Trip to Central California - May/June 2008

Welcome to my Central California 2009 trip pages!


Shaded relief map showing all of the main roads I drove during the trip, along with some of the landmarks.

In all I put ~2400mi on the rental car over 9 days. A mini-blog of the whole trip:


General - To start, I want to try to describe the extremely variable weather I encountered over the 9 days I was there. A low pressure system  formed (and then stalled) north-west of San Francisco. The counter-clockwise circulation carried all the moist air from the Pacific inland across central California. This went on for 7~8days of the 9 day trip. Fortunately, the rain (or snow in higher elevations) seemed to come in bands. So on most days, there was a repeating cycle of an hour or two of solid overcast followed by an hour or two of partly/mostly cloudy skies. In the higher elevations, the solid overcast was accompanied by rain or even snow. In the lower elevations the rain sometimes evaporated before reaching the ground!

Fri 5/29 – Flew from Tampa to San Francisco via Salt Lake City. Arrived at SFO about 10:30pm PDT. Got a shuttle to a hotel near the airport, and a good night’s sleep.

Sat 5/30 – Picked up the rental car in the morning. Weather was clear but cool, and became solid overcast as the day progressed. I drove around San Francisco, sightseeing and  picking up supplies, then headed up to the Golden Gate Bridge. On the last night of the trip the moon would rise in the southeast about 30min after sunset. So I spent several hours exploring the Marin Headlands of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and scouting locations for the last night’s shoot. Late in the evening I arrived back at the hotel.

Sun 5/31 – Got up in the morning and drove the ~200mi to Yosemite National Park. The route was mostly Interstates until I turned east off I-5. From there is was 2-lane roads thru some very pretty country. At first the road took me thru the Central Valley with its miles of walnut groves. The scenery reminded me of an old Peter Fonda movie (“Dirty Mary Crazy Larry”) I saw at the Union Drive-in eons ago. Turns out I probably wasn’t very far from the filming locations. At the east side of the valley, the Sierra foothills rose before me. I drove up into the foothills, exploring several interesting side roads along the way. By early evening I reached Yosemite NP and scouted around Yosemite Valley. As you will see, this is a breathtaking place. A couple hours before sunset, I headed to Mariposa, CA where I would be spending the next 3 nights. The 35mi drive along CA140 from Yosemite to the hotel took ~45min. About half of the drive hugs the Merced River. In all I ended up driving this stretch of road 5 times.

Mon 6/1 – On this day, I decided to tour the northern sections of Yosemite NP. Since I knew I would be driving CA140 to/from the park several more times, I headed northwest from Mariposa and made the day’s drive a large loop. This took me to the town of Senora, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, part way up Tioga Pass Road, and finally down into Yosemite Valley for the late afternoon light. This was the best time to shoot the features along the valley’s south wall. Then I headed back along CA140 to reach the hotel around sunset.

Tue 6/2 – Since I had toured the northern sections of Yosemite NP on Monday, I went to the southern sections of the park on Tuesday. I also wanted to visit Yosemite valley in the mid/late morning, when the lighting was better for the north wall features. I had lunch at Yosemite Village, and headed south to Mariposa Grove. This is the largest grove of Giant Sequoias in the park. These trees are truly impressive, but I didn’t get any shots good enough to display on these pages. From here I backtracked towards Yosemite Valley again, detouring up to Glacier Point along the way. The weather up at ~7000ft was solid overcast with drizzle mixed with snow and very cold (at least for a FL boy!). Then it was back down to the valley for late-afternoon shots of the south wall features. I finally arrived back at the hotel around sunset.

Wed 6/3 – This was one of the days I had been particularly looking forward to. The trip began driving back up along the Merced River and getting a few last pictures of it. Then, instead of going into Yosemite Valley, I turned north and headed up to Tioga Pass Road. Luckily, the road was open (more on this later) and I was able to drive across the Sierras to Mammoth Lakes and the deserts of Eastern California. Tioga Pass Road was all I expected and more. When I got down into the desert in the afternoon the weather was terrible. Solid overcast with rain varying from drizzle to fairly heavy rain (yes, it does rain in the desert!). I knew the weather would be bad all along the north-south route of US395. So I headed east toward Nevada hoping to get out of the storms. I decided I was not all that far (~80mi) from an area called “The Sump” I read about the place in one of my rockhounding books. Several years  before I tried to visit it on a trip to Nevada. “The Sump” is basically a desert box canyon with multi-colored walls, bizarrely eroded shapes, and petrified trees eroding out of the sandstone. I was unable to find the entrance to the canyon on the earlier trip. Fortunately this time I found it, but unfortunately it wasn’t far enough east to be out reach of the storms. So I stopped at the entrance to the canyon and walked a very short distance in. The prospect of flash flooding and/or getting the rental car stuck in the mud prevented me from going any further. At this point it was getting late so I headed back towards the hotel in Mammoth Lakes, CA. It was there I spent the next 4 nights.

Thu 6/4 – I was so impressed with Tioga Pass Road that I decided to go back up into the Sierras. I would be thru there on the way back to SFO for the trip home, but that would be in the morning. So I decided to spend Thursday morning touring the Mammoth Lakes area, and then go back up into the mountains for the afternoon light. The weather that day alternated between overcast/rainy and bright nearly cloudless skies as the storms rolled thru. I visited many interesting places on this day, and you’ll see most of them in these pages. Finally, I drove south past Mammoth Lakes into Bishop, CA for a nice meal. I ended up making it a point to drive thru Bishop daily. The gas prices in Mammoth Lakes were ~$3.40/gal, while at the Big Pine Indian Reservation in Bishop they were ~$2.70/gal. Even though it was a 30mi/30min ride south of Mammoth Lakes, it was still much cheaper in the long run to fill-up the big SUV in Bishop. I finally got back to the hotel just after sunset.

Fri 6/5 – In the morning I took a look at the weather map, and decided it would be better to head south along US395. I had planned on seeing the sights down that way so this was the day to do it. As expected the weather got better the further south I went, but there were still a few storms in the afternoon. I did make it to most of the places I wanted to visit and you’ll see these on my “South on US395” page. About the only other interesting thing I saw that day was a road sign near Big Pine, CA pointing to Death Valley National Park. This ~75mi long road travels thru the Eureka Valley to the northern end of Death Valley. But I did not have enough daylight left to do both the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forrest and this road. Maybe next trip.

Sat 6/6 – Saturday morning I awoke to heavy snow in Mammoth lakes. The snow was not accumulating but was blowing around pretty hard. The stalled low pressure system had finally started moving east and we would be experiencing the worst of it later in the day. I decided to take a chance and ventured out into the area around Mammoth Lakes. The snowy weather cleared and I had a few hours of sunshine. But after lunch, the weather deteriorated again as predicted. At that point I was exhausted after 7 days of non-stop running around. And I had a long drive back to San Francisco the next day. So I said “the heck with it” and went back to the hotel. I ended up spending the rest of the day doing laundry, relaxing in front of the TV, and sleeping.

Sun 6/7 – Since I had gotten a lot of rest on Saturday, I was up early on Sunday and ready for the ~300mi drive to the coast. It turned out to be a beautiful day. I revisited and re-photographed a couple spots on the way to Tioga Pass Road. Then I took a nice leisurely ride through the mountains taking pictures in the mid-morning light. Once I hit the Central Valley again, I pretty much made a beeline for San Francisco. Along the way out I had noticed a Staples store just off the highway. So I stopped there for a box to ship home some clothing and equipment (I avoid checking bags with the airlines whenever I can). Turns out that Staples would only send me a 3-pack of shipping boxes; unless I let them pack the 1 box and pay their exorbitant extra charges over and above UPS rates. Miffed, I continued west and after a lot of searching finally found an Office Depot. Then a fortuitous missed exit took me through new territory. I ended up going north thru Oakland and across the Oakland Bay Bridge to San Francisco. After touring around The Presidio (at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge), I headed north back to the Marin Headlands. The weather stayed beautiful (but chilly) and I was able to get the only moonrise shots of the trip. I got back to the hotel late, and was up until ~1am packing stuff for shipping and the return trip home in the morning.

Mon 6/8 – Up early and back to SFO. Flight left about 12 noon  PDT, and flew back to Tampa via Atlanta.


San Francisco

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Waterfalls

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Tioga Pass Road 1

Tioga Pass Road 2

Mammoth Lakes – Fire…

Mammoth Lakes –  ... and Ice

South on US395

Moonrise at the Golden Gate


Central California 2008 Home



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