Alpine Lakes and the Sierra Nevada High Country

On my way back from Sagehen Creek Field Station to Tempe, AZ, I took two side trips for fun. The first was the afternoon before I left, where I hiked up to the local high point, named Carpenter Ridge. Then on the drive home, I went to Yosemite National Park for several hours and explored the eastern side of the park. Both experiences were excellent, and Yosemite was definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

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The high country of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Yosemite National Park.

Starting with my trip to Carpenter Ridge, I had to drive along several forest roads, during which I happened upon a mother black bear with two cubs. Unfortunately they were way to fast, and I did not get any pictures. I decided that chasing a mother bear and her cubs to get a photo was probably way to dangerous. Eventually I had to stop driving – because of a huge pile of snow in the middle of the road (in July!) – and walk to the base of Carpenter Ridge. From there, I hiked up a steep slope, rising bout 800 feet in elevation over a short distance, to get to the peak (just under 9,000 ft.). Once I summited the peak, I was met with wonderful views of the surrounding landscape, including Independence Lake, and distant views of many mountain peaks around Lake Tahoe. The plant life was also very interesting, because many of the bushes and small trees were stunted due to the winds. There were many colorful flowers blooming as well. I even saw hummingbirds near the peak! Below are some of the pictures I took during this trek.

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The road leading to the base of Carpenter Ridge (the peak in the background).

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A view of Independence Lake from Carpenter Ridge.

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Looking towards Lake Tahoe (not seen) from the peak.

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Some of the interesting and stunted plant life on top of the peak.

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A view of several high peaks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near lake Tahoe.

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Some of the flowers and shorter plants growing at the peak.

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These pretty purple/blue flowers were often visited by hummingbirds.

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The trees around the ridge were covered in moss and lichen, which made the forest look very green and alive.

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These pink flowers had the most interesting leaves.

Then on my drive home, I decided to stop by Yosemite National Park, because I had never been there before. I entered through the eastern entrance, which is around a 2.5 hour drive from the famous Yosemite Valley. Because of that long drive and the fact that the valley would be packed with people, I decided to save that place for another trip. Instead I explored three other famous locations in the high country of Yosemite National Park. I say high country, because for the most part, I was hiking between 8,000 and 11,000 feet. The first place I visited was Olmsted Point, which provides great views of the eastern part of Yosemite Valley and both the Cloud’s Rest and Half Dome peaks.

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A view down Yosemite Valley from Olmsted Point, with Cloud’s Rest and Half Dome peaks in the background.

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Another view from Olmsted point, in the opposite direction from Yosemite Valley.

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Looking towards Tenaya Lake from Olmsted Point.

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Another great view from Olmsted Point – there were many great views!

There is also a short (1.5 mile) trail that goes between Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake, a beautiful high elevation lake at around 8,200 ft. I was able to get some great photos of the lake with the mountains being reflected on its surface. The hike between the two points also took me through several meadows, where I was able to see some pretty flowers and wildlife.

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Tenaya Lake beautifully reflecting the nearby scenery.

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One of the many meadows on the trail between Tenaya Lake and Olmsted Point.

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A very wet and marshy meadow along the trail.

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A male deer with his antlers covered in velvet.

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A wash near the lake.

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Another view of Tenaya Lake with the mountains being reflected by the water.

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A zoomed in view of the mountains behind Tenaya Lake.

From there, I drove through the Tuolumne Meadows and did a hike up to the Gaylor Lakes. This trail not only provided me excellent views of the meadows, but once I crossed over the ridge towards the Gaylor Lakes, I was able to see many of the higher elevation peaks in Yosemite. There were two main lakes along this trail, a lower and upper lake. They both seem to be fed mostly by snow melt, and there was actually a huge snowbank by the upper lake continuously feeding it while I was there. I also saw several bird species, such as the Clark’s nutcracker, and several high elevation mammals, like the California ground squirrel and yellow-bellied marmot. I heard many of the ground squirrel alarm calls, which was a fun reminder of what I learned in my animal behavior classes – these squirrels tend to live in colonies and always have a few individuals on the lookout for predators, who then give alarm calls when they see a predator to alert everyone else in the colony. Here are my photos of my hike up to the Gaylor Lakes (I took a lot).

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The mountains near Tuolumne Meadows.

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A part of Tuolumne Meadows and the surrounding peaks.

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A pair of Clark’s Nutcrackers

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A view of the lower Gaylor Lake from a ridge nearby.

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A view of the lower Gaylor Lake from its shoreline.

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Part of the Gaylor Lakes Trail.

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Part of the upper Gaylor Lake.

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Another view of the rocky area around the lake.

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A yellow-bellied marmot.

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The same marmot but on alert.

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A California ground squirrel.

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A snowbank melting straight into the Gaylor Lakes!

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A view of the Sierra Nevada/Yosemite high country from the Gaylor Lakes.

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The wind creating ripples and waves across the upper Gaylor Lake.

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A view of the trail passing by the upper Gaylor Lake.

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Two smaller lakes in the area around the Gaylor Lakes.

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Another view of the high country.

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The trail and stream going from the upper lake to the lower lake.

Yosemite was an incredible place to visit. Almost everywhere I looked there were breath-taking views. And while I was only able to explore a small portion of the park, I was completely captivated by its beauty, and cannot wait to go back and visit. I did not realize just how large Yosemite National Park was, and would definitely love to backpack all throughout the park, especially along the legendary John Muir trail!

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