A pitch for walking in Tuolumne Meadows

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As many times as I have gone to Yosemite, I have only walked through Tuolumne Meadows to get somewhere else. When Richard Taylor suggested we go to Tuolumne Meadows, just to hike the Meadows, I was a little surprised. His pitch was that we could drive up from the Bay Area on Friday, walk down river that afternoon, walk up river on Saturday and be home that night. We would have two days of hiking Yosemite on a two-day mini-vacation.

Our trip started at 8:00 AM and we were at Oakdale in two hours. We got some lunch fixin’s at a Mexican market and got to Tuolumne about 2:45. But first, we stopped at Siesta Lake to stretch our legs and check out the meadow building process, Olmsted Point to check out the view, and Lake Tenaya for lunch.   We got to Siesta Lake just before 1:00. The first time I drove by Siesta Lake was probably 1956 but I probably didn’t stop until the 60’s. Now I try to stop every time I drive by. In the 60’s, it was an alpine lake but it is trying to become a meadow and slowly succeeding. As the lake meadowfies, the Park Service civilizes the turnoff. First there was no turn off, then use turned the shoulder to compacted dirt, then the shoulder got paved and signs added. Now, for the first time, I noticed a sign saying Siesta Lake letting me know, again for the first time, what to call it. I don’t think I will live long enough to call it Siesta Meadow.

Tuolumne Trip-1Tuolumne Meadows is in a glacial valley formed 10,000 years ago (so I’ve been told). Between then and now,  it must have been a lake or a series of lakes. Now it is a meadow starting to turn itself into a forest. It is still a series of gentle, sub-alpine, meadows with the Tuolumne River connecting and running through them but the trees are taking hold. It makes for an easy, varied, walk.

On Friday afternoon, our walk was downriver from Highway 120, starting at Pothole Dome.

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As we walked around the dome, following the edge, the view of the meadow was intermittent, often hidden by the colonizing trees and then opening up to fields of wildflowers.

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Looking back,  Unicorn Peak and Cockscomb started rising above the forest. They are classic horns, like the Matterhorn in the Alps (the thinking is that the horns were bit of the mountains sticking up above the glaciers as the glaciers scoured out the rocks below making the valleys).

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At this point, the meadow is almost level and the river running through it – the Lyle fork of the Tuolumne – is flat and lazy. The river soon starts dropping over and through a resistant granite layer. At one time, this resistant layer probably backed-up the water creating a lake until the insistent river, on its way to the Pacific cut through it.

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At the bottom of the cascades, just before the next meadow area, Richard took a swim

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while I wandered around looking at the rocks. The swimming looked suburb and I may have joined Richard if I had my Tevas like Richard , but I didn’t even bring them on the trip and the bottom looked way too rough for me.

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Looking at the rocks may not sound as interesting as swimming, on the other hand, we were walking through a glacial valley and – every once in a while – I could see the tracks the glacier left about 10,000 years ago: grinding down the valley, polishing the rock as it went.

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After Richard’s swim and my exploring, we wandered back towards the car with no aim except the enjoyment of the sun, the soft air, and the scenery. We watched deer crossing a stream and talked about past trips while watching our old friends, Unicorn Peak and the Cockscomb, come back into view.

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Our next stop would be Mono Lake for the night.



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