Thursday, July 7, 2016

Summer vacation in California’s Eastern Sierra

I haven’t posted much in the last two weeks because we’ve had friends from Australia staying with us. Last week we spent four days in the Eastern Sierra, the vast high desert east of the Sierra Nevada range. Sparsely populated and spectacularly beautiful, this part of California is a wonderland of mountains and lakes, sagebrush and tumbleweed, and even the occasional ghost town. In the “olden days” my wife and I spent quite a bit of time of here, camping and exploring. In the last 15 years, our visits have been few and far between, but the Eastern Sierra is always in our heart.

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Mono Lake at sunset

Our home base was in Mammoth Lakes, the largest and most developed town in the Eastern Sierra. Located at an elevation of 7,880 feet (2,400 m), Mammoth Lakes is a world-class ski resort which in the off-season (summer) offers remarkably reasonable accommodations and easy access to alpine lakes, hiking, fishing, mountain biking and a host of other outdoor activities. It’s a great spot to explore everything the area has to offer.

Here are a couple of maps to give you a better idea of the geography of the Eastern Sierra. In the first map, the turquoise area points at Davis and the red arrow at Mammoth Lakes. Los Angeles is all the way to the south and Las Vegas to the southeast. Driving time from Davis to Mammoth Lakes is about 5 hours, not including stops.

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The second map shows the territory we covered in more detail. The main attractions we visited are marked in red. The turquoise area points at Yosemite National Park, which we drove through on our way home.

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So what did we see on a trip? So much that I could spend a week writing about it! But don’t worry, I’ll pack the highlights into this one post.

Here’s what we saw:

⦿ MOUNTAINS

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Looking east from Monitor Pass 8,314 ft (2,534 m)

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Ansel Adams Wilderness from the 2½-mile trail to Rainbow Falls

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Sierra Nevada from Owens Valley near Crowley Lake

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Sierra Nevada from Owens Valley near Crowley Lake

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Sierra Nevada from Hot Creek Geologic Site

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Sierra Nevada from Tioga Pass Road

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Along the Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite National Park. Enlarge the photo on the right to see the rock climbers.

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Half Dome from Olmsted Point, Yosemite National Park

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Olmsted Point, Yosemite National Park

 

⦿ LAKES

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Mono Lake from Conway Summit Overlook at 8,143 ft (2,482 m)

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Mono Lake boardwalk

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Mono Lake near sunset

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Tufa towers at Mono Lake after sunset

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Lake Mamie in the Mammoth Lakes Basin

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Twin Lakes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin

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Horseshoe Lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin

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Lake Mary in the Mammoth Lakes Basin

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Lake Mary in the Mammoth Lakes Basin

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Tioga Lake just outside Yosemite National Park

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Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park

 

⦿ ROADS

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State Route 89 approaching Monitor Pass

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State Route 89 just beyond Monitor Pass as it begins its descent into the Eastern Sierra

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View of Sierra Nevada from U.S. Route 395 near Bridgeport, Mono County

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U.S. Route 395 as it descends from Conway Summit to Mono Lake

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View of Sierra Nevada from the Bodie Road

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View of Sierra Nevada from the Bodie Road (the last three miles are unpaved)

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View of Sierra Nevada from Hot Creek Road near Mammoth Yosemite Airport

 

⦿ WILDFLOWERS

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Great Basin sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)

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Pussy paws (Cistanthe umbellata)

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Mountain pride (Penstemon newberryi)

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Mountain pride (Penstemon newberryi) growing in cracks in the granite at Olmsted Point, Yosemite National Park

 

⦿ GHOST TOWNS

We spent a wonderful morning at Bodie State Historic Park, arguably the best preserved and most photogenic ghost town in the entire western U.S. Located at an elevation of 8,379 ft (2,554 m), Bodie is exposed to the elements year round:

Winds can sweep across the valley at close to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). Nights remain cold even through the summer, often dropping well below freezing. Bodie rivals notorious Barrow, Alaska as the locality in the United States with most nights below freezing;[37] in fact no month has ever been completely frost-free. (1)

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Bodie has stirred the imagination like no other ghost town. In the late 1800s, a girl moving with her family from San Francisco to Bodie, then at the height of its gold production, famously said, “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.” I don’t know if she was referring to the harsh climate or the rough-and-tumble lifestyle of a town that sported 65 saloons and who knows how many bordellos.

The State of California has a done a great job preserving the buildings that are left. With the exception of the church and one residence, none of them are routinely open to the public. But it’s easy enough to press your face against the windows to peek inside.

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⦿ SUNSETS

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Lake Mary, Mammoth Lakes Basin

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Lake Mary, Mammoth Lakes Basin

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Mono Lake, South Tufa Area

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Mono Lake, South Tufa Area

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Mono Lake, South Tufa Area

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Mono Lake, South Tufa Area

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Mono Lake, South Tufa Area

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Mono Lake, South Tufa Area

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Mono Lake, South Tufa Area

 

⦿ WATERFALLS

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Rainbow Falls, Devils Postpile National Monument. The rainbow is visible at midday on sunny summer days.

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Rainbow Falls, Devils Postpile National Monument

 

⦿ RAINBOWS

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Rainbow Falls, Devils Postpile National Monument. The rainbow is visible at midday on sunny summer days.

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I was surprised by the intensity of the colors.

 

⦿ RAIN

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U.S. Route 395 south of Mono Lake, early afternoon, Tuesday, June 28, 2016

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We ended up with quite a bit of rain in Mammoth Lakes. The clouds that lingered contributed to the spectacular sunset at Mono Lake you saw above.

 

⦿ ROCKS

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Monitor Pass

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Basalt columns at Devils Postpile National Monument

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Basalt columns at Devils Postpile National Monument

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Basalt columns at Devils Postpile National Monument

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Along the Tioga Pass Road on the way to Yosemite National Park

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Along the Tioga Pass Road on the way to Yosemite National Park. These are the rocks I wish I could have in my garden!

 

⦿ HOT SPRINGS

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Hot Creek Geologic Site southeast of Mammoth Lakes

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Hot Creek Geologic Site southeast of Mammoth Lakes

 

I’m always amazed by how few Californians have visited the Eastern Sierra. I think you’re more likely to encounter tourists from Europe than folks from San Francisco. That’s a real pity because the Eastern Sierra is the epitome of the rugged West. Don’t miss it!

11 comments:

  1. Oh my Gerhard, your photos are just wonderful. Back in the 'olden days' when I lived in SoCal my hubby and I would camp at June Lake or Lake Mary --it's been years since I've been over that way.

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    1. I often wish the Eastern Sierra were a little closer but then I realize that it's only its remoteness that has kept it so pristine.

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  2. Oh my, so many gorgeous sceneries and your photography skills do them justice!

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    1. Thank you! It's easy to take beautiful photos in such a beautiful area.

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  3. Beauty overload. Must have been a wonderful 4 days!

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    1. Definitely! But they went by much too fast, like good times always do.

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  4. After following your blog for some time now, I've come to expect great photos, but you've outdone yourself with this series. I really think you need to consider compiling your travels into a book.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the vote of confidence. It's something that's been on my mind for a while now. Just got to find the time :-).

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  5. Wow. What everyone else said, "beauty overload" sums it up!

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