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The Tioga Pass Road

Last Summer the Tioga Pass Road over the Sierras in Yosemite National Park opened late due to the heavy snow pack during the previous winter.  Approaching the start of July the Park Service finally had cleared Tioga Pass, I headed up shortly after the 4th of July holiday during a lull in the tourist season.


The Tioga Pass Road runs from the Big Oak Flat Road east to US Route 395.  The Tioga Pass road is largely within the boundary of Yosemite National Park but is also partially on California State Route 120 east of the Tioga Pass entry station to US 395.  The Park Service maintained portion of the Tioga Pass Road serve as a implied connection between the two segments of CA 120.  The Tioga Pass Road is the highest road mountain pass in California with Tioga Pass which lies at 9,945 feet above sea level.

The Tioga Pass Road is very old with the eastern section up Lee Vining Canyon to the Tioga Mine being built in 1883.  The connecting section of the Tioga Pass Road from Big Oak Flat Road was built as a wagon trail from 1902 to 1910.  The National Park Service purchased the Tioga Pass Wagon Road in 1915 which was when the era of automotive travel over the road began.  Surprisingly Lee Vining Canyon has only a 7% grade which is a significant accomplishment for a roadway in the eastern Sierras.  The following website details the history of the Tioga Pass Road in full detail.

Yosemite.ca on the Tioga Pass Road

The current of Tioga Pass Road is very different than how it was the early days of the signed state highway system.  CA 120 originally took a turn on what is now Evergreen Road to Aspen Valley Road which used to be the original routing of Tioga Pass Road.  CA 140 from Evergreen Road used the original Big Oak Flat Road to the boundary of Yosemite National Park.  The alignments can be seen very easily on the 1935 California Division of Highways Tuolumne County Map and 1938 State Highway Map.

1935 Tuolumne County Highway Map 

1938 State Highway Map

Tioga Pass Road originally traversed Aspen Valley north of the modern road where it met up with the current alignment via White Wolf Road.  According to the yosemite.ca library article titled "The Tioga Road; a History 1883-1961" the Tioga Pass Road was realigned to the Big Oak Flat Road near Tuolumne Grove east towards White Wolf Road (referred to as McSwain Meadows) in July of 1939.  Interestingly it doesn't appear that CA 120 nor CA 140 were immediately changed with the realignment of the Tioga Pass Road.  Sometime between 1942 and 1944 CA 140 was cut back to the El Portal Entrance of Yosemite on the Merced River while CA 120 was rerouted off of Evergreen Road onto the Big Oak Flat Road where CA 120 via the current Carlon Day Use Area.  The changes are reflected on the 1942 and 1944 Division of Highways State Maps.

1942 State Highway Map

1944 State Highway Map

I made my way up CA 41 and the Wawona Road early in the morning to the overlook of the Big Oak Flat Road approaching Yosemite Valley.


Given the holiday crowds were checked out after the 4th and it was early in the morning I pretty much had the Wawona Tunnel in addition to overlook to myself.




I looped around Southside Drive, El Captain Drive, and Northside Drive in Yosemite Valley to El Portal Road.   Leaving Yosemite Valley on the El Portal Road I noticed that a new MUTCD compliant US 395 shield was posted with a "To" placard.  The previous US 395 shield disappeared sometime in the winter.  I turned right on the Big Oak Flat Road which climbs away from the Merced River towards the Tioga Pass Road.



There are a series of three tunnels on Big Oak Flat Road before Tioga Pass Road is reached.




Surprisingly the Park Service seems to want to imply the Tioga Pass Road in the boundaries of Yosemite National Park is CA 120 given the lack of "TO" placards.  There is gas available at the junction of Tioga Pass Road/Big Oak Flat Road and is the only services until Lee Vining 56 miles to the east.




The modern Tioga Pass Road to White Wolf is a fairly smooth drive.  I'm to understand the former alignment of the Tioga Pass Road through Aspen Valley was considered difficult and extremely narrow.  The modern Tioga Pass Road to White Wolf Road has some pretty nice draw depths for some neat photos, I even encountered a coyote above the 7,000 foot elevation mark.  There was a substantial snow line mostly at 8,000 feet and above.







East of White Wolf Road the Tioga Pass Road starts to become more curvy with wide sweeping views of the Sierras.  There was a small rain shower passing overhead as I climbed higher in elevation.



Approaching Olmstead Point the Tioga Pass Road tends to run cliff-face through the terrain. 


Half Dome wasn't obstructed by the rain shower from Olmstead Point. 


Tenaya Lake can be seen to the east along the Tioga Pass Road from Olmstead Point.


Tioga Pass Road runs along the north shore of Tenaya Lake which is at 8,150 feet above sea level.




Approaching Tuolumne Meadows the Tioga Pass Road was a little soggy but nothing severe.  Tuolumne Meadows was very wet from all the fresh snow melt.  The Tioga Pass Road much like every other road in Yosemite National Park has some unique looking designs for the post mile markers.





Speed limits in Tuolume Meadows generally range from 25-35 MPH.


Tioga Pass Road follows the Dana Fork out of Tuolumne Meadows heading east approaching Tioga Pass.


Tioga Pass is located at the entrance station for Yosemite National Park.  There is a sign indicating you are at 9,945 feet above sea level but it isn't really well placed on the park entrance building.


There is an informal overlook of Tioga Lake from the pass that had plenty of snow just within Inyo National Forest as the Tioga Pass Road becomes CA 120.



The first CA 120 shield can be seen at the Mono County Line.



The road is slightly curvy but I didn't think warranted a sign.



Approaching Lee Vining Canyon the Tioga Pass Road starts to open up on the 7% drop to Mono Lake.




 There is a nice plaque at Lee Vining Canyon detailing the history of the Tioga Pass Road.


The current bridge in Lee Vining Canyon was completed in 2011. 


The 7% grade is sustained on the Tioga Pass road dropping through Lee Vining Canyon.  The road is signed at 50 MPH but I tend to use 3rd gear so I don't ride my brakes. 





Mono Lake comes into view approaching US 395. 


The Tioga Pass Road ends at 6,781 feet above sea level in Lee Vining at US 395.  CA 120 East  multiplexes US 395 South before cutting east again towards US 6.


Comments

... said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
... said…
Two items to share:

1) While maybe not signed, Tioga Pass Road is Hwy. 120 within the park boundary. It does not stop at the entrance stations.

2) What you describes as interesting mile markers are actually roadside description markers for notable locations. They are numbered numerically and are related to a guidebook you can purchase at all park bookstores. The “T” stands for Tioga Pass, while there are additional roadside markers for key locations in Yosemite Valley (V) and along Wawona Road (W).
Joel said…
Date on the DODGE POINT SIDEHILL VIADUCT was the last time Caltrans painted the bridge. Bridge was built in 1966

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