Tag Archives: Tioga Pass

A dome without deciding.

When we departed Mammoth Lakes on our last morning together, my family kept going north toward their home while I soon must cross the mountains westward. I was glad that while I was still on Highway 395 the road passed through forests of Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pine with sagebrush underneath. That is one of my favorite sights, the huge trees somehow adding a depth to the quiet, and standing in relief to the dry and scrubby desert. I also took extra time to drive off of the highway on a dirt road, trying to get closer to the mountain pictured above. I still needed to zoom in to see the beautiful geology streaked with snow.

That snowstorm our first morning had been a blessing in two ways. It cleared the air of the smoke that had masked the mountains when we approached the evening of our arrival back in California; and it added contrast to all the colors, highlighting the lines and textures of the rocks.

The decision about which mountain pass I would use that morning had remained a point of discussion for most of the trip. Google maps wanted me to go via Hwy 50 by Lake Tahoe; I suppose the program chose what would normally be the fastest route. But as a result of wildfire damage in that area the highway had been closed, and while the date of its reopening remained unknown, I leaned toward one of the other passes to the south, either Sonora or Tioga, and I booked a lodging in a little town that would be convenient either way. As the day drew near, Tioga Pass closed because of snow.

But it was opened again, and meanwhile it had become my first choice. The picture just above is from that road, Highway 120, which passes through Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. I had finally decided on this road because of all the memories associated with it, especially Tuolumne Meadows, starting with the day when 50 years ago last month my husband and I became engaged to be married.

This picture is just a closer view of the one above; you can see the aspens turning….

I stopped many times at turnouts, to get a look at Wright’s Buckwheat and a surprising number of other botanical roadside attractions:

But soon enough, around noon, I arrived at Tuolumne Meadows, and thought I would at least investigate the trail that leads up the back of Lembert Dome, which I mentioned just last month in connection to another granite dome. All my memories of this hike were foggy, it had been so long ago that we accomplished it.

I was curious, and entered into the process of continuing on the trail without quite deciding to do it. If there ever was doubt about my being a process- and not a goal-oriented personality, it has vanished, as I observe my rambling and meandering behavior that has created some problems for me, in this era when I have no goal-oriented husband around to keep me in check.

If you like maps (and domes) you might be interested in this one. I parked my car near the bridge over the river, so my trek started lower left at the doubled purple line.

I began to walk around the northwest side. At first the way was fairly flat and easy…

…but it quickly steepened, and ascended through the forest, where patches of snow still lay on the path and I could occasionally see the dome through the trees. It was lonely and lovely. In the first hour I saw only one couple, and listened to the sort of quiet that is full of small bird songs, the wind murmuring through the pines, and chipmunks chirping.

Looking back the way I’d come:

I heard groaning as of a door swinging on its hinges, and looked up to see a slender tree trunk that had fallen into to the branches of a larger tree, and was sliding back and forth the slightest bit when the wind blew.

Tramp tramp tramp, swish swish crunch, tramp tramp splish splish…. My boots were adding the only not-quiet sound, as I pushed on through snow and mud and plain dry dirt. I was glad that I hadn’t come too early, or I might have lost the trail in the snow, but tread marks showed me the way. After nearly an hour I saw this sign:

Really?? Still that far to go…? I realized that I hadn’t looked at the map beforehand to see how many total miles I was in for — because “it was an easy hike a toddler could do,” after all. Well, I was not going to give up at that point! Then it was, I suppose, that I knew I had a goal.

That next  mile was pretty easy, and only took 40 minutes. When you get behind the dome and the trail bends around to the approach, soon you start to see blue between the trees and down to the ground, and you know that you are high.

The last part is very root-y and rocky… and then, the bare granite is in front of you…


Lembert Dome sits on the meadow, which is 8500 feet above sea level. In less than two miles of climbing you gain 900 feet to the top of the rock, so the trail would naturally have to be steep. The grade, the length, the time it took, the difficulty — none of it was as I remembered. Nor had I remembered how old Pippin was — she was three, not two years old — and now that I have been up there again I can hardly believe that she walked the whole way, but that is the story that we’ve all been telling, and it’s true that she was a child who climbed everything from the start.

Looking down to the bottom, from where I’d come:

It’s such a wide space, you want to walk all around, and talk to the other rare people one finds in such a spot. I met three pairs of folks: First, a couple who mentioned several times that they were both afraid of heights!  They stayed in the middle of the expanse, and we took each other’s pictures. If you squint you can see them on the left below, eating gluten-free peanut butter pretzels which they also shared with me.

I met two 20-something boys, one of whom was ultra friendly and reminded me of the Jesus People of my own youth; I kept expecting him to ask if I knew Jesus. I liked him a lot, even though he asked my name as soon as I said “Hi.” I guess it’s okay to be forward with a grandma. And there was a father with his teenage son; we also took each other’s pictures, and told stories about Yosemite.

It was odd not to be talking about the names of the peaks. I don’t remember any of them, though their locations and the hikes linking one to another have been a realm of study and exploration for many people in my family, including my father and my husband.

In the picture above, we are looking around the west side of the dome to see Tuolumne Meadows as a tan strip in the distance, approximately in the middle of the frame. And below, Tioga Road is snaking through the forest. It’s a big expanse, but it is not exactly flat anywhere, so just standing around you have to brace yourself more or less.

I was up there more than an hour, but the time flew. I did not go around the side of the “knob,” as I call it, to the front of the dome, but I did feel confident to walk up on the broad and slanted slope just below. If I had not been alone I would have explored that last little area; when I told my fellow dome acquaintances why I was not going “all the way,” several of them offered to have me go with them. I was warmed by the camaraderie they were feeling, but was not at their level. I was content with my own solo feat.

And I had many miles to drive that afternoon, before I would get to my Airbnb home in the foothills down below, so I did not even sit down for a minute. I had a goal of getting to my resting place before dark, and it would take at least an hour to get back to my car. But I stopped on the way to chase after a tree frog for a snapshot. I think he was cold, and wanted nothing more than to sit in that patch of sunshine.

I also was looking forward to resting my aching body, and hoped there would be a tub in which I could soak, where I was headed. But it was extremely uncomfortable, psychologically, to be so driven in my driving, to keep pushing on toward my goal, with only a fleeting glance as I passed swaths of wildflowers and compelling rock views.

I allowed myself a brief stop at Olmsted Point, which was always a favorite place when we had children with us, and we would walk among the slabs and boulders of granite that we loved to explore. That spot might be more fun than a dome, because you can be freer to run and play. People who like can gaze up at the peaks and name them one by one.

I didn’t make it to my Airbnb before dark, but it was all okay. There was a tub to soak in, and a good bed, and my pictures to start sorting through. My last day’s drive was short and to the point, and I came home surprisingly energized and rejuvenated, having received in eleven days a thousand gifts.

This completes my October road trip story.