East of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, not far from Mammoth Lakes, is an area known as the Long Valley Caldera. This is a geologically active area with steam vents, geysers, and hot springs, the remnants of an ancient volcano. I’ve been visiting the Eastern Sierra for several decades and only this year decided to check out the area known as the Hot Creek Geologic Site.
My plan was to scout the location with the intention of returning in the morning when the steam from the many vents would be visible in the cool morning air. As it turned out, we had some dramatic weather with rain and hail and that was enough to appease my photographer’s eye.
There are a number of trails you can hike in the area with signs warning you to stay out of the water. Some of the pools are boiling hot. Despite the warnings we did see several people in the creek.
From the Hot Creek site, we decided to head for camp. Our intended camping site was a spot referred to as Laurel Springs on iOverlander, a “wild” campsite site just off of Highway 395. In trying to locate the site we apparently drove past it. Rather that turn around, we decided to follow the forest service road to see if we could find another suitable spot to park our rig. It wasn’t long before the road deteriorated a bit and I shifted into four-wheel drive. Then as the road got a bit rockier it was four-wheel low. You can see a photo of my shadow on the road looking east with Crowley Lake in the distance. We climbed up a valley to a ridge and there at the end of the road was a campsite with a picnic table and an incredible view. On one side of the ridge we could look east with a view of Crowley Lake, on the other side was a view of Convict Lake. In the morning I put the drone in the air to capture a view of our rig with Laurel Mountain and Convict Lake in the background.
That morning, October 11, we broke camp and continued our journey home. We made a quick tour of the June Lake Loop, stopping at Gull Lake to walk the dog and admire the view. We found quite a few pockets of fall color, but for the most part the aspens were still green.
Our route home took us over Tioga Pass on highway 120. Near the summit we stopped for one last peek at the fall color on the mountainside. Then we drove down into Yosemite Valley thinking there might be a remote chance of camping. We were impressed by how busy the valley was. No luck finding camping, so we headed home. More photos are available online.
After three days of chasing fall color I was starting to feel overwhelmed. I felt like I had to give my eyes a rest, and yet we’d find another grove of aspen in full splendor, I’d grab my camera and start snapping photos. And then I’d be asking myself how the image I’m capturing differs from the many thousands of photos I’ve captured over the past 50 years. In any event, every photo is another adventure and the magnificence of the changing seasons never gets old. I’m always looking for a way to create unique photos that celebrate the glory of God’s creation.
Fall color in the Eastern Sierra usually starts in mid to late September with the aspen at the higher evaluations changing color first, and the color progressing down the canyons over the course of several weeks. I usually start to watch the fall color reports in mid September. This year October 4 was the earliest date we could get away, so we stocked the camper with food for a week and hit the road.
From our home in Albany, CA, we decided to take California State Route 108 over Sonora Pass. After passing the summit we stopped briefly near a grove of aspen, admired the view, and then decided to head to our intended camping destination on Green Creek. We were hoping to camp at the Green Creek Campground. Why? Because we wanted to fire up our Dutch Oven to cook dinner; for that we needed a fire ring in an established campground. The campground was closed. There are plenty of places to boondock along Green Creek so we found a comfortable spot to park our rig. We implemented “plan B” for our menu which did not require a fire ring. I was a little annoyed, though, when campers not too far away from us lit a campfire, something that’s prohibited in the dry conditions. I was too shy to confront them. What would I say?
We were so impressed with the fall color along Green Creek, we decided to spend a second night although we moved our rig a mile down the road. The road into Green Creek is a dirt road. For the most part it is navigable by passenger car, although close to the campground it gets a little rocky.
From Green Creek we headed towards Bishop by way of Dunderberg Meadow Road. We admired the aspen along the way and set up camp at the Sabrina Campground in the afternoon. The fall color was about peak there. In the morning we drove to North Lake where I spent some time with my camera and tripod capturing fall color. We also gave our dog Carson the opportunity to hike with us off-leash.
From Bishop Creek we drove to Bishop where we spent the weekend with family. Then we headed home after a night camping on a ridge overlooking Convict Lake. We had intended to spend more time on the road but the furnace in our camper was not working; getting up in the morning with the temperature in the 30s was wearing on us.
So here it is late November and I’ve finally made it through the photos from our Eastern Sierra fall color trip. On September 27, having spent several days with family in Big Pine, it was time to go hunt for fall color. We left Big Pine in the morning, and that night we camped at the Bishop Creek Campground. We were lucky to have some relatively clear air since smoke from wildfires had been plaguing us off and on at lower elevations. Bishop Creek is always a good prospect for fall color.
Here we are with our Four Wheel Pop-up Camper rig parked for the night in a very pretty aspen grove. In the morning we drove up to North Lake and did a short hike to a location I had scouted for a view overlooking the lake. Then it was off to Rock Creek. We made a quick stop at Mosquito Flat trailhead. We did a short hike and, while it was a lovely hike, I was not inspired to take many photos. We moved on to Sagehen Summit Road. Here the aspen were a little past prime but with plenty of photo opportunities.
I found a grove of aspen with a panoply of colors from green to yellow to black. This is my favorite image from this trip and it’s available in my art store. With the sun about to set, we drove the short distance to Mono Lake where we set up camp in the dispersed camping area near Mono Mills.
The next morning we were off to Virginia Lakes, where we did a three mile hike to Frog Lakes. Most of the aspen here were past prime, but we did find fall color in the willows.
From Virginia Lakes we took the Dunderberg Meadows Road, pulling off in mid-afternoon to set up camp. Here I put the drone in the air, you can see the image looking west over the trees. We found some lovely aspen groves along the Dunderberg Meadow Road and made a note to include this drive on future trips. Before heading back to the pavement we took a detour to explore Green Creek and discovered some very nice camping opportunities. Then it was back to the the pavement on US 395 and up and over Sonora Pass for the drive home. We’ve made many stops near Sonora Pass on previous trips, and on this trip we did not stop for photos. You can view more photos from the trip here.
We’re on a short road trip to look for fall color in the Eastern Sierra. We’re also visiting family in Big Pine. Our trip took us through Yosemite National Park and over Tioga Pass to Mono Lake where we spent the night of October 2. The word was that the best fall color might be in Bishop Creek, so we started our tour at Mono Lake, driving South, avoiding some of the popular spots north of Lee Vining including Lundy Canyon and Virginia Lakes.
At Sagehen Summit we found some pockets of color with large swatches of Aspen still green. Having four wheel drive, we were able to negotiate some of the sandy terrain, although we did encounter some fellow leaf peepers that managed to get stuck. We were able to help them by using our leveling blocks and a shovel. They were quite happy for the assistance. From Sagehen we headed south to Bishop Creek were we set up camp at the Sabrina Campground and then drove the windy, narrow, one-lane road to North Lake. We were disappointed that there was very little fall color at North Lake. In years past, the mountain side above the lake is ablaze with orange and yellow.
Some fellow leaf peepers we consulted with said this was the worst year they can remember for fall color. Nevertheless, I can always find something to photograph, and I was particularly struck by a small grove of Aspen along Bishop Creek, adjacent to the campground. I returned to this site several times for late afternoon, dusk and dawn photos. My favorite from those efforts was the morning image. I was reminded how much I enjoy the soft light of dawn and dusk for photography. I find the harsh contrast of mid-day sun and dappled shade hard to work with. Back in camp after the morning photo venture we had breakfast and then took a short hike along the north side of Lake Sabrina. We found some nice color in the Aspen groves along the north side of the lake.
Overall we found the fall color conditions quite mixed with occasional pockets of color and many Aspen groves still showing green. There is some speculation that unseasonably warm weather followed by a sudden cold snap a week ago has delayed the display of color for the most part, with the sudden cold creating pockets of color. There could be good opportunities to see fall color over the next few weeks.
We’re now in Big Pine playing grandparents. More news to come. Stay tuned.
On Saturday November 24, with Thanksgiving behind us, we decided to hit the road for a three day trip to Mendocino. We grabbed a few items of food, a change of clothes, hopped in the truck and headed north, taking Highway 101 to Cloverdale where we turned west onto Highway 128. We logged 126 miles from our house to Mill Creek Retreat, where we had reserved a camp site ahead of time. The drive took us four hours, since we’re inclined to take our time and enjoy the drive.
As we headed west on Highway 128 we were surprised at the color along the route. Oaks and willows were putting on a show of yellow. We stopped to take a few photos. We just drove past many wineries and tasting rooms along the way. Being preoccupied with the color and beauty in the valley we didn’t stop for wine tasting. We did stop at the market in Boonville to pick up a bottle of wine from one of the local wineries, a bottle of Husch Pinot Noir which proved to be quite nice. There are dozens of wineries along this drive, so you could easily spend a day or more just visiting wineries.
We arrived at our intended camping destination at 3:30, set up camp and let our dog Carson loose to roam free. One of our criteria for selecting Mill Creek Retreat was the fact that it’s a dog friendly and dogs can be off leash. We found this location through Hipcamp.com, a website that lists camping locations on private property that may not be listed on other camping directories.
The next morning, before heading off to explore the town of Mendocino we walked down to the creek. I was curious to see what photo opportunities I might discover. I can usually find something close at hand.
Sure enough there was some color along the creek, and with the soft-misty light of the clearing fog, I captured a few pictures. I had to improvise a camera support, since my tripod got left behind. I jury rigged three trekking poles with with a little Ultra-pod. This seemed to be sufficient for my Sony RX 100.
At the end of the day we found ourselves at Van Damme Beach where we watched the sun sink into the ocean before heading back to camp.
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.
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.
My blog entries are a bit out of order when it comes to chronology. We’re now in day nine of our 15 day trip,and I’d like to recount some of the events of the past few days, so I’m starting with September 27. This marks our first adventure in our Four Wheel Drive pop-up camper; the two of us Joann and myself and our dog Carson. It took us longer than we anticipated to leave home. We wanted to make sure all systems where “go” before we hit the road. Checking the propane, stove, refrigerator, water system and water heater. Earlier in the week we had the suspension on our 2017 Tacoma upgraded with Supersprings to accommodate the load of the camper, and we also had the windshield replace due to a growing crack. We discovered that the additional suspension make a significant improvement on the handling of the truck with the load of the camper. We decided to head over Sonora Pass on Highway 108 to check out the fall color on the East Side of the Sierra. As sunset approached though we found ourselves looking for camping on the West side of the pass at Fraser Flat Campground, a forest service camp. Set up camp just as it was getting dark and inspired to photograph our rig.
Day six of our fall color trip. We set up “camp” in a dispersed camping area near Hill Top Campground a few miles off of I95 in Nevada. Not quite as scenic as the established camp, but we stopped here due to a road closure. Enroute to Cedar Breaks today. We left the San Francisco Bay Area (home) on 9/27, heading up Highway 108 towards Sonora Pass. Not much color on 108, nor Virginia Lakes. Found a few patches of color at the Green River Campground. Spectacular color at Sage Hen Crest and the South Fork of Bishop Creek. Photos will follow when I have WiFi to upload from my laptop. WiFi seems scarce with our preferred method of travel; out Four Wheel Camper. More to follow on that account also. Stay tuned.