Escape From the Bay Area

Five o’clock in the morning my alarm goes off. I looked out the camper window and decided it was too dark to get up. I hit the snooze button and went back to sleep. Ten minutes later I awoke again and was surprised how much the light had changed. I was quickly out the camper door. At 5:15 I had my camera pointed at the sky above the rocks. The brilliant and fleeting color lasted just a few minutes. By 5:25 the color was gone. Sunrise was 5:34, so the lesson is to get up early to catch the sun.

I’m camped in the Alabama Hills. The photos from the big camera will have to wait until I get home next week. I managed to get away without a card reader to transfer the images from the memory cards. Needless to say the iPhone does a good job for capturing images to share here.

The Alabama Hills is in the Eastern Sierra, in the Owen’s Valley, 375 miles from home. While it’s still in California, it seems like a world away from the anxious throngs of people in the Bay Area hunkered down with stay-at-home orders to avoid the risk of COVID-19. No masks here. There are quite a few campers considering the location, but we are all quite spread out. This is dispersed camping on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. No services, so you need to be prepared.

After a morning in the solitude of the rocks and desert, I’m feeling quite refreshed. Three months of shelter-in-place was taking a toll on my mental attitude, wondering if I’d ever get out in the camper again.

We brought the camper over to spend some time playing grandparents while our son and daughter-in-law work. My wife will spend several weeks. I’m spending a week and a half. We justified our escape from the stay-at-home order by considering our childcare services to be essential. So here we are. And while visiting, I’m inclined to go explore some of my favorite haunts in the Eastern Sierra.

A New Year and a New Decade

Looking forward to a New Year and new adventures with the opportunity to provide inspiration and insight into the wonders of the world. We’re about to hit the road again for a ten day road trip through the deserts of Southern California and contemplating this quote from John Muir:

I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God, than in church thinking about the mountains.

Mount Whitney

On December 28 it was time to hit the road for the journey home. I was at the end of my Eastern Sierra holiday trip, exploring photo locations and visiting with family. My destination for the day was the Alabama Hills with the intent of finding a camping site with a view of Mount Whitney as the sun was rising.

Sunrise on Mount Whitney

I spent some time looking for a camp site, knocking about on dirt roads and putting my four wheel drive to use. While there were plenty of camping sites, I did not find one that had the vantage point I wanted. Those sites were claimed. I decided to go to “Plan B.” To camp in the rocks just off of Movieland Road and get up in the morning for a 15 minute walk to a vantage point that would give me the view I was after. This was just as well since there was a fierce wind blowing and the rocks provided some shelter.

Camping in the rocks in the Alabama Hills

I set my alarm for 6:00 and at 6:30 I had my camera and tripod in position. It was a glorious event to watch the sun come up and strike the mountains.

While the Alabama Hills are an exceptional destination, there are also a few other interesting places to explore on the drive from Big Pine to Lone Pine include the Manzanar National Historic Site. A former concentration camp where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.

Here are a couple of more images from the morning dawn photo shoot; Lone Pine Peak and a detail of Mount Whitney.

Merry Christmas from the Alabama Hills

Merry Christmas from the Alabama Hills.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas. We are camped in the Alabama Hills in the Eastern Sierra with what appears to be an annual ritual. We were here last year. This year we represent three generations of Johnsons, the the newest addition, Annabelle, being five months old. We arrived the afternoon of Christmas Eve, set up camp, got the camp fire going along with the coals for the Dutch Oven. Dinner was Chicken Cordon Bleu, with wine to wash it down.

We were surprised by a rain storm passing through in the middle of the night, but we were snug in our beds when the sound of rain on the roof woke us. We woke to find that water that had collected in the camp chairs had frozen solid. Even so we took our time getting the campfire and Dutch Oven coals going, being torn between the photo opportunities of the early morning light and the anticipation of breakfast. Breakfast was quiche cooked in the Dutch Oven. After breakfast we poked around the hills and rocks, A cold wind was starting to find it’s way through our jackets, so we broke camp and headed back to Big Pine.

The Alabama Hills are located in the Eastern Sierra, just west of the town of Lone Pine. The Alabama Hills is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as the BLM Alabama Hills Recreation Area. There is no fee for camping and there are also not much available for services. No picnic tables, no outhouses, no water. It is also dog friendly; our two dogs were happy to wander around camp off leash. I’m always surprised to see how many people camp here over the Christmas holiday, but that said there is no shortage of spaces to camp. Last year we picked a spot that was exposed and had had a view of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain peak in the lower 48 states. This year, with the prediction of wind we found a more protected spot with an outcrop of rocks to block the north wind.

This is a popular spot for photographers who wish to photograph the classic morning light on Mount Whitney, Lone Pine Peak and the adjacent Sierra Nevada Mountains. The granite outcroppings also provide endless opportunities for photography. This is also a popular filming location, especially Westerns. Since the 1920s, 150 movies and a dozen or so television shows have been filmed here. There are also dozens of natural arches, with one of the more popular arches being Mobius Arch. The location is also noted it’s dark skies which makes it poplular for astronomy and astro-photography. Not far the North on Highway 395 is the Manzanar National Historic Site, another location worth a visit.

Arches of the Alabama Hills

Following up from my previous post, after our Christmas morning breakfast of quiche, we broke camp and went about to explore some of the arches in the Alabama Hills. The Alabama Hills are  a collection of rocks and hills at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of the town of Lone Pine just off of US Route 395. The rocks here have eroded in such a way as to form some fantastic shapes and arches which lend themselves to some amazing photo opportunities with the background of the Sierra. This was a popular spot for filming movies in the 1940s and 50s and there is a Museum of Western Film History located in Lone Pine.

Our explorations took us on a short dog-friendly hike that went past several arches including the Mobius Arch, perhaps the most notable arch. This is an ideal location for early morning photography, with the morning light catching the Sierra.  By afternoon when the sun crosses the crest of the Sierra the mountains are back lit making photography more of a challenge.  If you wish to visit the arches you can find an on-line map here.  There are apparently hundreds of arches scattered throughout the area, but a handful are easy to access. A Google search also found a guidebook to 72 of the arches. You can also view more of the photos I captured here.

Christmas in the Alabama Hills

Christmas eve found us in the Eastern Sierra setting up camp in the Alabama Hills. There were four of us and two campers. Our son Aaron and his wife Serena joined us for the overnight camping trip, about 45 minutes south of their place in Big Pine. Part of our mission was to see if we could create a photo of our two campers worthy for Truck Camper Magazine’s calendar. It will remain to be seen if our photos make it into the calendar but we had fun scouting a location, setting up camp and creating photos. The location we picked had a view of the crest of the Sierra’s with the peak of Mount Whitney visible to the west and an outcropping of granite boulders to the east, hiding some of the other campers in the area.

The Alabama Hills is a recreation area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Open to camping year round. Dog friendly and free of charge. There are no facilities though, so bring your own water.  Inclined to be hot in summer, we had mild winter temperatures, with the thermometer recording a low of 39 degrees overnight.

We’ve recently discovered Dutch Oven cooking and we put our oven to use cooking a savory Christmas eve dinner of chicken and rice. with chunks of chicken breast wrapped in thinly sliced ham and bacon. Breakfast was quiche with ham left over from an early Christmas dinner a couple of days earlier when our daughter and her husband rendezvoused with us on their way to Utah.