A Great Wildflower Day Along Tioga Road
Heading west on 120 from Lee Vining the most obvious roadside flowers are Evening Primrose, Blazing Star, Paintbrush and Red Penstemon.
Our first stop of the day was Warren Canyon, which is on highway 120, seven and half miles west of 395. If you are coming from Yosemite it is at the 9000 foot sign heading east after going through the Tioga Pass gate. There is an area you can go down to on the south side of the road and get close to the creek. There we found Coyote Mint, Sulphur Buckwheat, Naked Buckwheat, Red Penstemon and our destination flower for the location Lewis’s Monkeyflower, which was abundant but beaten up by the previous day’s storm.
On the north side of the road there is a closed road sign and trail that we took a short distance. There were many species in bloom including Wallflower, Paintbrush, Sulphur Buckwheat, Showy or Alpine Penstemon (blue-purple), Scarlet Gilia, at least two Lupines, Cinquefoil, an Onion, Coyote Mint, a Phacelia, an Erigeron, Snowberry(in flower), Mules Ear, a Phlox, Dogbane, a Catchfly, Mariposa Tulips (beaten up by the storm), Ceanothus, Yarrow, a Stickweed, Meadow Goldenrod, and a Dandelion-like yellow composite. Also a group of five Clark’s Nutcrackers flew in and perched in nearby pines.
Next we headed to Ellery Lake, which is a large lake on the south side of Highway 120, nine miles west of 395. We crossed the dam to get to the other side and it was the highlight of our trip. We saw our four destination plants: Alpine Columbine, Hybrid Columbine (which is a cross between Western Columbine and Alpine Columbine), White Heather and Red Heather (much of the Red Heather was past, but there were still some in bloom). We also saw Rosy Buckwheat, a Blue-Purple Penstemon, Alpine Hulsea, Pink Pussytoes, Mt Pride, Whorled Penstemon, Sky Pilot (that was just about finished), Cinquefoils, Elephants Heads, Rosy Crown Stonecrop, Sierra Stonecrop, a white flower on the cliffs that may have been a saxifrage and a clump of a small white flower that may have been minuartia. Also another visit from a Clark’s Nutcracker. After Crossing the dam turn left and follow the trail. There is a stream crossing but it very easy. Although you can see most flowers from the trail, it is worth a very short easy scramble up the rocks near the Columbines as you will see even more flowers. The cliffs create shade and even light and there was only minimal wind so it was ideal conditions for close-up flower photography. It was a great photographic and botanical day.