Mono Rail, Mono Rail… I Mean Mono Pass

1 June 2014 in Hiking, Memories, Tioga Road, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

With my knee still giving me grief from the previous 13 miles I tacked on the day before we decided to take it easy today and just hike 7 miles. Again it was up to the high country and so a long, but beautiful drive was in order. This time, for the first time, I made Lindsay drive and I was able to leisurely gaze out the window at the gorgeous scenery.

I cannot believe that three years ago we came here to visit and camped right next to the entrance of this road and never even considered driving up here. But I guess we were like 90% of Yosemite’s visitors, we were only interested in the Valley and the big trees. While I enjoy the peaceful nature that would be ruined by more visitors in the high country it is sad that so many people miss out on this wonderful place.

The trailhead to Mono Pass is almost all the way across Tioga Pass, about 40 miles, but eventually we parked and set out upon the trail. Meandering through the forest we made our way across streams and low laying stretches of spongy marsh. Then we proceeded up through rocky terrain and switchbacks, over a hump and down along a long meadow set within the basin of the surrounding mountains. On the east side of the park the mountains looked weathered and older. They were covered in loose stone and resembled gigantic gravel piles. For the most part they were lifeless. There were no trees, no vegetation of any sort, and seemingly few places for marmots, pikas or ground squirrels to make homes. They reminded us of the barren, volcanically produced mountains near Flagstaff.

As we made our way along side the meadow the dissipating forest gave way and the wind picked up. We were approaching the pass and gusts of wind blasted through at increasing speeds. There was a bare hillside to our left and a few shallow lakes to our right, but nothing to impede the strength of the wind. We had planned to lunch at the pass, but when we stepped up to the sign that acknowledged we had arrived there was little to see. Technically we were at an elevation 10599 feet, but there was no stunning view to be had here just the punishing, and increasingly brisk wind. It was kind of a let down and had we returned to the truck I might have been very disappointed, but we wanted our lunch and a nice place to eat it and so we continued on.

Immediately after the pass you enter the Inyo National Forest and exit Yosemite. I had an inkling that there might be a breathtaking view just around the corner and out of sight so we hiked an additional half mile or so. Each corner was a let down, but the next bend off in the distance gave hope. Finally I rounded a corner and came up over a hill and there was our view. I quickly gestured to Lindsay with a thumbs up and a hurried curling of my arm and hand to come here quick. There, far below us was Mono Lake. We had seen the lake before, it is a barren, uninviting lake, surrounded by lifeless, empty stretches of land. It looks like something you’d see in Death Valley or some other arid desert, but it’s just beyond the boundaries of the eastern Sierra rich with green meadows and bubbling streams, wild flowers and crystal clear alpine lakes.

The contrast was stunning and while the lake far below didn’t draw me in and beckon exploration it was quite the scene from above. And so we found a wall of rock behind which to hide from the wind and we had our sandwiches.

After returning to the trailhead we still had plenty of time left in the day and had used a lot of gas to cross the pass and so we decided to go check out the famous Mobile Station in Lee Vining. Since we arrived in April almost every park employee we encountered had mentioned this place. They had music, there was good food, and it was so much more than just a gas station. I have to say I was a little underwhelmed. I had dreamt up an image in my mind of an old and weathered building ramshackle and full of character. What stood before me was essentially a travel center. It was a brand new building filed with touristy crap, your standard gas station fair, and a deli. The deli was beyond the standard hot dog rollers and red light pizzas, but this was really the only factor that made this place standout.

We decided when in Rome… or I guess when in Lee Vining at THE Mobile Station we’d try to sample a little of the magic. So we pooled together the little cash we had and bought tap of beer and some fries from the deli. Being the nomadic scavengers that we are we raided the condiment section and took the otherwise ordinary fries and made them extraordinary. We had four different combinations of dipping sauce – two hot ketchups, one thousand island, and one spicy mustard all mixed using the basic ingredients provided and then we dusted our the fries with parmesan cheese. I have heard they have music here and maybe it turns into quite the happening place, but I can’t see making the hour and a half drive out this way just for the food or the atmosphere.

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