May 30, 2012 – After another good breakfast (and slightly stronger coffee) we checked out of the inn and ventured back into Yosemite. We paid for gas in the park to save time, and then drove over to the Mariposa Grove. It was relatively early (around 9:30) but the parking lot was already starting to get crowded. By noon the parking lot would be full, and people would be taking the frequently-running park shuttles.
This grove is one of our favorite places in the park; we particularly enjoy the upper grove, reachable by a nice walk through the woods. Granted, it’s up a hill, and you really could take a shuttle, but we prefer to walk it. There’s always something to see, from wildflowers to woodpeckers. Not to mention giant sequoia trees. Even more trees are waiting in the upper grove, as well as a pretty 1/4 mile nature path. A small cabin is the only item providing scale for how big the trees really are.
After hiking through the trees we were ready for round two of pizza. We got the same kind as yesterday, topped with sausage, mushrooms and (I think) garlic. We also added parmesan and some red pepper flakes. 🙂 Now we were fortified and ready to begin the scenic (and slow) drive through the park. We wanted to head out the Tuolumne Meadows exit, since that was the best route to get to Nevada. Along the drive we passed scenic granite domes (perfect for climbing), clear blue lakes, and the Tuolumne Meadows visitor center, where we stopped to get new baseball caps (since we were in sunny California).
Once you’re through the park the scenery changes remarkably – you drive down a high dessert mountainside, complete with canyon views, and eventually come to a large reservoir. There’s a little town by the reservoir, and admittedly there’s not a lot of tourist places. But they have some great local places, particularly a little ice cream shop called Mono Cone. We got plain vanilla soft serve cones; this is some of the best ice cream we’ve had, it’s smooth, thick, and creamy, almost custard-like. There aren’t too many tables outside, but just park in the shade and roll down your car windows. 🙂 If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth stopping here (plus it will get you through the next hundred or so miles of wide open, desolate countryside).
So after our snack stop we got back on the road. We saw more cows than houses, but did find some pretty rolling hills and little streams. We also found construction at the state line, so be prepared for a bit of a wait (about 20-30 minutes) if you’re travelling through during the summer. In all fairness, the road damage was due to a mudslide, so it had to get fixed; we just didn’t appreciate a car with horrid exhaust who chose to idle his engine the entire time.
But, we made it through the construction zone, out of California and towards Carson City, Nevada. Along the way we passed some more very cool mountains… and a aplomado falcon sitting on a fence post. We thought it looked like a peregrine falcon, but with a large 2-3″ band of steel blue feathers across its chest. By the time we did a U-turn (at speed, ahem) and zipped back it had flown off. We did notice that there were bird perches scattered throughout the fields, so maybe the area is on a migration path.
After another great dinner at In ‘n Out (hey, we wanted to get our fix in) we headed to the hotel. Despite a good dinner, cool new bird, surrounding mountains and a violet-colored sky, Carson City just isn’t our cup of tea. Maybe it’s the casinos. Anyway, we decided to switch up our travel plans to spend more time in California wine country. Nothing like planning on the fly to make an evening pass quickly.