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Posts Tagged ‘Lee Vining’

Highway 395 View of Mono Lake

Back when modern life swallowed me up with bills, paperwork, pick-ups, drop-offs—a life regulated by a busy schedule and commitments with work, family and friends— hitting the highway for an extended ride was a challenge.

But, on occasion the simplicity of traveling (route, food and shelter) replaced the intensity of modern living and one such adventure was a ride to Yosemite National Park and Mono Lake

Yosemite is approximately 1,200 square miles, but most visitors seem to always congregate near the Half Dome and El Capitan monoliths in Yosemite Valley.

Tufa Towers at Mono Lake

I learned that the beauty stretches far beyond the over crowded seven-mile Yosemite Valley. I especially liked the east-side, with wild Tuolumne Meadows, Lembert Dome, Cathedral Lakes, and Tioga Pass (CA. highest vehicle crossing) which is a great motorcycle riding experience – without the crowds.

On the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park you’ll also find Mono Lake. The 70 square-mile lake is located 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park on Highway 395, near the town of Lee Vining, California.  It’s known for its salty waters, mineral deposits and being one of the oldest lakes in North America.

Tioga Lake

It’s a beautiful landscape with the lake reflecting the snow-capped Sierra Nevada in its blue waters. The lake has many tributaries but no outlet. The main way that water leaves the lake is by evaporation which is why the water has such a high mineral content including salt. In fact, Mono Lake is three-times saltier than the ocean.

One of the Lake’s most prominent geographical items is the tufa (too-fah).  These are tower formations found in many alkaline lakes around the world. In the South Tufa Area there is a trail that allows you to walk right up to and among these giant spires, some reaching 30-feet tall.

Tioga Pass Road (Hwy 120)

To get to the South Tufa Reserve from the Visitors Center, you drive 5-miles south on U.S. 395, turn left on Hwy 120 East and follow the signs to South Tufa. Of course the Yosemite National Park pass is not valid at this location.  There is a parking lot where you pay a modest fee to access a self-guided trail. The trail is level gravel, boardwalk, and sand. It is less than a mile long.

I did a bit of research to learn that the tufa is limestone that forms when calcium-enriched springs flow up into and react with the lake water – in other words, they only form underwater. The limestone towers are above the waterline now because the city of Los Angeles began diverting the streams that feed the lake in 1941, lowering the lake’s level by more than 40 feet. Since a Water Board ruling in 1994, the lake has been gradually refilling to its 1963 levels; when it’s done, part of this trail will be underwater again. So visit sooner than later.

Unless you plan to camp, the closest lodging to Yosemite (from the east side) is in Lee Vining and June Lake. Bridgeport, to the north on US 395, and Mammoth Lakes, to the south, are each about 40 miles from the Park’s east entrance.

NOTE: Currently, Yosemite is open, but reservations are required to enter the park and use Tioga Road due to COVID-19.

Photos courtesy of author.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Sierra Nevada Mountain Range

It’s taken me much longer than typical to finish this post, but here is the summary of the Yosemite trip taken last month (August)…  Part 1 is HERE.

The next day (Tuesday, August 2nd) we departed Reno mid-morning and continued down Hwy 395 south.  Others in the posse were heading to Las Vegas and departed early to avoid the desert heat.  Our plan was to ride through Yosemite so there was no big rush.  In fact, after about 30 minutes we made a brief stop at the Carson City H-D dealer.  I was interested to see if they had any 2012 Road Glide models on display – they didn’t – and after some coffee we continue our meandering pace along the high-desert valley floor.  We crossed back over the state line into CA., near Topaz Lake. It was early but the fishing boats dotted the lake in what was likely an attempt to capture a trophy trout.

Mono Lake

Bridgeport was the first fuel stop of the morning and where we paid over $5-gallon.  It’s not highly visible, but Bridgeport hosts the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MCMWTC).  It’s one of the more remote and isolated military posts and conducts training exercises for military personnel headed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  The base is located about 21 miles from the city center on Hwy 108 at Pickle Meadow.

We grabbed lunch at the Burger Barn in Bridgeport.  It’s literally a mom and pop fast food restaurant cooking up some great food, and while there was a number of people ordering it was well worth the wait.  Afterward we continued south and it wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse of Mono Lake.   “Mono” means “beautiful” in Piute and besides being an oasis in the great basin it is an awesome sight.  As we continued around Mono Lake we quickly climbed to another 8100-foot ridge where aspen forest dotted the landscape and then we started back down to the valley floor which sits about 6000 feet.

Tioga Pass Road (Hwy 120)

We continued to cruise down through the southern Sierra Mountain range which in my view is an awesome ride.  I drove much of this same route back in April (HERE) when our group decided to ride down to the Laughlin River Run.  I remember it being much colder and a lot of snow on the sides of the road.  This trip it was t-shirt/vest riding weather which made it a real treat.  As we rolled through Lee Vining, CA., I notice a motel at the edge of town with a vacancy sign and made a mental note.  We hadn’t decided if we were going to ride through the park toward Merced or back track to Reno.  Just outside of Lee Vining we took Hwy 120 (Tioga Pass Road).  The road is a constant climb and gains about 4000 feet in elevation.  We rode along the sweeping cliffs and granite lined road, and entered the park at Yosemite’s Tioga Pass which sits at 9,945-foot elevation. Tioga Pass is the highest automobile pass in California.  It’s a picture postcard view when you across a mountaintop and there are not many experiences like that in a lifetime.

Tioga Pass at 9,945 Ft Elevation

Once at the Tioga Pass checkpoint, it was time for a short break to stop, stretch out and snap a few tourist photos of the scenery. It was at this point of the ride where we started to notice the dramatic number of visitors, RVs, auto’s, horses and hikers. We trekked through the tree-lined roads and over the lazy curves and long straights of asphalt where you can actually see for miles well off into the distance that covers the remaining eastern portion of Yosemite Park, the cliffs, and gigantic jagged granite mountains were spectacular.

After about an hour of slow moving traffic we made a judgment call on where we wanted to look for a motel.  The concern was that if continued west we would be competing with more and more tourists for fewer motel rooms.  We elected to back track to Lee Vining with the hope of nailing down a room in the motel I observed earlier in the day. Heading back in reverse direction actually paid dividends because traffic was lighter and most everything looked different.  The 4000 feet ride down had a much different feel.  Needless to say, you don’t want to misjudge any of these curves especially when the motorcycle gains speed heading downhill. There were some straight stretches of roadway along with “S-curves” thrown in, and where a sheer cliff drop-off of some 2,000 feet straight down awaited anyone who misjudged the road.

Tioga Lake

This part of the ride went by quickly as we wound up at the base of highway 395.  We pulled into the motel and lucked out getting the last remaining room at Murphey’s Motel.  It’s a bit older, but was very comfy considering the alternative of riding back to Bridgeport or Carson City.

We grabbed dinner Bodie Mike’s.  The weather was good and they had a nice outside dining area.  The pulled pork was good and the Corona’s were cold.  The next morning we grabbed some breakfast at Nicely’s and then headed back to Reno where we met up with another part of the group who had arrived the night before. We hit the Silver Legacy pool and mapped out our destination for the return trip home.

The next morning we were up early for breakfast with members of the posse and laid out plans for our route to Susanville.  We planned to take CA-44 through Lassen National Forest and then head up toward Old Station and then take CA-89 toward the town of Mount Shasta.

Mt. Shasta

I like riding this route. The road is good and traffic is always moving briskly for a two-lane road.   It has a varied and interesting scenery.  About 60 miles south of Mount Shasta there was a forest fire back in 2009 that left the area looking like a moonscape.  It was the Hat Creek Complex.  More photos HERE.  We rolled into Mount Shasta, got some fuel and then headed to Weed, CA., where we spent the night.  Across the street from the Quality Inn was a little BBQ joint that had some excellent brisket.

Klamath Lake

The next morning we took U.S. Route 97 north to Klamath Falls.  Weed, CA., has an elevation over 3000’, but there are sections in California that is above 5,000 feet in elevation with a couple significant summits. We passed over Grass Lake Summit and about 30 miles into the trip we passed over Mount Hebron Summit which sits about 5,200 feet.  The entire part of the California portion of U.S. Route 97 is part of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway which is an awesome road to ride.  We continued past Klamath Falls and Crater Lake Park.  We headed west on Hwy 58 which is sometimes called Willamette Highway No. 18.  As we headed further into the mountains we climbed up and over the summit of Willamette Pass and stopped in Oakridge.  There are two scenic byways—the West Cascades Scenic Byway and the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway which intersect with OR 58 and are great roads to ride.

Hwy 58 - Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

We arrived home a week later and given the easy number of miles we felt rested having the experience of traveling on a motorcycle through the Sierra Nevada high-desert and the elevated Yosemite park setting.  Of the bike trips that I have been on, and there have been many, the Highway 395 and Yosemite/Tioga Pass ride has to be one of the more incredible stretches of road with incredible scenery to travel.

Photos taken by author on the trip.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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