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Yosemite 2010 Trip

Day 1 of 5

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Wednesday, August 4th
Search for campsites, stay in Mammoth Lakes

What started out as a potential disaster turned into a pretty nice trip. But let me start from the beginning.

Originally, we weren't even planning to take this trip. We were planning to go to Yellowstone and Grand Teton in late July / early August. However, due to some uncertainty in our schedules we decided to cancel it and eventually opted for a shorter local trip for this weekend. I narrowed it down to Tuolumne Meadows vs. Lassen Volcanic National Park, eventually deciding on Tuolumne Meadows.

Since we had decided on the trip so late, we didn't have a chance to make camping reservations, which are taken months in advance. This didn't concern me, since I knew that half the Tuolumne Meadows sites are first-come, first-served (i.e., non-reservable), and that there were other first-come, first-served sites nearby (including Tioga Lake, where we'd stayed last year). We'd gotten first-come, first-served sites before without a problem. Plus, we were arriving on a Wednesday, so I figured we were fairly certain of securing a site. Oh, how wrong I was.

We took our time getting ready, leaving the Bay Area around 12:30pm. As you'd expect, Wednesday mid-day traffic was light. After stopping in Manteca for lunch, we arrived at the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite at 4:45pm. I popped into the camping reservation center to check on what sites would be available. Much to my surprise and horror, nothing was available. The entire board, from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and everything in-between, read FULL. How could this be? I asked the ranger about sites east of Tioga Pass, but she didn't know about their availability since they're not part of the National Park system. But she seemed pretty confident I'd be able to find something among the several sites there. Oh, how wrong she was.

But I didn't know that then. So we drove along Tioga Road, past all the campgrounds that said FULL. Past Yosemite Creek, White Wolf, and Porcupine Flat. Past Tuolumne Meadows, and out of the park. Shortly, we came to Tioga Lake, where we'd camped last year. FULL. Junction Campground? FULL. I figured that meant Saddlebag Lake was also full, so I didn't even bother driving the 2 miles up the dirt road to reach it. Ellery Lake? FULL. This was getting disheartening. There's nothing else until near the bottom of the road, but without any other choices we kept driving down toward 395.

At least the other campgrounds had FULL signs at the front of the campgrounds. We turned right onto Poole Power Plant Road and tried our luck at Aspen Campground. There was no FULL sign at the entrance, but it was nonetheless completely full. We had to drive through the entire campground to find that out. We then tried Moraine campground, with no luck. Well, there was one site but it wasn't level and not even half the size needed for our tent. As we were making our rounds of the campgrounds, we noticed several other cars doing the same; we were all in the same boat.

Now getting frantic, we tried one or two others along Tioga Road without any luck. We hit 395, wondering what to do. I instinctively turned right and decided we'd try our luck on the June Lake Loop, since I remembered there was a campsite there. I wish I had my California Camping book with me since it lists practically everything. I was hoping the distance from Yosemite would increase our chances of getting a site. Unfortunately, it was not to be. There are actually several campsites along the June Lake Loop. We tried Silver Lake and June Lake campgrounds, but they were RV-centric sites and in any case already full. We thought about trying to find a motel in June Lake, but kept going. We tried three more smaller campgrounds (Gull Lake, Reverse Creek, and June Lake) without luck. We next tried Oh! Ridge campground. There were some sites available, but only for a day -- the sites that weren't already taken were reserved starting tomorrow. We didn't feel like camping here for one night, going through the trouble of putting up and taking down our tent, then trying to find a different spot tomorrow. So our (mis)-adventure continued.

Back on 395, I was seriously thinking of just finding a motel in Mammoth Lakes. But first, I saw another campground sign to the right. This one was for Hartley Springs. As I drove along the road, I had the sensation that I'd been here before. And I had. When I saw a large rock on the right I immediately knew I'd eaten lunch on that rock several months ago -- when the entire landscape here was covered in snow. We'd snowshoed on the road that I was now driving on! In any case, it was a 4 mile drive on dirt roads to reach the campground, so surely it couldn't be full? Well, there were 2 sites available, but it was loud and not the best location. We decided to skip it, and it's a good thing we did because while the site has no fee, it also doesn't have any running water. We turned around and ended up going to find a motel in Mammoth Lakes after all.

In Mammoth Lakes, we stopped at the Best Western vacancy! Fortunately they told us there was probably space at Juniper Springs, and there was. It was getting late so we sped over to Roberto's Cafe for dinner before they closed. Then we checked into Juniper Springs for just $99 (only later did we find out that $99 didn't include any air conditioning, which meant a sleepless night in a hot stuffy room).

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