"...I decided to visit California for a year or two to see its wonderful flora and the famous Yosemite Valley. All the world was before me and every day was a holiday, so it did not seem important to which one of the world's wildernesses I first should wander."
--John Muir (1868)
We arrived by plane in Chicago last night and went to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field for the first time. Unfortunately a huge storm plowed through about an hour into the game and we sat through a three-hour rain delay. But we had a blast and it was wonderful to be at Wrigley and experience the park. Much like Fenway in it's old-time feel, it has a unique character all its own, like the rooftop seating across the street.
We only had a few days left in the Mammoth area before we had to head down to Sacramento, get our refrigerator fixed, shop for flooring and some other stuff. We had been stuck at home because of afternoon showers frequenting the area and we just needed to get out more. So we drove a bit to the south on 395 to get to a trailhead that sounded great. At over 10,000 feet, this trailhead would quickly bring us to the high lakes in appropriately-named Little Lakes Valley. And what a marvelous trail it was in so many ways. We were treated to one lake after another and spectacular vistas of the Sierra crest beyond.
Wanting to stop for lunch after hiking about two hours, we saw a little lake without a name on the map just over the ridge to the left of the trail. And what a pretty little lake she was!
We ate our lunch on the shore and Lynnae put her line in the water while I went around taking pictures. When I returned, she had two beautiful trout (we later found out they were brook trout) for dinner!
We headed back down the trail, meeting a family on their way into "our" lake--mom, dad and three kids. The dad said that he had come to this lake since he was his son's age (about seven) and that they called it Ruby Lake, though it wasn't named on the maps. We liked Ruby Lake. Stopping a few times to fish (caught nothin') and ponder the beauty on the way back, we had a wonderful long day in the high country. Just what we needed!
It was cloudy nearly every morning and evening in Mammoth, so I was frustrated in my hopes to try to get some nice sunsets, moonsets, etc. Finally the weather improved a few days before we were to leave and I was able to get some nice shots. Moon rising at sunset over the Mammoth crest:
While at Mammoth, we were excited to spend a little time at Mono Lake, which is only a 45-minute drive away. Another by-product of the city of Los Angeles' insatiable thirst for water (see my posts on the Owens Valley back in March), Mono Lake is about 37 feet lower than it was before LA started tapping the streams that fed it in 1941. It is now somewhat protected and the water level will rise about another 12 feet over the next few decades.
Those are the facts, but the reality is that this place is hauntingly strange in so many ways. It is naturally very salty and alkaline--saltier than the ocean and as alkaline as household ammonia--which has caused unique life to evolve in and around its waters. The shores swarm with a certain kind of fly (not bothersome) and brine shrimp live in the water by the billions. 80% of California's seagulls breed here. Most notably, natural springs of calcium-containing water have bubbled up for thousands of years and the interaction of the calcium with the alkaline water formed huge rocky formations, called "tufa". The falling water level has exposed these tufa formations. I was very excited to go to Mono Lake to photograph the tufas.
We were there for the sunset (having pigged out at the Whoa Nellie Deli in nearby Lee Vining. The best restaurant in any gas station in the world, I am sure). The South Tufa area is spectacular in a lunar landscape kind of way. In reviewing the pictures, I found myself most fascinated by the textures and shapes and the way light exposed the deep textures of the formations, so I processed most of the pictures in black and white.
The final sunset light and the rising moon created a very dramatic scene for a little while.
I actually think Lynnae did a better job of capturing the beauty of this area than I did, so maybe I can talk her into posting some of her pics in a future post.
We moved from Convict Lake to a campground near the town of Mammoth Lakes. This is a great location, in the woods and very quiet, but just outside town and biking distance to everything. We have been bogged down with trying to get our refrigerator fixed (not an easy thing in a small town like this), doing some other maintenance on the RV and hiding out from the daily thunderstorms every afternoon. Today we finally got out and did a good hike up to Emerald Lake and Sky Meadows.
The town of Mammoth Lakes is unique in that it is a sizable town with grocery stores, restaurants and hardware stores, but just a five minute drive outside of town is the lakes basin, comprising five large lakes you can drive to and several that are a short hike away. The John Muir wilderness and the beautiful Sierra high country is so close.
The hike up to Sky Meadows was about two miles and 1,000 vertical feet of elevation gain. We first passed Emerald Lake and chatted with a woman (who was painting a picture of the lake) and her husband. You can see the dramatic Mammoth crest above the lake in the picture below. Yosemite is on the other side (west of us) of the crest.
Just above the lake, the trail followed a little creek up to the meadows, which were spectacularly situated below high peaks.
We had lunch at the meadow and scrambled up a rock hill to get a higher view of the meadow. We also got a self-timer picture of the three of us up there.
The hike was beautiful and as a bonus, presented lots of opportunities to take pictures of the creeks as they tumbled down through the meadows and woods. It was a moving water photographer's dream landscape!
We spent the day Thursday driving down from Carson City (where we left the trailer while we visited the Bay Area) to the Mammoth Lakes area on the eastern side of the Sierras. We are camping for a few days at Convict Lake before moving to a campground closer in to the town of Mammoth Lakes. Convict Lake is really beautiful (and we hear the fishing is good), but just after we got here, the smoke started blowing over from the French fire over on the western slope of the Sierras (very near where we camped at Huntington Lake just a few months ago). That fire is growing rapidly and it is just 40 miles away from us as the crow flies.
Here is what Convict Lake looked like yesterday morning:
And here is the same mountain today:
The air smells very smoky and we are going to avoid going outside much today. I am really disappointed that there may not be much night photography opportunity for me to try out the new fast wide-angle lens I just purchased on Ebay :-( On top of that, our refrigerator conked out on us yesterday and we are awaiting a part (fingers crossed that it fixes the problem) to be delivered on Monday. Altogether a bit of a disappointing start to our stay (but it STILL beats working!)