Crossing the Sierras, May 28

One muddy, soggy tent shoved into Mom’s Memorial Prius and we are finally ready to enter Yosemite.  One rainfall cannot ruin a day up here.  We see dogwood in bloom, unassuming, just on the side of the road.


You can’t swing a camera without focusing on something magnificent.  It is too easy — and too hard!  When everything is exceptional, what does exceptional mean?  I try to focus on the details.

We are heading for Tioga Pass, the highest pass in California.  And me with only 24 hrs to acclimate!  We have to stop for an unassuming waterfall of heartbreaking beauty. And, yes, there is still snow up here.

This one’s for you, Bob.

I had planned to take one of several easy hikes I remembered from my youth.  But at the first trail head there was a warning about recent Mountain Lion sitings in the area, and how to act if you came into contact with the creature.  I love mountain lions — from a respectful distance.  And since I was walking alone (Oola was sleeping off the night on the ground) I decided not to take that particular path.

We pass places I remember from childhood.  My Dad loved Yosemite, and summer often found us here.  I don’t know that he consciously wanted to infect us with Beauty.  But he did, rest his soul.  How this makes me miss him!

I remember Tuolumne Meadows being larger, but while memories grow over time, meadows shrink .  So I stop for ponderation.

deer in Tuolumne Meadows
deer in Tuolumne Meadows

That rain we had last night left a dusting of snow on the highest mountains.  Dana Peak looks like something sugary to eat.

Dana Peak
Dana Peak

I hear that maybe the rain is over.  And I am feeling sick from the altitude.  Time to move on.

The ranger at the exit station is in a hurry to see my pass.  As I search for it she says, “Just go through.  I trust you.”  And I am reminded how much we need to be trusted.  How my students, the great majority, respond so well to trust.  And for those who don’t, I think it will catch up with them (about finals time).  I would not deny the majority of my students the time to act autonomously in response to trust.

We cross the Pass, and I see signs of 7% down grade. Dope slap!!  How could I not have thought of this?!!  Some of your may remember my  transcendent experience of a downgrade out of Death Valley.  I am reluctant to repeat it.  So I, who have never been a maniacal driver, become that cautious slow car you all fume at on the one-lane road.

The scenery is astounding, and I, motivated as I am to save my breaks, stop every chance I get.  And every time I stop, I am rewarded.

Wildflowers on the side of the Tioga Pass road.
Wildflowers on the side of the Tioga Pass road.

Finally, heart pounding near the bottom of the Lee Vining grade I see across the sage bush fields a stand of young aspen.  There is a sign for a campground.  The water from the snowy peaks behind me cascades through this area.  We find a spot near the river and pitch a still soggy tent, which dries in short time.  Everything is looking good. Down to about 7000 ft, and I am able to breath easier.  The water is icy cold.  The man in the campsite next to me catches a trout for dinner.  He sees me playing my guitar, tells me he has a guitar with him, and invites me to come over and jam.

But the sunshine is waning. The wind in the pines is picking up.  My fingers begin to freeze. I crawl into my sleeping bag to get warm.

4:30 AM.  Pit, pit, pit.  It must be pine needles, think I.  But, no.  It is more rain.  Beauty is not one sided.

When the sun rises it lights the campsite from the East, but we are still in the rain.  We take the food out of the bear locker and once more we pack a soggy tent into the Prius.   I think how one of the great lessons of human history is to get out of the rain.  Sure there were some who liked to sing and dance in the rain, but they caught cold, and their DNA was eliminated from the gene pool.  Sure there are a few throw backs, but they are just the proof of the lesson.

So we get ready to leave, and low! — or above as was the case — there was a big rainbow making the snowy peaks look like a bad Photoshop job.  Below us waited Mono Lake.

When we got there and looked back, this is what we – honest to God – saw.

Rainbow between us and Lee Vining Mountains

We’ll follow the wind to the desert.  Maybe the tent will dry out there.

Too many things to see, no drawings.  (You wouldn’t believe them anyway!)  More later.

By jandove



  1. Your tent will certainly dry out here. We haven’t seen much rain in this part of NM in quite a while. When you said, “7%” I thought about last year and said out loud,”OH NO”. Glad that you made it and I am also glad that you are taking us along with you on your road trip. I look froward to seeing you coming through the state on your way to Texas.
    By the way…that rainbow……seriously?


  2. Thanks for the snow ball. We don’t see much snow in Houston; just a dusting about every five years, but with climate change it might just be once a lifetime. Lana is right…your tent will certainly dry out. Summer is here with low 90’s. Finally getting close to the temp that I like. Drive on….


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