A trip to Yosemite is more than a drive through the park. So says Dick Whittington, transit manager for YARTS, Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System.
Out of 4 million visitors a year, many come to see the iconic granite cliffs and gushing waterfalls. But Yosemite's high country and the eastern Sierra are just as spectacular.
The eastern Sierra is often referred to as "the wild side." According to recent travel polls, Mono County has become one of the top 10 destinations in America.
Some of the more well- known communities in the area are Bridgeport (the county seat), June Lake, Lee Vining, Mammoth Lakes and Walker. Hotel accommodations are available in these towns, as well as in Benton, Convict Lake, Coleville and Topaz. Mono County's Visitors Center is located in Lee Vining.
Bodie is a famous ghost town of the Gold Rush era, the most well-preserved in the West. About a hundred weathered wood-frame buildings still stand in this historic state park.
Off U.S. Route 395, June Lake Loop winds around farmland and small lakes, giving views of majestic peaks and alpine landscape. Village festivals, fishing, water sports, trailheads, bicycling and golfing lure visitors every summer. During the winter and spring, downhill and cross-country skiers keep hotel rooms filled to capacity.
Along Tioga Road, the scenery varies from forests and mountain meadows to clear lakes and creeks, providing access to some of the best hiking trails, cycling routes and camping spots in the nation. Tioga Road serves as the eastern gateway for Yosemite National Park. This entrance is open seasonally, typically from April to October, depending on when winter snow starts to fall and how much accumulates.
An extra YARTS bus runs daily during the summer between Mammoth Lakes and Tuolumne Meadows. Besides reducing traffic, using alternative transportation greatly improves the quality of any visit to Yosemite and the Sierra.
To contact YARTS or check route schedules, go to www.yarts.com or call (877) 989-2787.
The following websites provide information for planning a trip: www. visitmammoth.com, www. monocounty.org and www.yosemiteexperience. com.
With Yosemite Close Up Tours, guests enjoy personalized attention as they visit the places in Yosemite that interest them most. Smaller vehicles and tour groups provide opportunities for uncovering and viewing places known only to those who have an intimate relationship with the park.
Lisa Rockwell lived in Yosemite in the mid-1970s when her father, a physician, worked at the hospital. She has visited Yosemite twice these past two summers with Yosemite Close Up Tours.
"The guides know so much, and can answer all your questions," she said. "For drivers not used to navigating winding, mountain roads, going with a tour company lets you concentrate on the scenery."
While on a tour, her group was taken to a waterfall she never knew about.
Ken Boche, president of Yosemite Close Up Tours, is a direct descendent of Galen Clark, one of Yosemite's first explorers, its public guardian and a charter member of the Sierra Club. "Our specialized, custom tours are designed to take visitors where they want to go," stated Boche.
From his extensive knowledge, combined with personal and professional outdoor experience, visitors can expect to get the most out of their sightseeing, hiking and climbing expeditions.
Whatever the interest — botany, glaciology, insects, American Indian culture, history, geology or Life Zones, from the Merced River Canyon to the Sierra crest — the focus and relaxed pace provide an educational and pleasurable tour. Kids of all ages, families and individuals with health concerns are given special consideration.
Skilled nature photographer and tour guide Ira Estin leads custom tours focused on photography and-or wildlife viewing. He takes guests to some of the most picturesque spots in the park.
Yosemite Close Up Tours can be reached toll free at (800) 789-1854 or (209) 966-8383. The office is located at the Mariposa County Visitors Center.
Why drive when there are guides? With someone else behind the wheel, you'll see Yosemite from a different perspective. Not only will you enjoy every minute, you'll find yourself being drawn closer to appreciate nature's beauty in a way you've never experienced before.
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.