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.

Git Along Little Dogies

On Saturday we took a break from grand-parenting for a quick hike in the mountains. It’s 11 miles from our son Aaron’s place in Big Pine to the Glacier Pack Station. We were just a few miles up the road when we had to stop for a cattle drive. Cattle and cowboys (and cowgirls) coming down the middle of the road. Seemed like they deserved the right of way so we stopped the car to let them pass.

Once the cattle had passed we continued on to the end of the road. Once you reach the end of the road there’s a campground and a trail head. The trail leads to the Big Pine Lakes Basin in the John Muir Wilderness with a number of lakes surrounded by spectacular mountains and a view of the Palisade Glacier. It’s about 5.5 miles into the first lake. From there you can hike to a number of other lakes.  If you want to make it more than a day hike you can backpack in or hire the packers to carry your gear. We did a pack trip here two years ago. More on that in future post. For the ambitious there’s also a trail up to the Palisade Glacier.

We were just out for a short hike, so we grabbed our day packs and hiked up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek until it was time to turn around. It felt good to be in the High Sierra, with the cool clear air surrounded by the sharp jagged peaks of the Sierra.  Our dog Carson was thrilled to be in the mountains able to run off-leash.  We saw a few signs of fall with Rabbit Bush, a few aspen and the willows showing some yellow. It’s still early for the aspen.

Pupfish Cafe in Bishop – Waffle Warning

Treve at the Pupfish Cafe
Treve at the Pupfish Cafe

Bishop California, located in the Eastern Sierra is one of those places you normally pass through on your way to some of the spectacular scenery of the Eastern Sierra. Visitors passing through are likely to stop for breakfast at one of the higher profile eateries that have a prominent presence on Main Street. Less visible, but favored by locals is the Pupfish Cafe at 124 S. Main Street. If you like waffles the Leige waffles are a must. Simply delicious. Crisp and buttery with a pillow soft inside. Also a delicious assortment of avocado toasts and great coffee.

Weekend Trip to the Eastern Sierra

On Saturday morning, May 11 we threw our sleeping bags in the back of the camper and pointed our rig south. Our destination was Big Pine in the Eastern Sierra. Our favorite route over the mountains is closed.  That route takes us through Yosemite and over Tioga Pass on Highway 120. With 120 closed we picked an alternate route going over Walker Pass near the south end of the Sierra. We made camp at Walker Pass Campground just before sunset.

 

We discovered that the camp only has two sites for RVs, and both of those sites were occupied. There were a few open sites for tents. A number of sites are walk-in and serve  through hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. We found a flat spot on a turn-out between the established RV sites and the highway and popped the top to spend the night. A quiet location with a view looking west across the mountains. I was able to set up my camera and capture a few photos just as the sun was setting. The campground has an “iron ranger” to collect donations for overnight camping and no established fee. There were pit toilets. Be advised to take your own toilet paper. On Sunday morning we broke camp and continued our journey.

After scouring wildflower reports we decided to drive up Nine Mile Canyon to see what we could find. It seems we were on the tail end of the wildflowers, although we did find a few penstamon, coreposis and many tiny little flowers close to the ground.

 

Following our wildflower detour we went back down the canyon to pick up highway 395 heading north to Big Pine. In Big Pine we spent the day with family celebrating mother’s day. On Monday we finished our loop by driving north on 395.

Passing through Bridgeport I was fascinated with the clouds and when we passed the abandoned Busters Market I decided it was time for a photo op. I’m fascinated with abandoned buildings and I’ve passed this old abandoned market a number of times without stopping. This time with the clouds passing by we stopped and I took a few quick snapshots with my Sony RX100 thinking I might get a nice black and white composition. We used to stop at this store for supplies when backpacking out of the Twin Lakes trail head.

 

After crossing over the pass and heading down the west side of the Sierra we stopped at , a roadside stop with a short walk to an overlook looking down on Donnel Reservoir. Dinner time found us passing through Oakdale, so we found a picnic spot at Woodward Reservoir Park and had a very pleasant picnic dinner by the lake. On arriving home we logged 876 miles for our three day adventure.

 

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.

Fall Color Trip: Conclusion

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Our last stop on our fall color trip, on October 12, before heading home was Lundy Canyon, where we found a brilliant display of aspen with fall color on the slopes above Lundy Lake. Lundy Canyon is usually a good place to see fall color; above the lake the aspen were loosing their leaves, but at the elevation of the lake, and lower there was plenty of color.

Our final leg home took us through Yosemite National Park on Highway 120 where we noted that the dogwood and oaks were showing color near the western park entrance.

Overall we logged 2322 miles over 15 days, exploring the Eastern Sierra from Sonora Pass to Big Pine, then on through Nevada to Southern Utah where we made quick visits to Bryce and Zion National Parks and Cedar Breaks National Monument. The highlight of our trip though was the two nights we spent camped on the edge of a canyon in Kaibab National Forest. Quiet, remote with a grand view of the sunrise over the canyons below.

One of the frustrations of the trip was our lack of internet access. My intention was to share stories and photos every few days, and it seems between the lure of all the attractions and a dirth of WiFi connections, given our proclivity to travel off the beaten track, prevented me from realizing that goal. For the future, we both agreed that less driving, more time on foot, and more down time is in order. Stay tuned, as I work through the 2500 photos I collected I’ll be posting more.