Today started off at 5:00am with a Happy Birthday text from my mother. Funny thing… not only did she forget the three hour time change… she got the day wrong! (I promptly went back to bed for a little while!)
My goal this time in Yosemite (YNP) was to spend time on Tioga Pass. I have been to the Village, the Valley and Glacier Point many times…. but I haven’t really spent anytime on the pass.
So, I packed up the bike and went into Curry Village for breakfast. A breakfast burrito at the taco shop, a nice big coffee and I was off. As I sat sipping my morning coffee, I met a couple who had rented a Street Glide from EagleRider Motorcycle Rentals. We started talking about riding and Yosemite. I explained that I had been to Yosemite many times by both car and bike. Before we had finished talking, I had given them pointers on the sites in Yosemite they should see as well as the best time of day to see them. I also gave them information regarding riding over/down to Glacier Point. I suggested that if they had the time they should go over Tioga Pass and see Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadow. If they really had the extra time they shouldn’t miss Mono Lake. They actually asked me if I wanted to join them and be their tour guide. Unfortunately, I was trying to get home for my birthday party and was unable to.
Thought: How great would it be to be a motorcycle tour guide?
I rode off through the Village and started down the valley. The road (Northside Drive) is two lanes that travel in a one way direction… out of the valley. It meanders amongst the trees, meadows, cliffs and past El Capitan. There is one last lookout before you have to head out of the park or turn right on Big Oak Road to catch Tioga Pass Road/SR120. This lookout (Valley View) is alongside the Merced River and offers a great view back into the valley… and… there is one of the last restrooms for awhile.
The ride over the pass is roughly 60 miles +/- and without stops you could conceivably be in Lee Vining in two hours. But how could you not stop???
I pulled out of Valley View Lookout and headed up Big Oak Road. This is pretty breathtaking in it’s own right… the climb is somewhat steep and the view is fantastic. I particularly enjoy the tunnel… especially now that I have my new pipes on the bike! The road meanders along through some forests and the occasional river. Also, hidden among the trees are some small lakes. I pulled over and hiked down to one. (I forget it’s name.)
Eventually, I turn onto Tioga Pass Road. Did you know? Tioga is an Iroquois and Mohawk word meaning “where it forks” and is the eastern entry point to YNP. It is the highest highway pass in California. The elevation is 9,945 feet (3,031 m).
Next stop… Tenaya Lake… or so I thought…
Before Tenaya Lake there are a number of turnouts that offer views of the granite domes and the Sierra Mountains. Once again I stop, grab my camera and climb up one of the granite slopes and take many photos. I sat there for awhile with a bottled water and just relaxed. I am a fan of people watching and there were tour buses full of people to watch!
Tenaya Lake is named for Chief Tenaya (Awahneechee). The story (unconfirmed) goes that when he heard the lake was being named after him… he protested that the lake already had a name: Pie-we-ack, or “Lake of the Shining Rocks.” As a compromise, the dome east of the lake is now named Pie-we-ack… to honor the lake’s original name.
At 8,150 feet (2,484 m) Tenaya Lake sits amongst the granite domes between Yosemite Valley and Tuolomne Meadows. The lake was created by an offshoot of Tuolumne Glacier as it passes through Tenaya Canyon. Tenaya Creek (the principle inlet/outlet of Tenaya Lake) as well as a many other creeks and springs provide the lake with it’s waters.
After an hour of walking around and taking pictures, I decided to continue on down the road.
The next major landmark of Tioga Pass is Tuolumne Meadows… this meadow is the largest sub-alpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada. Early spring/summer is the time of year to be here when many wildflowers bloom. (I imagine a blanket of flowers!) The Tuolumne River winds it’s way through the meadow. You can also see the many peaks and domes that rise above the meadow. I suggest taking some time to stop and enjoy the beauty and the quiet.
Before heading down the pass, you exit YNP via the “kiosk”. I was cold so I put some gloves on and put a fleece shirt on top of the layers I already had on. No picture taking from the bike on this road!! Once out of YNP, the pass loses more than 3,000 feet (914 m) by the time the road reaches U.S. Route 395 at Lee Vining, CA.
Once I reached the bottom of the pass, I stopped at the Mono Market in Lee Vining. I needed to remove some layers and grab a quick bite to eat. For a small fairly remote town, this grocery store is loaded with some great goodies. I contemplated stopping at the famous Whoa Nellie Deli but I was pressed for time. If you have a chance… you should definately stop here for a bite. The Buffalo Meatloaf is insane! Sometimes, they have a band too!
I left and rode on to Mammoth Lakes to spend the night. I skipped Mono Lake on this trip and opted for the June Lake Loop. Absolutely beautiful! I will have to spend more time exploring this 30 mile / 3 lake loop with ample camping and some cute hotels. In all honesty… I wish I had gone to Mono Lake and stayed on the June Lake Loop instead of going to Mammoth.
NOTE: SR 120, Tioga Pass Road (east entrance into Yosemite Park) is normally closed from November to late May of each year due to a heavy snow pack. During these months, there is no access to Yosemite Nat’l Park via Tioga Pass from US 395 on the Eastern side of the Sierra.
ONE MORE IMPORTANT NOTE: Gasoline is NOT available in Yosemite Village. Fill up BEFORE going into the park OR take your chances on being able to get to Wawona, El Portal, Crane Flat or Tuolomne Meadows… and all are expensive!
Whoa Nellie Deli: www.whoanelliedeli.com
Yosemite National Park : www.nps.gov/yose