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Archive for May, 2016

Monday turned out sunny and just about cloudless. The high-country ghost town of Bodie was our destination. Jim and Gayle drove and Dave and I passengered while Jeanne and Riley drove separately. It’s a pretty short drive from Lee Vining to Bodie but 13 of the 35 miles was the road going up to Bodie. At 8,300’ it’s pretty high. What was abundantly clear when we exited the car was the millions of hungry gnats were going to drive us crazy. Even the occasional gusts of wind didn’t disperse the relentless buggers. The gnats were bothering Riley so bad that Jeanne departed early. The rest of us persevered for 2 hours, ate lunch in the car, and got the heck out of there. Too bad!

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After Bodie, we decided to check out the Lundy Lake Trail as a possible hike for Tuesday. It was beautiful up there and for some reason, there were no gnats. Later that night, however, I discovered I had about 20 bites all over my head and neck. Itchy!

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Tuesday dawned another clear day, so we returned to the Lundy Trail. We got to look up at another spectacular mountain as we traversed through naked aspen and sagebrush. At this altitude, there were few wildflowers but lots of flowing water. Various people we talked to returning down the trail said they hadn’t gone past the first few water crossings. We were warned some of them were “shaky”, going over unreliable logs and stones. We all crossed without much trouble, using our trekking poles for stability. Those poles have changed my hiking life. Crossing streams used to terrify me. Now I’m fine with most of them.

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We continued up the trail and it got snowier, to the point where I decided not to continue. I ambled back down the trail and waited for them. About a half hour later, they returned, saying it was too snowy to continue. They had seen some skiers who had packed their ski equipment up the trail and had skiied on the backside of the mountain. Lo and behold, as we ate lunch, they appeared.

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After the hike, Jim and Gayle took off and Dave and I repaired to the nice campground sites at Lundy Lake and had coffee and cookies. It was so relaxing. Later, the five of us got together for a final happy hour. Gayle and Jim are staying at Mono Lake for a while. Jeanne is heading north on a grand tour of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, eventually ending in Texas. Whew!

The drive up 395 was nice, with the Walker River running fast and the hills green. We decided to spend one night at Washoe Lake where Jeanne was planning to stay. It’s a pretty site, though the lake was low. It’s surrounded by hills and full of quail, jackrabbits and cottontails. We cleaned the Lazy Daze, and on our final day on the road, cleaned it some more. Jeanne and Riley showed up later and we finally got to sit outside for happy hour, enjoy the mild weather and say goodbye to them.

The drive home on Friday was easy, with traffic moving pretty well. We got home around 2 p.m. and for the first time in many trips, couldn’t get a space in front of our house. We had to park around the corner. So that meant about 25 trips (for me) hauling things across busy Joost Street, half a block down to the house and up the stairs into the house. We were both tired when that was finished. Then comes washing all the bedding and linens (well, not exactly linens), dishes, storage containers, cutlery to put back in the rig for storage. As is our wont, we celebrated homecoming and our 27th anniversary with pizza and a Tobin James Primotivo. We are home.

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Our first afternoon at Mono Lake was magical. There are usually piles of clouds here and their movement keeps sun and shadow patterns changing constantly. But it was chilly so I didn’t go outside to photograph until the rainbow appeared. Dave went up on the roof of the rig to obtain an unimpeded view of the lake and I followed him up there. I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable ten-feet high, trying not trip on antennas and solar panels, but the altitude is worth the view.

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We eventually descended and changed into our dress Mono Lake clothing: black pants and nice long-sleeve sweaters. I carried my new cork purse. The Historic Mono Inn is a little north of Lee Vining and we haven’t been there in 20 years or more. It’s always closed when we arrive early or late in the year. It’s a nostalgic place for us because it’s the first nice restaurant we ever ate in together in January, 1980. We were camping during a photographic workshop with Steve Johnson and it was so nice to get out of the cold.

The view of Mono Lake was wonderful and being the day before Mother’s Day, the place was crowded with locals. At a table next to us, a man about our age got down on his knees and proposed to his ladyfriend. She said “Yes”. As they left, we found out from their minister that it was a proposal to renew their vows after 35 years of marriage. Sweet!

The clouds were thick Sunday morning and Dave showed me an iPhone trick that I love: he set the camera on time lapse, propped it on the back window facing the lake and clouds, and left it there for an hour. The time lapse of the clouds scudding past was wonderful. I tried one but the clouds were so thick then the movement wasn’t as good.

Later, we went on a drive around the June Lake Loop. Its one of those drives where you can pull over on the road, hop out, and soak up beautiful sights. It was shocking how low the lakes were. Hopefully, the snowmelt will replenish them to a higher level. There are 3 lakes strung out on the loop. Grant Lake is first, then the road and a creek takes up most of a narrow pass and you’re in another valley.

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Silver Lake appears, one of our favorite spots on the drive. I had brought yoghurt, one of my lunch staples, but I had forgotten to bring a spoon. The little café at Silver Lake had real metal cutlery; no plastic spoons in sight. I had to resort to the original spoon, handy if not perfectly clean – my finger. It worked well.

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After Silver Lake, the small hamlet of June Lake appears and June Lake itself. Photographically, for me, it’s the least interesting of the 3 lakes. We decided to check out Obsidian Road just south of the June Lake Loop, off 395. After a mile or so, we were driving next to the bottom of a large crater, with huge to large chunks of obsidian. Some of the larger pieces were shiny black, but nothing very reflective. We progressed farther up the dirt road but decided not to squeeze further when snow covered half the road. We didn’t feel like hiking further up, so that is now an option on a future trip.

One final revisit before returning to camp: The Unknown Prospector Grave. I think it’s a joke, but it’s a joke that has been running for more than 35 years. It used to be a mound and headstone by the side of the road, but it has been moved and “protected” by a metal fence. People still leave little tributes but the old pair of boots used to stick up out of the grave.

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We returned to camp and Jeanne and Riley had arrived. Later in the afternoon, Jim and Gayle showed up. Gayle was still not feeling well and we have discovered the area is full of biting gnats that seem to love our heads. We all retreated into our little homes. I only came out later to photograph when the waters of Mono Lake turned various shades of sophisticated green.

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It didn’t take long for the clouds to cover the mountains on both sides of the valley. But it was warm and sunny in the middle. We decided to visit Manzanar, one of ten locations where West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry were “relocated” after the U.S. joined WWII. That included about 70,000 U.S. citizens. The government decided that people living in California, Oregon and Washington had to leave. They were allowed about 48 hours to pack just what they could carry and walk away from their lives. The camp held 10,000 people for up to 3 1/2 years. Conditions at Manzanar were brutal: hot sun in the summer; freezing cold in the winter with relentless wind a constant factor. They were hemmed in by barbed wire and guard towers where guns were trained on them.

There’s not much left there. The government has built a couple of “block” buildings, outfitted with furniture mostly built by the internees. They are slowly rebuilding one of the small gardens. The cemetery only has a few graves, but still features the “soul consoling tower” and a spectacular view of the Sierra Nevadas. We happened to show up the weekend of the annual pilgrimage to Manzanar, where several of the internees, who were children or young adults then, visit with their families. The ritual includes decorating the tower with long strings of homemade origami cranes. As with Custer’s massacre of American Indians, national park employees try to present an accurate historical picture of the occurrences.

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The clouds and virga (rain that falls but doesn’t reach the ground) over the mountains were so spectacular, we spent about 4 hours there, just watching and photographing them. The sky just got darker and darker.

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Monday was travel day. Both Jim and Gayle and we were heading about 60 miles north to Bishop, the largest town on 395 until Reno. We dumped and took on water at an Indian casino outside of Independence because we were dry camping in an area north of Bishop. Jeanne and her dog, Riley, were there. Riley was doing okay, but being an older shelter dog, he has various medical problems. He is a sweet boy, quiet and gracious.

That night, Dave selected “Harold and Maude” from our copious DVR collection of film. It was fun to watch that again and try to identify the several Bay Area locales used during filming.

Tuesday was supposed to be the hottest day of the week. We decided that a hike along McGee Creek would be fairly easy, without a huge gain in altitude. Jeanne and Riley drove up there separately in case Riley couldn’t walk too far. It’s fun for us to see Jeanne’s reaction to the terrain – this is her first trip up Highway 395. As it turned out, Riley pee’d and pooped and then showed a definite reluctance to continue up the trail. So they turned back and we continued on.

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We had hoped the aspens would be leafing out, but the trees we saw only had buds on them. Other than ground-level foliage, the trees were mostly bare. But the tangled skein of bare branches displays as a soft cloud of pastel tints from a distance. Behind them were the snow-covered peaks of Mount Baldwin and Mount Aggie.

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As we continued on, we heard a deep, drum-like “ump” of what were probably grouse. We never saw them or any other critters except for a few birds. The trail made a gradual huge left turn and soon we were looking at another set of peaks. At one point, we were taking a rest and first heard and then saw, a small rockslide occurring far above us. It quickly stopped but it’s a reminder of what can happen in the mountains. We followed the trail for 2.5 miles or so and turned back. It felt so good to be out there and so good to get back.

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We had our coffee and cookies at a trailhead picnic table by the creek and headed back. There’s some kind of processing plant on the road right before we head up the hill to our campsite and a great blue heron surprised us by flying right in front of the car. Gayle and Jim had checked out a brewery in town, so after we all cleaned up, Jim hauled us in for some good grub and various beverages. It was a great day.

High winds were supposed to come up on Wednesday, so Gayle suggested an early outing west of Bishop on Buttermilk Road. We took separate cars. I’m pretty sure the washboard road got its name because there was enough churning to create buttermilk. What’s so great about this country is that you think you’re headed for some nondescript foothills, go over a rise and find something completely different. The terrain became jumbled piles of tremendous boulders. I don’t know what huge mountain they rolled off of. That was surprise No. 1. Surprise No. 2 was the huge variety of wildflowers all over the hills. There were several that I don’t think I’ve seen before. So we had a couple of great hours puttering around the rocks.

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Jim and Gayle moved onto a different area for a while. Dave spotted a large swath of wildflowers and we parked by that and tried various photographic maneuvers to make them look fantastic. Jim and Gayle returned and we talked for a while until the predicted wind started blowing. We headed home, but not before hitting a bakery in Bishop with great triple chocolate cookies.

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Thursday’s weather prediction was high winds and it was already windy when we took a morning walk with Jim, Gayle, Jeanne and Riley. It was right by our campsite and there were a few inexplicable (as usual) petroglyphs.

High winds made it a good chore day and I did the laundry, dumped our garbage, got more water, refreshed our Eastern Sierra information cache, bought cheap gray slippers to replace the crumbling pair in the LD and got Dave his favorite frosted chocolate brownies. Dave remained in camp and provided Jim with a lesson in using Photoshop. Later, I sent Jim my 15-page précis of Photoshop lore.

We changed our mind about going up to Lee Vining on Friday and stayed an extra day at Bishop. I’m glad we did because the day turned out to be nice. The five of us and Riley started a walk along the Lower Rock Creek Trail. Dave and I have been along parts of this trail on a previous trip but we walked along for 2 miles or so before retracing our steps. Jeanne and Riley came along for about a half-mile before Riley got tired and they turned back. Jim and Gayle and we continued along. Much of the trail was a level, narrow corridor between the Rock Creek and very high talus slopes. We were again pleased to see a wide variety of wildflowers. What’s interesting is that certain types of wildflower, like Globe Mallow, appear for a few yards then you never see them again on the trail. I guess the seeds don’t travel well or require a very narrow type of environment to bloom. We might have gone a ways further but the sky behind us look pretty threatening so we turned back.

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Saturday morning was gloomy and gray. We packed up and did an easy drive to our favorite boondocking site just south of Lee Vining. We got a nice view of Mono Lake.

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We departed El Capitan and went south down the coast. We’ve stayed at Emma Wood State Beach that has campsites perched smack dab next to the sea. There are 3 Ventura County beaches just north of there and we decided to stay at Faria County Beach, also nestled next to the sea. We saved ourselves about $10 and they had a little café that served breakfast and lunch. When we pulled in around noon, the wind was so strong that huge palm fronds were blowing off the very tall palms that ran down the center of the skinny campground. Not what you want to be parked under. Luckily, we weren’t. Conscientious campers picked up the fronds and moved them to the dumpster as they fell. As the afternoon progressed the spume from the waves was blowing like snow all over the campground. Our windows were splotched with the milky stuff. So our last day at the coast was quite exciting.

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On Thursday, we did the longest drive of the trip so far: 134 miles. Highway 126 was a new road east for us. Our routine is to stop in Bakersfield to prepare and then go over the Tehachapi Mountains. Instead, we drove past orange groves and farms, avoiding the high winds of the mountains. We got into a breezy Mojave RV park with lots of trees. We did laundry, tried to wash off the film of salt spray that covered both vehicles, filled up with water and propane, dumped the holding tanks. We were all ready for dry camping at Alabama Hills.

Although all the signs on Highway 395 warned of high winds, we didn’t experience any. It was an uneventful drive. Once again, I marveled at the bitter contradiction of a large Crystal Geyser water bottling plant stuck between the Sierra and Owens Lake, sucked dry to provide water to Los Angeles.

The Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine, is a wonderful conglomeration of jumbled rocks that sits smack dab in front of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in Continental North America. It has loads of little canyons where people can camp for free. The clouds are usually amazing because of the Sierra poking at them. It’s just fantastic. We had the GPS coordinates to locate our full-timer friends, Jim and Gayle Cummings and companion cats Sophie and Elvis. We hadn’t seen them for a couple of years. They have a Lazy Daze like us. Jeanne Bold and her Sheltie, Riley, were in a third Lazy Daze but she had to take off that night to find a vet further north. Riley had a seizure.

Jim and Gayle hike almost every day, so we went on an afternoon hike. There is an abandoned ashram high up in the Sierra, so we drove as far up as was comfortable and set off. After 2 weeks on the sea-level coast, we started the hike around 6300’. In less than 2 miles, the end point was at 7700’. In other words, steep! I had to stop quite a few times to catch my breath. I look less at the passing scenery when I’m slogging up, but when I did, it was wonderful. The trail rose up one side of the steep canyon cut by Tuttle Creek. There were various wildflowers around, though not in profusion.

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We finally reached the ashram, a handsome stone building with spectacular views both down the canyon and up the mountain. It was hard for us to imagine people living up here (where was the latrine?) but easy to understand how they received spiritual sustenance from the mountains.

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On the way back, we stopped to take pictures of the clouds roiling down the side of the mountain. The wind that had not been around during our hike came in with strong gusty vehemence. Our movie selection of the evening was “Fort Apache” with John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple. It opens with them riding through Monument Valley. Neat! A little too long (3 full dances) but it was an interesting picture of how the fort system worked, including how unfairly they treated the Indians.

Before we went to bed, we stepped outside and watched lots of stars in the dark skies. Some people near us were fooling around, attempting rock climbing at 11 pm. The wind shook us periodically all night and when we woke the next morning it had blown over the very stable mobile solar panels.

It stayed pretty windy on Saturday. We didn’t do much. We decided to go out in the afternoon to wander around the Alabama Hills. The rock formations are just amazing, close up or far away. And the clouds made a nice non-blue backdrop.

There was an overview that showed a lot of the Sierra with fantastic clouds so I made a panoramic sweep of eight shots.

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We walked a short trail to a couple of arches that frame the mountains so well.

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An addition we haven’t seen here before – lots of Prickly Pear with hot pink blossoms.

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