There is a lot to see in Yosemite and the surrounding areas outside of the park. Yosemite is surrounded by the Inyo National Forest to the east side and the Sierra National Forest to the south. I left my apartment in Santa Monica and headed north. My first stop was going to be a night in the June Lake area. In typical fashion, I got on the road about 5 hours later than I intended to, and had to make an unexpected stop along the way. I didn't get more than an hour up the road before someone was pulling up next to me on the freeway yelling I had gas leaking from my cargo area.!? I thought this was odd considering the gas can I had on the hitch cargo rack had never been used and did not contain any gas, so I pulled over quickly to check it out. Turns out it was a jug of water that was too close to the rear exhaust of the car, the bottle started to melt, and water was pouring out which happened to be near the gas can.!
False alarm, but good to know I will need more water since there went a gallon and a half. This was the first time putting a trailer hitch cargo rack on the car, and now I know the exhaust is too hot on the right side for anything plastic.! Even though the exhaust tips do not seem that close, the heat was too much for a thing plastic water jug.
I ended up getting into June lake very late, past 11 pm, and my gps took me on a wild goose chase with the gps coordinates I had for the hotel. I drove back and forth through that small town 3 or 4 times till I was about to give up and try sleeping in the car near the lake, and then I finally spotted the small sign for my Hotel. It's unfortunate I arrived so late. The room had a back porch/balcony area that overlooked the lake and the area looked very nice.
I left early though from this area the next day to get to a campground outside of Yosemite since they fill up quick and are first come first served. I went up the east side of Yosemite along the Tioga pass road/120 to a campground named Ellery Lake. This is by far my favorite campground in the area, and ranks in my top 3 favorites I have ever been to. Ellery Lake campground is rather small, no more than 12 to 14 sites, but almost everyone of them has a small creek running along the back side that gives you soothing creek sounds while in camp and while falling asleep in your tent. The lake is just over a small hill at the back of the camp, and offers many trees for you to string a hammock between and just relax. It can be pretty cold doing this, even in summer, so you might want warm clothes if you plan to swing in a hammock for extended periods of time. I stayed in mine for about 2 hours before I was ready to get up and do something.!
One thing you will probably notice when getting into Ellery Lake and setting up your camp, is how thin the air is up here. This campground is at nearly 10,000 feet, so be ready for some heavy breathing at first. I am a sea level person throughout the year unless I am on a road trip, so elevation like this is very noticeable to me! Almost fell over the first time I leaned down to grab a water from my cooler! This elevation can also mean very cold temps, so make sure you check the weather here before coming and make sure you check an accurate source.
Before one of my trips here, I quickly went online to get the weather, I just typed Inyo national forest and read the first data that was displayed in the search results, a nice mid 60's temp. This was a reading from a significantly lower elevation in the forest and was completely inaccurate and I was in 20 degree weather at night with a sleeping bag rated for 60 degrees(not during summer months, but on a separate trip here). Wasn't pleasant but had an extra blanket to help a little.! So lesson learned, make sure you do a little pre planning and make sure you are getting accurate information.
There are numerous hikes around the area, but I went east back the direction I arrived from to check out Mono Lake. There is a visitor center there and you should check it out. They can give you some good info on hikes in the area, mainly around the lake, but some info you might miss if you don't go there. Also, clean bathrooms.!
The rangers told me about Panum crater, a hike that goes around the rim of an extinct volcano and that gives a nice elevated view of Mono Lake. I first hiked around the South Tufa area at the lake shore. I was scoping out areas to come back to later for some sunset photography. It's difficult to take the lake in from ground level, so I headed to the Panum Crater Hike.
This was a lot of fun, not too difficult, and gave great views of the lake. Try to resist picking up any of the obsidian rocks that are abundant here. You are not supposed to and if everyone did, then it would all be gone. I saw a sight that no ranger could have warned me about while on this hike. As I was getting back to the trail head where I was parked, a red truck pulled in. Out of this truck emerged an older man, probably in his 60's, armed with a hiking stick, bandanna, and nothing else. Literally, no clothing on, don't even know if he was wearing shoes. I didn't really care at the time what his footwear situation was.! He walked on past, said hi, I returned the gesture and got into my car and mentally washed my eyes. This is California, so not too surprised I guess!
I left here, hit the small town slightly north of the 120 and grabbed some ice and a few snacks. I went back to camp and hungout a little bit, swinging in the hammock waiting for sunset to get closer. When I had about an hour till the sun dropped, I headed back to mono lake to the areas I checked out earlier to try getting a good sunset photo. Unfortunately for me, the sky just didn't "pop" that night and it wasn't a very colorful sunset. Sometimes it takes days of waiting to get the right sky conditions for an epic sunset, and tonight just wasn't my night.
Driving back to camp was a bit dangerous. Keep an eye out for animals. I was driving on the main road to go back to the 120 and a large deer was just standing in the lane next to the one I was driving in! You don't even really see them until you get close and luckily the deer decided to run away from my path and not directly into it.! It was about 9:30pm by the time I got back up to my campsite. I ate a little food and then grabbed my massive astronomy Binoculars to check out the night sky. My smaller and less ridiculous binoculars that I use for Night sky observations are these by the same company, Oberwerk. This company makes great binoculars at a very good price compared to the competition.
The amount of stars you will see at Ellery Lake on a clear night is astounding. This is quite possibly the location with the most impressive night sky I have ever seen. The high elevation combined with very little light pollution being that we are far from major cities up here, make for a stellar viewing experience, pun intended!
I was scanning the sky just looking for anything cool, and came across numerous star clusters, the Andromeda galaxy, which looked awesome, and something happened that was a first for me. A shooting start zipped right through my view in the binoculars! This was awesome, so cool I wrote it down in my little travel journal as "at 10:24 a meteor shot through the view in my Binos!" I continued to look through my Bino's till my hands were frozen and my neck couldn't take it anymore, then it was off to bed.
Today I had reservations at a campsite in Yosemite, so I tore down camp here at Ellery Lake, and got my car packed up and ready to go into Yosemite for the first time. The drive through Yosemite was beautiful. So much to see off the sides of the road. I pulled over at some random spot just to eat a sandwich and look at the landscape. It took about 2 hours to get through the park and to the new campsite. The name is the Hodgdon meadow campground, it is almost right at the west entrance of Yosemite, the Big Oak Flat entrance. You can make a reservation here, and I recommend you do if you are planning on being here during busy summer months. I was here in mid June and I must say once I pulled in, I wish I had stayed at my spot in Ellery Lake. The campground is nice, in a wooded area that is beautiful, but this place is covered in tents. I mean every spot is taken, some with more than one tent, and there is almost no separation between myself and surrounding tents, compared to the Ellery lake campground that is setup so you actually have to try to see your neighbor if you want to. I am a solo camper most every-time I go out on a roadtrip, and I prefer quiet campgrounds.
From this campground, you will only have to drive about 30 minutes to get to Yosemite Valley. It too is very crowded, but again it is mid summer and to be expected. The traffic and parking is a bit absurd. I would recommend coming to any popular park in the off season if your schedule allows it. You will enjoy your time much more in my opinion.
There is an area where you can pull over and watch climbers scaling the large granite faces in the valley. Some even have tents anchored into the walls thousands of feet up the cliff face, which is awesome and crazy.! I had my Monster Astronomy binoculars in the trunk, so I grabbed them and setup focusing them on the climbers. I soon had a group of people around me waiting in line to get to look through them. The reaction was funny and the same for most viewers, mouth open saying "OMG". The binoculars are pretty impressive, they are 100mmx27 magnification, so they give yo very bright and highly magnified views. I think the closest focusing distance is like a football field or something, so they are meant for very long distance viewing!
Back at camp tonight I had my first campfire of the trip, one of my favorite things about camping! I did some more star gazing here at the new camp and although it wasn't as impressive as the sky at Ellery Lake, I still saw numerous meteors and satellites crossing the small patch of sky I had visible through the trees at my site. A little late night excitement occurred. I'm sitting there in the dark watching the sky and hear a little rustling next to me. I shine my flashlight down on the ground and it was a raccoon about 2 feet from my feet.! It ran off once the light hit it, but shortly after I hear the people in the next camp yelling at it because the raccoon took off with their box of crackers!
Today I decided to check out Glacier Point. There are some incredible views down into the valley from up here. You can see 4 waterfalls that I counted from up there, maybe even more in rainy seasons.?! Parking is hectic up here. Took a lot of circling the parking area before I was able to snag one. Come as early as you can or later in the day for better success if you are here during busy months. After doing some photography, I went back to the car and grabbed the Astronomy Binoculars and setup again. Same reactions, line of travelers waiting to get a look and all were having fun looking through them. Even the rangers wanted to take a peak! I finished up with those and headed to the little food area they have up here, and got a strawberry Popsicle. They are good and sold throughout the park.
I was heading to a hike from here so decided to stop at the bathrooms off the parking area here at Glacier Point, Bad idea.! When I say these were the worst smelling bathrooms I have ever entered, I mean it.! And I have been in some very remote areas in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines and nothing has compared. Avoid these if you can.! I'm serious! I had to hold my breath just to enter these bathrooms for 10 seconds and then ran out gasping for air. TMI, well just giving the honest truth so you know.!
After leaving the Glacier Point area, I stopped at Taft Point about 3 miles down the road. There is parking on the right. Taft point was a lot of fun. You get to hike through a nice section of forest that then opens up into a rockier area, and then up to the point, which drops about 3000 feet straight down! There is a metal tubular railing and you will be happy it is there. I couldn't walk up to the edge where the railing wasn't. I'm not afraid of heights, but when there is a 3k foot drop right in front of you, it is a whole different thing than being on a roof or tall building.
Went back to camp from here and used my Biolite Camp Grill accessory for the first time. Cooked up some turkey dogs and grilled the buns too. It was so nice to have a hot dinner for the first time in 4 days!
I ended up packing it in the following day and got on the road to my next stop on this road trip, Reno, Nv. I was going to visit a friend before heading into Northern Nevada and eventually over into Utah, but that is a different story.
Yosemite was a lot of fun, but it is a very busy place in the summer months. I have been here 3 times so far, but due to my work schedule, I always end up here in the middle of summer. I would love to come back during the colder months when there is less traffic to really get to enjoy all this park has to offer. I have never seen a bear here, ever! I really hoped to, and if you are coming for bears, I wish you luck. I would go to Glacier National Park in Montana if you can, and you are most certainly going to see a Grizzly bear while there!Thanks for Reading
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