The eight of us left Yosemite Valley bound for the high country in Tuolumne Meadows. We pulled in the campground and found that the temperature was forecasted to drop overnight and bring the possibility of snow. However, Wednesday was sunny and pleasantly warm. We set up camp with Wyatt, Colter, Zane, and Laurel all opting to set up hammocks for the night.
We next hiked over to the visitor center from the campground, caught a rangers talk, and finally headed back to the campsite for dinner. The kids enjoyed roasted hot dogs as we wrapped up a beautiful day.
Heavy rains and wind moved in overnight. At some point the pattering of rain on nylon transitioned to the muted “pffft” of snow on nylon. We rolled out of bed to a remarkably transformed landscape of white as about three inches of heavy summer snow carpeted the ground, our tents, and everything in between.
Zane, Colter, and I climbed into the suburban with the plan of driving out along the park road to take in the snow covered scene. We were turned back at the campground entrance as the park had shut down the highway. We headed back, got a fire going, cleaned off the picnic table and fixed breakfast.
While we generally consider ourselves to be prepared campers, we had not brought waterproof footwear on this trip. Because of this we had three choices. We could confine ourselves primarily to tents where we would be warm, dry, and bored. We could get out and hike and enjoy the beautiful snowfall, but get wet feet with shoes that would likely not dry out for days. Our last choice was to wait for the highway to open and drive east over to Mono Lake where we could see the tufa formations, dry out, and warm up a bit. We opted for choice three.
The drive east out of the park to Mono Lake was beautiful. I was surprised to se that the road was in great shape. Back home for the highway department to close a road it has to be in terrible shape. On more than one occasion I have driven through 12″ of snow on a still open US 95. Unfortunately I didn’t draw any predictive conclusions from this observation.
We stopped by the Mono Lake Scenic Area Visitor Center and enjoyed the great displays. From there we headed south to South Tufa Area where we made the short hike around the unique tufa formations. These unique limestone towers formed underwater from mineral laden springs prior to the lake being drawn down in water diversion projects. Ominous clouds began to build up over the Sierra and decided it was time to head back to our campsite.
Unfortunately I hadn’t learned my lesson from earlier in the day. The park service shut the highway back down again because of snow, locking us out from our campsite. I called the campground and the information they had was that they were unlikely to open the road again until the next day. Following a series of phone calls, Jen was able to find a condominium for us overnight in Mammoth Lakes about 30 miles to our south. We headed south where we had pizza, showers, and warm beds for the night.
Friday morning we woke up and found that the highway was still closed. We drove back to the town of Lee Vining where we spent the morning playing at the playground of Mono Lake Park, waiting for the highway to open. When it finally did we raced back up to the campsite. Rather than risk another round of snow showers cutting us off from our campground reservations at Calaveras Big Trees State Park for Saturday night we decided to break down camp a day earlier than intended and drive north the Bridgeport to spend the night so that we could finish up our drive to Calaveras on Saturday with enough day light to hike through the sequoia groves.
See it Yourself: Tuolumne Meadows offers the best opportunity (outside of backpacking) to visit the Yosemite high country. The famous Sierra snows limit its opening window from July through late September. While it is large (it has 304 campsites) it is set in a thick lodgepole pine forest and it does not feel as crowded as valley campsites. Like most camping in Yosemite, reservations are recommended to make sure you have a spot to pitch your tent.