The natural magic and sheer immensity of Yosemite National Park goes far beyond gazing up at Yosemite Falls and El Capitan from the valley floor. That part of the park is about 11 square miles in size – 11 miles long and an average of about a mile wide. Of course, that’s the area of the park that draws the crowds and rightfully so. It is breathtaking.
However, the entire park makes up a vast 1,169 square miles making the magnificent valley floor seem, well, like 1% of the park.
As a comparison in size, Rhode Island, according to Rhode Island, is 1,045 square miles, and Washington D.C. is about 69, so Yosemite is larger than United State’s 13th state and all of D.C., combined. Lots of hiking to do.
Yosemite has several sections which include the famous valley floor, the Mariposa grove of sequoias, Badger Pass ski area, and the north half, Tuolumne Meadows, where John Muir herded sheep in 1869 as a recent immigrant from Scotland looking for work. That’s the half of the park I visited.
I live in Minden, Nevada which is on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range about 100 miles north of Yosemite. These’s a back entrance to Yosemite from the east on Highway 120. The highway begins at the little town of Lee Vining, California on Highway 395. That’s right at Mono Lake for those who like landmarks.
The trip up Highway 120 to the Yosemite entrance gate is beautiful, but not for the faint of heart. Lee Vining is at 6,780′ and the Tioga Pass entrance of the park is 9,945′.
The road climbs 3,200 feet in just 12 miles. That’s an average grade of 5%. A 6-mile stretch of the road is inclined at 8% which is way steep if you’re in search of a technical term. The Jeep with its Mercedes-Benz diesel engine pulled the 25′ Flying Cloud with all my belongings and a load of water up that grade at about 35 miles per hour. I was impressed.
Going back down that grade required some old truck driving skills and great brakes which is exactly why I use Hawk HPS brake pads and racing brake fluid to prevent fluid boiling (and thus no brakes).
The horror stories of getting camping reservations at Yosemite are generally true, at least if you’re trying to get a spot on the valley floor at Upper Pines, Lower Pines, or North Pines campgrounds. There are other campgrounds around the park, but due to their locations on the valley floor, these campgrounds are usually booked within seconds, yes SECONDS, of being offered for the spring and summer months.
Tuolumne Meadows campground where I stayed is different. Reservations are reasonably available though there are no site-specific accommodations. You can sign up for a certain size of trailer or RV or tent and the rangers will assign a site when you arrive. Not sure I liked that part as I like to find my own piece of heaven rather than let someone else choose it for me. A minor detail.
Tuolumne Meadows campground hasn’t seen a Federal dollar spent on it since 1963. Or so it seemed. The road to the little check-in shack was rutted, dirty, and poorly marked. The rangers were friendly, as most rangers are, and I checked in with no problem. They decided I would stay in site number B-35. This site was heavily wooded with Tamarack pines and backed up to the staff canvas cabins behind the gas station. The two roof-mounted Zamp solar panels were able to gather enough sun to keep the batteries charged.
The sites was not as bad as it sounds, but the road to get there was fierce. Potholes galore; the road appeared to have been washed out repeatedly over the years and never repaired. It was maybe one-lane wide and sporadically lined with occasional orange cones.
The campsites have never seen a tractor or grader and no one had a level place to pitch a tent or park a trailer. The campground was old, neglected, and poorly managed. This was at the second most visited National Park in the country.
For the price of just one U.S. Education Department conference, one General Services Administration conference, and one IRS conference, the whole campground could be rebuilt and made amazingly beautiful for you and me – U.S. taxpayers. A rebuild would have lasting value for Americans for years, quite unlike these government morale parties the bureaucrats like to throw.
A sternly-worded letter to the Department of the Interior and my U.S. Senators will ensue.
On Friday morning, I loaded my daypack with a bunch of water, camera gear and all the usual emergency stuff one might need if they get hurt or stranded in the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. My destination was a high mountain camp called Glen Aulin.
Part of the trail was the Pacific Crest Trail which felt kind of good for no other reason than to know I was on the PCT. The trail started near the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center and crossed the Tuolumne River heading north. A little log hut marked the location of Soda Springs where animals and years of visitors stop for the mineral water’s medicinal properties. I didn’t stop.
The trail follows the Tuolumne River and is an excellent path. It’s all wild in this part of the park and is essentially undisturbed since forever. Yeah, but I expected more from the non-wild campground; I’ll save all that for my letters to D.C..
The river’s channel crossed amazingly beautiful territory and then started falling. The falls roared like continuous thunder. There were falls for what seemed like miles – one after another. The sensation was just “riveting” (a little AS humor…).
The trail dropped in elevation along with the river and around each bend the sights were worthy of a photo. I did take pictures with the hog camera (Nikon D7000) and they will be posted in the Gallery section as soon as I get that part figured out.
All photos were taken with an iPhone 4s.
As I approached Glen Aulin, the falls seemed to have extra power. The picture here is of those falls though it just doesn’t do them justice.
Glen Aulin is a high mountain camp where folks can stay in some comfortable surroundings. The camp is supplied by pack train which travels back and froth on the same trail I hiked. It was exciting to see a pack train going up and down the trail, but dodging the “mule exhaust” was never pleasant.
I hiked past the camp for about a mile and found a beautiful hideaway on the river. You cannot seethis from the trail, though the falls can be heard. I was getting tired by this point and knew I had 7 miles to go to return to the Jeep. I stopped for a lunch break and named it Lunch Falls.
On the way back, I found more beauty and kept taking pictures. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trail as I did. Please try to go to Tuolumne Meadows. If the campground is in good condition you’ll know the letter writing campaign helped.