000 feet, this is the highest automobile pass in California. Nearing the top, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. I crept along at a ridiculously slow pace, unwilling to risk losing control, pulling over for those in cars who were in a bigger hurry than I was.

I pulled up to the park gate and told the ranger that I had an annual pass, asking if she needed to see it.  “Nah, I trust you, go ahead.” I was glad to not have to dig through my pockets, and with that, I began my descent. I don’t remember seeing Yosemite as an adult.  Most years, I tend to avoid national parks due to the fees, but this annual pass has almost paid for itself already! The road snaked its way through the forest, downhill, uphill, downhill again, glinting like precious stones in the sunlight.

I stopped by Tenaya Lake for a break and a snack.

Across the highway, some people were hiking near this giant rock. Maybe to climb it? If you zoom in to full size, you can just barely see a little red dot, near the tree, under the center of the rock. That is a person. Scale makes all the difference…

I stopped again, to soak in the views. The smooth, cracked rock near the parking area bore the telltale grooves of a glacial heritage. The grooves also tell you which direction the glacier was moving.

Ravens hopped around and pecked at bits of trash scattered by tourists, looking for food. At one point, two of them had a spat over a gum wrapper. I spent way more time than I should have, following them around, watching their antics.

The trouble with a place like Yosemite is there is pretty much nowhere that isn’t picturesque. It was starting to get late, and the clouds kept multiplying. Near this tunnel, I met a group of climbers who were going to scale the cliff face next to the road. With all this beauty, why climb near a road? I guess it’s a fast approach at least.

As I hit Yosemite Valley, the sun was starting to set. I decided to get to Oakhurst and out of the woods as soon as possible. I did take a moment to appreciate “Tunnel View”, recommended to me by Ramsey. Well worth the stop. As he put it, “Imagine what it would have been like to only see paintings of this place, back before there was photography. When this park was founded, they sent paintings back east to show people what it looked like. You wouldn’t think it was real.”

The 41 out of Yosemite was a great road!  Nothing but twisties. The occasional slow-moving RV was mildly annoying, but the rest more than made up for it. The storm clouds crowded around the sunset and spurred me onward.

Eventually I hit Oakhurst and holed up in a Starbucks to wait for my friends. I spent a few hours catching up on everything I’d missed online. They sent me a text with their address, and I found my way to their home. As it turns out, I’d just missed the snow – they’d been pelted by the white stuff going over Tioga a few hours after I did. Glad I left early!

I met their roommate’s overly-clingy animals, a vocal cat named Tigger and an older border collie named Pepper. After a nice hot shower, I settled into the couch and fell asleep.

The next day it was rainy and grey.  We ventured out for some grocery shopping, and spent the rest of the day watching “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”, weird internet videos, and basically just lazing around. It was good to have some down time.

Pepper developed biological weapons-grade bad gas so we kept him out of the room, and he was not happy about it.  Both he and the cat had separation anxiety and were obnoxious all night, whining and meowing to be let in, respectively. I did not get much sleep.

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