My family visits me from New England annually, and this year I warned my father and brother to be prepared for a long hike. After trying to narrow down one of my favorite places to share with them, I finally decided on Mono Pass and Spillway Lake, one of the less strenuous hikes on the list (which included Mt Dana and Conness—perhaps a bit ambitious for two people who have lived at sea level their entire life). The area provides a great introduction to the high country as the fairly level trail up to Mono Pass leads though inviting forests to reveal, at the end, a picturesque alpine basin guarded by the Kuna Crest, Mt. Gibbs, and Mt. Lewis. A short hike over a ridge brought our intrepid group to Spillway Lake, its depths fed by water cascading (i.e., spilling) down from the Kuna Crest. Although the altitude proved trying for Dad and Kevin (and Kevin had never walked as far in his life!), both sauntered on and finished the hike.
In the fifteen years I’ve been visiting Yosemite, I have never witnessed a more beautiful fall. Some combination of temperature and precipitation levels has produced an autumn show that is almost reminiscent of my native New England (but only almost).
For what may prove to be my last Tuolumne hike of the season, I ventured to Mono and Parker Passes and wandered around gazing at a landscape waiting to sleep for the winter. A light dusting of snow from the night before covered Koip Peak Pass, and I could see the steep trail zigzagging precipitously over the slopes. A thin, translucent layer of ice covered parts of Parker Pass Lake. And the shoulder of Mt. Lewis was a painting of yellow, red and brown hues. Fall had definitely arrived.
After my hike, I drove over Tioga Pass to see the aspens in their decorative yellow fall attire, and then reasoned that being so close to Lee Vining, it only made sense to make a trip to the Whoa Nellie Deli for an early dinner. Chef Matt Toomey commensurated with me about the Red Sox losing in the playoffs as I ate my fish tacos. I then headed over to the Latte Da Coffee Café and had Tessa make me a one last hot chocolate and a slice of the irresistible pumpkin spice cake for the road.
Let the snow arrive—I’ve made my proper farewells for the season!
Another splendid day in Tuolumne! I hiked up to Mono Pass and lunched at Spillway Lake, munching on a brownie and peanuts while feasting my eyes on Kuna Crest, and listening to the sound of the snow-melt rushing down the cliffs. Corn lilies had begun springing up in the meadows, along with some yellow flowers that I could not identify (our Illustrated Flora of Yosemite is just too heavy to bring on a hike!).
I met only four other people on the trail, and three of them had Yosemite Association connections! Judy Marks, our new employee at the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, was heading up to the pass on her day off. One of our returning volunteers, Heather Schneider, and a new volunteer, Julie Rice, also had spent the day hiking in the area. We certainly have a great group of volunteers and employees who enjoy exploring the park.
On my return hike, the cumulus clouds had evolved into cumulus congestus, and I felt the first drops of rain hit me about halfway to the trailhead. After my hike, I drove to Tuolumne Meadows and watched as the storm formed over Mammoth Peak. An hour passed, and Mother Nature still had not produced any lightning, so I called it a day and headed home. However, I did stop at numerous vantage points along Tioga Road to watch the progress of the storm (thinking this safer than trying to watch the clouds in my rearview mirror). The clouds had climbed high into the troposphere and a definite anvil, the precursor to a thunderstorm, had formed. I almost drove back up to the meadows, wanting to see the lightning dance over the peaks, but I reasoned that I would have plenty of opportunities to see thunderstorms this summer.