Eastern Sierras

It was two weeks before the 4th of July. My colleagues were rowdily discussing their plans for the weekend. Somebody said “I am heading to Hawaii…”, another said “I am going to Canada…”, “I am going to just chill in the bay area…”, “Seattle through Crater Lake mayte…”!!!

Everybody had plans. Except me. That was the week of mid-terms for Neha. And she was supposed to have an exam on Saturday. Bummer!! A week later, the prof agreed to postpone the exam on Saturday and let the students take the day off. Surprisingly, I was angry. If we knew this earlier, my original plans of visiting either Alaska or Montana would have materialized. Grrrrr Anyhow, needed to make the best of what we had. The flight tix were as high as they fly. I wanted to drive to Lake Crater via Mt. Shastha. Somehow, that never took off. So, I borrowed my friend Swarup’s itinerary. We were going to Eastern Sierras.

Eastern Sierras – View from Mammoth Mountain

Oh and before I forget, I used PlanApple to plan this trip. Try it out. It is amazing. I was using evernote earlier and planapple is soo much better for vacation planning.

Started from home on July 3rd, Wednesday at around 5 PM and reached Mammoth Lakes at approximately 11 PM. Before I forget, I need to make a mention about the drive. It was curvy. It was filled with sudden grade changes. It had no good restaurants (second half) and we drove past a town called Strawberry! 😐 Yet, it was great. By the sunset time, at around about 8:30, we were driving through a forest at an altitude of about 7000 ft above sea level and saw the trees around us fraternizing with mist. Coming from the bay area with scorching temperatures that week, this sight was welcome. The windows rolled down and the wet cold mountain air was allowed to permeate the car. A couple of hours later, we were driving at close to 10k feet and I couldn’t help divert my attention and stare at the sky. The stars. They appeared so close. Its a wonder, how the absence of pollution and an altitude jump can get us nearer to them. They seemed to twinkle at us playfully. We went straight to the vacation home that we rented and crashed for the night.

It was July 4th. We woke up later than usual, of course. We headed out to realize that there was an  Independence Day parade in the town. Spent some time there. It wasn’t fancy. But the crowd seemed to like it. Kids were excited at the candy thrown by the parade-participants.

Mammoth Lakes – Independence Day parade

The people seemed happy to just laze out on the nice sunny afternoon. After a little while, we decided to move on. We wanted to explore the town a bit. We headed to this place called “The Village” which was a good place to hang out. Religiously paid our respects to the Starbucks there. Strolled the shops around and played the cornhole game on the freshly mowed lawns.

Then drove a few miles ahead to the Main Lodge area which had a Gondola ride to the top of Mammoth mountain and connected with the shuttle bus which we were going to take the next day. Planned for the next couple of days.

It was 7 PM and we were headed to Lake Crowley. This is a small lake on the south side of Mammoth Lakes where the town had organized a show of fireworks. There was a steep fee for entry but nevertheless, we were allowed to park by the lake from where we could watch the sun set over the mountains and fireworks later. The fireworks weren’t like what I saw in bigger cities like SF or Chicago, but it wasn’t that bad either. Headed back home for the night and retired for the day.

Sunset at Crowley Lake
Waiting for the fireworks to begin

The next day July 5th was a relaxed day. We did the Gondola ride up the Mammoth mountain and saw the full glory of the Sierras.

Top of the Mammoth mountain – Gondola ride

They have a cafe there and an observatory kind of structure detailing the dynamics under which the Sierras formed and other interesting facts about ‘Bloody Mountain’, ‘Bodie gold rush’ etc.. We accidentally caught up with my friend Swarup and his family at the Main Lodge after the Gondola ride. We were going to do the Mono lake next and he suggested we stop at the Obsidian dome. This place could be interesting depending on your tastes. We trekked up the dome a bit, spent a little time and left to Mono Lake.


We were close to the sunset time when we reached Mono lake. The tufas on the lake makes it unique, interesting and worth the visit. These tufas are apparently calcium deposits that got pushed up over the years giving it the distinguishing appearance.

Mono Lake
Tufas at Mono Lake
Sunset near Mono Lake

We hiked back to the parking lot when the clouds lost their colors from the setting sun and mood of the place changed from vibrant to monochromatic. Thats that for the day. Home and zzzzzz.

Our last day July 6th around the Mammoth lakes was going to be the most hectic of all the days. Woke up early and headed to the Main Lodge area to catch the shuttle. The shuttle ran through a loop of scenic touristy places. Our first stop was Devil’s Postpile.

Devils Postpile

This is a columnar formation of columnar basalt. How did that form? Wiki says, it happened when lava cooled slowly and evenly and contracted while cooling. Interesting, aint it!

Our next stop was the Rainbow falls(). It was a 2.5 mile hike from Devils postpile to the falls. This was a beautiful hike to say the least. We were walking along a stream of water which would eventually lead to the falls. Don’t know if it was the absence of any kind of noise or just the mellifluous sound of the stream and birds chirping that added to its allure.

A small bridge along the hike
Stream along the hike
Burnt forest
Head of the rainbow falls
Aftermath of a forest fire

We had to climb down some really steep steps to reach the bed of the waterfall. But man, that beats the crap out of all the water falls I have seen (Niagara Falls not included, duh). We sat one the rocks there letting the flowing water wet medicate our strained feet. The falls were neighbored by a green patch of grass and the water flowed flawlessly around some rocks with a grace that makes you wonder about the way you deal with obstacles. The artistry it creates even during its decline is not to be taken lightly 🙂

Hiked back up to the head of the falls and took another trail leading us to a shuttle stop. This one was called Reds’ Meadows. It had a general store where we got a drink and boarded the bus back to the Main Lodge. Whats interesting is they run horse back rides from Reds Meadows to the Rainbow falls which is something I would definitely recommend. It appeared to be a lot of fun and probably less strenuous. We got some lunch on the way and went home to relax a bit after the demanding hike.

Later in the evening, we headed to the Convict Lake. Spent some time there and headed to the Hot Creeks Geological site. This place had pools of hot natural springs with water bubbling and gases emanating from them.

Hot Creeks Geological site – Hot Springs

We were going to do the June Lake Scenic Loop next. It was close to Mono. This loop is quite scenic. It bordered around June lake, Gull lake, Silver lake and Grant lake. We stopped for some time at the marina near Gull Lake.

Sunset around Gull Lake

Then for a little while at Silver lake and drove back to the highway. It was a good drive and we saw a lot of RV’s and people camping around the lakes and mountains. This is a definitely a to-do if you are in the area.

That was the last attraction around Mammoth Lakes. We were going to drive through Yosemite to the bay area the next day.

Tioga Pass Road. Its a thin two lane road that draws a fine curved line on the Eastern Sierra mountains. It cuts through the mountains and lands you into one of the biggest national parks. You can’t stop wondering what it would have been to build a road like that.The east entrance of Yosemite, Tioga Pass remains closed during winters. It runs past water falls and lakes and eventually connects you to the legendary valley.

We headed first to the Visitor Center, got some information from the cute park ranger who was zealously driven to part with her knowledge of the park.

Next stop was Tenaya Lake. It is a mini lake has a tidy beach where people were lazing and swimming. Seemed like a good place to relax.

Tenaya Lake – Yosemite

Stopped along a few more vista points along the route and headed to the valley.

Yosemite Valley

We drove past El Capitan to the Visitors parking area. Took a shuttle to the Visitors Center and had the much needed chow. We saw the movie at the theater which was kind of interesting. It showed the history of Yosemite and talked about “the spirit”. How it came to be, who played an important role in creating the national park etc. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln took a moment off the Civil War to sign the Yosemite Grant that would eventually protect this wonder? Interesting facts to know about how John Muir contributed to the creation of the park!

After the show, we took the shuttle and headed to the Happy Isles hike. It was a small walk around trees and next to a stream that would lead you to Vernal Falls. We didn’t do it though. Spent some time at the Happy Isles and reached the stop for Mirror Lake. Did a 2 mile hike to see the Mirror lake which would “reflect” the half dome. Unfortunately, it was partially dried up and the kids were playing in the water body, so we never could see any reflection.

This was our first trip to Yosemite and we knew it was going to be the first of many. Given its proximity to the bay area, this could mean a lot of good weekend trips. We did not have the energy to visit Glacier point or tens of other good attractions in the valley.

Returned to the visitors center tired and jaded. Neha was done for the day but I did not have that option. I had a 4 hour drive ahead of me. One that involved driving through curvy roads along the mountains and ones that ramped us down the 8000 feet elevation to the more acquainted roads which seldom turn and are punctuated with exits. We reached home at around 9 PM on the Sunday and collectively loathed what was coming. A Monday!

Map with route:


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