Posted by: kerryl29 | September 6, 2017

California Day 8: The Eastern Sierra

As I mentioned in the previous post, spring is not necessarily the best of times to photograph in the Eastern Sierra.  The major problem is that all of the higher elevation locations are often inaccessible, due to snow.  In a year like this one, following a winter with near record-setting amounts of the white stuff, there’s no chance of accessing these spots.  And so it was during my time in the region.  I could get into many of the canyons and high elevation lake areas, but only to a point.  The only area that was wide open to access was the June Lake Loop.  The road in Lundy Canyon beyond Lundy Lake was under water in places.  Lee Vining Canyon was gated off after about four miles.  Virginia Lakes Road was plowed, but not to the lakes themselves, which were totally snowbound and inaccessible.  And the Mammoth Lakes area was inaccessible beyond Twin Lakes, basically the entry point to the region.  The Bristlecone Pine Forest, near Bishop, was completely off limits.

Beyond the low elevation Mono Lake, I spent most of my time in the area in the accessible part of Lee Vining Canyon and along the June Lake Loop.  Knowing that access would be limited throughout the region I budgeted only two full days to the area.  This turned out to be a wise choice, but despite limited access just about everywhere, I saw more than enough to see how much potential the area had, and am contemplating a return to the region some day, probably in the fall.

I started the day out back at Mono Lake, from the same South Tufa area that I’d visited the previous evening.  That had been a useful experience because, as a function of the time I’d spent there, I was able to find my way around in the pre-dawn darkness.

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

I started out near the eastern part of South Tufa.  Despite an almost complete lack of clouds this morning, the place veritably glowed in the early light.

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

Given the absence of clouds, negative space was the order of the day.

Mono Lake at Moonrise, Mono County, California

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

 

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

As the sun began to near the eastern horizon, I switched gears, moving to the west, facing the peaks of the Sierra-Nevada.  The light was much softer and the contrast far less emphatic.  I was in the same place but the look was entirely different.

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

Mono Lake at Sunrise, Mono County, California

Sierra Alpenglow, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

The alpenglow on the snowy mountains was strong on this morning.

Sierra Alpenglow, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

Sierra Alpenglow, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

With the sun now just cresting the horizon I took one more glance back to the east.

Mono Lake Sunrise, Mono County, California

When the sun came up, I returned to my vehicle and made the short drive to Navy Beach, just a bit east of South Tufa.  The attraction here are the weird and wonderful sand tufa formations.  Anywhere from about two to six feet in height, the sand tufa are calcified sand formations that make for phenomenal abstract subjects.  If you’re into this kind of thing (and if you have a diffuser with you on a sunny day), you could spend hours working these formations.  I spent close to two hours checking out different spots.

Sand Tufa Abstract Black & White, Navy Beach, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

Sand Tufa Abstract Black & White, Navy Beach, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

Sand Tufa Abstract, Navy Beach, Mono Lake, Mono County, California

I made one final image of the lake from the Navy Beach area before returning to my car.

Mono Lake from Navy Beach, Mono County, California

I also spotted a lone conifer on a rock outcropping as I was leaving the lake area and pulled off the road to produce an image or two.

Lone Confier, Mono County, California

With the best light of the morning now gone, I took to scouting.  I started in the nearby Lee Vining Canyon.  As I mentioned earlier, the main road (CA-120) was gated after just a few miles, but a side road–a forest road that runs along Lee Vining Creek–was open for another few miles up the canyon, so I spent some time poking around in the nearly empty area.  The light was still pretty good, so I tried to make use of it.  Large swaths of the southern side of the canyon remained in open shade.

Conifers & Aspens, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Forest Floor Intimate, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Cascade Black & White, Lee Vining Creek, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Roadside, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

When the light became harsh I put the camera away and went into full-blown scouting mode, covering more of Lee Vining Canyon, then driving the length of the June Lake Loop Road (and noting many places to return to in better light).  In early afternoon I looked at Lundy Canyon and then, by mid-afternoon, checked out the Virginia Lakes area.  On the way to Virginia Lakes, which is north of the town of Lee Vining, I stopped along US-395 near Mono Crater where some budding shrubs and the rounded, volcanic boulders caught my attention.

Mono Crater, Mono County, California

It didn’t hurt matters that some clouds had rolled in.

Mono Crater Black & White, Mono County, California

I reached the Virginia Lakes Road and, within a short distance on this steep incline I discovered something interesting.  I found a pullout and walked back on the road nearly a quarter of a mile to check out what I’d spotted.  From the narrow shoulder, I produced several images.

Northeast View, Virginia Lakes Road, Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest, California

Aspens & Conifers, Virginia Lakes Road, Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest, California

As I climbed higher on the drive, snow drifts became larger and larger until there was nothing but snow.  The lakes themselves couldn’t be reached–that part of the road had not yet been plowed.  But near the end of the plowed road I found several spots that I found interesting and stopped again.

Big Sky, Virginia Lakes Road, Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest, California

Big Sky Black & White, Virginia Lakes Road, Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest, California

Snow-Covered Mountain, Virginia Lakes Road, Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest, California

It was early evening by the time I reached US-395 and I returned to some spots on the north end of the June Lake Loop that I’d seen earlier in the day that were now in open shade.

Unnamed Cascade, June Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest, California

Horsetail Falls, June Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest, California

Aspen Trunks, Silver Lake, Inyo National Forest, California

I decided to end the day back in Lee Vining Canyon.  By the time I got to the section of Lee Vining Creek that I’d scouted that morning, it was nearly sunset.  Most of the area was in shade.

Lee Vining Creek, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Waterfall at Sunset. Lee Vining Creek, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

Roadside, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest, California

I caught the last light on the canyon wall to the northeast and called it a day.  I would spend the next day much as I’d spent this one–sunrise at Mono Lake and then poking around at spots to the south, this time as far as Mammoth Lakes…

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Responses

  1. Wow!!!! More amazing photos!

    • Thanks very much!

  2. There are some exquisite pastels in those sun rises!

    • Thanks, Jane!

  3. Having never been to this area, this seems like a great introduction to the possibilities even though the high country wasn’t accessible. The tufa abstracts are terrific. My other favorites are the forest floor intimate and the aspen trunks.

    • Thanks! I’m thinking about combining time in this area one fall with a trip to Death Valley (which is just an hour or so south of Bishop). Las Vegas would be the in/out access point, which would be a million times more convenient than dealing with the Bay Area airports.

  4. […] started Day 9 the same way I began Day 8:  at Mono Lake for sunrise.  This time there were some clouds in the eastern sky, and they lit up […]

  5. […] in May of 2017–ostensibly to spend time photographing in Yosemite National Park and the Eastern Sierra, I specifically built in a few days to make the extremely long and entirely inconvenient drive all […]


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