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Tioga Road Has Reopened: Hiking to Gaylor, Granite Lakes & the Old Mining Town of Dana City

That day when Tioga Road opens up in spring should be an official holiday. I celebrated that special day by taking a road trip from Entrance Gate to Entrance Gate, admiring the views and saying hello to old friends like Tenaya Lake and Tioga Pass. I also had a wonderful hike to the Gaylor Basin with icy lakes and Pikas, the perfect way to experience this special day.

Where: Hoover Wilderness, Inyo National Forest
Distance: 4.67 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Range: 9,944′ – 10,768′
Date: May 27, 2020
Map: CALTOPO: Tioga Road to Gaylor and Granite Lakes, Dana City
Dog Hike? No

The official opening day of Tioga Road is a really big deal for me and May 27 was the big day this year. I am usually lined up when the gate opens and this year was a little different because of the new rules in place at Yosemite National Park as they reopen post COVID-19. One of those new rules included the implementation of a Temporary Day Use Reservation system. Day Use Entry Passes are validated at the park entrance gate on the reservation date and can be used for 3 days of entry. There are some exceptions  but reservations are required to enter Yosemite for day and overnight trips and you get them through Recreation.gov. If you have questions about those exceptions or changes, you can also check out Yosemite’s How will COVID-19 affect my visit?

I had already printed out my pass the week before and went through the El Portal Entrance Station early, before it was staffed. I expected to pick up one of those temporary white slips to fill out until I went back through that afternoon. But surprise! There were no white slips in the box so I felt a little like an outlaw all day. I figured I would explain the whole sad story when I exited but they just waved me through and I waved back.

The gate across Tioga Road is located above the Tuolumne Grove parking lot and Naturebridge, already open when I reached it. Plenty of tree work could be seen along the road and some was still going on. I made a few stops to check out the wonderful views along the way.

Cloud’s Rest and Half Dome from Olmsted Point

First Glimpse of Tenaya Lake from Olmsted Point

Tenaya Lake

Tuolumne Meadows

I parked my car at the parking lot at the Tioga Pass East Entrance to Yosemite and checked out the nice clean restrooms. OK, here was the plan. My friend Gail, had come up with this wonderful hike for opening day but our timing didn’t coordinate that well. I left earlier, trying to beat road construction, and arrived at the trailhead an hour earlier than she would. Our plan was to meet up on the trail somewhere, but where would that be? I decided to pack my snowshoes in case I needed them on the north side of Gaylor. The trailhead is right off of the parking lot and I headed up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This trail is well used and gains about 500 feet in elevation in 6/10th of a mile. Much of the trail consists of granite stairs which are important elements protecting the trail when the snow is melting. Ascending those granite steps soon brought me to the saddle below Gaylor Peak, chock full of views in all directions. The snow looked a bit icy but there were plenty of dirt that I could also head down on if I crossed some icy snow patches. Since I was by myself, I opted to play it safe and put on my snowshoes, following the snow down toward Middle Gaylor Lake (10,335′ elevation).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lake was still mostly iced over which is always very pretty but there should be much more snow in this area this time of the year.

I followed the trail along Middle Gaylor Lake. Gaylor Lakes were named after Park Ranger Andrew Jack Gaylor who served in Yosemite from 1907 to 1921, dying of a heart attack while on patrol at Merced Lake. You can read more about him in my blog. 

I did some pika watching and listening. The pika is a talkative little critter. The call is used to warn other pikas of a predator or intruder (me) and to me it sounds a little like a chirpy sound but some people describe it similar to the bleak of a goat. Their call is very unique and you can listen to a clip here. And here is a video.

 When I would hear pika sounds, I would focus on the area that it came from and could usually spot one but because they blend in so well, they are a challenge to see. Can you spot this one?

In case you couldn’t, here is a cropped version of the photo.

The American pika (Ochontona princeps) is considered an indicator species for detecting the ecological effects of a changing climate in mountainous regions. Results from recent studies suggest that in some areas, pikas are being lost from lower elevations in response to increased warming and less suitable habitat.

They are distantly related to rabbits and prefer rocky slopes. They graze on a range of plants, mostly grasses, flowers and young stems. In the autumn, they pull hay, soft twigs and other stores of food into their burrows to eat during the long cold winter but they do not hibernate.

American Pikas are small mammals, with short limbs and rounded ears. They are about 6 to 8 inches long and weigh about 6 ounces. They have small litters of 2 to 5 with the young born after a gestation period of about 30 days. Sometimes the females will have a second litter.

I continued on toward the inlet to Middle Gaylor Lake.

I knew Gail likes to hiked this area, going to Dana City first and going counterclockwise, so I thought it would be smart to go the opposite direction and hopefully we would spot each other and meet up. When I reached the inlet to Middle Gaylor Lake, I headed cross country uphill toward Granite Lakes, still wearing my snowshoes and staying in the snow. I aimed for the Granite Lakes outlet (10,400′ elevation).

 

Beautiful reflections peeked out between the thawing lake’s ice.

I ditched my snowshoes and walked along the widening Lower Granite Lake’s edge.

Upper Granite Lake (10,440′ elevation) was still completely iced over and very majestic with that rim along the northeast side.

I took a short snack break, put my snowshoes in my pack, then headed cross country toward Dana City.

I skirted small snowfields, sticking to the dirt and when I caught site of the old miner’s cabin on top of Dana City, it looked like one of those old miners was standing beside it. But it was Mark, Gail’s hiking buddy for the day.

And there was Gail, checking out the inside of the old cabin, taking pictures of the cabin and views.

And what views they had out their window. Whoever built this cabin designed the perfect place for the window with a view of Upper Gaylor Lake (10,512′ elevation) and Gaylor Peak (11,000′ elevation).

And we had perfect timing because it was time for lunch so we pulled up a rock, caught up and imagined what the miners might have said as they took their lunch.

The old mining town was known as Dana, (10,769′ elevation). As I looked at the remains of the stone structures and diggings, I thought of how this was a bustling place back in 1880 when it received a post office and is said to have had up to 1,000 people living in it at heyday. The post office was rescinded in 1882 and the focus on mining moved over to Bennettville and its growing town there. For about 4 short years the village of Dana rose up and then abruptly ended.

There are several tales told about the discovery of The Sheepherder Mine and this one is my favorite. I have previously shared this story from the 1958 book Ghost Mines of Yosemite by Douglass Hubbard about how the area got its mining start before but it is a good one.

Early in 1860 Michael Magee, justice of the peace at Big Oak Flat during flush times in that camp, Captain A. S. Crocker, of Crocker’s Station, L. A. Brown, a surveyor, “Doc” George W. Chase, a dentist, and Professor Joshua E. Clayton of Mariposa were prospecting in the vicinity of Bloody Canyon. They camped near Tioga Pass to rest their animals and to look around. Clayton and Chase had been to the Mono Diggings the year before, and in returning home Chase crossed Tioga Hill and discovered the Sheepherder Lode.

He may have been the first human to see its immense proportions. He kept mum about his discovery except perhaps to Clayton, who assayed his ore. While the 1860 party was camped at Lake Jessie (called Tioga Lake today) at the eastern base of Tioga Hill, Doc Chase remarked that if they could spend one day more there, he would locate and claim “the biggest silver ledge ever discovered.”  Next day, while the others remained in camp, Chase, armed with a pick and shovel and a small tin can, struck out northward at daylight and ascended Tioga Hill by about the same course as the trail which now leads from the Great Sierra tunnel to the old works of the company on the hill.

Reaching the Sheepherder Lode where it crosses a shallow ravine under a small lake, Chase unsoldered the can, straightened it out, and on the inner side scratched out his location notice with his knife. This he placed between two rocks on the massive croppings. Carrying as much ore as he could, he returned to camp. Next morning the party separated; Magee and Crocker returned to their homes, while Brown, Chase and Clayton swung around by Bloody Canyon to Monoville, where Clayton had his assaying outfit. Had they crossed Mount Warren Divide and come down Lake Canyon they may well have discovered the rich croppings which later became the May Lundy Mine.

At Monoville they were to test the Tioga ore and Clayton was to devise a plan for a smelting furnace. But simultaneously with their arrival at Monoville there came in some men who had struck rich rock at what later became Aurora, Nevada. They had come over to get Clayton to make some assays. These ran so high that forgetting “the biggest silver ledge ever discovered” Clayton packed up his assaying outfit and the three started for Aurora. All made money as they followed new strikes. None returned, yet they never ceased telling their mining friends about the “thundering big silver ledge” on Tioga Hill.

The news of a big silver ledge at the summit of the Sierra spread through Tuolumne and Mariposa counties in a short time, but soon passed into tradition amidst the excitement incident to the opening of the rich mines at Virginia City and Aurora.

And here is how the Sheepherder Mine was rediscovered:

In 1874, as the story goes, 14 years after Chase’s discovery, the Sheepherder Lode was rediscovered by William Brusky, Jr., a boy from Sonora, Tuolumne County, who was tending a large band of sheep on Tioga Hill for his father. A rusty pick and broken shovel and the tin notice of location were found just as Dr. Chase had left them, except that the shovel had been almost destroyed by rust, and the location notice was illegible except the words, “Notice, we the undersigned” and the date 1860.

Young Brusky had heard of the tradition and had been keeping on eye open for the ledge. Elated as he was when he made his discovery, he was disappointed when he returned home with samples of the ore. This his father pulverized in a mortar, panned, and pronounced worthless. The following summer, 1875, Brusky sank a small hole in the ledge and procured some better-looking ore. But still no one in Sonora would take any interest in it until the winter of 1877 when someone assayed the rock and found it to be rich in silver. Then everyone wanted to be in on the find.

In 1878 Brusky again returned to Tioga Hill and on the second day of August located four claims of 1500 feet each along the Sheep herder Lode, naming them the Tiptop, Lake Sonora, and Summit. All of them were subsequently purchased by the Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Company. Young Brusky committed suicide on August 28, 1881.

Paralleling the Sheepherder Lode some 800 feet to the south is the ledge known as The Great Sierra. Among its mining claims are the Bevan, Ah Waga, Hancock, Atherton, and the High Rock. Perhaps the most important of these is the latter, site of the old village of Dana. Located originally by W. W. Rockfellow in October 1878 as the High Rock, it was later called the Mount Dana and finally the Great Sierra. Here, amidst unrivalled Sierran grandeur, stands a beautiful old stone cabin. Constructed of loose slate by an unknown craftsman, it is a masterpiece of dry-rock masonry. Its dirt-filled walls and heavy hand-made wooden door provided protection for many a miner when biting winds whistled across Tioga Hill. A few yards to the north of the cabin are other buildings, now in ruins, nestled around two shafts—on inclined prospect shaft or the white mother lode, and a double compartment shaft which had been sunk 100 feet when summit work was abandoned.”

If you come up to check out these mines, please be extra careful. They go straight down and there would be no way to get yourself out of them. The ground near the edge is crumbly and could easily give way on you. Some even have old timbers lining the top parts of them. It was soon time for us to continue our adventures, going opposite directions.

I took a look back at the old miner’s cabin.

I skirted Upper Gaylor Lake on my way down.

It was long before I reached Middle Gaylor Lake and that the ice had broken up more since I passed by it in the morning.

I stuck to the dirt spots as I made the climb back up to the saddle below Gaylor Peak, then caught my breath while I admired the views.

Please visit Yosemite National Park’s Plan Your Visit Page to get the latest information on reservations, camping, road conditions. As of this writing, their site shows the following:

    • Tuolumne Meadows Campground opens on July 15.
    • Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center will have an information desk outside and wilderness permits will be available outside the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center.
    • Tuolumne Meadows store, post office, and grill will tentatively open on May 28.
    • White Wolf Lodge, Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, and High Sierra Camps and will not open this year.
    • The Tuolumne Meadows Shuttle and Tuolumne Meadows Tour and Hikers Bus will not operate this year.
    • YARTS is operating its regional transit system with reduced capacity (30 people per bus, with 22 available by reservation—reservations are strongly recommended). Visit https://www.yarts.com/ for more information.

I wasn’t able to stop at Tioga Pass Resort on my way home but here is a May 11 Facebook update from them also:

Hi Everyone,
Briefly, we HOPE to offer some lodging at some point this season…perhaps by mid-July. In order for this to happen, various issues and obstacles must be overcome. We will not be taking any reservations until we are more or less absolutely sure a given cabin/room can be offered.
Food & Beverage service is unlikely to be offered this season. Our old F & B paradigm is simply no longer economically nor logistically viable and so must be modernized and adapted to current realities. That said, in time we’ll do our best to restore some of the classic components.
This has been a long, difficult, extremely costly process. Though we wish it were different, the fact is that a “grand reopening” is simply not in the cards. Instead, we plan to start with lodging and move into basic/revised F & B as we are able. There is still much to rebuild at both the physical and staffing levels.
There’s no way around the fact that TPR will be different than it was in some respects. It will also be better. You can expect it to restart humbly and then continue to evolve over the coming seasons.
Continued thanks to all for your interest and support.

Dog Hike?

No, dogs are not allowed on this trail in Yosemite National Park.

Doarama:

What is a Doarama?  It is a video playback of the GPS track overlaid on a 3 dimensional interactive map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt it or spin it and look at it from different viewing angles. With the rabbit and turtle buttons, you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.

Tioga Road to Gaylor & Granite Lakes, Dana City Doarama

Map and Profile:

CALTOPO has some free options for mapping and here is a link to my hike this week: CALTOPO: Hiking From Gaylor and Granite Lakes Dana City

Hiking to Gaylor & Granite Lakes and the Old Mining Town of Dana City Topographic Map

 

Hiking to Gaylor & Granite Lakes and the Old Mining Town of Dana City Profile

Sources:

Yosemite Conditions

Yosemite National Park How will COVID-19 affect my visit?

Tioga Road Opening and Closing Dates

Tioga Pass Resort

Saddlebag Lake Campground

Hoover Wilderness

Inyo National Forest Policies and Rules

Inyo National Forest Hiking and Camping with Dogs

Prior Blogs in the Area:

Hiking From Tioga Road to Lower, Middle Gaylor and Granite Lakes September 25, 2020

First Day Tioga Road Reopened: Heading Across With Fannie and Sally, Hiking From Saddlebag To Lake Greenstone Lake June 15, 2020

Sneak Peek of Tioga Pass Frozen Lakes June 9, 2019

Tioga Pass is Open and the High Country is Breathtaking!! May 24, 2018

Camping and Fishing with Sally at Saddlebag Lake and Beyond June 26, 2018

Camping and Fishing with Sally at Saddlebag Lake August 17, 2017

Hiking with Sally from Saddlebag Lake through Twenty Lakes Basin August 15, 2017

Hiking with Sally in the 20 Lakes Basin July 12, 2016

Hiking with Sally up to the Hess Mine in the Tioga Pass Area October 26 2016

Hiking with Sally on the 20 Lakes Basin Loop August 22, 2013

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