People often think that the beginning of Summer signals the end of Spring wildflowers. For the deserts and most lower elevations, this is true. But as you climb into the mountains, the riot of color only begins to peak in July and August.
On a recent visit to Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra, I was amazed at the variety and abundance of color along the roads and trails leading up to the mountains.
I easily could have spent a week or more exploring the area, but only had two and one-half days. So I focused on Tioga Pass along with Rock Creek and the Bishop Creek drainage.
While many species flourished throughout the area, some only grew in ceertain spots. Elevation seemed to play the most important role, with the bloom concentrated around 8,000 to 9,000 feet.
Meadows along Tioga Pass Road were filled with shootings stars, American bistort, buckwheat, Sierra penstemon and others, but for me, the real show was tucked into the granite along the highway.
It was interesting to walk along the roadside and see how the flowers accommodated themselves to the conditions. Even large shrubs had managed to gain a foothold in narrow cracks in the granite. The hanging gardens along the rock faces were amazing.
Particularly, just west of the turn to White Wolf, these granite terraces were loaded with lupine, Indian paintbrush, larkspur, Mountain Pride penstemon and a number of other wildflower species.
Heading east from Tuolumne Meadows, I found an incredible display of rein orchids, seep monkeyflowers, Lewis' monkeyflowers, crimson columbine, leopard lilies, lupine and more growing in a watery ditch below the tiniest of waterfalls. Just glorious. I spent well over an hour parked along the roadside, focused on these beauties.
All along Tioga Pass Road, there were varied displays. Some blooms appeared periodically along the entire length of the highway, while others were only in a few spots, their populations isolated from all the others. There was one place west of Olmstead Point where I found Scarlet Gilia in abundance, but didn't see it anywhere else.
Late in the afternoon on Saturday, the second day I spent along the Tioga Pass Road, I found wonderful displays of bush lupine and Indian paintbrush along the granite slopes just east of Lake Tenaya.
As I was photographing them, a thunderstorm moved in. I could hear the thunder claps right above me and within minutes, the skies opened up, first with rain and then with marble-sized hail. I took refuge in my car and watched with fascination as water started streaming down the granite, forming impromptu waterfalls. It was quite surreal.
Trying to photograph through the deluge, I was anxious to see if I could catch one of the transient waterfalls. With my car window open, hail and rain came streaming in. I had to wipe my lens every few seconds and I thought my arm was going to freeze! But I got my shots and headed off to meet up with friends in Mammoth. A warm and wonderful end to a glorious day hunting wildflowers in the Yosemite high country.
[First posted on August 11, 2010]