Traveling highest to lowest in one day!

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Manzanar National Historic Site

Manzanar historic marker

One of the things we did while at Lone Pine was visit the 814- acre Manzanar National Historic Site.  This was one of the 10 camps where over 100,000 Japanese Americans were relocated during World War II without due process of law.  The historic site preserves the many stories of the people who were relocated there in 1942 and enclosed by barbed wire fences.  There is a self-guided driving tour (free) and a pretty good museum – worth a stop if you’re in the area.

Replica of the entire Manzanar Camp

Replica of Manzanar Camp with Sierras as backdrop

Memorial at Manzanar

“Soul Consoling Towers”

Having heard of the high winds expected to pass throughout the slopes of the Eastern Sierras in Inyo County, we started to pack up and get going to our next destination – Death Valley.  We had planned to stay in the Alabama Hills one more day, since we loved the serenity of boondocking there.  Hoping the wind alert for the area wouldn’t pan out, we decided to make our way toward Death Valley anyway.  After driving only 8 miles east of Lone Pine we saw a huge dust cloud (like the one at the beginning of the movie “The Mummy”) ahead of us.  We immediately turned back to Lone Pine and took refuge in the Boulder Creek RV Park until it passed.  At least we would be in a tree-lined area out of the sand if the winds hit.  Driving through that dust cloud in the desert was not an option.

High Wind

Gusts of wind at 60 mph!

We learned that the warning was pretty serious. Schools were out and the town was on “Red Alert”.  A few minutes after hooking up we heard an eerie sound and then – boom! – Betsy was rocking and rolling in the wind.  The gusts of wind passing through were hitting 60 miles per hour!  All day and night we were rocking in the wind.  We didn’t sleep very good that night, but upon waking up the next morning we were rewarded with a beautiful day.  So we broke camp and took off again!.

Heading again toward Death Valley National Park, we left town near the highest peak in the United States (Mt. Whitney at 14,495′) and drove 90 miles east to Death Valley, where the Badwater Basin – at 282′ below sea level – is the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere.

Eastern Sierra Crest

Eastern Sierra Crest, showing the highest peak, Mt Whitney

The drive along Highway 136 and 190 was uneventful as we passed through sparse and barren landscapes with beautiful and colorful mountains in the background.  Betsy easily climbed over the 4956′ summit at Towne Pass, just prior to the descent into Death Valley.  The transmission and air brakes were put to the test that day during the relentless 4,900’+ descent.  Ah, the devine aroma of freshly cooked brake linings!

Towne Pass

Towne Pass summit

Towne Pass

Starting out on the haul into Death Valley

The afternoon we arrived in the park, the winds were picking up and by evening a sand storm developed with rain showers…gasp.  What?  Rain in Death Valley?  It was quite an interesting evening at Stovepipe Wells Village.

Sand Storm

-Sand storm at Stovepipe Wells

Wind, Sand and Rain

-Wind, sand and rain!

Defying the odds – Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree

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Gnarled Bristlecone

We are so behind with our storytelling not only because we’ve had no internet connection but also we are having so much fun and enjoying so much beautiful scenery.  For now lets go to White Mountain

White Mountain, CA

At 10,000′ elevation , White Mountain is home to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Another excursion not to be missed while in the Eastern Sierra is a day just to visit and touch a very special tree, the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine that is.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree

Eroded Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree

Checking out an eroded Ancient Bristlecone Pine tree

 Why is this tree so special?  Well, these Bristlecone Pines are the oldest and most picturesque trees on earth.  They exhibit spectacular growth forms of twisted and beautifully colored wood.  How old?  How about more than 4,000 years old – which would make them older than Jesus and the Pyramids.

These ancients thrive by growing slowly and steadily in the most difficult environment in the White Mountains area at an elevation between 9000 to 12000 feet.  White mountain peak is the third -highest peak in California at 14,246 feet.  The climate here is characterized as arid, dry and windswept cold.  It is seemingly an unlikely place to find the oldest living trees but this is where the bristlecones have survived for  more than 40 centuries.  They have the ability to adapt to this unique environment and attain great age not in spite of of it but because of it.  They can only survive where other plants can’t compete with them for rare resources, and what other plant would want to live here?

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree

To see these ancient trees we walked one of the three trails at Schulman Groove (named after Dr Edmund Schulman), the Discovery Trail.  Here we learned a short lesson in the natural history of the bristlecones and had breathtaking views of the southern-most glaciers in North America high atop the Sierra Nevada range (and we thought we have seen them all in Alaska).  We also saw the red quartzite rocks.  Dozens of Clark  Nutcracker birds were there keeping us company with their chirping and cracking.

Southern most glaciers in North America

Southern-most glaciers in North America on the Eastern Sierra Nevada range

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees

Ancient Beauties

Red Quartzite Rocks

Red Quartzite rocks

Fallen Dead Bristlecone Pine Tree

Fallen Ancient

After our hike we watched the movie “Bristlecone Pine, Oldest Known Living Thing” at the just-opened new visitor center.  We learned more about Dr Schulman’s discovery and research using a tree borer that  helped in tree ring chronologies dating back to 6700 BC.  In 1957 he said , “Microscopic study of growth rings reveals that a bristlecone pine tree found last summer at nearly 10,000 feet began growing more than 4,600 years ago.”

Tree core of the Ancient Bristlecone Tree

Tree core sample, where growth rings are counted

Clark Nutcracker

Clark Nutcracker

Bristle Cone

Bristlecone

After a day of learning and exploration we had  lunch at the Sierra View Vista Point about a quarter mile from the forest.  We had an extraordinary million dollar view across the Owens Valley to the Sierra crest.

Sierra Vista Point

And one more awesome view.

Sierra Vista Point

Although we never got around to it, Steve very much wanted to ride his bike all the way down White Mountain back to the outskirts of Big Pine.  Wow, from 10,000′ to 3,800′ – all downhill and lasting something like 23 miles!  Maybe you want to give it a try if you make it up there?

Some hidden gems along the Eastern Sierra – Scenic 395

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Convict Lake

We’ve been on this road before, yet the scenery on Highway 395 remains awe-inspiring. We had never explored much of what lies beyond the highway, the less-traveled roads that brought us deep into the area’s natural wonders and very colorful history.  Folks who have a strong interest in geology would find this place paradise.  For us who simply want to gawk and experience its beauty, it’s best to simply spend as much time discovering hidden corners and appreciate it firsthand.  We are a couple of weeks late in enjoying the full fall splendor, as the autumn colors are beginning to fade and the temps are dropping.  And yes, we realize we can’t do it all at once – especially with some areas already closed for the season.  However, there were enough beautiful sights here to persuade us to extend our stay for a couple of days.  We will come back again to do more of our favorite outdoor activity – hiking.  There are many opportunities here but we are somewhat rushed to outrun the winter weather.  I know what you’re thinking – oh those poor people with nothing else to do but follow the sun!

The Eastern Sierra is an abrupt wall reaching two miles above the floor of the Owens Valley.  It encompasses  everything from desert scrub and alkali springs to lush alpine meadows and jagged mountains holding glacial ice.  We are experiencing golden autumn leaves – fantastic fall colors in some areas.  We explored a few creeks, lakes and canyons.  But this is also a great place for so many other activities – mountain biking, 4-wheeling and lots of hiking.  And of course you skiers would be in heaven up here!

June Lake Loop– a scenic 14-mile mountain drive where massive glaciers have carved out a steep horseshoe-shaped canyon.  The area has four lakes known not only for fishing but also for many year-round activities. At the entrance to Oh Ridge campground, a slot machine has been erected in concrete to commemorate a lost slot machine supposedly tossed into June Lake in 1941 when “the Feds” were looking around for bad guys.

June Lake Loop

June Lake Loop

Mono Lake – Travelers along scenic 395 can’t possibly miss this – the oldest lake in North America.  It is described as hauntingly beautiful and its most distinctive feature is its eerie tufa towers – mineral structures created when bubbling fresh-water springs intersect with the lake’s alkaline waters.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake viewed from an 8000′ overlook.  You can’t see Steve in front of the RV on his ladder – busily cleaning the windshield so I can take more pictures!

Tufa

Steve checking out a Tufa

Crowley Lake is considered one of the best spots for trout fishing and is the focal point of Mono County’s fishing season.  To my fishermen friends, make this your next fishing destination.  The lake is named after Father J.J. Crowley, the popular “Padre of the Desert.”

Crowley Lake

Crowley Lake

At the McGee Creek Canyon we parked our car at the end of the paved road and walked further to view the wildly colorful mountains with swathes of red, orange, brown and gray.  Geologists call these “roof pendants”- chunks of older rocks remaining on top when the great gray granites Sierra rose up beneath them and glaciers ground most of the older rock away.

Mcgee Creek Canyon

Mcgee Creek Canyon

Red Mountain

Red Mountain

Convict Lake  was the site of a shootout in 1871 that occurred when local law enforcers tracked down escapees from a Nevada Prison.  The lake sits on a spectacular setting of rugged mountain peaks.  Simply beautiful!

Convict Lake

Convict Lake, my personal favorite among the lakes we visited

We drove to Rock Creek Canyon, known for its vibrant fall colors but because we blinked or we were late in the season our chances to ensure the best show had just passed.

Rock Creek Canyon

To Rock Creek Canyon

Due to the high elevation, the aspens here were the first to shed all their golden leaves.  As we drove back to camp  we saw snow starting to fall on the mountain peaks.  Time to move on!

Conway Summit

Conway Summit

Desert Scrub

Desert Scrub

Bishop

Bishop

We witnessed a beautiful sunset on our last night at Brown’s Town Campground in Bishop.  Stay tuned for more stories about our stop here!Sunset at Bishop

Begin Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway – Mono County

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Bridgeport Reservoir with Sawtooth Ranges in the background

In the past we have driven over most of highway 395 but never stopped to smell the roses, for we had to go from point A to B and overlooked many beautiful locations.  Besides, those times we drove during summer and winter season and it is quite different now in  the fall.  We will be sharing beautiful sceneries that are often overlooked by Californians when driving through this road, us included.

Leaving Sparks, Nevada behind we head south and took highway 395,  the Scenic Eastern Sierra Nevada.  For several hundred miles the highway traces the dramatic eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, diving down into the deepest valley in North America (Death Valley) and passing roadways and trailheads that lead to all kinds of natural and historic wonders.

Highway 395 outside of Sparks, Nevada

Highway 395 south of Sparks, Nevada

Our first stop on this highway was at Bridgeport, where we set camp to explore and be awed by the beauty of the surroundings.  Bridgeport is a popular destinations for fishing – a town backed by the jagged spires of the Sawtooth Range, aptly named because of its knifelike spires of granite splitting the sky with splendid accuracy.

Bridgeport Reservoir with Sawtooth Ranges in the background

Bridgeport Reservoir with Sawtooth Ridges in the background

Driving around here we noticed the vast sage brush rangelands with wide open spaces for which the west is famous, and the vast ranges where  the happy cows from California reside.  We believe they are happy, since we noticed them smiling each time we took pictures of them!

Happy Cows from California

Happy (and lazy) cows from California.  Hey, get up and get back to work!

The interconnected Twin Lakes (located about 13 miles west) are beautiful and worth the drive; each well over a mile long, and about half a mile wide.  These lakes are nestled under the jagged crest of the Sawtooth Ridge, and the icy blue Matterhorn Glacier; they’re really something to look at.

Upper Twin Lake, Bridgeport

Upper Twin Lakes

Lower Twin Lakes

Lower Twin Lakes

Deer along the highway

Full Moon

View of Full Moon from our Kitchen

More beauty along  the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway in Mono County.

Highway395 Highway 395

Our digs with a view at Paradise Shores RV park.

Paradise Shores

Our digs for two nights

Paradise Shores RV Park

Morning View at the Park

The mornings at Bridgeport were “brisk” – into the low 20’s and a little colder than we like to subject Betsy’s systems to.  The elevation here was over 6400′, so our next stop will be at Bishop, which is closer to 4000′ and will give us milder nights.