My Rite of Spring: Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Opening

In front of Mt Dana on Gaylor Lakes Trail, May 8, 2012For some the arrival of robins in the backyard herald the arrival of spring, for others the first wildflowers blooming, the day the winter clothes go into storage, or when we remove the chains from our cars.

Tioga Pass opening is my celebrated rite of spring and as soon as the road becomes accessible, I dash up to Yosemite’s high country and beginning my wanderings in my favorite place on earth.

Nature is notorious for her flip-flops and unpredictability. In 2011, we experienced one of the wettest winters on record in the Sierra and as such Tioga Pass opened extremely late-on June 18. Then in 2011/2012, the year without a winter arrived and the pass remained accessible until a record breaking January 17, 2012. With a snowpack at a mere 40% of normal, Tioga Pass opened on May 7, which marks its earliest opening in 25 years.

Tuolumne Meadows, May 8, 2012 (photo by Beth Pratt)Tuolumne Meadows, June 24, 2011 (photo by Beth Pratt)

My first hike after the pass opens is always Gaylor Lakes. Depending on the snowpack level, in some years I trek through deep snow, other years a landscape free of any white stuff. Snow covered most of the trail to Gaylor Lakes when I hiked it yesterday, yet it was melting fast. Usually I don’t encounter anyone on the trail so early in the season (the piles of snow at the trailhead can be daunting to most), but this year I met a wonderful couple from Carmel Valley who had snowshoed to the top—they get bonus points for being intrepid hikers!

The intrepid hikers from Carmel Valley on Gaylor Ridge (photo by Beth Pratt)

First mango margarita of the season at the Mobile Station!My Tioga Pass opening spring celebration also includes the mandatory stop at Whoa Nellie Deli to devour fish tacos while enjoying the view of Mono Lake—and that first mango margarita of the year is tasty as well! Sadly, I missed another tradition, my spring baseball conversation with Chef Toomey as he’s opened his own restaurant in Mammoth. 

Before heading up the pass, I always check out the eclectic collection of books at the Mono Lake Committee Bookstore and pick up some scrumptious pumpkin spice cake at Latte Da for the drive home. Puppy Dome is the perfect coda (and a good place to eat the pumpkin spice cake) for the first trip every year. I sit at the top and gaze at Tuolumne Meadows and all the splendid mountains I’ll be exploring over the summer.

Ah, Tuolumne! Relaxing on Puppy Dome.

“The mountains are calling and I must go,” said John Muir. Once Tioga Pass opens, I hear the call—my favorite sign of spring!