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November 8-10, 2017        

Leg 1

We were up and at ‘em at 4:30 a.m. It had been a long time since we needed an alarm clock wakening. Neither of us slept very well – it was going to be a long, complex day.

SuperShuttle arrived at 5:30. We were the first to be picked up. Would we head directly to the airport? Of course not. The van headed up into the foothills of San Bruno Mountains. It felt surreal and peaceful, driving through the dark, empty streets of the Bay Area. We gradually made our way south, picking up additional travelers. We passed a sign welcoming us to the city of Colma. The very first thing I saw after that was a long succession of cemeteries. Colma was founded as a necropolis, a city of about 1.5 million dead. San Francisco outlawed burial of the dead in 1900 and eventually evicted all the cemeteries in the city. So Colma has a lot of green space.

Leg 2

We reached SFO around 6:15. Our flight was at 8, so we had lots of time for coffee and for me, a large Apple Fritter. Sunrise was dramatic, with lots of clouds. Enough clouds, I guess, to make Southwest Airlines cancel 3 flights that were supposed to depart an hour later than we were to fly off. Lucky break for us.

Note: The images are a mix of Dave and my iPhones and my Nikon Coolpix. They were mostly taken behind windows on moving vehicles, i.e. not so great.

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The flight was only 45 minutes, so the lack of leg space and the miniscule time period I could go to the bathroom weren’t too bothersome. The plane flew south over California. We were over land instead of sea, and I got to play my personal game of trying to guess where we were flying over. Pinnacles National Park? Kings Canyon National Park? Carrizo Plains? The one constant was a thin line of blue running north/south: the California Aqueduct. It moves a tremendous amount of water from Northern and Central Sierra Nevada Mountains to Southern California. I sipped from my plastic water bottle as I peered past Dave’s shoulder.

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Leg 3

We arrived at LAX on time, took off our sweaters, retrieved our luggage and broke into a gentle sweat as we waited for the FlyAway bus in the sunshine. It took us about 45 minutes to reach Union Station in Los Angeles, a huge facility that hosts hordes of trains and buses. We were here to rent a car. We could only return a car here if we rented it from here and we would board a train here tomorrow.

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Mural at Union Station

Leg 4

Oh boy, we got to drive in Los Angeles! It was only 35 miles to Pomona and our little Yaris made a good job of it. We felt a little insecure without our Garmin to guide us through the snake nest of highways that cover greater Los Angeles. I used Google Maps to get us to our destination – the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel in Pomona. Traffic was fairly light at 1 p.m. so we got there fairly quickly. There was a small complication. Google seemed to think we were cattle headed into the fairgrounds, but human intervention helped us locate the hotel. We checked in, had a late lunch and relaxed for a while, relishing the air-conditioned suite that the university had provided for us.

 

The University of La Verne

The reason for the trip? Gary Colby, the Photography Department Chair at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California, saw Dave’s work and really liked his Life on Wheels: The New American Nomads project. He invited Dave to exhibit at

the Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography, on the University campus. Part of their mission statement: “We choose photographers whose work causes us to think about the effects of our craft on our culture. By these presentations the University of La Verne invites students, faculty, staff, and community members to become inspired by photographs and informed by the peculiar way of knowing realized by adventurous photographers.”

Dave was excited to display a large body of his work on the project. We were still on an RV road trip when the exhibit opened, so Gary arranged a reception for Dave on November 8.

The University of La Verne was founded in 1891 by members of the Church of the Brethren who had moved west. Both the college and the surrounding agricultural community were renamed La Verne in 1917. I didn’t see all of the campus but was impressed by the area I saw. Having attended the University of San Francisco, an urban, compressed campus in the center of the city, I was impressed by the expansive, green, sunny campus. Gary told me a little about the University’s history while Dave and Kevin Bowman, the Photography Department Manger, were stowing the Yaris.

The exhibition was nicely mounted in the Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography. People started to filter in, most of them photography students. Dave got many questions about how he started out in photography, why he chose to photograph RV full-timers as well as questions about some of the individuals pictured. It was interesting to meet some young photographers who are learning to use equipment other than smart phones. The department maintains a darkroom and film and alternative photographic processes are explored.

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Things wound down at 7:30 and Gary, Kevin and Art Suwansang, A Senior Adjunct Professor in the Photography Department, took us to dinner in old downtown La Verne. We walked only two or three blocks to reach downtown, an advantage when a town develops around the university. While cool enough to put on a sweater, it was a distinct pleasure to walk after a long day of traveling.

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Kevin, Dave, Art, Gary

We bade farewell and collapsed back in the hotel. After an hour of the National Geographic Channel showing a feature involving the enormous flood that created the Scablands (love the name!) in Washington state, we slept well.

Leg 5

We rose at 6 a.m. That gave us 4 hours to shower, pack up and drive the 35 miles back to Union Station, turn in the car and board the train. The drive, west on the 10 (everyone in SoCal seems to preface highway names with “the”) was, as we expected slow. Not excruciatingly slow, but 20-mile-an-hour slow for a good portion of it. I was using Google Maps on Dave’s iPhone and by the time we got off I-10 his phone battery was low. We had to stop for gas and the street to return the car was not the main entrance to Union Station where Google was trying to direct us. All in all, it took us 2.5 hours to reach Union Station and return the car. We were both limp after the tension of driving in unfamiliar territory.

Leg 6

We had enough time to get an Egg-a-muffin and coffee from Starbucks and headed to Track 10-B to catch the Amtrak Coast Starlight. It was almost right on time and we stowed the luggage and found our seats. And ohhhhhhh, the leg space. Enough to stand up and turn sideways. A footrest came down from the seat in front and I had to stretch a little to reach it. The seat reclined fairly well and a leg rest could be popped up. We beamed at each other. No more driving for the rest of the trip.

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Waiting for the train

The ride to Santa Barbara was only 2.5 hours and it was a pleasure. The train heads west through suburban terrain for the first 90 minutes. We reached the coast when we got to Ventura. It was fun to try to identify the campgrounds we had stayed at over the years. The views were wonderful. We congratulated ourselves for requesting seats on the left, the ocean side of the car.

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The lounge car in front of ours had seats facing the large windows. I thought the seating was reserved but the car is open to all. We ensconced ourselves in there for an hour or so, sipping our drinks, still winding down from the morning. Nice!

Leg 7

We reached Santa Barbara around 12:45 and detrained in the pretty little Amtrak Station. We had to walk to our hotel, the Hotel Indigo. It took, oh, about 3 minutes. We had stayed there several years before and noticed how close it was to the train station.

Hotel Indigo may not be for everyone, but it has its own Euro-style vibe. The rooms are small. Our king bed had about 1 to 3 feet of space from it to the wall. There is a small desk and a short, open closet with 2 drawers. We discovered the terry cloth robes in the drawer too late to enjoy them. A phone and small coffee pot took up most of the available surface space. Since we were there for one night, we didn’t unpack the suitcases which meant we had to maneuver around or over them to move around the room. It was cluttered.

The bath is nicely done but is also small. The frosted glass bathroom door lays flat against one wall with the sink. The shower has a glass door that also flattens against the wall, next to the toilet. To shower, you pull the glass wall open next to the toilet and pull over a shower curtain that is at a 90-degree angle to the glass wall. Inevitably, all the water does not stay in the shower area.

I believe the idea is that you won’t be spending a lot of time in your room except to sleep and shower. The hotel makes up for the small room space by creating several public areas. There are two upstairs outdoor patios that guests can use. There’s a library with loads of art books and comfy chairs. The lobby also has indoor-outdoor seating. Santa Barbara’s mild climate is ideal for this setup.

Cocktail hour arrived and we went to the restaurant next to the hotel for drinks and a couple of small plates. We sat in the patio and watched people go by while listening in to what appeared to be a first date at the table next to ours. We walked a few blocks to Stearn’s Pier. Later on, we walked up State Street a quarter-mile or so and had dinner at a Spanish restaurant, Cadiz. The night was mild and the walk back was pleasant.

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View from Stearn’s Pier, Santa Barbara

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On Friday morning, Dave had arranged a meeting with his friend, Christa Dix, the founder and director of wall space. Christa’s mission is to help promote photographers and photography. He discussed his new project, Into the Anthropocene, with her as several families and lots of kids enjoyed a Veteran’s Day breakfast around us.

After that, knowing we had a long day of sitting on the train, we took a long walk up State Street. Having seen the snack shop on the train, we bought sandwiches at a little lunch place to take on the train.

Leg 8

After checking out, we pulled our suitcases across the railroad tracks to the station. Dave had noticed that one of the wheels on his beat-up suitcase had lost a pin and was falling off. He rigged it and hoped it would make it home. Carrying a suitcase up the hill to our house was not something he wanted to do.

There was a group of about 25 young teenagers sitting in a huge circle at the train station. We fervently hoped they would not be in our car. They were not. We asked for seats on the coast side and received them. We stowed the bags and ascended to the coach seats. They were perfect. We settled in for the 8.5-hour ride.

There were lots of clouds but the sun kept breaking out. The views were wonderful. We saw another campground we stayed at. We saw lots of surfers. We read our books. We ate our lunch. We watched people come and go on the train. We relaxed. Eventually, the train headed inland but we were going past ranches, farms and occasional small towns. We mostly weren’t traveling near Highway 1 or 101.

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After hours of sitting, dinner reservations took us to the dining car at 5:30 to sit somewhere different. Cloth tablecloths and napkins added a touch of class but the menu wasn’t too exciting. Steak for Dave, chicken for me. Woodbridge was the only choice for wine. Adequate. Couples were expected to share tables so we met a couple coming from San Diego and heading to Oakland to visit their daughter. It was a pleasant meal.

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Back at our seats, we amused ourselves for another 3 hours. I could faintly smell smoke in our car. After a while a warning came over the loudspeaker, saying the train personnel knew someone was smoking in the bathroom and when (not if) they found them, they would be put off the train. I had my suspicions about one person but they were still on the train when we arrived at Jack London Square in Oakland.

Leg 9

It felt quite romantic leaving the train. It had rained and the station platform was wet. We found the bus to San Francisco and sat in the front seats. The train was departing as the bus pulled out of the station. We saw two people running for the train but they weren’t going to catch it. At the train stops, there are clear warnings of how long people have to “stretch their legs”. Those two had taken too long.

It took the bus about two minutes to get on the Bay Bridge. The huge windshield allowed me to get some pictures of our beautiful city as we crossed the bridge.

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Leg 10

We retrieved our bags and started rolling our way to BART, about 4 blocks. The transit angels were looking after us and we caught a train immediately. We were at the Glen Park BART station in fifteen minutes.

Leg 11

As we came up the stairs to the street, the wheel fell off Dave’s suitcase. He wasn’t going to carry it up the long hill to our house, so I sat down with the luggage and he went home to get the car. As I waited, I was watching a woman yelling at her prospective Uber driver on the phone. He apparently was claiming he was waiting at the Glen Park Station. Where was she? “I can’t see you” she kept saying. I couldn’t see him either. No fun at 11 p.m.

Dave showed up and we finally made it home. Unloaded the toothbrushes and left the rest for tomorrow. Toasted a successful trip with a tot of Glenlivit Scotch and slept in our own bed.

Conclusion

The train trip was comfortable and fun. Breaking it into two days improved things a lot. Arriving at our destination at a reasonable hour helped a lot. I haven’t heard good reports of doing a cross-country trip on Amtrak but the Coast Starlight was very nice. I recommend it. Be sure to bring your own entertainment and your own food. Be aware that WiFi on the train costs.

P.S. The one-way train trip for 2 seniors (62 or older), broken into 2 days was $185. A good value, I think.

 

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October 9   Lee Vining Canyon and Yosemite

Another down day after a very cold night. It got down to 26 outside but we only were at 41 inside at 7:30 a.m. It took the heater a very long time to get up to 68 degrees. Dave helped heat up the kitchen area by turning on the oven and opening its door. After a very late breakfast, we drove off to check out Lee Vining Canyon, with Lee Vining Creek and lots of aspens. I found it totally uninspiring. Sometimes, nothing works.

We continued up CA-120 Tioga Pass, one of the most impressive roads I’ve ever seen. It goes UP! Then you coast along a few miles at the top and reach the Yosemite entrance. It’s all pretty wonderful up there, with meadows, rivers and forest. However, when we got out of the forest, a fairly heavy haze lay over the valley, something we’ve never seen before. All the facilities at Tuolumne Meadows have closed for the season, but there were loads of people at several of the pulloffs.

We went to one of our favorite places at the west side of Tuolumne and stopped for coffee and cookies. Though it was hazy, it is still a wonderful, huge space to ponder. A young Asian couple pulled in next to us. The girl got out with her iphone on a selfie stick and took a few pictures of herself. Then the guy got out and was soon filming them looking out at the meadows. Then he took some pictures of her standing in front of the meadow. Then it looked like they were going to take a little walk, but no. They walked about 15 feet, looked down at something, came back to their car and drove off. I don’t think either one of them looked at the scenery with their actual eyes for more than a minute. After posting their images to Facebook or Instagram, do they ever look at their pictures again?


We drove back and had another chilly night.

October 10         Walker Lake

We’ve been getting off to some later starts because it’s so cold in the morning. We arrived at the Walker Lake Trailhead around 10 a.m. We knew what we were in for: a 500-foot descent to the lake and a 500-foot ascent return.

It was another cloudless, beautiful day. It has been so cloudless in Eastern California, I’ve been missing the lenticular clouds that usually create spectacular sunsets. Walker Lake is a nice-sized lake that usually has good vari-colored foliage in October. As you go down the trail, you have little breaks among the trees as you look down at the green lake. One good aspect of the hike is that there is no road on other side of the lake, so no vehicles. And we yet to see a boat on the lake. Aside from a generator hum created by the lodge at one end of the lake, it is very quiet here.

Once we got down to lake level, we followed a haphazard trail along the lake edge. The lake level was higher than when we were last here and it changed some of the reflection opportunities. I made reflection images anyway.

I don’t believe there is a trail all the way around the lake and if there was, it would have several marshy areas. We walked to one end of the lake, came back and walked to the creek at the other end of the lake. As in a 2013 trip, we saw a large flotilla of coots on the lake. We also saw one duck following the coots around. Did that make it an ugly cootling?

As before, there were Kamloops Rainbow Trout migrating up the small Walker Creek. (Do they import trout from Canada?)

We marched back up the trail in record time and hastened home. We took the LD to Lee Vining, filled the propane tank and dumped. Then it was back to camp, shower and go to the Whoa Nellie Deli for dinner. We found out that their wonderful 5-layer chocolate cake comes from Pennsylvania. Do the Amish make it? Our next trip may involve Pennsylvania.

October 11   June Lake Loop

We took it easy on our last full day of camping. A car trip around June Lake Loop was our final local destination. The lakes in the loop were much fuller than the last time we saw them. The aspens ranged from green to gone. The wind was not cold but it was pretty strong. I love it when the aspens shake. We snuck into a closed campground to see if it still had birdhouses strewn throughout the trees. The birdhouses weren’t there but a small herd of deer were. Why do they close a campground when it’s at its prettiest?

We drove, parked, meandered and drove some more. There was a fair amount of traffic but nothing like last weekend. It was fun, but neither of us was particularly inspired. That leads to silliness and we always have time for being silly.

We paid a final visit to Test Station Road, overlooking Mono Lake. The clouds had proliferated and the light was soft and changeable.

We also checked out Moraine Campground, a little higher up Lee Vining Canyon, but the creek and the trees weren’t exciting. So that was it. We repaired to our RV to begin cleaning it up.

October 12-13     Going Home

We were in no rush on Thursday. We had decided to stay at Moccasin Campground by Don Pedro Reservoir. We got to cross the upper part of Yosemite; often CA-120 isn’t open this late in the year but it was a beautiful day, except for all the smoke. Once in Yosemite, we stopped by the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River to see if there was ice. As suspected, there was.

We continued on to Olmstead Point. The view of Half Dome was impaired by smoke.

We continued out of Yosemite and down Priest Grade to Don Pedro Reservoir. We had never stayed at Moccasin Point before and enjoyed it immensely. There were about 3 other people camping nowhere near us. It was quiet and warm. We pulled out the chairs, chips and Limoncello that we had been carrying since Jeff and Betty Denno so kindly gave it to us. (Thanks again!)

Friday the 13th worked out well for us. We drove 130 miles to San Francisco and didn’t experience even a slowdown until we got on the Bay Bridge. However, the smoke was terrible. We could barely see San Francisco from Oakland. A sad ending to a great trip.

October 6     Convict Lake

We figured that we would go to Convict Lake on Friday, rather than the weekend. There’s only one trail around the lake and many people walk because it is short and flat. Even on a Friday, there were many people. This is really prime leaf-peeping time in the East Sierra and it’s also Columbus Day weekend. It’s also a great fishing lake and there were people strewn along the shoreline as well as in a variety of boats.

It was warm and pleasant with a slight breeze that interfered with Convict Lake’s reflective ability. But it’s still one of my favorite places for autumn because of the reflections and the way the trees grow under the trail and over the water. Unlike our last visit, the aspens were ablaze.

Convict River that flows from the mountains was going strong, involving some fording. And some close investigation.

There were loads of people all along the trail. A few with kids who should have been in school. Lots of dogs. Lots of older folks. Lots! But it’s only to be expected this time of year. We moved a little off the trail to eat lunch and eventually meandered our way back.

October 7 Dunderberg Meadow Road

We decided to drive north past Conway Summit to see what was happening to the trees up there. As before, we stopped a few places on the Virginia Lakes Road to photograph, but when we got to Virginia Lakes, not interested. It’s not a good fall color place. So a few miles down from them, we turned onto Dunderberg Meadow Road. We began to go through aspen groves, but the light wasn’t optimal. We kept stopping and fooling around photographically, as we do when nothing strikes us strongly. We forgot that the last 10 miles of the dirt road is boring; I’ll have to make a note of that.

Once back on CA-395, we used Garmin to look for the turnoff to our special little place. After about a mile on a very rough dirt road, we reached the creek in an aspen grove. This late in the afternoon, there was no ice on the creek, so I walked up to the little, long-abandoned cabin nearby. It had not faired well since last I visited. A tree had fallen and its top had scraped stuff off the side of the building. It also looked like several parties had been had inside, to its detriment.

I found some thin, interestingly-patterned paper that looked like it might be scraps from inside of the cabin. But Dave looked in a different direction and found the source – a defunct beehive. Fascinating.

October 8     McGee Canyon Trail

We rose around 7 a.m. and got ourselves on the road by 8 or so. We were going to McGee Canyon, another favorite location. The canyon with McGee Creek flowing through it, makes a 90-degree turn and provides a whole different view. There are aspens galore. There also were people galore. Some were returning from an overnight camping experience. Some were jogging. Some were walking their dogs (Springers, Setters, Chihuahuas, Boston Terriers and of course, Retrievers). Some were climbing trees ungracefully. Lots of people.

We entertained ourselves among the creekside cottonwoods for quite a while. When you are standing deep in a grove, everything turns golden. It was hard to move forward; everything was spectacular. Also, when the trail started to rise, that certainly slowed me down. I had forgotten a 1,200’ rise. We always have to earn our wonderful views.

After crossing a couple of streams, I trudged up to a shady place where we had lunch. I traded half my dry chicken breast sandwich with Dave’s salami. The salami was better. Going down the trail was easier. We progressed at a pretty good pace and eventually made it back to the car. Another 5.2-mile trail under the belt. We gathered the coffee and cookies, found a fairly shady picnic bench, and lolled for a while.

We stopped at the boy scout camp down the road, but it didn’t capture my attention very long. The wrong time of day, I guess. But there was one iconic shot – the campfire circle.

We drove 35 miles back to camp and had a melange dinner – that is, leftovers. They go down well with a bottle of red.

 

 

 

 

October 1-2     Bishop and Rock Creek Road

On Sunday, we picked up and moved to Bishop. We decided to spend a night at the Highlands RV Park in order to do laundry and other chores. Then we would check out our usual BLM place north of town. The drive north was all of 66 miles. So we got in early and watched the action around us. It was like the whole RV park was a small town. They hung around outside all day long, blabbing away. Too much community for me. But they did have a nice laundromat.

The next day we moved on up to Casa Diablo Road, north of town. Our usual place had someone in it so we checked further up the road. We got a space on top of the bluff that gave us great views of the mountains to the east and west. We set up camp and took a ride to check out Rock Creek Road. It takes off from Tom’s Place. We are finally back in aspens.

Afterwards, we went along Lower Rock Creek, but there was nothing special there. We drove on some small roads paralleling CA-395 and saw some nice backlit cattle. Photographically, we’re so versatile.

October 3   Treasure Lakes Hike

I was excited about doing the Treasure Lakes hike. It was 6 miles and only a 900-foot gain. That was easy compared with some of the hikes we’ve been doing on this trip. The trail begins at South Lake, a deep blue, dammed lake about 20 miles directly east of Bishop. The South Fork Bishop Creek drains out of it. From the look of it, most of the water goes into a pipeline that runs along much of the road. Dave guessed the water mostly goes to L.A.

When we forked off to South Lake Road, there was one little grove of golden aspen visible. But once we reached 8,000 feet, there were aspen everywhere. They were in all states: green, gold, orange and coppery-brown. We had been here too late (October 15) in 2013 to catch the aspens in full color, so this was a treat. But we zoomed up the road to begin our hike. The trail to the Treasure Lakes begins by ascending a narrow, steep trail that overlooks South Lake. It has aspen on both sides, highlighted by the sun.

Because we were heading up from 9,000 to 10,000 feet, I was soon out of breath and pretty much stayed that way the entire hike. The scenery varied a great deal. We went through a pine-forested area that followed the creek for a while. We switchbacked through some of that, all the while getting glimpses both of South Lake down below and the huge, mountainous bowl we were heading into.

The trail guide had said the trailhead started at 9,800 feet and Treasure Lakes 1 and 2 were at 10,688 feet. What it didn’t take into account was the large up and downs in between. The downhills felt good going up but I knew they would be uphills going back.

We crossed a stream at one point and looked for the trail on a granite area. We finally found it against a huge stone wall and continued up. Eventually, we came to Treasure Lake 1. It was surrounded by high mountains with the remnants of old glaciers clinging to their steep sides. As we pulled out our cameras, a huge gust of cold wind nearly knocked me over. It was really blowing. I put on my heavy mittens and my knit cap although there was hardly a cloud in the sky.

We ate lunch in a protected niche and then went to find Treasure Lake 2. It didn’t take long.

We began our descent fairly quickly. It was just too cold to want to hang around up there. At the granite ledge where we had trouble finding the trail coming up, we totally lost it coming down. We were looking for the 2 big logs that crossed the creek but weren’t finding them. Luckily, I saw some people uphill from us, crossing the creek on the bridge and then they were looking for the trail. Cairns or rock outlined paths would have helped that situation.

As always, I was pretty tired after Mile 4. We still made some images and stopped to nibble some cashews. We stopped to photograph aspen leaves floating in a small pool and two men passed us by. One was carrying a canvas with him. They had been up in the mountains painting. The visible painting showed a swirly sky that really evoked the wild winds up there. I mentioned it to him and he replied “I paint what I feel more than what I see.”

We took our time through the aspen alley at the end of the trail and got back to the car around 4:30 p.m. It had been a long day and a good hike.

October 4   A golden drive

The next morning, I felt pretty lethargic. But we pulled it together and went back up the road to South Lake. We got there around 9:30, when the sun was shining behind the trees. Backlit, the aspen glow like gold coins. From the other direction, meh. There are lots of pullouts along South Lake Road and most of them had occupants. Some of them were fishing the creek but most were photographing. There was one van-ful of Japanese tourists enjoying themselves immensely.

 

What is amazing to me is the manner in which the leaves change color on each tree. The inside heart of each tree seems to be a deeper shade or different color than the outer leaves. Or is it just leaves in shadow? When I get close to such a tree, I can’t see a clear difference. Aspens are trees to ponder.

Eventually, we found a narrow dirt track that the Garmin declared was “Old Aspen Road”. It did indeed, wind through grove after grove of young aspen as well as by a creek.

I love the aspen leaves that turn brown. They have interesting coloring and contrast nicely with the gold.

Some of the trees have deep orange leaves.

And then there are people with other interests.

After we got home, Dave wanted to drive out to a Mono Lake overlook to catch the full moon rising. It was pretty much a bust. There were no clouds and the color in the sky was almost gone by the time the moon rose. (The long exposures portrayed a little color.) Then when the first glow appeared, so did a car, driving up the foreground. We’ll try again some other time.

 

 

 

September 29    

It was a get up-get out morning. We were planning a long day at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (heretofore known as ABPF). It’s 13 miles to the turnoff to the park. Then it’s 36 miles to the Patriarch’s Grove. First, we wound ourselves to the Schulman Grove and our 4-mile-hike through the Methuselah Grove. On the way up, we stopped to watch a herd (12 or so) of deer cross the road. Then we kept going higher, though the morning views of the Sierra were not very good.

We reached the Methuselah Grove and began our hike. The lack of snow changed the trail immensely since the last time we hiked it. It was easy to navigate and was less contrasty, but not quite as dramatic.

As we walked along, the trail turned a corner and all of a sudden, we could hear voices coming from another trail that was above ours. Though they were a half-mile away, we could hear them clearly. It was a man and a woman and they never stopped talking. Eventually, they caught up to us at a lookout and continued to gab while looking at the scenery. We waited for them to go ahead of us but they looked ensconced, so we took off again. They soon followed, talking and talking. They weren’t being purposefully loud, but the area is so quiet, they really were distracting. Finally they passed us and the breeze and terrain blew their words away from us. For me, one of the highlights of being in remote places is the quiet. There is so little quiet in the world today. (This is written by someone who had to have a sign next to her phone at work that said “Stifle yourself!”)

A bristlecone pine is the drama queen of trees.

I had forgotten there was 1,100 foot-elevation gain on the trail. The last mile was a trudge. Luckily, the Rotary Club of Manhassat, New York(?) strewed comfortable wooden benches along the trail.

From the Schulman Grove, it was twelve miles to the Patriarch Grove. Easy-peasy? No! It was the roughest dirt road we have ever been on. Very, very rocky, so you were always driving from one side to another, trying to find the smoothest part. Our poor tires. It took us an hour to go 12 miles, but what a landscape. Outstanding! The landscape at 11,000 feet is so open, so bare. This definitely ain’t the Swiss Alps.

The trees are so far apart that you can easily separate one from the rest of the landscape. And the clouds are amazing here.

We started the long drive back. The clouds continued to be amazing.

We left the Patriarch Grove at 5 p.m. We got back to Bishop at 7 p.m., just in time to catch a fiery sunset end the day.

I was too tired to cook when we got home. We wanted to go to the famous Copper top BBQ but it was closed at 7 p.m. They barbecue outside there and I guess they sell out pretty fast when they finish. We ended up at the Country Kitchen and we had an excellent burger and fish and chips. I got the last glass of white wine they had – a pretty nice Pinot Grigio. Cheers!

September 30

We didn’t do much the next day. We did manage to go drive up Glacier Lodge Road. We had never been up it before and I wanted to see it. It had a few campgrounds not suitable for us. The Lodge was rustic, not the place to go for a drink and look at the mountains. And no aspen, but the foliage was in nice shades of fall.

 

 

 

September 26     Lone Pine Lake Trail

They don’t come often but when they do, you just have to sit back and look. The hike up to Lone Pine Lake is 3 miles long and 1600 feet of elevation gain. But, oh, is it worth it. We got started on the trail pretty early, around 9:15. The parking area of the Whitney Portal Road is interesting. There are campers sleepily wandering up to the outhouse. There are people getting ready for their attempt to scale Mt. Whitney, at 14,497 feet, the highest point in the continental U.S. Some are going to try it in one day. Others are going to camp out one night and try the next day. We were just there for a 6-mile hike, but out packs are so full of cameras and our junk that people assume we are going to try Mt. Whitney. No way.

Lone Pine Canyon is amazingly huge. The walls are so high. As we ascend a large number of switchbacks, we move from the side of the canyon to the back of canyon.

After a while, we enter the John Muir Wilderness. I always get a little frisson of pleasure entering the wilderness.

 

We cross a few streams, we see one large waterfall, we traverse meadows and then traverse higher meadows. Dave stopped dead in the trail to not spook a doe and her fawn.

We passed some people who have accomplished climbing Mt. Whitney. They ask where we are going. We say “Lone Pine Lake”. I’m not sure they even know what that is, since it is a little off the trail to Whitney. They are focused on the one goal, not much else.

We finally reach the lake, We were there several years ago with Jim and Gayle Cummings and Debbie Smith. There was quite a bit of snow then, so we didn’t get to go around the small, pristine lake. This time, no snow. It gave it a different look and allowed us to circle it (although we didn’t do a complete circuit). We ate lunch on one side and then went to the opposite side. It provided a view we hadn’t had before – the end of the valley. It was one of the most magnificent vistas I have ever witnessed. And it was so quiet – a sublime moment. We just sat there and drank it in.

Finally, we retreated and started the trek down. There were more hikers returning from Whitney and we passed one group of young-Greek-god hikers who were going on a six-or-seven-mile hike as practice for Whitney the next day. Everyone seemed to be having a really good time, except one lone hiker who told us he was suffering from altitude sickness. 14,000 feet is really high and one never knows if they are susceptible to altitude sickness until they get it. I’m not sure if different people experience it at differing altitudes. We’ve been up to 13,000 feet at Pike’s Peak and didn’t feel a thing.

We made it back in time for our coffee break and then started driving down Whitney Portal Road back to camp. The light was great and we stopped to photograph a few times. A fantastic day.

September 27

A down day. I saw a few cottontails this morning, our first of the trip. Dave hadn’t slept well, so he hung out while I went into town to dump garbage, get water and groceries, and hit the library to upload my blog and check banking info. I donated the book I had just finished, “House of Leaves”. What a book! Recommended by niece Jen Scherba, it was more than 700 pages. A good quarter of it was footnotes. It’s sort of a horror story with a couple of other stories ongoing alongside. The librarian said she was intrigued. I said it was not suitable for readers under 17 but all the sex scenes were in the footnotes. The footnotes had footnotes. The index included most of the pages with the word “the” but no reference to the many pages of Pelican poems. Verrrrrry interesting!

September 28     Dave’s birthday and moving to Big Pine

Thursday was Dave’s birthday. I surprised him with a card and later on, a chocolate cake that I had bought the day before and hid from him. Yes, I am able to conceal a small cake in the LD. We dumped at nearby Tuttle Creek Campground for $5. We could have done it at Fort Independence when we bought gas but looking at the mountains and breathing fresh air was worth the short detour.

We knew we would stay somewhere in Big Pine but we weren’t sure where. We looked at Baker Creek County campground that ran near a little stream but it didn’t look that good to us. We ended up at Glacier View Campground. Good points: some electric sites, trees and shade, nice views if you have a spot on the outer circle. Best of all, you are on the corner of Highway 168 that goes to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Bad points: sites are small, there’s no dump and the campground is right by CA-395, busy day and night. There’s always a tradeoff.

September 22     Alabama Hills

It was a pretty easy drive from Bakersfield to Lone Pine, CA on CA-395. 395 is one of our favorite roads. It never has too much traffic and we sail along through the high desert. We got to Lone Pine and tried to camp in the Jim and Gayle Cummings’ spot in the Alabama Hills. Alas, it was taken. So we found a more open site with a very good view. The wind was blowing pretty hard, which discouraged us from going out for a late afternoon walk. Then the clouds blocked out much of a sunset. We gave up for the evening.

September 23

We seemed to have a lot of trouble getting up on Saturday, so we didn’t. We lolled around until 9 a.m. or so and then rose and ate breakfast. Then we lolled some more. Dave discovered that our data plan wasn’t helping us; we had nada. We finally aroused ourselves when we got hungry and went into town to find lunch and online connectivity. Salty melted ham and cheese sandwiches were our reward. We sat at a table with another couple and learned they were hesitantly going to Anaheim to join their daughter and grandkids at Disneyland. We advised them on what the good rides are there – we are experts.

After lunch, we tried to find out where the good trails are at the Visitor Center. The guy who helped us gave us a $12 map that would help us go on one hike. I decided that a $17 hiking book was a better investment. I then tried to upload my blog – no dice. So we did the next thing to get online – we found the library. They gave us a guest id and we were in. I uploaded my large blog in 30 minutes, Dave caught up with his email, and we returned to our offline desert home.

The light started looking pretty nice around 4:30 so I went out and explored the nearby rocks and views. There was good light out there.

We managed to get ourselves outside to do some star shooting. I’m not half as good as Dave is at making good exposures. No matter what, it’s fun to try.

September 24     Horseshoe Meadows and the Cottonwood Pass Trail

After a great amount of time perusing our new hiking book, I selected the trail to South Fork Lake. It was long (a 10.2-mile loop) and the altitude change was from 10,040 to 11,102 feet. A pretty steep start since we weren’t completely acclimated, but if it was too much, we could always turn around. I studied the trail description pretty thoroughly, made notes of trail changes and had Dave take a picture of the map in the book so I didn’t have to carry the book on the trail.

We packed up a variety of clothing because things can change quickly at 10,000 feet. We had never driven up the 21-mile switchback road to Horseshoe Meadows and the view became more spectacular the higher we drove. I didn’t take many pictures, figuring we would have better light when we descended later in the afternoon.

We reached the large parking lot, selected what clothes to bring from our large selection, saddled up our packs, stored the afternoon cookies and coffee in a bear locker (bears will tear apart a car to get at the goodies inside), used the facilities and then went to peruse the trail map posted by the trailhead. Cottonwood Pass Trail? Right. All good. Off we went.

After 2 miles or so of flatlands, the switchbacks began. Views of the extensive meadows began to appear.

As we maneuvered up the switchbacks, we met a couple coming down the trail. They looked like backpackers, wiry and a little scruffy. “Have you been out a long time?” They laughed exuberantly. “For months. We’re coming off the PCT for the last time!”(Pacific Crest Trail, that runs from Mexico to Canada.) They had finished their trip. (Many PCT hikers do sections at different times because weather and other obligations don’t let them do all 2,650 miles of it in one trip. This year, heavy snow and fires had forced many to leave the trail at certain points. We congratulated them, got their blog id (hikers4lifepct} and cursed ourselves in five minutes when we realized we could have taken their picture and sent it to them.

Soon after that, we met a forest ranger coming down the trail. “Where are you headed?”

“We’re going to South Fork Lake.”

He looked taken aback. “You’re on the wrong trail. This trail goes to Chicken Spring Lake.”

“But we’re on the Cottonwood Pass Trail.”

“Yes, but the trail you want starts out on the Cottonwood Creek Trailhead.”

Dave and I looked at each other. We were already 3 miles up the trail. “How far up is Chicken Spring Lake?”

“It’s 4 or 4.5 miles from the trailhead. Just go over the saddle and you’ll see it.”

We must have looked sad because he offered “You look like nice people. I don’t usually tell hikers this but if you head to South Fork Lake tomorrow, here’s a shortcut on an old, unused trail that will cut a mile off the main trail.”

We continued up and up. The switchbacks weren’t really steep but the constant uphill at 10- to 11,000-feet kept us short of breath. We stopped every hour or so to snack or eat lunch. We finally reached Cottonwood Pass– another meadow. The PCT ran right through it. We didn’t see a lake and we weren’t inclined to look for it.

We rested a while, then started down the long 4-mile descent. It wasn’t difficult and it wasn’t hurting my knees but the energy was slowly draining away. I gamely trudged along, getting further behind Dave. We got back around 4 p.m., six hours after we started. I was extremely tired after an 8-mile hike. I realized that I probably wasn’t going to be doing a 10-mile hike anytime soon. Maybe something to consider for my 70th birthday. We retrieved our coffee and cookies from the bear bin and slumped in the car, munching happily away. No more walking! Hurray! I took off my hiking boots and put on my tennies. Hurray!

As we prepared to leave, a dark-haired young woman with a big backpack approached us and asked for a ride to Lone Pine. She was coming off the trail to clean up and retrieve trail supplies from the post office. Driving her to Lone Pine would save her from 25 miles of hiking. As Dave drove down, we found out her trail name (most PCT hikers make up names for themselves that they use while they’re hiking) was “Chopper”. She told us that she had experienced one scary bear encounter. She was in a tent and had hung her food up a little away from the tent so the bears couldn’t get it. She could hear a bear outside trying to get at the food. Making a lot of noise didn’t seem to deter the bear. When he finally left, she packed up and moved down the trail to another site.

Chopper was from North Carolina and was excited about the birth of her first nephew. It’s always a trade-off, being on the road or the trail. You miss some big life events. That day, as I checked my email and text messages at the local library, I saw pictures from the wedding of Steven, June Tom’s son. The couple looked great and June looked wonderful. I’m sorry I missed it.

We finally got back home and the shower was so wonderful. I made hot potato salad with kielbasa for dinner, using the potatoes bequeathed to us by a departing camper.

September 25     An afternoon drive

When we wake up the morning after a long hike, I usually get up rather tentatively. Are all the parts still working? This morning there was a little stiffness in the legs but I didn’t hobble as I traversed the five steps from bedroom to kitchen. We took it easy and had a big omelet for a late breakfast. Then we took it easy again.

Around 2:30, we took the cameras and drove back up the Horseshoe Meadows road. While bringing Chopper down to Lone Pine the day before, we didn’t feel free to stop to photograph. The light was very soft on the terrain that reminds me a lot of the floor of Death Valley from the high point of Dante’s View. Photographically, it was spectacular.