In the folded metamorphic rocks north of Tioga Pass, streams have carved portions of their valleys in less resistant strata parallel to the gross bedding.
After tumbling out of its basin, Lee Vining Creek follows a straight valley southeast, carved in these rocks, for two miles before turning east to plunge toward Mono Lake. Between this valley and the crest to the west, a second, shallow valley parallels the main valley roughly 300 feet higher.
At its south end, that valley’s stream turns and cascades downward to meet the main stream at Junction Campground, where we camped for a week in July.
On our first full day we walked up that stream to the 1880’s mining camp of Bennettville, where the stream turns, and then up this gentle valley. Here we found a string of three lakes reflecting the blue of the sky surrounded by lush green meadows.
Above Fantail Lake the stream cascades down across granite before flattening out in the valley underlain by the less resistant metamorphic rocks in which the valley has been carved. Here my cousin continued on up to Spuller lake and a divide where he looked across the next basin to the north and to 12,590-foot Mt. Conness.
While he was gone, I climbed to the crest of the low ridge separating our valley from the main valley of Lee Vining Creek. During the glacial ages tens of thousands of years ago, this ridge was covered deeply by ice, moving slowly down-valley and carrying boulders on and within it. When it finally melted back, it left gleaming gray granite boulders lying on the rust-colored metamorphics of the ridge. I took a picture of a boulder, rounded by streams under the ice or by outflow, roughly four feet in diameter.
From this point I could look up the valley of Lee Vining Creek to where it divided–the left to the basins south of Mt. Conness and the other toward Saddlebag Lake. During the next few days we would explore both.