Mono Lake Expedition

In which we fly over the Sierras to Mono Lake. We pass via Yosemite and the Tioga Pass to land in Lee Vining before returning the same way.


0020 We start heading up in to the Sierra Nevada. Soon after we have passed the foothills and snow-capped peaks come into into sight, we see a large rock poking up next to a deep valley. This is Half Dome, and the valley is that of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park.


0026 We divert from our course slightly to go peek over the edge of the ridge. Half Dome and Yosemite valley now in full view, and the Merced River can be see heading toward the ocean at top right of the picture. I think the ledge of rock right below us might be El Capitan, but can't be sure.


0032 We have passed over the edge of the valley and can now look down and see the flat land in the bottom that is the core of Yosemitr Park


0038 As we cross the valley to pass right over Half Dome we can look back across to the other side and see Yosemite Falls.


0041 Continuing toward the east, the snow-capped peaks are getting closer. As midday approaches, a line of clouds collects over the summit ridge. We want to stay below these "thunder-bumpers" but above the granite. With potential up and down drafts near the ridge, this could be an exciting ride.


0048 Approaching the summit, we go on up to 11,000 and thread our way through the valleys. We could go higher to make sure of clearing any granite that might be in the way, but given VFR conditions it is probably better to not go very much higher and avoid any question of sustained oxygen deprivation.


20034 The instrument panel is reassuring - we're 11,500 ft above sea level, air-speed is 120 knots and the exhaust gas temperature is steady in all six cylinders


0123 We pass through a low spot which forms a saddle between peaks, - some of which can be very sharp and jagged.


0061 Having passed the summit, we are now in rain-shadow so the terrain changes from lush forest, carpeted in snow, to high desert. The Tioga pass is clearly visible hugging the mountainside, and we can follow this down to Mono Lake which is on the desert floor and hidden at this point behind the ridge immediately ahead.


0064 Follow the road down. Nice view of a row of craters (extinct volcanoes) slightly to the left of dead ahead.


5792 Entering the valley itself and looking to the right, we pass right by one of the old volcanic craters which appears to be occupied by a large plum pudding - in fact the last bit of magma that oozed out long ago to form a plug. Highway 395 crosses horizontaly in the distance on its way down south, and we can see Grant Lake nestled behind it at the foot of the mountains,


0065 Looking to our left now, Mono Lake comes into view. Somehow a bug has made it up to this altitude and met his end against the windshield.


5791 We fly out over the lake a bit and catch our first glimpse of the town of Lee Vining - just above the little bay on the left of the picture, and just beyond the dirt runway where we will be landing and that is also just visible if you know where to look for it.


1229 Across the lake to the north are a couple of islands - these islands form a critical piece in the lifecycle of certain bird types that come here to breed. If the water level were to get too low, a land-bridge would join the islands to the shore and make them vulnerable to predators.


1234 A look at some of the famous tufas.


0096 We circle the lake to loose altitude in preparation for landing at Lee Vining which can be seen in the distance.


0099 Head for downtown Lee Vining after which we'll make a left to line up with the runway.


2097 We fly right over downtown Lee Vining as we circle round to position ourselves for a landing. Population of Lee Vining is about 250, and the town was formerly known as "Poverty Flat". It lies over 2 kilometers above sea level (6,780 ft) in high desert.


0102 Drop the undercart and apply flaps as we enter final approach to the strip which can be seen a little to the right of dead ahead. Highway 395 on the left leads into the town of Lee Vining which is just visible


0109 Safely on the deck, we can look back to the mountains over which we came - and get ready to go back the same way after a brief lunch.


2077 A 15 minute walk brings us to the premier restaurant in Lee Vining. Refueling is accomplished with a hamburger and a chocolate shake (extra chocolate please).


2069 After lunch, we position ourselves to take off again. It is a warm day (85°f, or 30°C, so the air is thin) and we are at high altitude ( 6781 ft, over 2km above sea level, where the air is even thinner, and carries less oxygen for the engine to breath to develop full power) so we're going to open the throttle all the way and use up most of the runway - with some to spare for safety! (Mono lake in the background)


1375 Right after lift off, we zoom over the lone little cemetary in the desert. It would be interesting to hear the stories of the pioneers who lay buried here.


1336 As we reach the northern shore of the lake, we can see the islands again to the right.


1347 We circle the lake climbing all the time to gain some altitude before we head up the pass over the mountains again. Here we are looking toward the south shore over the bird-sanctuary islands.


1301 A last look at some tufas (in the water in the foreground) while in the same view we can see the airstrip, Lee Vining itself, and the road heading west back up into the mountains.


0116 Now that we are up a bit, we can start to head back toward home - we can now see the pass clearly where it leads back into the mountains, with Highway 395 going left-to-right across the picture as it passes through Lee Vining. Just in front of this we can see the scar that is the airstrip.


0119 On our return journey, we follow the pass up again - in the distance we can see the big dog-leg in the pass.


0121 A closer look at the dog-leg. When driving down the pass, it is advisable to avoid having a passenger on the downhill side who suffers from vertigo or fear of heights. And maybe stop every now and then to let the brakes cool.


0049 We work our way up to the peaks again


2104 At the top, the peaks don't seem quite so prominent because everything is high here. There is an awful lot of inhospitable granite in this world...


0058 Eventualy we can drop down a little to where there are lush green alpine valleys - I think this is Tenaya Valley.


7293 And so - after a couple of hundred fairly boring miles over the central valley, we hit Silicon Valley again, over Sunnyvale Golf Course at the intersection of Highways 101 and 237 looking towards Alviso.


0950 We line up on the runway at Palo Alto - in the distance we can just make out a large ship heading into the port of Redwood City, and if you look really carefully - that is downtown San Francisco, just to the right of center on the horizon about 50 miles away.


7304 About 100 yds from touch-down, we flash by the Palo Alto duck-pond - the fountain in the center is not operating today.