“The mountains are calling and I must go”John Muir
We have been to the Sierra Nevada Mountains at least 1 time per year since 2011. Paul occasionally works in Modesto or Madera, CA. Each city is close to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. There is so much to see on such a large scale that it is impossible to take it in on 1 or even 10 visits, even if it is just to one of the above-mentioned parks.
Coming from Ohio, it forever changes your perspective on distance, size, and beauty. This is a difficult post to write because I know there is no way mere words can ever describe this high and diverse place in our country. It is truly a place that brings peace to the soul, tears to the eyes and poetry to the poet.
” Climb the mountain and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine
Flow into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their
Energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.” John Muir
The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range runs through central California north to south with Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park across the length and heart of the mountain range. The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range can boast of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14505 ft.
The first time we had the privilege to see this place was in 1994 when Paul was sent to Edwards Air Force Base for work. While there, we took only a day and drove into Sequoia National Park. The trees, like giant sentinels waiting and watching over their mountain charges at 7-8000 feet altitude, are one thing that I will never forget and I will always have to see whenever I am in the mountains.
We went again with our children in 1998, this time Paul was working in Oxnard, CA for a couple of weeks. We took a 3 day weekend, Friday at Disney Land, then Saturday and Sunday in Sequoia National Park.
At first, the kids did not believe the stories of the large Sequoia trees; they thought we must have made it up because we were in the park awhile before we made it to the altitude where they grew. When they first saw them, their mouths hung open and were speechless with amazement. They then informed us that we wasted Friday at Disney Land because it was all “fake” and wished they had an extra day in the mountains because it was real and felt the Lord had such a wonderful part in it….” from the mouth of babes”.
It wasn’t until 2011 that we were able to visit the wonders of the mountains again. This time we took a week before working to explore Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and Highway 395 on the eastern side of the mountain range. This was the year of the late May snowfalls in the high country, causing 10 foot or more drifts along the paved roads after they were opened on June 15 to get into Yosemite National Park from the east on Tioga Pass.
I honestly have to say that highway 395 is my favorite highway in the country. It is so diverse, desert and the White Mountains (where Smoky the Bear was found) to the east and the high Sierras to the west. We stayed the week in a condominium in Mammoth Lakes, CA. This is truly a nice little town with the Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort to keep it going in the middle of nowhere.
The Devil’s Postpile, Rainbow Falls and a beautiful view of the Minarets are just outside of Mammoth. One of the best Mexican meals there was at Roberto’s Mexican Café. The portions are large and they have wonderful Fish burritos and tacos.
While on the east side of the mountains, we visited Mono Lake and hiked around an extinct volcano, which we thought would take less than an hour, but took 2 hours. This was one of our first experiences with the vast size and distances on the larger scale the area offered.
We also visited Bodie, California, a ghost town on the California Nevada border. It is truly an amazing place that proves how temporary the mark is that we make on the world.
In 1900 it was larger than Los Angeles with 11 gold and silver mine stamp mills and a population of over 10,000 people. It bragged of 52 saloons and 1 church and a gun shooting/murder every day. It now sits in a state of arrested decay as a state park with a handful of rangers living there year-round to give interpreted talks about the history of the area 150 years ago until it’s final inhabitant left in 1943. When visiting there, you will also learn how a 3-year-old, having a temper tantrum because he did not get ice cream for his birthday, burned down 2/3 of the town during the great depression.
Every turn off of 395 into the mountains will be a new discovery, such as Virginia Lake, Convict Lake, Mary’s Lake and several others along the highway when we ventured into the mountains. The crowning jewel for us was a 5-mile trail called Little Lakes Valley Trail. It is about 10 miles north of Bishop and 15 minutes south of Mammoth Lakes at the turnoff and store/restaurant called Tom’s Place. The trailhead starts at the end of Rocky Creek Road in the Inyo National Forest area.
About 1 mile before the trailhead is truly another great jewel of the Sierra Nevada Mountain’s called Pie in the sky Café. It is absolutely the best pie in the country, baked at 9,000 ft altitude. It is just a shack but had the best lemon cream and boysenberry pies. They bake them only in the morning and people come from all over to line up outside the building to get their taste of pie. You can’t get there late; the pies seldom last until noon. After getting the pie, take Rocky Creek Road until the end.
There you will find a parking lot with a stream flowing down the mountain and beautiful flowers from the different levels of spring depending on the altitude. The altitude at the trailhead is approximately 10500 ft. It beckons the adventurer to explore with each step, bend, and peak summited as they bring more beauty than before. It’s hard to believe but it is true.
In the 5 mile length of the trail, going from 10500 ft to 12500 ft, there are 8 alpine likes with multitudes of cascades and creeks flowing into them from all directions. We only went about a mile on this visit because the snow was too deep and blocking the trail. We went back in 2012 and hiked 3 miles into Long Lake, and finally, my daughter and I hiked the entire length to Gem Lakes and back to get the pie in 2013. It is truly my favorite trail so far.
We did get to visit Yosemite 3 times during this week. Honestly, the first visit was very overwhelming. It was very difficult for us to grasp the vastness of this bit of “heaven on earth”. The magnitude and size of everything from the sheer cliffs of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Half Dome to Glacier Point overlooking it all, was more than our minds could comprehend.
We only got to visit the valley and Mariposa Grove of Giants on this visit because the high country was still under too much snow due to the immense snowfall in 2011 which also gave the waterfalls a record-breaking flow every day of the summer. Part of the valley floor was flooded by the Merced River and the Waterfalls were raging angrily. When we crossed the bridge in front of Yosemite Falls it soaked us and blew our hats off with the sheer power of the water raging down the 2425 foot drop.
All too soon we had to leave this wonderful place and head to the city to work. However, this place called Yosemite, in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is forever embedded into our hearts. We have been back to visit many times, during all seasons and we still feel we have only just begun to explore. It is now a part of who we are and the memory of such a beautiful place can brighten the gloomy Ohio day.
“Everybody needs beauty….places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike”John Muir