Road Trip: San Francisco to Las Vegas

Day 1

Today we left San Francisco for the wilds of the Yosemite National Park. Our accommodation was booked at June Lake, beyond Yosemite and nearer to Inyo National Park but the drive there allowed us to explore Yosemite Valley and the Tioga Pass. Along the way we stopped to help a stranded family in an RV; we ferried a couple back to a town so they could get some help. We actually had stopped to get some information from a ranger station but when someone came running towards us waving a phone we guessed they needed some assistance. We also figured that we need some good karma for this trip should the same happen to us. The drive to Yosemite was quite amazing, looking down over the valley floor and the rivers snaking through. We also passed underneath ‘El Capitan’ which loomed above the valley floor.

Yosemite Valley

The view looking down into Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley meadow

A meadow in Yosemite Valley

We got to Yosemite around 3pm and conscious that we still had a 2-3 hour drive to get to June Lake, we only stopped for an hour or so but in this time we went for a stroll to Lower Yosemite Falls and saw a valley meadow in all it’s green glory. Not many wildflowers out yet but a few peaking through the grasses. Perhaps the most amazing sight though was a Bobcat going about it’s day. We were walking back towards our car when some guy waved us over. Not sure what he was on about we were amazed to see a Bobcat walking alongside the trail, totally oblivious to everyone gawking. The drive to June Lake was stunning and I reckon the best drive we have done so far. The pass is normally closed this time of year so we were lucky that we could get through. Of course we didn’t bother to check not realising how high this road gets. We could see back across the Yosemite National Park and had a great view from Olmsted Point, about 9,000 feet elevation, looking out towards Half Dome. The highest we got was 9,943 feet as we moved from Yosemite to Inyo National Park over the Tioga Pass. We then had a short drive to our lodgings for the next two days. It is quite desolate out here and very different to the green of Yosemite Valley. The landscape is barren with mountains all around and craters dotted here and there surrounding Mono Lake, an almost lunar sight. We are staying in June Lake at a motel called ‘Whispering Pines’. You can imagine a horror film taking place here with the remoteness and eery quietness. We did arrive at dusk though so we will see tomorrow what we make of this place in the sunshine.

View from Olmsted Point

The view from Olmsted Point on the Tioga Pass. The large mountain in the background is Half Dome.

Whispering Pines Motel

Whispering Pines Motel, near to June Lake



Near to where we are staying there is a gold mining town preserved as it was in the early 1900’s. Bodie was turned over to the National Parks in the 1960’s and has been kept the same ever since with the last inhabitant (a caretaker hired by the Cain family who owned much of the land) leaving in 1942 and before that most leaving in the early 1900’s. It was labelled a ‘ghost town’ in 1912 and the population fell from thousands to just over 100 in 1920. The town was as big as 10,000 in the late 1800’s as gold mining exploded in the region. It was so strange to walk around the town with houses still as they would have been so many years ago, you could peak through windows and have a look around. It looked just like a theme park except there were no actors walking around shooting each other at high noon. Quite a unique place and so much bigger than we thought it would be. You should check out the photos to see what I am talking about. You can imagine this place in the wild west. At one time, people would get shot every day in typical gunslinger fashion. We stayed there a couple of hours, much longer than anticipated due to the size of the town. After that we headed into Lee Vining, a town on the way to our next stop for a diner lunch at Nicely’s, perhaps the best hamburger I have had. Going to have to test that though by eating some where elsewhere.


View of Bodie, now a State Park


The Saloon and Barbershop in Bodie

Having driven through Yosemite via the Tioga Pass to get to June Lake, we had seem some nice walking trails on the way so we headed back that direction for a short walk. Tuolumne Meadow is just that, a meadow at the foot of many mountains and hills. It is quite spectacular, with bare rock domes, including Lembet Dome, surrounding it and water flowing through with grass just started to rejuvenate after the winter. We took a stroll up to Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge, a lodge built in memory of a popular mountain-leader. This is also the site where John Muir hatched his plan to turn this area into a National Park. It is said to be his favourite camping spot and you can see why. After strolling back to the car we headed to Mono Lake and the South Tufa area for sunset which I had heard was particularly good. Tufa’s are mineral formations built up over time by springs feeding the lake depositing minerals in a pillar type structure. There are no streams or rivers leaving the lake so the only way water can leave is by evaporation. This has meant that over time the tufas have become visible and in the 1940’s so much water was diverted to Los Angeles from streams feeding the lake that some as high as 15-20 feet can be seen on dry land. The lake lost half is volume at this time, in little over a year. I walked down to the waters edge for sunset and wasn’t dissapointed with the sun dipping below the summit of the Sierras to the West casting shadows over the lake. There were some serious photographers taking advantage of this, myself wandering around with my point and shoot happy enough.

Tuolumne Meadow

Lembert Dome as seen from Tuolumne Meadow

Mono Lake

Some tufas rising above Mono Lake at sunset



We checked out of our motel and made up way South towards Las Vegas. We had some options of the route to take but we opted to drive through Death Valley. We headed towards Mammoth Lake first to see of the Devil’s Postpile National Park was open was it was too early in the season and the roads were still full of snow. This is the last days of the ski season and there were some persistent skiers and snowboarders coming down Mammoth Mountain. We nothing to do here unless you ski or snowboard we headed onwards making our way towards Death Valley National Park. Along the way we had lunch in Lone Pine, a town frequently used in the filming of Westerns. We ate in a diner ‘famous’ for it’s wall of autographs, we ate beneath the autograph of Gary Cooper. We then headed on the Death Valley, turning East from Lone Pine. Death Valley was amazing and such a contrast from where we had just been. Swapping green meadows and snow-capped mountains for bare rock and dusty valleys. Death Valley is the hottest recorded place on earth, with Furnace Creek holding the record for the highest reliably reported air temperature in the world, 56.7 °C.

Death Valley

The long road through Death Valley


Driving through the Badlands in Death Valley seen from Zabriskie Point

We arrived in Las Vegas around 7pm, dropping the car off at the biggest car rental facility we have ever seen. Once checked in to our rather luxurious hotel (Signature at MGM Grand) we got changed and headed out for an explore. We wandered a short distance down the strip and through a fees casinos gawking at the craziness of it all. We had a go on some slot machines, coming out about even we think and figuring out the free drink system, (drinks are free whilst you gamble, just tip the waitress). It looks like we are going to have some fun here…




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