July 10, 2010

Friday early we went birding at Mono County Park on the north side of Mono Lake, the high elevation (5,000 ft) lake with no outlets just east of Yosemite Park. Saw two orioles, a meadowlark, Hairy Woodpecker, Lazuli Bunting, American Kestrel, Yellow Warblers, Spotted Towhee and assorted other birds. As the day grew warmer we headed up the Lee Vining Canyon to the park boundary at Tioga Pass. The late lingering snow on the mountains, usually gone or shrunk to a few patches on the north face, gleamed white against the gray granite fringed with green trees and grass and blue sky. We had to wait half an hour on the steep incline while invisible workers performed roadwork up ahead. Fortunately, we had an excellent reading of The Lord of the Rings playing on CD to while away the time.

After a brief stop at Tuolumne Meadows, we drove down the Tioga road to the North Entrance at Big Oak Flat. A park ranger surprised me agreeably by asking “is either of you 62 or older? If so, you qualify for a lifetime free pass to national parks!” I paid $10 and got my pass. The usual $20 fee covers one week in the park, an extraordinary deal, but our pass had expired the previous day, so the discount and pass were a nice surprise.

After leaving the park, we drove 16 miles northeast to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, located inside the national park but managed as a watershed for the city of San Francisco, thanks to the federal Raker Act of 1913, which exempted Hetch Hetchy valley, which resembles a smaller version of Yosemite Valley, complete with spectacular cliffs and waterfalls, from the law governing development in national parks. John Muir organized the Sierra Club to fight the legislation but lost. Some people favor draining the reservoir and returning it to its earlier state. In a few hundred years it would look pretty much as it did before the dam was built.

We walked across the dam, which was full to the brim, and through the tunnel in solid rock on the other side. On the way out we saw a Canyon Wren had built a nest inside the tunnel and was giving us heck for walking past it. It was 90 degrees there, so after enjoying the scenery, we drove back to Highway 120 and out of the mountains into the Central Valley. At Oakdale we encountered the first milkshake substitute product of our life at a café formerly noted for its good milkshakes. The waitress seemed embarrassed when we asked if there was ice cream in the shakes. “I don’t think so.” I call that fraud. Memo: must send indignant letter to BBB.

We got back to the Bay Area around 8:00 pm. Saturday was another beautiful summer day. We did errands and unwound from the driving and hiking and camping.

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