I love the eastern Sierras – the escarpment along the 395 Highway corridor – they are so dramatic. The eleven or twelve mile drive from Mono Lake to Tioga Pass is the most extreme contrast I have ever seen. It goes from here (both double clickable to enlarge)
in twenty minutes.
At the bottom is Mono Lake which is really not a lake, but a small, very salty sea, a basin with no outlet. Even at that, Mono is a strange place. For years, I drove by it at top speed on my way to more scenic places. I think that most people drove by it and the City of Los Angeles had siphoned off all the creeks running into it; so the Lake was slowly drying up. In 1978 or so, one guy*, David Gaines, changed this little part of the world.
Shocked and appalled by what he saw, Gaines formed the Mono Lake Committee and started talking to everybody – the conservation
community, politicians, schools, service organizations, anybody he could corner – about the wonder of this forgotten lake/sea. Now there is a big Visitor Center overlooking the lake; the small town of Lee Vining – also overlooking the lake – is full of tourists, many of them from Europe; and Los Angeles is no longer sucking the lake dry.
From the bottom, looking up, the Sierras don’t look very impressive.
But, then, the road just starts up,
Past a pine level, and past rock outcroppings where the seeps run all summer long and the hanging flowers always seem to be blooming.
Running into and then along a glaciated valley to the East gate to Yosemite National Park – where, now, there is always a line – at the gate, that is.
It used to be there was no line – because all the receipts from the gate were turned over to Washington to put in the General Fund – now Yosemite gets to keep most of the receipts and the National Park service the rest. Now, the rangers religiously man the gates.