California Dreaming: Tioga Road & a Full Moon Over Yosemite

This is the third post in a series about our recent vacation/adventure to California. Feel free to read the first post about Calaveras Big Trees State Park, or check out the 2nd post about our first day in Yosemite National Park.


Yosemite National Park has been #1 on our “Must Visit” list for years. However, I was always determined to go at the ideal time: mid Spring when there’s no snow, less crowds and amazing waterfalls….so, April. Unfortunately, another April was coming up fast and we (once again) had no plans, so I started to get a little anxious.  Some might even say I got a smidge cranky.  But I couldn’t help it – I was not going to miss out on Yosemite for another year!

Since we didn’t start planning until late March, we decided to try & shoot for late Spring, early June, instead.  Luckily, we were able to book 3 nights in a tent-cabin in Curry Village (which is IN Yosemite Valley)!  We happened to be visiting my parents when we actually booked our stay, so we all celebrated the fact that it was official – Amy & Paul were finally officially going to Yosemite this year!

Clearly this called for celebratory shots & a celebratory snap sent to friends and family:

A reason to celebrate!

We're going to Yosemite!

Right after we made our reservations, my Mom read in one of our Yosemite books that we’d have a full moon on one of the nights we had booked. How amazing is that?!  That sheer stroke of perfect timing really made it feel like this trip was meant to be!

For our second day in Yosemite, we decided to leave the Valley & head north to Tioga Road.  This decision was made after the helpful employee at the information desk told me that this is where all the employees go on their days off.

Before leaving the Valley, we went to see Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls.  This is when we realized we had already seen the Upper Falls the night we had arrived, as they are visible from the road near Curry Village.

Upper Yosemite Falls in twilight

A shot from our first evening in Yosemite: Upper Yosemite Falls in twilight.

Upper Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls in the morning.

To see the Lower Falls, we drove west a little and then parked along the road.  We took the Lower Yosemite Falls trail (a super easy path) through the woods.  Near the beginning of the trail, you can take a slight detour to the left that leads to an incredibly picturesque spot of both falls:

Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls

Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls. There is a plaque on the rock describing how John Muir, one of the forefathers of America’s National Park System, had a sugar pine log cabin here from 1869-1871. Talk about a room with a view!

We then went back to the main trail and walked less than a mile in to see the Lower Falls, up close and personal:

Lower Yosemite Falls

This area was SUPER crowded so we didn’t stay too long.  We walked back to the car and continued driving west on Northside Drive.  We caught a glimpse of Ribbon Fall (below, left) and we also stopped at the Valley View Overlook (below, right) before continuing north to Tioga Road:

Ribbon Falls, Yosemite National ParkValley View Overlook, Yosemite National Park

Tioga Road crosses the Sierra Nevadas from east to west.  What was really neat is that you drive through 4 different elevations: Lower Montane (3-6,000 ft), Upper Montane (6-8,000 ft), Sub-Alpine (8-9,500 ft) & Alpine (9,500-13,000 ft).  This meant we got to experience a variety unique vistas and terrains.

The beginning was pretty woodsy.  Below is a picture of the serene (and appropriately named) Siesta Lake.  It reminded both of us of the lakes in Acadia National Park (in Maine).Siesta Lake, Yosemite National Park

As we climbed higher and higher, rocky mountain peaks (with snow!) began to appear in the distance.

Climbing Tioga RoadEventually we pulled over at an overlook that had a lot of neat rocks to walk around and (of course) great views – so we decided to eat lunch here.  I thought this spot was great, but soon enough Paul was reminding me “more to see!” – so we hopped back in the car and continued driving to Olmstead Point:

Random boulders left by glaciers

When we went to Acadia NP we learned that when you see random large (loose) boulders like this – they likely got placed by glaciers.

Olmstead Point, Yosemite National Park

Ho-ly Mo-ly!  This overlook was amazing!  As if the awesome flat/cracked rocks, complete with marmots & lizards playing hide and seek weren’t cool enough…

A marmot A Western Fence lizard (I think)

…there was also a pretty easy trail that lead to this stunning view of Half Dome:

Half Dome from Olmstead Point

The view from Olmstead Point, Yosemite Park. Elevation: 8,400 ft.

We were also able to see Tenaya Lake to the the northeast, which is where we were headed next:

Tenaya Lake from Olmstead Point

Tenaya Lake (the deep blue in the center of the photo) from Olmstead Point…

Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park

…and Tenaya Lake up close.

We took some time to sit by the lake and take in the crystal clear water and serene mountain backdrop.  No swimming though – Tenaya Lake is at 8,150′, just the beginning of the Sub-Alpine elevation, so the temperature was pretty cool.  After this, we hopped back in the car to continue west, which meant climbing even higher, to check out a Tuolumne Meadows, a Sub-Alpine meadow.

Toulomne Meadows

After walking around the perimeter of Tuolumne Meadows, we decided to it was time to head back to Yosemite Valley, since we had a solid hour of driving back down Tioga Road.  Plus, we wanted to go back to Olmstead Point to see how Half Dome and the other mountains looked in the evening light.

Olmstead Point at twilight

We made it back to Curry Village and grabbed some dinner at the very crowded Pizza Patio.  Then, we went to our tent cabin, bundled up, and grabbed our flashlights, 2 beers, the camera and the tripod, because this was the night of the full moon!

We headed over to the meadow where you can see Upper Yosemite Falls from the road (see the third picture in this ginormous post).  As we were walking along the wood plank path that crosses the meadow, we paused to look at the moon rising behind us.  While we were standing there in admiration, a guy headed in the opposite direction told us that we were looking the wrong way because “the real show” was down by the river where the granite walls were glowing.  Oh yeah?  Well then that’s where we would head!

We walked past a handful of people that had decided to enjoy the moon from the walkway and entered the woods.  We weren’t exactly sure where we were going, but there was a path & we could hear the Merced River as we got closer to it.

After about 5 minutes, we found the river – and we were thrilled to see that the guy was right – the rock walls above the river looked awesome.  And even better, we had the area all to ourselves!  We sat and enjoyed the rushing water and stunningly bright river-edge for a while.  Then, we set up our tripod and had a mini-photoshoot in an effort to try and capture this moment.  When you consider our staggering lack of nighttime photography knowledge (and experience), we actually got some decent shots:

Yosemite at night Yosemite at night

Of course I don’t think these pictures do our actual experience any justice – but I’m still glad we took them.  Then we tried to take a picture of ourselves in the moonlight.  It was nice that no one else was around as we had a lot of trial and error to get this right (including a couple of shots that look like they were taken in daylight – strange)!  But we did get one:

Moonlight portrait

Again – this pic doesn’t convey how bright it actually was!  But the fact that this was taken without a flash should give you some idea.  I’ll never forget our crystal clear our shadows were.

Ironically, we didn’t take any pictures of the actual full moon.  After about an hour we had decided we should head back, and felt like “meh, we know what the moon looks like.”  Silly – we should’ve snapped a shot.  Oh well…next time ;)

Whew – this post took forever to write – so I hope it didn’t feel like it took forever to read.  I still want to write about the rest of our trip which includes: our third & final day in Yosemite (that’s next), 2 days in Sequoia & Kings Canyon NPs, Santa Cruz/Big Basin Redwoods and then 1 day (my birthday!!) in Napa Valley.  I really hope you’ll stay tuned :)

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3 thoughts on “California Dreaming: Tioga Road & a Full Moon Over Yosemite

  1. There is SO MUCH BEAUTY!!!! (Especially when you’re in the photo!) I have nothing intelligent to add because I’m just flabbergasted by how beautiful and natural everything was.

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