The Edge of Yosemite

Trip Start Jul 02, 2010
Trip End Jul 16, 2010

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, July 8, 2010

With Antelope Island in the rear view we skirted west of Salt Lake City before shooting straight across the south extreme of the Great Salt Lake. This section is mostly a flat expanse of dried mineral deposits with a few strips of dry brittle vegetation cropping up here and there. The road was laid down without any obstacle and ran due west without curve or bend for 50 or so miles. At the far southwestern end was the Bonneville Salt Flats which rivaled the Badlands as the most alien landscape we had seen. We took a little time to walk out on the crusty salt and mineral slick that made up the flats and the bright reflection of the sun beating off of the white ground was almost unbearable without sunglasses. The flats were beautifully framed by the rocky barren summits that surrounded the lake and it was easy to imagine you were no longer on the earth at all.

Shortly after the salt flats we entered Nevada and got our first glimpse of the desert. We rolled along mountains and hills devoid of trees and the ground was scattered with low sage-colored bushes and desert brush. Down the road we were deposited onto the Great Basin of Nevada and what was probably my favorite drive of the trip so far. The land was a series of long ridges surrounding huge flat valleys and the road was ruler straight. There was very little traffic and it was easy to speed along for endless miles at a brisk pace without fear until you gained the next large ridge and the winding road that travelled over it.

With each ridge also came a stunning view of the large basin that lay below and the surrounding mountains. The basins would spontaneously spring up with dozens of dust tornadoes that spun for miles across the landscape. The multi-colored patchwork of desert brush that painted the floor of these great basins was the only sign of life other than the occasional single-wide trailer or ranch that sprouted perfectly circular fields of deep green vegetation made by large sprinkler systems rotating on a central axis. With nothing to slow their progress gusts of wind would build across the basin and toss the car around like a tumbleweed. The drive was both intense and dramatic and I enjoyed every white-knuckle and fast-paced moment of it.

The first town after several hours of driving was Tonopah, Nevada and once through it we caught our first glimpses of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains about 100 miles away. We made our way through more deserts and entered California on our way to Mammoth Lakes where our camp would be for the night. One particular stretch of road rose up and down like whoop-de-dos on a motor-cross track and upon reaching the apex of each one we felt weightless for a second before dropping quickly and blindly into the next dip and rising to another. Hannah had fun driving these unique features as I held on for dear life.

We passed by Mono Lake with its tumbled stone lakeshore and headed high into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The trees returned to the landscape and the snow-packed peaks of Yosemite got closer with each mile. Our camp that night was perched on the side of a high mountain lake with a 150 foot water fall just steps from the site. After a quick dinner we lit a fire and popped open a few brews to celebrate reaching California. As the fire slowly died and I got ready for bed I looked up one last time to the night sky filled with thousands of stars. The white smudge of the Milky-Way was framed by the dark outlines of the tall alpine trees that shot into the sky and a falling star lit the dark racing west just like us. I wished my wish and curled up in my sleeping bag to the thoughts of the Pacific and San Francisco.
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