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Fall colors on the West Coast

September 19, 2010

Yosemite is a wonderful gem of a national park which is just 4 hours away from the bay area. It’s a very popular destination during all seasons, for skiing to hiking to camping. One can take in the beauty of Yosemite with a weekend trip or even a day trip. To those who explore beyond, there are even more grand vistas in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. From a briny and spectacularly alien Mono Lake to tall trees showing off their fall colors in the Mammoth Lakes area to ski resorts built high up on Mammoth Mountain, there’s no dearth of places to go and things to do!

We had been to Yosemite a few times and wanted to go some place different for the weekend. I found photos of Mono Lake online and was amazed by the tufas and the story of Mono Lake. Mammoth Lakes was also right in the backyard of Yosemite, and promised spectacular fall colors in September. The season was right, we wouldn’t get trampled over by crowds at Half Dome and the Yosemite waterfalls since we would be far away from all the rush and we would get to see fall colors on the West Coast, what more could one ask for! One thing I sorely miss in California is that the fall colors are nowhere close to what we get to see on the East Coast. But as a friend said, the sunshine in California does make up for the lack of colors! So off we went, with the orange, red, yellow colors of fall and alien tufas beckoning us. Our itinerary for the weekend was –

Day 1 – Early Saturday morning, drive from bay area to Yosemite and continue on to Mammoth Lakes area. See the fall colors at Yosemite and Mammoth (June Lake Loop and Whitney range) on Saturday. Stay the night in Mammoth.

Day 2 – Early Sunday morning, drive from Mammoth to Mono Lake area and explore the tufas and the briny lake. More fall colors along the way and drive back to bay area by Sunday evening.

Day 1 – Early Saturday morning we set out to Mammoth Lakes from the bay area. We were soon in Yosemite and drove through the park, drove through Tioga Pass, getting to the backyard of Yosemite. Our first stop was at a gorgeous lake, surrounded by trees of all colors! It felt like we were inside a painting. We couldn’t believe a lake could be this gorgeous and surreal. There are several viewpoints / vista stops along the drive to view the Yosemite Valley and Half-Dome. It was interesting seeing Yosemite from this new perspective. Crowds were fewer and as we drove along, the bursts of fall colors on the trees grew more frequent.

We did the complete drive of June Lake loop, which is amongst some of the best fall-color-watching areas in the Eastern Sierra. We saw plenty of orange and yellow trees covering entire hillsides and the sun was shining on them for all it’s worth, adding a golden glow to the leaves.

Coming across snow-covered meadows along the drive was a real surprise! It was amazing to see fresh snow covered grass when the temperature was a pleasant 78 degrees. A couple more weeks and Mammoth mountain would open up to skiers! The snow-covered top of the Whitney Range, was clearly visible as we continued driving from Yosemite to Mammoth. Our plan was to stay in Mammoth for the night and head to Mono Lake the next morning. We got in to Mammoth quite late in the night, tired and hungry. We were staying at Best Western and all other places in the town of Mammoth Lakes seemed to have already closed down for the evening. We were worried about our growling stomachs. What a pleasant surprise to check-in at the hotel and go to their thankfully-still-open cafe and find that they are serving an Indian buffet for dinner!? It was too surreal to be true. We pigged out on the yummy Indian food and called it a night.  A satisfying end to a long eventful day!

Day 2 – We headed to Mono Lake early Sunday morning, whose surreal beauty had captivated us from the time we had first seen a photo of it. The tufas were like nothing we have ever seen before. It felt like we’d crash-landed on some other planet.  Even Mars seemed sane. The salty lake was playing host to a gazillion flies and every time we went close to the rim of the lake, a black cloud of flies would rise up and start buzzing around us. We spent some time admiring the tufas, there were a few short hiking paths along and surrounding the lake. The backdrop of the Sierra mountain range made for some amazing photos. Mono Lake lived up to its expectations – surreal, beautiful, fascinating and wonderfully different.

After a lunch break at the famed “Whoa Nelli Deli’s” Cafe (gourmet food in the middle of Mammoth, who knew!?) and a quick stop at Ellery Lake, we drove back to Yosemite and were in the bay area by Sunday evening. All in all, Mammoth and Mono Lakes make for a perfect weekend getaway!

  1. Nivi permalink

    Love it! Breathtaking pics, colors and beauty… looking forward to seeing more of the blue marble 🙂

    • Thanks Nivi! I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, and you inspired me to go get a blog on wordpress and finally get started! 🙂 You were right. This is both contagious and addictive!

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