At the Super 8 motel in Bishop, CA we were about 80 miles away from Yosemite National Park through US 395 north. I looked up on the internet for the open/ close road conditions to enter the Yosemite Valley. On US 395 north the nearest entry to Yosemite was through Tioga Pass Road. On the National Park website, I read that Tioga Pass road is open to enter the valley.
From the Super 8 motel, we started driving on US 395 north towards the Tioga Pass Road. The weather was beautiful, mostly sunny skies with few clouds here and there. At an overlook, there were fantastic vistas of Mammoth mountain on one side and Lake Crowley on the other.
Advancing further on US 395 north, we passed two-three road signs giving travelers information on open roads for entering Yosemite Valley. As far as I remember the sign did read – Tioga Pass as open. Within hour and a half we reached outside the Tioga Pass and stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank before entering a National Park.
At the gas station, I thought of taking some information from the store about the Tioga Pass road conditions. Just outside the door of the store the chalk board read as this: “Tioga Pass is CLOSED and to enter the Yosemite Valley take the US 395 north and then take SR 89 on left”. I was like ‘what?’
On returning from store, I told Aman about the condition. Being optimistic, Aman told me that SR 89 must not be very far off, they just mean to say take next left rather than taking the Tioga Pass to enter the Yosemite Valley. To me it was not sounding good. I looked up the US paper map we had, to see how far is SR 89 and after that which road would take us to the Yosemite Valley.
To my shock, it was the longest route ever to enter the Valley. Instead of entering from east on Tioga Pass, we now had to go, first all the way up north and then take a left on SR 89 and then go south, and then enter the park from the west entrance. It was like almost 6 hours drive to just the enter park. Here is the map to show you the suggested route:
This was too much of a drive, and then ultimately to go north towards Seattle we had to come back on US 395/ SR 89. The route was very much out of the way. We made a quick decision to not go to Yosemite Valley and instead spend our time today visiting two magnificent lakes, Mono Lake and Lake Tahoe.
The gas station where we were parked was just across the visitor center of Mono Lake. We drove our car there to grab some information and to learn the history of the geological formations standing at Mono Lake. To our surprise, the weather changed drastically to a stormy cloudy sky and it started to drizzle. Aman dropped me outside the visitor center and went ahead to park the car.
When I stepped out and started my walk towards the entrance of the visitor center, it suddenly started to snow. Yes you heard it right, snow!. And not just snow flakes, they were tiny snow balls. I felt delighted seeing those snow balls. Leaving my delight for few minutes, I reminded myself to go in and gather the information quickly.
The staff inside the visitor center were providing information to a couple and I overheard their conversation. They were informing that the Tioga Pass road is closed to enter the Yosemite Valley due to snow predictions for today. They said that ‘the pass was open last whole week, but today its closed and don’t know when will it open again. Also, the Mono Lake recreation area and camp sites are now closed due to the sudden snow storm. No campgrounds around the area would be open.‘
Aman was now inside too. On asking about the US 395 north road conditions, the staff suggested us to call the hwy road conditions toll free number and check with them. But they strictly suggested us to get out of this place through US 395 north before everything else closes and we end up being stuck here in the storm.
Following the directions of the staff, we thought of hurriedly driving out from there, as our car doesn’t have chains for driving on ice. We really wanted to see the beautiful Mono Lake and the geological formations standing on it, unfortunately the weather once again screwed up our plans.
But with joy of experiencing the snow storm first time ever in our life, Aman and me enjoyed ourselves outside the visitor center of the Mono Lake for few minutes
We now started driving on US 395 north towards Lake Tahoe, hoping to have some fun over there after crossing through this dangerous snow storm. There were a lot of cars driving on US 395, both in north and south directions. So, the road was basically not closed and we even saw one or two winter service vehicle, which were regularly clearing the snow on roads and probably spreading salts along with sand to prevent the road from icing. Overall, the condition was not as dangerous as we predicted earlier.
It was a challenging and great experience to drive through the snow storm. Snow balls were hitting the car’s windshield very hard and and there was very less visibility in front of us.
Every direction I looked, I found it covered with snow balls. It was heavenly. I have a dream to live at a place where the snow keeps falling everyday and no one has to go for work 😛
Since we wanted to get out of the car and enjoy the falling snow together, Aman turned the car towards a campground. It was Chris Flat campground along the West Walker river. The views on all sides were gorgeous and I had a feeling to stay there forever. We took pictures of the charming snow covered campground, which I am sharing below:
After a few miles of the Chris Flat campground, the snow storm ended and there was light drizzle. We then halted at an overlook of Topaz Lake on US 395 to take few pictures of the cloud covered sky with the splendid scenery surrounding Topaz Lake.
Topaz Lake sits on the intersection of US 395 and SR 89. We took a left on SR 89, which would take us all they way to South Lake Tahoe area. Within minutes of entering the SR 89, we hit the snow storm again!
This time the drive was more spectacular as it was lined up with huge snow covered Alpine trees on both sides. We made a video of the drive with GoPro mounted on the dashboard of the car and also took few images from within the car of the scenic drive.
After driving for more than 2 hours we reached the South Lake Tahoe area. Before entering the lake area, our stomachs wanted some food. We parked at a gas station to fill the gas, use the restrooms, and looked around for any restaurants. But there were none of our choice, leaving us with the only option of eating cucumber, tomato and cheese sandwich again with some tortilla chips on the side 🙂
Post eating our lunch, we headed towards Lake Tahoe. After driving on a winding road traversing towards the lake, we found a sign for lake beach access. At the beach, though there was no snowfall but the temperature was freezing cold. Winds were very high and we were not prepared for this weather. Standing out in cold winds was severe than standing out in a snow storm. But the view was amazing, with snow capped peaks surrounding the Lake Tahoe and a complete cloud cover over the lake.
Through a different trail we walked to another side of the beach. It was super cold there. We couldn’t stay there for more than 5 minutes. Aman made a video from his GoPro of the Lake Tahoe and I took some pictures.
Our road trip was almost coming to an end, from here onwards we just had one goal and that was to move up north towards Seattle. Therefore, now the destination in GPS was Seattle, which was almost 800 miles. Time was almost 5pm in the evening, and we decided to drive 2-3 hours more before sleeping, so that we can cover the distance.
Driving back on US 395 north, we crossed the state of California and entered Nevada. After crossing Carson City and Reno in Nevada, US 395 turned back towards California. We reached Susanville, a small town in California around 7:30pm. I was hungry and wanted to eat something hot after eating that bread and cheese in lunch/ dinner for three days in a row. After yelping for a bit, I found a decent chinese restaurant to eat our hot dinner.
While eating our dinner, I told Aman to lets sleep around this town, as going further we might not find any civilization after 30 odd miles for another 100 miles and it might become difficult to drive with our stomachs full. But, Aman confidently said that he could drive for 2-3 hours more, so no worries. We started driving at 8:30pm.
From Susanville, driving again on SR 89 we entered the Lassen National Forest. It was very dark, as there were not too many vehicles driving through the forest at this hour of the night. We crossed a vehicle in almost every 15-20 mins. Driving on empty roads in the night through the forest without much vehicles passing became monotonous, until unless we saw two shiny eyes in the middle of the road. There were two deers! Yes, deers were crossing the road. We stopped for them, but they ran fast, giving us a small glimpse.
After a while, there were two more deers crossing the road. And then two more. So that was unique characteristic we noticed about the deers in this Lassen National Forest, that they were roaming in pair of two. We crossed a lot of deers during the entire drive through Lassen National Forest. Towards the end we even encountered a herd of 20 or more deers.
It was almost one hour from the time we ate our dinner and Aman now started to feel sleepy. But he continuously kept saying me that he was not. He drove for a while and then parked the car on the shoulder to stretch his body and wake up the muscles. Well, that trick was successful for 15 mins. He was sleepy again and I asked him to stop the car and let me drive. Aman was avoiding my request, as I am not a good driver for night time due to problem of Keratoconus in my eyes. And if I drove, I wanted Aman to be sitting awake on passenger seat to keep an eye on the road.
Since this idea didn’t worked out well for us, Aman continued to drive and I kept him awake by playing his choice of music loud. This didn’t worked well and I now started telling him my childhood stories and asked his. This idea of conversing and keeping him awake worked for a little bit of time.
We were now half hour away from I-5 north. Just after merging on I-5 north our plan was to find nearest civilization and a hotel to sleep. But that half hour was stretching slowly and slowly to one hour, because drowsy Aman was now driving at 30mph on the hwy where speed limit was 60mph. Within 10 minutes of such driving, I asked him to now finally give me the car, so that we can reach a civilization as early as possible.
Within 25 minutes of my driving, we were now on I-5 north. I took the first exit, which was showed lodging options marked on it. We were in the city of Mt Shasta and it was almost 11pm in the night. After roaming around in the town in search of a hotel for 15 mins, we ended up lodging at Alpine Lodge. Alpine Lodge is owned by an Indian, this time from West Bengal.
Summary of the Day – Miles travelled:455 ; Hours driven: Approx 8 ; Time zone change: From PT to PT; States crossed: Nevada and California;