Tioga Pass Landscape

The rocks and landscapes of the Sierra have many stories to tell.

As old sediments and volcanic rocks were folded into mountain ranges 250-60 million years ago, rivers carved their valleys along the NNW-SSE folds. At roughly the same time, far below, huge bodies of magma  were rising and shouldering those rocks aside, to cool and solidify far beneath the surface.

As the region was uplifted and the Sierra Nevada tilted during the past several million years, most of those folded rocks were worn away and the granitic rocks of the Sierra were exposed to the weather. Streams have carved new canyons down the west-sloping surface of these massive granitic rocks. However, in places,  the old NNW-SSE stream patterns persist on still-exposed expanses of the old rock and in their vicinity.

Such a drainage remnant is the trough extending from Parker Pass, at the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park, northward through Tioga Pass and across Saddlebag Lake east of the crest. Most but not all of this trough is still being carved in those ancient recrystallized sediments and volcanics, now tilted at high angles. Mineral deposits in these rocks attracted miners who established the mining camp of Bennettville and prospects on Mono Pass.

South of Tioga Pass the waters join the Tuolumne River, flowing through Tuolumne Meadows. North of the Pass the lower part of Lee Vining Creek has captured the drainage, sending its waters tumbling down toward Mono Lake. Above these streams high ridges and peaks, carved in the older rock or in the newer granitics, rise to between 12,000 and 13,000 feet. Among these are Mt. Dana east of Tioga Pass, Mt. Conness on the crest to the north, and the 12,000 foot ridge east of Saddlebag Lake.

In this complex land my cousin and I explored and discovered clear streams, green meadows, basins, lakes and inspiring views. From the Junction campground two miles north of Tioga Pass we took day hikes. In the evening we rested, cooked well-earned dinners and shared pictures.

The more we explored, the more we appreciated the varied landscape with its surprises and beauty. It felt good to experience this country and to know it’s part of a grand world of which we are part.

As we return home, wherever we happen to be and whatever we’re doing, we remember that the wide sky above us is the same wide sky that stretches over the meadows where we rested. The grass sprouting from a broken sidewalk is a relative of the meadow grass which we admired.

Wherever we are, we are truly part of all this, as we are part of this entire world, solar system and universe. Each of us has been made a full member of a world and universe too vast and wonderful to comprehend. Let’s be thankful, praise our creator who has blessed us so and do our part to assure a harmonious planet and human family.


 (Note: To view the right-hand picture full-size after clicking it, scroll down and click “View full size.” Then click in the full-frame picture and move around in it with the scroll bars.)



About David McCoard

After earning my MS in geology I've done various things including managing the ski touring program at a small lodge in the Sierra. In 2010 I retired from Contra Costa College in California. I've always been fascinated by the mountains and nature and have spent countless days hiking, backpacking, climbing and skiing in the Sierra. The spiritual insights I've learned there have set the course for my life. Now I have time to share them and strike up a conversation.
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