Driving through Yosemite represents a challenge to both the driver and his Austin Healey. Can they endure the heat, the range in altitude, UV intensity, and the psychology of remoteness away from urban life? The Tioga Road trip to Tuolumne Meadows would answer these questions.
Our drive, planned and guided by David and Sheila Nock, of the Golden Gate club, commenced after a fine lunch at the “Majestic” Hotel (It will always be the Ahwahnee to me). The group drove out to the Yosemite Valley meadows scenic stop surrounded by the towering glacial cut granite walls and water falls of the valley. The stop also served as a last chance for stragglers to join the drive. I ended up being the last straggler.
We turned north from Yosemite Valley Road onto Big Oak Flat Road. In the day, this road was known for extremely winding turns and switchbacks rising to the higher mountain elevations until the 1930s when it was improved with three tunnels. To date these tunnel portals feature some of the finest stonework in the park. This portion of the drive represented a steady four-mile climb, along with a steady climb in the operating temperature of my 1275cc Austin A Engine. Fortunately, the coolant temp never reached boiling. We stopped for fuel, a leg-stretch and proceeded eastward onto the Tioga Road, which was originally built in 1881 to transport ore from the Tioga Mine (near Mono Lake) across the Sierras to the San Joaquin Valley. It fell into decay when the venture was abandoned. In 1915 the road was purchased by a group of public spirited citizens, reconstructed, and presented to the government.
We drove at an enjoyable speed of 40 mph shifting through turns and cruising past forest trees, granite boulders, glacial domes, cascading roadside water falls, and accompanied by increasingly cooler temperatures, banks of snow, and the occasional squirrel. We crossed the Middle Fork of the Tuolumne River, Yosemite Creek (which feeds Yosemite Falls) and the famous Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Surprisingly, we encountered no traffic on this drive!
Upon reaching Tuolumne Meadows (Alt. 8,594), we stopped at the Visitor Center for a stretch and ice cream break. Tuolumne Meadows is the most superb of all high mountain meadows and is the largest sub-alpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada. It is from here that the Tuolumne River majestically snakes its way onward for fifty-four miles through the park. We then headed for our Tioga Pass destination where upon arrival, we encountered more snow, and at 9,945’ in elevation, spectacular views of the rugged high-country Sierra reaching 12 – 13,000 feet and above the tree line, displaying soaring granite peaks and domes covered in snow. Returning, our speed increased and the driving became more vigorous. We escaped the heat, had no issue with the altitude or UV Intensity, and thoroughly enjoyed the roadside wilderness scenery. The late afternoon drive ran smooth in terms of both Healey mechanicals and the driver’s mind.