Thursday, September 07, 2006

The White Mountains

Near my tent site at Grandview Campground, in California's White Mountains

Slept poorly last night, moving every few minutes. It had been cold. And my snoring woke me twice. A strange dream shook me around 2:30. In it, a fellow took my place in a line. I protested and tried to bite him. But he was stronger, and when he grabbed my arm to bite me, I said “I take it back.” So I let him have my place. Then it turned out he could hypnotize me. At one point I awoke and knew I had been “out”, hypnotized, and it was deeply troubling.

Awoke at 6:30, after a couple hours’ rest, the sky light. Soon the sun was illuminating the High Sierra in the west. I wanted to be completely packed before the sun reached my campsite. Didn’t want to be "found out".

A few cars on the road around 7:00, sending up their dusty plumes. Brownies, "Gatorade" and peanuts in the shell (eaten whole) on the breakfast menu.

Bodie Ghost Town in California's eastern high desert. A friend, Evan Massaro mentioned Bodie just as I was leaving, planting the seed for a stop here.

Bodie was just over the hill. Riding was easier today. Arrived at 7:30, but the town doesn’t officially open until 8:00. A young ranger arrived and went about his chores, including raising the flags. While I waited, chatted with a photographer with the Lancaster Photography Association. There are 20 or 30 of them here today. They were photographing Bodie by moonlight last night (trying, though the weather did not cooperate), and left around 8:00 (that caravan I saw pass in the night.) Many were back for sunrise this morning. Both visits required special passes. They were also afforded the opportunity to take photos inside some of the town’s buildings.

Coins scattered across the floor of a chapel in Bodie

Sage Grouse outnumber the humans in Bodie

The vault is the only part of the bank left standing

Bodie's sawmill

Members of the Lancaster Photography Association study Bodie's general store

General store window "display"

I wandered among the photographers, humbled by their equipment, knowledge and experience. The fellow I spoke with, a minister by profession, was still shooting film, though his new digital camera is on its way.

At their request, I took a photo of a young couple visiting from Idaho. Later, I let the minister look at what I’ve taken. “Not bad.” He paused at one or two. “Those shadows are really killing everyone.”

Leaving Bodie, I followed a short-cut to Lee Vining, a dirt road a little rougher than the one I came in on. (Signs say “very rough road next 10 miles”.)

Following Henry's suggestion, I left U.S. 395, on the "June Lake Loop". The area is now too developed for my liking. Another retreat for the wealthy.

Wandered into the resort town of Mammoth. Jeez! It is evident this is Southern California’s getaway. Broad boulevards, luxury boutique outlets, chain stores, trendy mountaineering shops and restaurants. People going down the highway on two-wheeled skis. So, it seems we need ski gear for summer too!

Rode up toward Devil’s Postpile, but learned there’s a mandatory shuttle – a 45 minute ride or so. Instead, I pulled up to the nearby Pinnacles viewpoint.

The Sierra Nevada's Minarets, taken from just east of Mammoth Mountain

A gentleman asked if I would take a photo of the two couples in his party. One from Santa Rosa, one from Westlake Village. The fellow who asked me was quite familiar with the back country having hiked on the Pacific Crest Trail many times.

Mammoth Mountain has been turned into a theme park. The National Forest signs here proclaim “America’s Playland!” (What happened to “Land of Many Uses”?)

Through Bishop to Big Pine, stopping only for gas. The Owens Valley was very hazy. I expect pristine landscapes and a crystalline atmosphere out here in the desert, but the impact of sprawling urban landscapes just beyond those western and southern mountain ranges is clearly evident out here.

Onward to the White Mountains, home of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Checked out the "Grandview Campground" on the way in. A huge sprawling camp area with lots of room, and a $3 “suggested” fee.

Went to the visitor’s center, then drove out to the "Patriarch Grove". The Bristlecone Pines are found scattered around the Great Basin, and are one of two trees that have adapted to the sub-alpine zone. The other is the Limber Pine. The Bristlecone is found in the white dolomitic limestone soils (no doubt the origin of the name “White Mountains”.)

Walking a quarter-mile loop and taking photos, a few times leaving the path. It felt criminal to walk on this delicate soil, where plants and trees struggle to survive.

About 11,000 feet high in the White Mountains stands this ancient Bristlecone Pine tree. Within this forest are living trees determined to be over 5,000 years old. While countless humans have "strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage", these trees simply live on.

Male pine cones

Female Bristlecone pine cone, oozing sap

The Bristlecone Pines survive under the harshest conditions. Poor soil, little water, and at sub-alpine elevations around the Great Basin, they are blasted by wind-driven sand, snow and ice.

As I wandered the slopes out here, I kept an eye to the sky, concerned about rain clouds forming over the Sierra and moving out over Owens Valley. I had come up 12 miles of dirt road to the Patriarch Grove and didn’t want to get stuck with slippery roads heading back. (There were already muddy patches left from previous rains.)


Sitting at a picnic table typing these notes, when suddenly there were noises coming from my tent. Went to investigate, my headlamp on. A mouse scurried past me and hopped out the entrance. He had already discovered my peanuts.

Rice pilaf for dinner. It’s so much work to cook a "meal”. It's not really worth the trouble if you only stay one night in a place.

Full moon rising. I clambered around the slopes at dusk, seeking a good vantage point for a photograph, but once I found a decent spot, as was the case last night, the moon was obscured by a line of thunderheads to the east.

Grimy, tired and achy. Ah, being on the road!


babycondor said...

Simply stunning!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Glad you made it! I was there about the same time as you were! Had a GREAT time in the Bridgeport area, but had to save Bodie for another trip! Evan.