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Fall Sierra

My plan for an early October weekend trip was to catch some fall color in the Sierra. I got to see yellow aspen trees and even some fresh white stuff as a bonus when a weak storm moved over the area. It was perhaps a sign of things to come as the next winter became one of the snowiest on record.


Gallery of my favorite photos


Olmsted Point

This is an obligatory stop along Tioga Pass Road with views of Tenaya Canyon toward Half Dome and Yosemite Valley on one side and Tenaya Lake on the other. As is often the case, it was overrun by tourists snapping selfies with a lone tree located just above the parking area. I usually cannot resist the tree either and have quite a collection of its pictures including this one. This time, I hiked up a bit up on the rocks above the other side of the road and enjoyed a different perspective and some solitude.

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Half Dome Tenaya Lake Clouds and the Half Dome
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Pink landrover


Tenaya Lake

My second stop was another must-see stop along Tioga Pass Road. Tenaya Lake sits at 8,150 feet above seal level in a glacial carved basin. It is surrounded by beautiful alpine scenery and granite walls typical of Yosemite. A wedding party had a photo shoot on the west shore. The skies were just getting cloudy ahead of a coming storm and the chill was setting in, driving them away soon enough, and leaving me alone to watch the clouds and their shadows pass over the lake.

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Tioga Road

As the weather grew progressively worse, I drove back up to Olmsted Point looking for dramatic lighting. I did not find it there as the stormy weather was happening to the east, around higher peaks closer to Tioga Pass. I followed the call. As I drove up toward the pass, the rain changed to snow. The shower soon ended, leaving me to experience a beautiful snow-dusted landscape.

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Olmsted Point parking lot Olmsted Point Snowy scene Mountain reflection in BW Mountain reflection
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Tioga Pass road Tioga Pass road Olmsted Point in BW Olmsted Point
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Sunset

I returned to Tenaya Lake for sunset. The brisk weather, the setting sun on the peaks and and clouds moving across the sky all combined to make for a memorable sunset.

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Tenaya Lake
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Sunset colors Tenaya Lake sunset Tenaya Lake sunset Sunset Mt. Conness behind Tenaya Lake Alpenglow on Mt. Conness


Convict Lake and Rock Creek Road

I spent the night in Mammoth Lakes. More showers moved through overnight, and the snow level dropped below 7,500 feet, leaving a half an inch on the ground. I contemplated my options including driving down to Bishop and Lake Sabrina area to look for more fall foliage, but yet again heeded the call of the snow.

Since the morning light looked interesting and the clouds were just clearing off the mountains, I made a quick stop at Convict Lake to see it for the first time. I found a crowd of photographers all competing for the same shot. I let them win this one, and drove up Rock Creek Road toward Mosquito Flat trailhead.

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Cooling morning coffee Snowy Mazda Mt. Morrison Convict Lake Convict Lake Rock Creek Road
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Fall colors Rock Creek Road


Up Mono Pass

By the time I got to the trailhead, there was not a cloud in the sky. Familiar high peaks above Little Lakes Valley glistened ahead. I chose Mono Pass trail as most people headed into the valley and soon left everyone behind as I hiked above the valley. It was a magical morning in this transition season, with some willows taking on shades of yellow and red, and freshly snow-dusted peaks above. When I arrived at Ruby Lake (11,121ft) everything was still and the water reflected the 13,000+ ft peaks around. Last time I had seen it, the lake was still frozen over and snow covered.

I backtracked a bit from the lake and continued toward Mono Pass on the southern slopes above the lake. The trail zigzags as it gains elevation. It eventually turns a corner, and reaches fields of talus just near the pass, at over 12,000ft. The pass itself is relatively flat. A blue patch of Summit Lake reflected the sky and stood out surrounded by freshly snow covered rocks.

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Little Lakes Valley Pond and Bear Creek Spire Bear Creek Spire
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Ruby Lake Ruby Lake Ruby Lake from above Ruby Lake from above Ruby Lake from above Ruby Lake from above
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Mono Pass trail Snowy section Summit Lake Cell-phone reflection selfie


Return from Mono Pass

I made another stop at Ruby Lake on the way down, and proceeded quickly back to the trailhead, taking in the incredible views the whole way.

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Selfie at 12,044 ft Snow formations at Mono Pass Heading down from Mono Pass Mono Pass Trail and Mt. Morgan
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Ruby Lake shores Bear Creek Spire Mt. Dade Ruby Lake and Mt. Abbot Mt. Dade, Mt. Abbot and Mt. Mills
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Ruby Lake northern shores Lookout Peak Ruby Lake and Ruby Peak Little Lakes Valley


Eastern Sierra drive

I drove back down Rock Creek Road, and later drove my favorite June Lakes Loop, where I found some more fall foliage.

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Rock Creek Lake Rock Creek Road Rock Creek Road Aspen colors
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Aspen trees Sun June Lake Loop scenery Mazda at Grant Lake


Cabin

Before reaching Yosemite, I made a quick stop along US 395 at an abandoned cabin that I had photographed before. Like another cabin elsewhere that I have photographed for some 20 years now, it has a surprising sense of permanence to it even as it slowly weathers away in the high mountain desert.

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Cabin along US 395 in BW Sea of sage Driving up Tioga Pass


Back to Yosemite

It was time to return home. I crossed Tioga Pass back and treated myself to another sunset at Tenaya Lake and Olmsted Point. Only a four hour drive home remained...

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Tenaya Peak Last sunlight in Tenaya Canyon Sunset on Tenaya Peak from Olmsted Point Alpenglow on Half Dome Alpenglow on Mt. Conness Tenaya Lake and Mt. Conness
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Olmsted Point taillights


Last updated: July 10, 2019
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