Monday, October 20, 2014

Mountain Memories

I'd stayed in Lone Pine, CA twice before, both times in an attempt to day hike Mt Whitney. The second attempt, in 2005 with my hiking buddy Kathryn, was a success.

The memories of that hike were strong as we camped practically in the shadow of that venerable mountain: the predawn start, the alpen glow as the rising sun hit the mountains, the still icy snow melt as we hiked the 99 switchbacks, the steep drop off of thousands of feet on both sides as we scrambled over boulders in the Windows section, the looong, slooow trudge up the last mile to the summit, the sense of awe and wonder and accomplishment as we stood upon the summit of the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. Then facing the 11 miles and over 6,000 feet of elevation drop back to the trail head, my knees protesting mightily the last two or three miles, the celebratory champagne in the hot tub at Dow Villa Motel afterwards. Memories that will last a lifetime.

Five months later I met Hans, and the rest, as they say, is history. Though we no longer tackle extreme day hikes (Hans calls them death marches), preferring to save our knees for the anticipated decades in front of us, we do hike almost every single day, and often in scenery so beautiful it makes you want to cry for joy.

In fact, our campsite at Tuttle Creek BLM campground was just that awesome. It's a dry campground, first come, first served, with only vault toilets and a dump station and water (both already closed for the winter during our stay), roads are rough and sites can be pretty unlevel. Hans insisted on a site backing up to the creek, and site #40 was quite a challenge to get into being both bumpy and unlevel. But after we finally got level we discovered the secret to this camp site. Not only did we have an expansive view of the mountains around us, but there was a hidden creekside oasis just steps from our door!

The serenity of this special place cannot be understated. Sitting in the grass on the edge of this rushing, tumbling, sandy creek, my soul felt cleansed and my spirits lifted as only a tranquil natural space can do. Hans felt the magic too when he joined me and created new music on his guitar accompanied by the sound of the creek.

Site #40

Our sitting area opens up to a view of the fabulous Sierrra Nevada mountains.
See that ponderosa pine on the right? That's where the creekside oasis is...

Our magical hidden oasis!

Hiking options from Lone Pine include the first three miles of the Mt Whitney Trail (you need a permit beyond that), but that can be very busy on a beautiful Saturday, and I knew it would pale in comparison to the amazing hike we just did near Bishop. Another option is to drive 20+ miles up to Horseshoe Meadow at about 10,000 feet to gain access to miles of trails into the Sierras. Alas, we had a very long drive planned for the following day so this was not appealing to us.

Then Nina mentioned the Ashram hike. Now this was a trail we could take right from our lovely camp site...perfect! We just had to walk up the road at the West end of the campground until we reached the Tuttle Creek trail head, then the Ashram would be a mile further. I guesstimated about 7 or so miles.

I underestimated the distance from our campsite, we ended up hiking almost 9.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 2,700 feet. During the long ascent we just kept telling ourselves that the return would be almost entirely downhill!

Morning alpenglow on the Sierras.
Our hike would take us right into the canyon beyond our neighbors truck.

Getting closer to the canyon we started seeing trees!

Looking back into the valley we had left.

Finally entering Tuttle Creek Canyon.

Upon reaching the end of the road/start of the Tuttle Creek Trail we could look up the center of the canyon
in front of us and see the Ashram.

It's in the very center of the photo!

We made it! 

It's in an amazing setting and felt like a pilgrimage just getting to it from the campground!
This serene place included Buddhist statues and incense to set the mood for contemplation.

Making our way back down the mountain admiring the massive granite slabs on the walls around us.

Later we took a drive over to the Alabama Hills to look around. When we discovered how large the area is we decided to save it for another trip through this area, we were more in the mood for hanging out in our creekside paradise!

Perhaps we'll camp among these fabulous boulders next time we come through Lone Pine!

This Lone Pine stopover was an excellent end to our quick tour of the 395 corridor. Another year we'll devote more time to this magnificent stretch of was time to move on to the desert.

Rosie loved this campground too!

The creek was cold but I couldn't resist!

We're now settled in for a month at Sam's Family Spa in Desert Hot Springs. It's still pretty hot in the desert but this is the time frame that happened to work for us. The park is pretty empty and quiet, the pools are lovely and we are ready to relax and maybe party just a little!

First night in town: tiki drinks with Rick and Lori visiting from Santa Cruz mountains!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Eastern Sierras Continue to WOW Us!

There are many hikes to choose from if you are based out of Bishop, CA, most involve high elevation of 10,000 feet and up. The one we chose during our brief stay in the area was the Chocolate Peak Loop. (topo map link here.) This lollipop loop hike took us among multiple 13,000 foot peaks and past several sub alpine lakes; the scenery was dramatic, majestic, awe inspiring...truly, words cannot do it justice, nor can my little point and shoot camera!

The trailhead at South Lake is at 9,768 feet and our high point on the saddle between Ruwau and Chocolate Lakes was about 11,300 feet. We could have added a few hundred feet more by scrambling to the top of Chocolate Peak, but we'd had enough elevation gain by the time we reached the saddle! This seven mile hike had a good mix of short uphill sections countered by stretches of relatively level terrain. There were a few steep, loose rock, scrambling areas, but nothing where we felt our lives were in danger!

South Lake is a reservoir so the water level fluctuates annually, right now it is quite low.

About half a mile into the hike we were hiking stone stairs among giant granite outcroppings.

Small lakes dotted the basins while 13,000 foot peaks scraped the skyline all around us.

We were dwarfed by the majesty surrounding us!

Bright sunlight dims the chocolate color of Chocolate Peak in the center foreground.
We would make our way up to a saddle behind the peak.

Long Lake was absolutely stunning.

Ruwau Lake.

Rock scramble up to the saddle above Ruwau Lake.

Ruwau Lake from above.
Not much snow on the surrounding 13,000+ foot peaks this year.

From the saddle we could see the first of the three Chocolate Lakes.

Lunch break on the saddle dominated by massive jagged peaks all around us.

Time to scramble off the looks worse than it actually was!

Chocolate Lake from the West, backed by the saddle we scrambled over.

Dropping down towards the next Chocolate Lake.
That's Chocolate Peak on the left, you can kind of see the chocolate color of the rock.

Chocolate Lake #2.

Chocolate Lake #3.

Fall foliage along the highway down off the mountains, heading towards Bishop.

Autumn humor along highway 168.

Today we decided to take it easy and checked out the excellent Laws Railroad Museum just a few miles North of Bishop. Laws was once a railroad town, larger than Bishop. Much more than just railroad memorabilia, the park has many buildings brought in from the surrounding communities that are filled with antiques depicting life around the turn of the century and beyond.

The original Laws Depot.

A fancy hearse.
Just a few of the old buildings on site.

We stayed at Bishop RV Park at the Tri County Fairgrounds. We chose this park because it was the least expensive full hookup option in town ($25/night). It is convenient to town and was quiet at night, and we had a decent Verizon signal. I probably wouldn't stay here again as it is nothing more than a dirt parking lot with hookups. I thought it odd that new arrivals were put right next to us (twice) even though there were dozens of empty sites throughout the park!

Tomorrow we head on down to Lone Pine for our last couple of nights on the flanks of the Eastern Sierras.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lee Vining, CA, Gateway to Abundance

We've spent the last three nights in Lee Vining, CA, a small tourist focused town located at the foot of the Eastern Sierras, on the shores of Mono Lake, and just minutes from the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park. We've managed to pack a lot into our stay...check it out!

Practically across the street from our home base at Mono Vista RV Park, is the Mono Basin Visitor Center. Mono Lake is unusual in that it has no outlets, which has made it highly alkaline and salty. Fish cannot survive in the lake but brine shrimp and alkaline flies flourish and draw several types of birds by the thousands each spring and summer. There are also the tufas, limestone towers visible along the shoreline in several places around the lake.

The visitor center is an excellent place to learn all about this unique body of water, with detailed displays and informative movies playing throughout the day. There are also a couple of trails accessible from the visitor center. We took the Lee Vining Creek trail, a three mile round trip of fall foliage, tumbling water and not another soul, on a Saturday afternoon no less!

Excellent views of much of Mono Lake from the Visitor Center.
Here you can see the trees indicating Lee Vining Creek as it enters Mono Lake.

October is an awesome time to hike Lee Vining Creek trail! 


We drove just a short distance into Yosemite National Park one day and hiked Mono Pass Trail. This eight mile round trip hike took us through forest and along small meadows for the first 3.5 miles, then opened up into wide open meadows with views of the surrounding massive peaks and past several small lakes. The grand finale was an impressive view down into the Mono Basin.

After miles of forest the scenery opened up around us.
The shiny spots on the hill opposite Hans are great, rounded granite rocks catching the sun.

We were in awe as we looked down into the Mono Basin and saw Mono Lake.

But walking just a little further gave us a double lake view!
Sardine Lake was our stopping point and a perfect place for lunch with a view.

What do I spy down in the meadow???

On this Sunday hike we saw 7 deer and 1 person.
Nice balance, don't you agree?

The next day we planned several stops within 20 miles of Lee Vining. First stop: Panum Crater. This rhyolite plug volcano last erupted about 600 years ago and is easily accessible from the hwy 120 East just South of Lee Vining. My photos do not do this crater justice, this turned out to be a very interesting stop.

From the parking area it's hard to tell how big this crater is. We walked the Plug trail which took us up into the heart of the volcano, full of fascinating jagged rocks of many colors and types, including shiny patches of obsidian. The Rim trail takes you around the cone shaped crater rim.

Taken later in the day from a couple of miles away, this is a shot of Panum Crater.
Mono Lake is just visible in the background and the sloped edges of the rim are easy to see from here.

Here we are standing on the rim which you can easily see swooping along the right side.
At this point we took the Plug trail which goes up on the jumble of spikey rocks in the center of the crater.

The variety of rock in this crater cannot be overstated!
Here, obsidian shines and is embedded in other magnificent, colorful rocks.

Once on top of the plug it was much larger than we expected.
Large Ponderosa pines grew here and there, pumice crunched underfoot, and views of the
next set of larger craters to the South and the Sierras to the West expanded before us.

Fascinating rocks all around had us imagining the powerful forces that created this incredible pile of rubble.

Just down the road from the crater is the South Tufa area of Mono Lake. Here you can get an up close look at the limestone tufa towers which are visible due to the low lake level, which is due to decades of fresh water being siphoned off for Southern California. Efforts are underway to bring the lake back to pre-siphoning levels so this unique habitat can be preserved.

Note the photographer on the left. We visited mid morning,
at sunset this area is packed with people looking for the perfect shot.

Next we motored on down highway 395 to the June Lake Loop. This 16 mile horseshoe shaped loop off of 395 takes you past several lakes and offers up many camping, lodging and restaurant options as well as incredible views of the Sierras and steep trail access into the mountains.

June Lake was the perfect place to stop for lunch and an off kilter photo opp!

The beach "sand" here is pumice! 

Along Silver Lake the aspen were in fine form.

This photo is untouched and does a good job of depicting the grandeur we played in on this beautiful fall day!

I was eve captivated by the colors resulting from a drop in water in Grant Lake.

Exiting the North access point to June Lake Loop we were treated to excellent views
of the volcanic mountains on the East side of hwy 395.

Mono Vista RV Park was a good place to stay in Lee Vining. It is a neat and tidy park with full hookups. We had decent Verizon signal during our stay.

Site #3.

Today we move on down to Bishop, CA for a few days where we'll meet up with my parents who are on their way home from a summer in Alaska.