Exploring Sonora Pass had to wait for a couple of days as the first winter storm of the season blew in, snow fell and the road was closed.
Heading into Sonora Pass.
When the pass re-opened off we went. Although it’s a lovely drive, I can quite see why it closes in bad weather and isn’t a recommended route for semi’s and tractor trailers. In places it has a 26% grade and at its highest point the road over the pass reaches almost 10,000ft. In places the snow poles were over twice my height!
One of the amazing views as we drove higher into the mountains.
The road was narrow, with lots of bends as it rose steeply through the pass. As we drove higher into the mountains streams were covered in ice and mountainside waterfalls were frozen, there was also quite a bit of snow on the mountain tops.
One of the many frozen waterfalls we saw.
We drove through stands of aspen shimmering in the sunshine and once over the pass through more aspen and past lots of closed campsites.
At the Stanislaus Forest Geologic Site, Columns of the Giants we pulled in and crossed the Stanislaus river to join the short ½ mile paved trail.
The site reminded us of Devils Postpile, in that it was formed by volcanic eruptions and glaciers. It was also a whole lot quieter.
After enjoying Columns of the Giants we turned around and headed back, stopping to now and again to read view point informational boards.
It was quite sobering to read about how, in 1852, the Clark-Skidmore party took 35 days to cross the Sierra’s, running dangerously low on provisions and in places being forced to raise and lower their wagons by hand around the peaks before being rescued.
In 1841 the Bartleson-Bidwell party roamed the mountains for 19 days and after being forced to abandon their wagons, killed and ate their cattle. Walking barefoot they were reduced to eating roasted acorns before they finally reached safety.
The map below, from one of the informational boards, shows the route the Bartleson-Bidwell party took as they crossed the high Sierra’s.
As we climbed back into our nice, warm truck, I tried and failed to imagine those journeys I don’t think I’d’ve made a very good pioneer.
The Pacific Crest Trail runs across the very top of Sonora Pass, at 9,628 ft. We pulled in and I got out to take some photographs and walk my toes up the trail for a few hundred yards, just so I could truthfully say I’d walked some of the Pacific Crest Trail. It was windy and absolutely freezing! DB had much more sense and waited for me in the warmth of the truck.
Luckily for me it was downhill all the way back to our nice warm truck!
Although the modern road generally follows the original wagon route, in 1862 the trail was 1 mile further west travelling over St Mary’s Pass which is 10,040 ft high.
From a viewpoint as we drove back down Sonora Pass.
Mountains as far as the eye can see.
Almost back at highway 395 we drove past the Marine Training Centre. We saw a MASH unit there as we drove by in the morning, but somehow I don’t think it was MASH 4077 Squadron!
Sonora Pass is an absolutely gorgeous drive, the more so because, for us, it was totally unexpected, and unlike Tioga Pass, it was also much quieter, of course in high summer it could be totally different.
Have fun, we are!