Day 7 - Lake Tahoe to Manteca
We leave the Lake Tahoe area early in the morning and head south still on Highway 50 through the Eldorado National Forest until we catch route 89 and head south towards Alpine Village. The road snakes through the mountains on a very scenic and picturesque route and we stop various times to admire and take photos. We cross Mount Bullion and continue East on 89, the road at about 6000 feet following the contours of the mountains. The scenery overwhelms the senses with it's beauty, a green valley below offering a beautiful contrast with a deep blue sky above us and with the tips of the mountains still sprinkled with snow, a postcard scene for sure.
Towards the end of route 89 we cross Monitor Pass (8314ft) and as we approach our next turn into 395 South, we descend from the top of the mountain through a terrain that appeared to have been devastated by a huge fire storm. The terrain went from forestry to rocky and desolate in a few miles but as we get to the bottom and make a right on 395 and continue south, the valley in front of us is green with beautiful pastures where we see hundreds of cows grazing. We stop at the Shingle Mill area by the river in the Toiyabe National Forest to rest and cool our feet in the cold water. Mom always said, don't go in the water with your shoes, but she didn't come with us. I wasn't afraid to step into the water, besides the riding boots are waterproof and with the temperature in the 90's it felt good stepping on the immersed stones and cool my feet.
We continue south passing farms and grazing fields along the way, past the Bridgeport Reservoir and then climb a few more mountains until we crest and see the beautiful Mono Lake in front and below us. We stop at the top of the mountain to take pictures and let our brain digest the beautiful scenery. From the top of the mountain the cars on the road below looked like busy ants going about their business, we would soon join them after a long and twisty descent.
We move on down the road towards the edge of Lake Mono, an alkaline and hyper saline lake in Mono County, California. Mono Lake is believed to have formed at least 760,000 years ago, dating back to the Long Valley eruption. Sediments located below the ash layer hint that Mono Lake could be a remnant of a larger and older lake that once covered a large part of Nevada and Utah, making it among the oldest lakes in North America. The hypersalinity and high alkalinity of the lake, means that no fish are native to the lake. The lake is famous for the Mono Lake brine shrimp, Artemia monica, a tiny species of brine shrimp, no bigger than a thumbnail, that are found nowhere else on earth. During the warmer summer months, an estimated 4-6 trillion brine shrimp inhabit the lake. Alkali flies (Ephydra hians) live along the shores of the lake and walk underwater encased in small air bubbles to graze and to lay eggs. By March the lake is "as green as pea soup" with photosynthesizing algae. The whole food chain of the lake is based on the high population of single-celled algae present in the warm shallow waters. I walk around the edge of the lake admiring the formation of the rocks and the sediments where the flies concentrate. I couldn't believe the number of the alkali flies and when I disturbed them they would all take off at the same time buzz around a little and then land almost like a small cloud attracted to the sediments, it was an amazing sight. A huge flock of seagulls made their home on the nearby island. I sat on a rickety wooden bench and admired the scenery for a while.
We move on towards Lee Vining stopping for lunch at another barbecue place, this time it's Bodie Mike's Bar-B-Q, "it's as good as gold" is the tag line. The barbecued sandwiches were very tasty, the waitresses friendly, warm weather and a beautiful blue sky, what else could we ask for.
We leave Lee Vining and continue towards the entrance of Yosemite National Park. Coming in from the East you go up a steep climb of 3,000 ft (914 m) feet towards Tioga Pass (el. 9,943 ft. / 3,031 m.) in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. State Route 120 runs through it, and serves as the eastern entry point for Yosemite National Park. It is the highest highway pass in California and in the Sierra Nevada. The climb is slow due to a few four door cages in front of us but it gives us time to appreciate the granite formations.
Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams and Giant Sequoia groves. The park is 1,189 sq mi (3,080 km2) and is roughly the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island. Almost all of the landforms in the Yosemite area are cut from the granitic rock of the Sierra Nevada Batholith. The mountains behind me are not made of dirt and rocks but of a single granite piece that has been pushed up over the years. It's an amazing sight of valleys, canyons and domes all around us.
We continued on route 120 until Big Oak Road where we made a left and followed the road to the valley down bellow. We stopped at Bridalveil Fall, at 188 metres (617 ft) high, it is one of the most prominent waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley. We walk up to the base of the fall but there's too much spray in the air, my brother took one quick picture of me with my phone and then retreats with his expensive camera back to the safety of the forest nearby. I stayed and took pictures of myself, not the most flattering pictures but I have never been one to care about my best angle. I got my camera and phone wet but it was worth it. The Ahwahneechee tribe believed that Bridalveil Fall was home to a vengeful spirit named Pohono which guarded the entrance to the valley, and that those leaving the valley must not look directly into the waterfall lest they be cursed. I left without looking back just to be sure.
We move on pass El Capitan, a prominent granite cliff that looms over Yosemite Valley, is one of the most popular rock climbing destinations in the world and was featured in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. As a challenge to himself in 2287, James T. Kirk attempted free climbing El Capitan solo, without any safety equipment; an attempt which nearly resulted in his death. Fortunately Spock saved Kirk's life with the help of his jet boots. I have always loved Star Trek and that scene had been stuck in my mind. It's an impressive vertical rock formation, 3,000 feet (910 m) high located on the north side of Yosemite Valley and is composed almost entirely of El Capitan Granite, a pale, coarse-grained granite emplaced approximately 100 million years ago. I wished I had jet boots to be able to soar over the park and enjoy the beauty from above. Yosemite is truly a treasure in the US National Park system. We pass a few water falls on the way out of the valley and back to route 120 and then proceed west towards the park exit.
It was late afternoon when we exit the park and arrive in Groveland just outside the park. We park our bikes and stroll around the little town. We visit the Iron Door Grill, California oldest saloon. The Historic Iron Door Saloon was built in the California Gold Country sometime before 1852. It was first called the "Granite Store", perhaps because the front and back walls are made of solid granite blocks. We admire the heavy metal door but since my brother is not a drinker we moved on, besides we still had to ride a few more hours and alcohol and bikes don't mix. The front of the building has a beautiful mural depicting the Yosemite National Park.
We leave Groveland and decide to continue towards Manteca, about 65 miles away, where we would find a motel to spend the night. We left Groveland after sunset with the dark sky quickly engulfing us. We continued on route 120 but were surprised to encounter the first 45 miles completely deserted, not a single town or lights around us. We made good progress, the traffic not that heavy, but always on the look out for deer crossing the road, dusk being one of the most dangerous time to ride a motorcycle. We arrive in Manteca and after a quick search on the GPS and a few calls we find a motel and quickly head there.
We rode 320 miles through beautiful mountains passes, valleys, lakes, cute little towns along the way and we visited California's oldest Saloon, one of the best days so far. It had been a long day but also an amazing day of overwhelming beautiful scenery.