Olmsted Point along Tioga Road in Yosemite's High Sierra is a heavenly landscape of fascinating rock.
The final hearty breakfast at Nicely's Restaurant in Lee Vining, California precedes the final drive through Inyo National Forest and making the spectacular Lee Vining Canyon ascent on Tioga Road to the east entrance into Yosemite National Park.
The drive west through awesome scenery on Tioga Road passes Lembert Dome, Tuolumne Meadows, Pothole Dome and Tenaya Lake until the drive rises into expansive views of granite domes at Olmsted Point where a large roadside turnout provides ample parking for a short hike.
Frederick Law Olmsted was appointed Chairman of the first commission to manage Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove and his legendary writing for the care and protection of Yosemite's natural resources is regarded as a classic National Park document.
Tioga Road is one of very few routes which cross the rugged Sierra Nevada High Country. The road is open in summer and closed throughout winter months (approximately November to May) when drifting snow can reach depths of 30 ft (9.14 m). Road crews begin the dangerous task of snow clearance and removal in April and the risky process can take up to 3 months for clearing snow pack containing trees and boulders on this road passing through 26 avalanche zones.
The terrain at Olmsted Point is largely composed of granite features. Multi-ton boulders are actually glacial erratics deposited many thousands of years ago as glaciers melted and receded. The huge boulders are present nearly everywhere in Yosemite National Park and provide photographic props for scale.
Hardy and twisted Juniper trees defy the harsh environment to grow from small cracks in very hard granite. Satellite photos of the granite landscape show the area is badly fractured from past geological events, so there are greater opportunities for plant life to take hold and survive against seemingly adverse odds.
The views back to the parking area create a never-ending kaleidoscope of visual and photographic treasures in a 360° visual paradise under warm-morning sunny skies in still air. Olmsted Point is a place of uncommon beauty, power and peace.
To the south, developing views of the massive, distinctive and infamous Half Dome loom large above Yosemite Valley. In these very clear conditions, binoculars and the telephoto lens reveal the string of adventuresome people inching their way to the summit of the Half Dome and defeating the steep pitch by clinging to the cable system attached to the granite surface. The participants in this world-famous annual ritual are not visible in the lower definition photographs.
The hike back to the parking area proceeds on smooth but gritty granite with fractured surfaces. There is a short and easy interpretive trail here but the preference is to hike off trail on the higher surfaces to maintain the relentless and spectacular views.
The drive west on Tioga Road continues and, although there will not be time today, passing the exit to May Lake Campground is difficult. The hike to May Lake begins here and this short hike was highly recommended by a kind and energetic young woman Park Ranger during the brief visit to the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center.