Sunday, January 3, 2010

Yosemite - Pothole Dome Loop, An Adventure for All

Guarding the western edge of Tuolumne Meadows is a big chunk of granite called Pot Hole Dome. Compared to the some of the other domes surrounding Tuolumne, you wouldn’t consider this one as anything special. It rises to only 300 feet above the meadow and you won’t find many climbers dangling from its sides or a register up top. But what you will get if you venture to the dome is a great family friendly hiking experience with grand views of Tuolumne Meadows and chance for up close wildlife encounters (of the good kind).

My first experience with Pot Hole dome was 6 years ago on a family camping trip to Tuolumne Meadows. I had gathered 8 families together to experience the wonders of Yosemite. I actually was able to get 5 campsites all together, not something possible today. Our group consisted of all ages from my three year old daughter to my 70 something father-in-law. I was challenged to find activities for all ages. A coworker of mine (and Tuolumne expert) Ken, suggested I check out Pot Hole Dome and he also gave me some pointers to enhance the 3 mile journey. The hike was a hit!

I recently had an opportunity to get back to Tuolumne Meadows with some visitors from Germany, David and Philipp. The guys had never hear of Yosemite (can you believe that?) and I knew I couldn’t let them leave California without experiencing Yosemite. My original plan was to take them to Yosemite Valley for the tourist stuff the first day and then a hike up to Cathedral Lakes the next day (a future article). The Big Meadow fire closed our access to the Valley and we had to change plans. After securing a campsite in the Tuolumne Meadows campground, I considered our options. It was already the afternoon but we had a little time to explore and I wanted to take them somewhere special. I recalled the great experience I had at Pot Hole Dome, shared it with them, they agreed to the trek and we headed out.

The trailhead (pictured above) for Pot Hole dome is along the Tioga Road at the western edge of Tuolumne Meadows. It’s tough to miss the two parking areas near the dome and the two trail routes to the dome (depending upon which lot you park in). I prefer the western most trail that circles the meadow instead of the one that cuts across. Not only does this route give you a little extra trail time, it also puts you at the edge of the meadow and a full perspective of Tuolumne. Once you arrive at the dome, there are several footpaths through the trees. Pick one and start up the gradual incline to the top. There are no marked trails, but none are really needed. A number of granite dikes (pictured left), lines in the granite that look like grout, lead up the dome and lead the way. The slope of the dome isn’t too bad and in no time you arrive at the high point providing great views of Tuolumne Meadows.

After reaching the top, most visitors take in the sights, turn back around and head back to the car. That’s fine, but there is so much more to see. Rather than heading back the route you came, descend the dome away from the road in a north easterly direction towards the Tuolumne River. There is no trail, no markers, but it’s not hard to find your way. Once you get down in the trees, continue heading in the same northeastern direction until you are off the dome and encounter a trail. Head left (north) on the trail and enjoy the quite walk through the pines. Watch for deer through the trees. I’d be surprised if you don’t see any here.

The trail winds through the trees heading north and will start to head west. Once it turns, you will see a lightning struck tree ahead (see photo below) and a small meadow to the right, cut across the western edge of the meadow to another trail that follows the Tuolumne River. Take a right and very soon you will be out of the trees and at the river. The rocky shores of the river here make a great picnic spot. On our trip there, we were visited by a couple of deer crossing the river within 10 feet of us.

When done at the river, pick yourself up and locate the narrow trail running south through the trees and skirt the meadow back towards the trailhead. If you are fortunate like we were, you will be treated to another wildlife show as deer gather in the meadow. In our case, does and fawns came in view every 100 feet or so and then we encountered a herd of 19 deer, 18 of which were some pretty big bucks with full racks!

Too soon, the road and trailhead will come into view signaling the coming end to the adventure.

Pothole Dome is a great place to hike and explore and is an adventure that almost everyone can enjoy. Although the hike up the dome is a bit steep in parts, it's a short trek and provides some great views of Tuolumne Meadows and the peaks beyond. The hike can be up and down the dome or encompass much more of the meadow and the Tuolumne River too.

Below is a Google map showing the GPS track and route of this trip. You can also view my preliminary trip report at Trimble Outdoors.

Buck hiding in the woods

This tree is your cue to head right cutting across the meadow

Here's Philipp at the gateway to the meadow near the river

Doe crossing the Tuolumne River

A doe, juvenile and a fawn. I had their attention.

Eight of eighteen bucks in the meadow

More of the bucks (and one doe).

Cathedral Peak towers over the meadow

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