Tioga Pass is an annual guessing game
Tioga Pass is Yosemite's “back door.”
Drivers coming into Yosemite National Park received a special present from mother nature this winter. The Tioga Pass Road, the famous "back way" into the park from the Eastern Sierra, stayed open past Christmas, past New Year's Day and even after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
It wasn't until Jan. 17 that snow closed the road – the latest closure in at least 30 years, according to the National Park Service. The 9,943-foot pass had closed as late as December only three times in the previous 31 years; it is usually shut by fall snows in November or even October.
Research by the Mono Basin Clearinghouse showed that it was the latest closing date since records began being kept in 1933. The road opened in 1915, but wasn't paved until 1937. The group put the average 79-year opening date as May 29 and closing date as Nov. 2.
With winter over, visitors will now start the guessing game of when the Tioga Pass Road will open in 2012. Work to clear the road usually begins at lower levels on April 15. But the opening doesn't come until state and federal officials are sure the road is safe – historically around Memorial Day. The move can come as early as late April or as late as early July.
Though this winter was unusually warm and dry, a spate of late-season snowstorms shows that conditions are unpredictable. There are 25 avalanche zones along the highway that must be rendered safe before vehicles are allowed onto the road.
The closure usually starts at Tuolumne Grove on the west side of the road. On the east side, the road is usually shut about five miles west of Lee Vining.
All other park entrances not on the east side – including Highway 120, Highway 140 and Highway 41 – remain open all year.
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