Mel and I enjoy our final hearty breakfast at Nicely’s Restaurant in Lee Vining, California before our last drive through Inyo National Forest and making the spectacular Lee Vining Canyon climb to the Tioga Pass east entrance into Yosemite National Park. We drive west through awesome scenery on Tioga Road past Lembert Dome, Tuolumne Meadows , Pothole Dome and Tenaya Lake until the rise into expansive views of granite domes at Olmsted Point where a large turnout provides ample parking for a short hike.
Olmsted Point is named in honour of Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), regarded as the father of American landscape architecture and perhaps best known for his design of Central Park in New York City. He 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. His passionate work was continued by several of his family members which included his son Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (1870-1957). There is a Frederick Law Olmsted Historic Site in Massachusetts.
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 in April and can take up to 3 months to clear snow pack containing trees and boulders on this road passing through 26 avalanche zones.
We are surrounded by granite features. I hope you appreciate the effort Mel and I expended to relocate these multi-ton boulders so they form a nice photographic composition. They 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, trust me, they will remain exactly where they are until nature decides to move them. As a side note, there is a large and isolated glacial erratic called ‘the Big Rock’ just south of Okotoks, Alberta, Canada.
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.
The views back to the parking area create a never-ending kaleidoscope of visual and photographic treasures. It is 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 we have developing views of the massive, distinctive and infamous Half Dome looming large above Yosemite Valley. In very clear conditions, binoculars and my 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 my pictures.
Mel and I hike back to the parking area on the smooth but gritty granite with fractured surfaces. There is a short and easy interpretive trail here but we prefer to hike offtrail on the higher surfaces to maintain the relentless and spectacular views.
Mel and I continue our drive west on Tioga Road and, although we will not have the time today, we reluctantly pass the exit to May Lake Campground where one trail to May Lake begins. This short hike was highly recommended to us by a very kind and energetic young, woman Park Ranger during our brief visit to the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. The adventure continues.