Yosemite National Park is full of wondrous sights and sounds, but I would venture to say that a majority of day-tourists head to the Valley and the Yosemite Village area without giving much thought to what else the Yosemite area has to offer. After living in the area for over 10 years and scouring the countryside for photo ops, the loop road through the valley did become a favorite of mine. However, what lies beyond the valley can be just as scenic, interesting and in some cases overpoweringly beautiful. Here are some of the lesser-known wonders of Yosemite.
Highway 120 from Big Oak Flat Road east to Lee Vining will take you through the jaw-dropping beauty of Tioga Pass. The scenery along this highway seems to change at every turn, from spectacularly stark granite peaks to crystal clear lakes to lush meadows. Whether you like to hike, fish, swim, camp, photograph, or just sightsee and picnic alongside the road, this area has something for everyone.
There are some lovely areas to stop for lunch or just enjoy the serenity of a pond.
Olmstead Point offers spectacular vistas including a different view of Half Dome.
There are various lakes throughout Tioga Pass, but Tenaya Lake is probably the most popular. The photo below doesn’t show Tenaya very well since I really took it for the storm clouds in the distance. However, it does emphasis the stark granite peaks surrounding the lake.
Depending on how early Winter sets in, Tioga Pass road (Highway 120) is closed from December through April most years. However, in December of 2011 Tioga Pass was experiencing an extremely cold winter with very little snow. That year the road remained open throughout December and the frozen Tenaya Lake became an ice skating/hockey playing wonderland. The lake normally freezes over, but there is usually too much snow covering it to appreciate the ice (and the road is normally closed anyway). This was a once-in-a-lifetime event that many Californians took advantage of and made their way up the pass to walk, skate, and play on a frozen Tenaya. You can see a rigorous hockey game being played in the far background of this photo while two children enjoy walking and playing on ice for probably the first time. As I wandered around the lake, I could hear the low moan of ice trying to shift; unsettling at best!
One of largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada is Tuolumne Meadows, a popular area for camping and hiking. The meadow is easily accessed from Tioga Road. The Tuolumne River meanders through the enormous meadow with a backdrop of Sierra Nevada rugged peaks.
Coming into the park through the south gate on Highway 41 allows you to drive through Wawona and experience the beautiful Wawona Hotel and its grounds. Having lunch at the Wawona was always a favorite stop while showing visitors through the park. The Wawona Hotel is made up of various cottages surrounding the main building. The cottages depicted here are the Washburn and Moore cottages respectively. The shots also give you a sense of the atmosphere at Wawona – rustic serenity.
The Pioneer Yosemite History Center Village
The Pioneer Yosemite History Center, near the Wawona Hotel is a village of historic structures from different eras of Yosemite history. It is a free self-guided museum of the architectural history of Yosemite.
All Yosemite-bound traffic through the Wawona area in days past crossed the covered bridge, which was built in 1857 by Galen Clark. Clark opened the first way-station for visitors in Wawona. He sold his land along the river to the Washburns, and they covered the bridge in the style of their native Vermont.
Mountaineer or Anderson Cabin is pictured below. George Anderson, a miner and blacksmith, worked as a guide in late 1800’s, and escorted visitors in Yosemite. In 1875, he was the first person to climb Half Dome. He spent his winters in this cabin at Big Meadow (now called Foresta), and his summers in Yosemite Valley.
The cabin was moved to the History Center in the 1950’s or 60’s.
The Wawona Stables afford the visitor a pleasant horse-back ride through the forested surroundings, or the errant photographer a different shot of bashful mules!
Mariposa Big Tree Grove
Another worthwhile stop when entering the park through the south gate is the Mariposa Big Trees Grove. (The right-turn to the grove is located just inside the south gate.) The grove contains Giant Sequoia trees, two of which are among the 30 largest in the world.
The last photo shows a fallen Giant Sequoia’s root system. Granted, Martha (the very photogenic woman in the picture) is not very tall, but it still gives you an idea of the size of these trees!
This article was not meant as a travelogue of Yosemite, but rather a little information about the other interesting spots in the Park besides the well-traveled Southside/Northside roads in the Valley. No matter the road taken in Yosemite National Park, one can be sure to find fascinating and beautiful wonders.