Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Annie Scott
Springtime in the foothills of the Central Sierra is all about the glee of freedom. Finally, after a long winter of snow and fog, Sonora Pass opens, the upper reservoirs of Beardsley and Lions Lake open their gates, and Pinecrest Lake fills once more with water. Although it is still too early for swimwear and canoes, the glorious vistas and high country trails of Sonora Pass call to us. All winter it has felt snug and cozy here in the foothills, with our local Cover's hot cider, lama wool sweaters and crackling woodstoves. Yet, a claustrophobic tension has grown in the nerves of every local since the pass closed in late November.
Sonora Pass provides an almost spiritual release as it beckons us to cross over the mountain. Access to the Eastern Sierra, with its palpable rock faces, hot springs and desert landscape, never fails to fill the gathering places of Tuolumne County with a buzz of excitement. We grow giddy thinking of the new adventures that await us in our summer backyard. In those first few days after Caltrans sends the news, people's first words on the streets or in the markets are, "Have you been up to the pass yet? It's so beautiful." And this is sighed with a tone of wonderment, as if they had never before seen anything so breathtaking, as if they didn't enjoy this same late-May ritual every year.
In these early months of alpine spring, twelve-foot snow piles still loom over the edges of the road in the high country. Drifts hide the trailheads, and the water of most mountain streams is only partially visible through shining patterns of melting ice. But the light and the piercing freshness of the air are worth the drive, even if you are only able to peer at the wilderness from the road, there is no greater thrill than to catch a May glimpse of the upper reaches of the Central Sierra.
I would like to assign a field trip to all self-professed mountain lovers who have been turned into virtual flatlanders by months of road-closing snow. While a simple drive to the top of the pass and back is a rewarding spring outing, you cannot beat the feeling of passing beyond that mountain range into the vast open space of the Great Basin. Get on HWY 108 and drive past the Leavitte Meadows, past Walker Valley and out into the ranch land near Bridgeport. Then turn around.
The months of winter brooding and tedious indoor projects will drop away, as you stare in awe at the soaring jagged peaks of the Sawtooth Ridge rising out of the Northern edge of Yosemite. Still covered in snow, the Sierra range will pop out at you in stark relief against a spring blue sky. You might sigh or laugh as you recognize your good fortune. Then head home, back over Sonora Pass, and into the warm blanket of your Sierra.
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