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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Just a Little Nevada

We spent a couple of nights in Reno, NV taking care of miscellaneous stuff one needs a larger city for and managed to get in a nice hike, in fact a repeat of one we did in May. The Tahoe Rim Trail is easily accessible from Reno via the Mt Rose trail. We hiked the Tahoe Rim/Mt Rose six mile loop, this time free of snow, but with lovely patches of fall color.

Tahoe Meadow in the foreground, Lake Tahoe in the distance.

Waterfall, meadow and Mt Rose at the high point of the loop trail.

Stopped for road construction on the Mt Rose highway.

We continued on down 395 to Topaz Lake, NV for a couple of nights, staying at Topaz Lodge RV Park. It's a nice little full hookup park, $25/night, associated with the lodge and casino, right on the edge of the Nevada/California border. We had an excellent breakfast at the cafe inside the casino. We aren't normally steak and eggs breakfast people but we both tried it, being the special, and really, really enjoyed it.

Site 20 has a great view of the surrounding mountains and has a large grassy area adjacent to it.

We were surprised and happy to have a brief visit from Hans' brother and sister in law, Norm and Valerie, as they passed through on a road trip vacation. We love these chance meetups!

Brothers and their best friends!

Our exploration of the area took us up CA highway 89 over Monitor Pass in search of views and fall color. First we stopped right off the highway and walked up the road a mile and a half to Leviathan Peak. At 8,980 feet we enjoyed fantastic views into the Sierras and Carson Valley.

Pockets of color in the high valley below Leviathan Peak.
The Sierra mountains in the distance held very, very little snow.

The Carson Valley is just beyond this colorful valley in the foreground.

In the valley below us I thought I saw big deer ears...I stood there so long the deer freaked out
and turned out to be part of a group of six that took off across the chaparral!

After our little leg stretcher hike we continued on highway 89 stopping at little Heenan Lake for more gorgeous fall color. Turns out Heenan Lake has a very brief trout season (catch and release, barbless hooks only) and fishing is only allowed Friday - Sunday so on a Friday the place was pretty busy.

The yellow was so brilliant here it practically hurt your eyes!

Aspen patches flowed down ravines in rivers of color.

After another short hike we continued on to the tiny town of Markleeville. It's a cute little place with several cafes and a couple of small inns and we learned at the visitor center of a disc golf course just down the road. Turtle Rock Disc Golf Course turned out to be an unexpected gem. Set in a county park with a small campground, tennis courts and horseshoe pits, the course had the best signage we have ever seen and was well laid out among large Ponderosa Pines.

Very nice tee pads, at least one bench at each tee, excellent signs describing the location of each basket/hole,
and prominent number signs directing you to the next tee near each basket.

Hans caught a shot of me and my totally unprofessional throwing technique!  :-)

Topaz Lake turned out to be a pleasant and convenient place to stay for a couple of nights and, via our drive up CA89, opened up another area worthy of future exploration. Today we head on down the road to Lee Vining, CA, more adventures to come!

A happy Rosie in her element.