Surfs up on Convict Lake

I’m backtracking to December 21. The third day of my Eastern Sierra adventure. I spent a very windy night in the camper. Cozy and warm with the heater going. Outside violent gusts of wind would buffet the camper, making it rock back and forth. Reminded me of my seagoing days and recalling being seasick on a ship. Despite the wind, I manged to get a good nights sleep with my alarm going off at 6 AM. Temperature outside was 38 degrees F. My intention was to get up early to capture the early morning light on Mono Lake. Hard rain was pelting the roof of the camper, so I climbed back into my sleeping bag. At 7:30 though the light was starting to do some interesting things so I grabbed my camera headed outside. It’s common to wait for good weather to take photos. If you are looking for dramatic photos though, some interesting things can happen in a storm.

Early morning light on Mono Lake.
Clearing Storm over the Sierras. From Mono Lake

At 9:30 the sun was shining on the desert with storm clouds still clinging to the mountains. I took a short walk with Carson who was happy to roam the desert off-leash. After the walk I put the top down on the camper and headed south on Highway 395 heading for Big Pine.

Along the way I decided to stop at Convict Lake. I had been admiring photos that other photographers have been posting. A perfectly calm lake reflecting majestic mountains. Calm was not what I found. The wind was howling across the lake and through the trees, with strong gusts grabbing the tripod. I was afraid the tripod might blow over. Often times I’ll hang a weight from the tripod for stability; a bag of rocks, my day pack or some other weight. This time I opted for hand-held photos using my little Sony RX100. The articulating screen let me get the camera close to the ground to give the waves on the lake more of a sense of drama.

Windy Day at Convict Lake.

Needless to say, I think I captured an image that shows the drama of the scene.

Bodie Aborted

Returning to last weeks adventures, after leaving Emerald Bay on the morning of December December 21, I passed through South Lake Tahoe where I stopped to fill my coffee mug. Then I took Highway 207 through Kingsbury heading east to pick up Highway 395, famous for it’s scenic beauty running roughly north-south on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When I got to Bridgeport I was intent on making a trip to the ghost town of Bodie, a former gold mining town. Several attempts to call the park for road information only resulted in a busy signal. I knew that Highway 270, the main road was closed due to snow. The park, Bodie State Historic Park, is open year round, so I thought I’d try one of the alternate routes into the park. Heading east on Aurora Canyon Road I decided to try my luck with the 17 mile drive through the Bodie Hills. A few miles into the hills the Aurora Canyon Road turns into the Bodie Masonic Road. One lane, gravel and dirt. After an hour’s driving I had logged 10 miles. The road had snow in many places but tire tracks indicated that the road had been driven recently.

It was now afternoon and as I gained elevation the snow was getting a bit deeper. I stopped for a picnic lunch and let Carson out for some well deserved off-lease time. After lunch we climbed back in the truck intent on continuing our adventure. Not far up the road though the tire tracks I was following disappeared and the grade increased a bit. The wheels were starting to slip and slide in four wheel drive as I proceeded up hill. I figured at the rate I was going it would take me another three hours to get to Bodie, if the road was even manageable. I turned around and headed back down the road. Temperatures were in the 50s, which meant the snow and ice I had been driving on was turning into slippery mud. Slipping and sliding a bit I made my way back to Bridgeport and headed south towards Mono Lake. I wanted to catch the afternoon light on the lake, weather permitting.

It was windy and chilly when I reached Mono Lake and the lighting was not as dramatic as I’ve seen on previous visits, so I left my tripod and big camera in the truck and took my trusty Sony RX100 for a few hand-held shots. I put Carson on a leash. After the walk I found a spot to camp for the night, not too far off of Highway 120, near Mono Lake.

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.

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.

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.