The peak of summer tourist season is not the ideal time to visit Yosemite, but if you head to the "less popular" (that's a relative term) upper part of the park, manage to find a campsite, and then hit the trail... well... it's Yosemite! I lucked into the last open site in the rustic and secluded Porcupine Flat campground. Tioga Road (Rte 120) was a traffic jam at times. But what still astonishes me is that you need only hike for an hour from the road and not see another human soul.
Bad news first. The drive between Groveland and Crane Flat (many miles) was depressing. The pines that haven't been taken out by wildfires are succumbing to pine bark beetles in large numbers. Within a decade the lower Sierras will look more like chaparral than forest. But let's just ignore all that and head up to high country.
Hike #1 was the short chug up Lembert Dome in Tuolumne Meadows... a good way to get acclimated to the thinner air. Great views. If you haven't yet... just do it!
Next day, Hike #2: Gaylor and Granite Lakes, a trail that takes off from Tioga Pass at the east end of the park. One of my favorites—I have done it many times. Most people seem to stop at the first (Middle) Gaylor Lake. It's lovely, but the best lies beyond.
Bumblebees love ranger buttons (Sphenosciadium capitellum).
A mellow stroll from Middle Gaylor brings you to Upper Gaylor Lake. And from there, it's a short trudge uphill to the "Great Sierra Mine." The miners, in search of fortunes of silver, were unsuccessful, but they built a fine stone cabin at the crest with a southward view that rivals any I know of. Then again, pretty chilly winters up there!
Thanks to Jeffrey Schaffer I know that you can bushwhack past the mine to a scenic nearby pond and then over a ridge to the Granite Lakes. The view from atop the ridge is a classic:
Hike #4: Mono and Parker Passes. (I deal with Hike #3 below.) This is one of the top day hikes in Yosemite. 12 miles round trip in high-elevation air, so be prepared!
First, up to Mono Pass. Many good views, and an interesting set of pioneer cabins at the pass. Beautiful weathered logs...
Then head south to Parker Pass. The climb is gradual, and the open-country scenery is spectacular all the way.
Parker Pass, at 11,000 feet, is essentially the top of a long, broad, windswept meadow. It is a dramatic setting.
Just south of the pass is a moraine (I think), hiding chilly, sapphire Parker Pass Lake. I scrambled down to it for lunch.
The rocks here are the typical eastern Sierra metamorphic melange. The green stuff (serpentine?) seems to attract the hardy lichens in this inhospitable environment...
From Parker Pass Lake it's an easy cross-country stroll down crazy-beautiful meadows to shallow Spillway Lake. There I met a couple of friendly Park Service limnologists taking their lunch break after collecting and analyzing some water samples... well, they weren't really limnologists, but physical chemists, but I like the word limnologist.
Oh yeah... Hike #3? Short jaunt up Panum Crater, just south of Mono Lake. This is a rhyolitic lava dome of very recent vintage... 600-700 years old. The dome is a kind of fun-house of volcanic rock, including huge blobs of obsidian. At that age, it has to be considered active, and standing there you do wonder when it might get a hankering to blow again...
This rock exhibits what is known as breadcrust texture, caused by cooling and cracking of the lava.
Yosemite has critters too. Like Belding's ground squirrel. At Gaylor Lake, they have only a few short months to eat up and go to bed before the snows come again. Cute?