Tag Archives: Yosemite National Park

High Desert, Mono Lake

A few scenes from the high desert around Mono Lake. You’ll forgive my ignorance of desert flora and not naming the plants properly, but I’m an east coast city boy at heart, so I’m lucky I can tell an oak tree from a blade of grass. Well, not entirely true, but you get the point – a horticulturalist I’m not.

Golden Bush, Mono Lake
Golden Bush, Mono Lake

Thinking of horticulture, that reminds me of an old joke about Dorothy Parker – she was invited to speak at a meeting of the Ladies Auxiliary of the New York Botanical Gardens. Knowing of her penchant for a quick wit, one of the more naive members of the group asked her to use “horticulture” in a sentence. Her response? “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think”. For repeating the joke in this context, the quip is probably about me, but I have a good sense of humor about such things. More scrub brush on the top of the plateau:

High Desert, Mountains, Mono Lake
High Desert, Mountains, Mono Lake

These are taken in the scrublands atop the volcanic uplift plateau on the north edge of Mono Lake. For geology buffs, the plateau was uplifted perhaps 10 to 15,000 years ago in an event so rapid and violent it created fissures resembling miniature slot canyons. I went out in search of said fissures and hiked around on top of this plateau for perhaps two hours, looking for them, not finding any, all the while wary that I would miss one and inadvertently plummet down into one and get stuck. As it turns out, they’re on and near the leading edge of the plateau, and had I stuck to the edge, I would have found them perhaps fifteen minutes after ascending to the top of the plateau. But I had a lovely time all to my self, communing with the great open spaces, and I saw these scenes, so no great regrets.

Uplift Face, Mono Lake
Uplift Face, Mono Lake

I think I goofed the movements on the camera with this one, as there is some out of focus in the foreground that in retrospect really shouldn’t be there, but I’ll blame it on the altitude getting to me – I was fat and out of shape, and hiking at nearly 9000 feet of elevation with 30+ lbs of camera gear on my back.

Tioga Pass, Yosemite

I was doing some clean-up in my library after doing the book inventory and came across something I’ve been looking for for a very long time: a box of 4×5 Fujichrome Velvia 100F transparencies (slide film). No scan on the internet will do the actual chromes justice – they need to be viewed on a lightbox with a loupe or even better, projected. Not that I have a projector that could handle a 4×5 chrome. But here are two favorites that I think come pretty close to conveying the majesty of a big slide:

Tioga Pass
Tioga Pass
Tioga Pass
Tioga Pass

These are both views of the eastern end of the Tioga Pass, on the way in to Yosemite National Park from Lee Vining. If memory serves, these are even before you get to the ranger station at the park entrance. I took a vacation back in I think 2004 to the east side of the California Sierra. I drove from San Francisco up through gold rush country – Sutter Creek, Volcano, and Sonora to take 108 around the north side of Yosemite through the Sonora Pass to get to Lee Vining, where I eventually stayed for a couple nights to explore the landscape. Photographers, like fishermen, have tales of “the one that got away” – this is mine, “the shot I couldn’t take”. Coming up through the Sonora Pass, I reached the peak of the pass, 9980 feet of elevation, just at sunset. The road that climbs up through the pass becomes a series of hairpin switchbacks as it approaches the apex. Ascending the penultimate stretch, I glanced out the window to see the setting sun painting the mountain faces to the west brilliant oranges and reds, like they were on fire. There was no place to stop, even if I didn’t get out of the car, let alone set up a tripod and squeeze off a frame or two with a 4×5 field camera. So the image has to live in my memory, and hopefully in retelling it, I’ll encourage some of you to get out there and drive that route yourselves, and time your trip so that you climb the pass at sunset and can see it for yourselves.

I’ll close with a panorama shot cropped from a 4×5 ‘chrome I shot of the Tioga Inn where I stayed. The two white buildings of the inn are actually salvaged structures in whole or in part from Bodie, the famous ghost town up the road a little ways. The more modern cabins on the left are some of the rooms – there are more cabins on the right, up in the trees, some of which are also made of Bodie salvage materials.

 Tioga Inn
Tioga Inn

I’ll have more to tell of the road trip in future posts.