4 July 2010:
Sarah & I spent the 4th of July at our cabin in the Sierras, and since Sarah had a bit of a cold, we decided to take a long drive, rather than hike.
The family cabin
From the cabin, we headed west on Hwy 4, over Parrots Ferry through Columbia, Hwy 49 to Sonora, where we detoured at the local Wal-Mart to get some appropriately corny patriotic shirts (a tradition of ours, and the only time we ever go to Wal-Mart). Suitable shirts were abundant, and sporting a stars-and-stripes california bear shirt and US map shirt, we continued on our way, heading east on Hwy 108.
Our initial plan had been to stop at Donnell Vista, which has a great view over a pretty reservoir, but it was closed and under construction, so we continued a fair ways farther up the road to Columns of the Giants, a great roadside stop on Hwy 108.
We set out on the short interpretive trail to the columns and were treated to a pretty good wildflower display.
Smokey Mariposas bloomed sporadically in the grassy areas. They, like all lilies of the Calochortus genus, are one of my favorite wildflowers.
That it was a winter of heavy snowfall was very clear as we crossed the bridge over a river, which has been flowing gently on all of my other visits, but was running high, fast, and presumably very cold this time.
A few Wood’s Roses bloomed, but most were past their prime, although their delicate scent was still thoroughly enjoyable.
Huge bushes of a puffy white flower bloomed everywhere – I think it’s Chemise, but I’m not much good at identifying blooming bushes.
As we neared the columns, interpretive signs explained how the area was formed generally, and how the octagonal basalt columns came to be.
Scarlet Gilia AKA Skyrocket
Also blooming in abundance was another of my Sierra favorites, Scarlet Gilia or, if you prefer, Skyrocket. This flower reminds me of a firework burst captured in flower form.
Columns of the Giants Trail
A large boulder jumble let us know that we were near the columns, and around a corner, they came into view.
I struggled to avoid getting neck strain as I alternated between looking up at the columns, and down, in search of wildflowers. A tiny monkeyflower grew here, but I am feeling too lazy to figure out which one it is.
Columns of the Giants
We soon came to the end of the trail at the base of the boulder jumble beneath the columns. One could boulder-hop on up a ways if so inclined, but as we were not out to do any sort of real exercise and were walking in flip-flops, we didn’t.
Another interpretive sign
The columns are pretty interesting formations, exactly the same as the famous ones at Devil’s Postpile in the eastern Sierra, but smaller in scale, and you can’t get as close to them.
We didn’t linger, as it was warm and shadeless, and walked back the way we arrived.
The thistles were particularly photogenic here, and there was a patch of Pussy Paws as well.
Back at the car, we continued east on Hwy 108 toward our next stop.
After a very steep and scenic climb, we arrived at Sonora Pass and stopped to enjoy the scenery.
It’s hard to imagine how difficult this crossing would have been back in the late 1800s – it’s quite rugged and steep even now as a paved road. One portion as you climb up the western side is a 26% grade, taxing for many vehicles, let alone horse carriages.
View east from Sonora Pass
Although this area lacks the high alpine splendor of Yosemite’s Tioga Pass, the next trans-Sierra pass to the south, it is nonetheless very pretty.
In contrast to the late spring at Columns of the Giants, here at nearly 10000′ it was very early spring, with the Mule’s Ear Sunflowers just starting to come into bloom, and many other flowers remaining in bud.
The ubiquitous Spreading Phlox was living up to its name, spreading everywhere, and Western Wallflower competed with the Mule’s Ears in the yellow flower category.
View south from Sonora Pass
There was still quite a bit of snow on the peaks of the Sierra crest – I wouldn’t care to be hiking this part of the Pacific Crest Trail or climbing nearby Sonora Peak just yet!
We talked to a group of people at the summit, helping them with wildflower identification, and the continued east, now heading down the steep and ruggedeastern side of the Sierra Nevada, which are quite, quite different from the gradual slopes on the western side.
– Anderson Thistle
– Common Wallflower
– Monkeyflower sp.
– Pussy Paws
– Scarlet Gilia
– Smokey Mariposa
– Spreading Phlox
– Wood’s Rose