Tag Archives: Tioga Pass

Yosemite Hike: Gaylor Lakes

As we prepared for our summer trip to Yosemite, we planned on doing two hikes. The first hike would be the Panorama Trail with our friends Robyn and Jason. The second hike we intended to do was the hike to Cathedral Lakes.

Our Panorama Trail hike did a number on our out-of-shape legs. And although we had two full days to recover, we seriously doubted our ability to take on another “moderate” trail. So I pulled out our handy book – Yosemite National Park: A Complete Hiker’s Guide – and started browsing for alternatives in the high country.

The morning of our final day, we got going early to drive up to the Tuolumne Meadows area and check out the hike to Gaylor Lakes.

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What we gathered from our book was that the Gaylor Lakes hike was “easy” (a relative term for Yosemite hikes), offered beautiful scenery the likes of the Cathedral Lakes hike, and saw far fewer hikers. Winner!

The trailhead is located just inside the Tioga Pass entrance. It’s a pretty steep climb from there to the top of the ridge, but it’s not a long climb. Just as we were starting to regret our choice, the trail evened out and we were rewarded with glorious views of Dana Meadows and the surrounding mountains.

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While the views behind us were beautiful, they were nothing compared to what awaited us just beyond the ridge…

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The first lake you see is Middle Gaylor Lake. The lake is a good size and crystal clear. We made our way along the north side of the lake and then headed out towards Upper Gaylor Lake.

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At this point, we started to encounter larger patches of snow. The snow was quickly melting, and the trail was more of a stream than a walkable path. We made it to the south edge of Upper Gaylor Lake and hit our end point. We were hoping to make it a little farther and get to the Great Sierra Mine, but the snow cancelled those plans. So we turned around and found a nice spot to sit, eat our snacks, and take in the view.

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Seriously, I never wanted to leave. But eventually, it was time to start the hike out.

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And carefully make our way down the steep stretch we struggled to hike up.

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We absolutely loved the Gaylor Lakes hike in Yosemite National Park! It gave us just the right amount of challenge and rewarded us with amazing views. And our book was true to its word – There were barely any hikers out there. We encountered two guys headed out to fish, a dad and two boys heading back from fishing, and two other couples just hiking. For Yosemite, this is a rare occurrence. We soaked it up.

A beautiful day and a fun hike were the perfect endings to our time in Yosemite National Park and our summer vacation as a whole.

California Vacation 2011: Mono Lake

For our first full day in California, Jason and I made the trek over the Tioga Pass, down to the eastern side of the Sierra, to visit Mono Lake. We had seen photos, thought it looked cool, and figured it was worth a visit since we were so close.

Once we exited the park, the mountains took it to a whole new level.

We figured a good view awaited us around the bend.
Tioga Pass

We were right.
Tioga Pass

Tioga Pass

Tioga Pass

It’s amazing how quickly you can go from one environment to another. Just that morning, we woke up in 30-degree weather. By the time we made it to the Mono Basin, it felt like we had just entered the desert.

The Visitor Center at Mono Lake is really great. It’s a beautiful facility full of information about the lake and ecosystem.
Mono Lake Basin

Mono Lake

Mono Lake is a large saline lake, much like the Great Salt Lake in Utah. While no fish live in the lake, it is home to brine shrimp and alkali flies (which were just nasty). The lake also serves as an important habitat for migratory birds.

Flies lined the lakeshore. Yuck.
Mono Lake

Because of California’s arid climate, water is at a premium. Starting in the 40’s, Los Angeles diverted excess water from Mono Basin’s streams. The lake lost half of its volume and doubled in salinity. Not good.

This became an even bigger problem for the birds, particularly the California Gulls who traveled to Mono Lake to breed. Their main nesting ground was Negit Island, a black cone island in the middle of the lake. Since it was cut off from the main shoreline, predators were non-existent. That is until the water levels started dropping. A landbridge emerged and provided access to the island from the mainland. Coyotes took quick advantage, and the gulls abandoned their primary nesting ground.

Restoration efforts began in the early 90’s, and gulls returned to Negit Island in 1999.

Other than the birds – which there are A LOT of flying around – the major feature is the tufa towers (too’-fah). The tufa make the lake look lake an alien landscape. Tufa is nothing more than basic limestone. It just forms a little differently.

Underwater springs rich in calcium (the stuff in your bones) mix with lakewater rich in carbonates (the stuff in baking soda). As the calcium comes in contact with carbonates in the lake, a chemical reaction occurs resulting in calcium carbonate–limestone. The calcium carbonate precipitates (settles out of solution as a solid) around the spring, and over the course of decades to centuries, a tufa tower will grow. Tufa towers grow exclusively underwater, and some grow to heights of over 30 feet. The reason visitors see so much tufa around Mono Lake today is because the lake level fell dramatically after water diversions began in 1941. (Source: http://www.monolake.org/about/geotufa)

The greatest concentration of tufa is in the South Tufa grove.

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No Climbing or Collecting the Tufa
Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

While the tufas were neat to see, there weren’t nearly as many of them as we thought there would be. I quickly grew tired of the desert-like climate. Neither Jason nor I were into the smell – it was stinky  🙁  For us, we likened the visit to our Mariposa Grove side trip last summer. In that case, the unexpected heat got to us and we weren’t that impressed with the trees. (Never fear. Our feelings on giant sequoias may have changed…)

I’m still glad we went to see Mono Lake. For one, we got to seek the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, which is way cooler than the western slope. We got to see the tufas. And I learned a lot about a special environment that reminded me of the importance of preserving our country’s delicate ecosystems.

Mono Lake

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