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.