Driving from San Francisco to Yosemite

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From the Golden Gate Bridge, you can choose either to continue northward to the Richmond- San Rafael Bridge (I-580), or head back into the city, and take the Bay Bridge (I-80) eastward.  Either way, you want to eventually end up on I-580, heading east.

After you’re clear of the urban sprawl, you’ll pass one interesting scene, a large electricity- generating windmill farm, which spreads across both sides of the freeway.

You’ll soon notice that nearly all the freeways in the San Francisco area are extensions of the main coast-to-coast route, Interstate 80.  For example, I-280, 380, 580, 680, 780, 880, and 980.

If you exit off the highway, right in the middle of the windmills, you can wind around on a few back roads that come close to the rows of generators.  Nowhere, though, can you get as close as you’d like, and as far as I could tell, there are no markers explaining how the windmill farm works.

You may still manage to capture a few cool photos, though.

Once you get back on to I-580, continue eastward.  You’ll eventually hit I-205, then I-5, then CA Highway 120, which will take you on across the state, to Yosemite National Park.

CA  Highway 120

The first few dozen miles of highway 120 is a straight and narrow, two lane road, passing by one irrigated field after another.  Eventually the road climbs into the mountains, becoming much slower, but also more interesting.

The sight of Don Pedro Lake lets you know you’re making progress towards Yosemite.  Even though the water’s deep blue, and surrounded by pines, this roadside stop is nowhere near as spectacular as what awaits inside the park.

This old stretch of road is hidden from view, from the current highway, thanks to those mounds of dirt you see on the right side.  It just goes to show you, you never know what you might find, if you do a little exploring.

If you enjoy driving up white-knuckled roads that cling to the side of mountains, there’s an excellent detour you can take: turn on CA Hwy. 108, which will take you over 9,628 foot Sonora Pass.  Then, head back over the Sierra Nevada through Tioga Pass, on Hwy. 120.

The road keeps climbing and winding its way up into the mountains that surround Yosemite.

It was around this point that I made an unexpected discovery: not only was the moon full, it was also big and hanging low in the sky.  At times, I’d round a curve, and the moon would be right there in front of me, perfectly framed by the trees and the road.  You can see the full moon in the picture above, but it’s about to get much bigger, and brighter.

Another side-of-the-road stop proves we’re climbing higher into the mountains.  From this outlook, in the valley below, you can see the Tuolumne River.

Before entering Yosemite, you’ll pass through the Stanislaus National Forest.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.

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