Sept. 27 – Oct. 1, 2017
Great Basin National Park
It takes about four hours to drive from Salt Lake City to Great Basin National Park, but you pick up one hour by moving into Pacific Time. Thus, we arrived with plenty of time to check out the two visitor’s centers and eat lunch before our 1:00 PM Lehman Caves Tour. We also took the short nature walk near the visitor’s center prior to our tour.
There are two tours to choose from; the 60-minute Lodge Room Tour, or the longer 90-minute Grand Palace Tour. We got reservations in advance since they only allow up to 20 people per tour.
Each tour is led by a ranger. You are allowed to take a jacket, camera, and flashlight into the cave. The cave is about 50° F year-round, so a jacket is highly recommended. The flashlight is optional, but it is handy for taking a closer look at some of the formations.
The cave floor is fairly flat, but there are a few sections with stairs, and several areas where you have to duck to avoid hitting your head. The tour was interesting and informative. We learned a lot about the local geography and how such caves are formed.
After our tour, we took the scenic drive up to Wheeler Peak. Due to recent snow, the last mile of the road was closed, so we had to walk into the trail head. There are several hikes to choose from, but we elected to just do the short nature walk. The trail was mostly on boardwalks and was covered in a few inches of snow.
I was hoping to see some beautiful autumn colors, but the mountains here are mostly pine, so the colors where not all that great. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant drive and great to visit this type of forest which is quite different from the forests around Salt Lake.
After our hike we drove just over one more hour to Ely, Nevada, for dinner and our motel.
Yosemite Tioga Road
The next morning, we drove for about five hours to get to Lee Vining, CA. The road went over a lot of small mountain ranges – many more than I expected. This made the long drive quite interesting. I expected more barren desert, but it was actually a fairly scenic drive.
After buying gas in Lee Vining, we started up the Tioga Road towards Yosemite National Park. We stopped at the first campground to eat lunch, then resumed our climb up the mountain.
You enter the national park shortly after reaching the summit. The Tioga Road is very scenic, with large granite mountains and beautiful mountain lakes. We stopped at a few lakes to take photos and a short walk along the beach.
It took a few hours to make the drive across the mountain, so we were pretty tired by the end. Rather than do more sightseeing, we opted to head to our motel room at the Rush Creek Lodge. This is a fairly new facility just outside of the park, about 10 or 15 miles from Groveland, CA. The rooms were nice, and they had a large pool and two hot tubs, along with fire pits and various games. The only thing I didn’t like about the place was the restaurant. This is one of those expensive restaurants where you can’t even understand the menu, and the helping sizes are very small. We ate dinner there the first night, but avoided it for the remainder of our stay.
We ate our own breakfast in our motel room, packed a lunch, and headed towards Yosemite Valley. As we approached the valley, we could see that the valley was quite smoky from the nearby forest fires. Luckily, the smoke cleared as the sun warmed up the valley air.
We arrived fairly early to beat the crowds. It was fairly easy to find a parking space near Yosemite Village, which acted as our base. We didn’t want to move the car throughout the day for fear of not finding another parking space.
We walked through the village on our way to Lower Yosemite Falls. The falls are much more impressive in the spring when the water is flowing fast, but it was still a beautiful sight. I suspect the streams had increased in flow due to the recent snow and rain.
We then took a stroll through the meadow going over Swinging Bridge and Sentinel Bridge.
Our feet and legs were getting pretty tired by then, so we jumped on a shuttle bus and headed to the trailhead for the “Mist Trail”, which leads to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, as well as the longer hike to the top of Half Dome. This trail was paved, but very steep. We didn’t even make it as far as the bridge before giving up and heading back down. Our knees were not up for such a strenuous hike.
We decided to save our packed lunch for dinner, and buy lunch at the Yosemite Grill. We each got a hamburger and shared a batch of fries and a lemonade.
We then visited the Visitor’s Center and enjoyed the two movies they show. I think we both slept through part of it.
Because we were so tired, we decided to skip the ¼ mile hike to Bridalveil Falls and drove out to Glacier Point. We drove right through one of the burning forest fires, which made us a little nervous. We could see smoldering trees right along the road. But we figured it must be safe since they hadn’t closed the road.
The view from Glacier Point is spectacular. You get about a 270° field of view overlooking Yosemite Village, Half Dome Village, and the two waterfalls we failed to reach on the Mist Trail. You also get great views of Half Dome, and can barely see the people that made the trek to the top.
On our way back to the motel, we stopped at Tunnel View, which offers a great view of Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan. We took a few photos of El Capitan showing where the large rocks fell the previous two days. One of the falls killed one man from Wales and injured his wife. That was sad news.
South Lake Tahoe
On Saturday morning, we had about a four-hour drive to South Lake Tahoe. This drive consisted mostly of back country mountain roads. It was a fairly twisty road which would have been much more fun on a motorcycle. The scenery was nice, but it is mostly more of the same – huge pine trees.
We were able to listen to LDS General Conference via satellite radio, which helped the time fly by.
We arrived at South Lake Tahoe at about lunch time and found a nearby beach for a picnic lunch. The wind was fairly strong and bitterly cold, so we opted to eat in the car.
Our original plan was to either walk along the beach or take the gondola ride up to Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort. The weather was too cold for a walk, and the gondola was closed for the season. So, we opted to take the two-hour drive around the lake while we listened to the afternoon session of General Conference.
We then checked into our motel, which turned out to be very run down – but at least it had a decent bed. We found a nearby pizza shop for dinner and watched “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” on TV before going to sleep.
The next morning, we began our long drive home (about 8.5 hours), stopping for breakfast (in the car) and lunch (in the car) and to buy gas in Elko. We arrived home at about 5:00 PM to a pleasant surprise – Marcy and Isaac came over to fix us dinner.
We covered a lot of miles and spent a lot of time in the car, but the scenery was absolutely spectacular. It was a great road trip.