Yosemite National Park (Tuolumne Meadows) central California Visited: August 11, 2005 NPS Site Visited: 199 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? The Park’s thin air eastern section, highlighted by subalpine meadows, monolithic granite peaks and icy blue lakes.
BEAUTY (10/10) Its name, Tuolumne Meadows, suggests green expanses and multi-hued wildflowers. The reality is glistening overpowering silvers and grays, a bald-faced granite valley. Rounded granite camel humps, steep granite slopes, natural quarries of chopped granite rocks, mountainsides with eroded granite checkerboard patterns, towering granite cliffs.
To the southeast of Olmsted Point, the backside of Half Dome is visible. From here, the awesome granite monolith seems almost vulnerable; it does not even know we are here. We have snuck up on it, please do not turn around. When we turn 180 degrees, we face the rich blue waters of Teneya Lake, reflecting the grays and white of its granite guardians with unbelievable clarity and care.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10) An 1864 Act by President Abraham Lincoln granted the Yosemite Valley to the State of California as a public trust. The area encompassed by Yosemite NP was the first piece of land set aside by the federal government solely for protection and public enjoyment. As a result, the Yosemite Valley has been the inspiration for photographs, paintings, sketches and other art forms for well over a century.
CROWDS (4/10) Summers in Yosemite NP are crowded, whether you are surrounded by the waterfalls in Yosemite Valley or in the high-altitude Tuolumne Meadows. We mistakenly believed that if we avoided the Valley, then we would avoid the people.
People are everywhere and the overlooks are crowded. Parking is difficult to find. Pleasantly, the day hikes we took in the area were relatively quiet. Most of the visitors were spending the day swimming in the subalpine lakes.
Space in the Tuolumne Meadows campground is just as scarce as it is in the Yosemite Valley. But, unlike the Valley, there are options. There are ample, first-come, first-served campsites just east of the Park’s eastern entrance, near Lee Vining, Calif. We spent the day in Yosemite, retreated outside of the Park boundary and away from the crowds at night, relaxed and watched the Perseid Meteor Shower.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5) Tuolumne Meadows is accessed via Tioga Road, a/k/a California Route 120. This road is closed for much of the year due to heavy Sierra Mountain snowfall. U.S. Route 395 is 17 steep miles east of this part of the Park.
The Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center is 54 tortuous miles from the Park’s main attraction, the Yosemite Valley and about 125 miles east of Modesto, Calif.
The free Tioga Pass Shuttle Bus travels the ten miles from the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge to Olmsted Point. The shuttle is especially helpful because trailhead parking is woefully inadequate.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5) Do your souvenir hunting in the shopping mall-like atmosphere of Yosemite Valley. The Tuolumne Meadows bookstore carries only a fraction of the titles found 55 miles away.
COSTS (1/5) Entry is $20 per car, free with the National Parks Pass. The gasoline for sale in Lee Vining, Calif., just east of the Tuolumne Meadows entrance, is among the most expensive in the United States. Its price was over $1.00 more than the national average. The coffee wasn’t cheap either.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5) The only Ranger we saw was collecting fees at the eastern (Tuolumne Meadows) entrance. We asked her where we should park in order to take the free Olmstead Point/Tuolumne/Tioga Pass Shuttle Bus. Her answer, “There is no shuttle bus”. Completely wrong answer.
TOURS/CLASSES (2/10) The educational opportunities offered in Tuolumne Meadows are not commensurate with the number of visitors it receives. There is no introductory film and only a few exhibits in the cramped Visitor Center. 2-3 Ranger talks are day are just not enough for a place whose campground is fully booked months in advance.
FUN (7/10) There is no denying it; the Tuolumne Meadows scenery is spectacular. Once we found a parking space, our day hikes were tremendous. We especially enjoyed the hike to the top of the bald granite monolith, Lembert Dome.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (5/10) Tuolumne Meadows was just like the Yosemite Valley: stiflingly crowded and unnecessarily manic because of poor infrastructure and management. We never felt relaxed or removed from the pace of a big city. Because of the Park’s administrative and staffing shortcomings, a visit to any part of Yosemite NP takes advanced planning, whether it is for backcountry routes and permits or campground and lodging space.
Is Tuolumne Meadows beautiful? Incredibly so. Is a trip here essential to your Yosemite NP visit? Depends on the price of gas.
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