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.


  1. Lots of family memories in that area - Mom lived in Trona as a young woman, and Dad and I spent several summers in the Sierras which always included time at June Lake. Have never been there in October though, and I think that's when we'll go back, it's just beautiful! The pic of Hans in the crater with the big cone rock on the left was my favorite until the flying pumice! What a great catch :-) It's not that far from us, maybe we'll take the Jeep up there in a couple weeks.

    1. I had only visited the Eastern Sierras during the summer before and I can now say with confidence that fall is an amazing time to be here! You definitely should make a road trip at this time of year!

  2. If you like primitive camping, you may like the Lower Lee Vining Campground west of town on the way to Yosemite (http://ncmotorcyclists.blogspot.com/2014/08/lower-vining-campground.html). Also, Bodie Ghost Town north of Lee Vining is an interesting place to visit (http://ncmotorcyclists.blogspot.com/2014/08/bodie-ghost-town.html). Looking forward to your future posts.

    1. Bodie is definitely on our list of future stops. Though we enjoy primitive camping, we really like our hookups too! We are going to dry camp for a couple of nights in Lone Pine though... Thanks for the tips!

  3. Ever since I first heard about Mono Lake via Nina's blog, this is a place I can't wait to explore. Gorgeous in all directions. We are now in Phoenix and I am missing the fall colors. Thanks for sharing the stunning photos and giving me a fix of Aspen gold :-)

    1. This area really has a nice variety of places to explore. And I really recommend seeing it in October!!!

  4. Truly enjoyed these photos, what a nice time to be there, just beautiful!

    1. Thank you! I highly recommend this time of year here!

  5. This road is high on our list. I want to see all those lakes and the tufas!! But you know me and the rocks...I love all of them. What a great time you had and the scenery was fantastic. Isn't the sky just gorgeous with the whisps of clouds! Those last few photos are amazing with color! I love the one with Hans throwing the pumice and the great clouds above.

    1. You know, we did not plan enough time along 395 this year but we know we will be coming through here often between San Diego and Chantal. Next time I want to spend a week at a time in each spot!

  6. The only one of the great places you visited that I've heard of was Yosemite. This is great! What a wonderful time to be there, your pictures are fantastic. I love the aspens, the tufa towers shots and that one of Grant Lake is gorgeous. You've really had beautiful days and seen a lot in that area. Thanks so much for all the ideas and the place to stay. Onto my list they go.

    1. And we barely touched Yosemite this trip! This part of California is really, really wonderful!

  7. Oh I missed highway 395 Aspen fall colors. You are now in one of our favorite stretch of CA and thank you for taking us back with all those great captures. Lots to do and hike there and Im sure you are already armed with lots of recommendations. Just be sure to swing by or boondock at Alabama Hills in Lone Pine.

    1. We are heading to Lone Pine next and intend to dry camp at Tuttle Creek...we will be sure to explore Alabama Hills!

  8. Beautiful photography Lisa! You have given me lots to research!

  9. I think 395 is one of our most favorite highways in the west. We love Yosemite and Mono Lake. Nina introduced us to this magical place on a cold morning for some great sunrise shots. We stayed at June Lake and it too was magical. Your landscape images are stunning. Have a great time in Bishop, another town we love. :)

  10. We love traveling along 395, and Mono Lake is one of our favorite places. You certainly did it justice with your gorgeous photos. The colors of the sky, the water, the aspens, and the rock formations are just spectacular!

  11. Loved the photo of Hans doing the "magic trick" with the pumice stones. The clouds are just perfect behind him.