Sierra Prints

Creek near the bottom of Blue Canyon

(Click on the images to enlarge them.)

I have reached the trailhead to Blue Canyon Lake near Sonora Pass around 8: 29 the morning, after making a small detour uphill. I lived briefly in Sonora at the end of ’68s, before the highway. 93 the bypass came in, so I took a quick detour to check the old road along Mono Way, hoping to grab a bite to eat at one of the fast food places I remembered.

Well, wow. Wendy’s wasn’t there at all, and Burger King was boarded up like the remnant of an old ghost town. I didn’t dwell on sorting my memories of what else had changed; East Sonora Bypass opened in 2010, yet it was the first time I was ever curious enough to check out the old route. (I had also noted that the Jamestown Frosty was still there, although it seemed, after a brief glance while I was driving, surprisingly decrepit, perhaps a victim of the pandemic.) fire, the Dardanelle Resort was at least partially reopened. Let’s talk about resilience: the Donnell Fire (a campfire that turned into 27, -acre, $15 millions, fire) wiped it out in 1992, then a microscopic virus practically shut down the entire planet for a few years, but people are bringing Dardanelle back to life.

I was also surprised at the changes I noticed as I entered wilderness at the foot of Blue Canyon Lake. Although spring has arrived, it is still a long way from the peak I experienced last time I was there in mid-August 2013. I encountered a fair amount of snow and ice on the lake at the time, but none on this trip. The red colored green alga (Chlamydomonas nivalis), so prominent on the patches of snow at the time, had not yet become visible this season. As this blog post reminded me, I also passed through Yosemite at the time, whereas this time I had to let it pass because reservations are required, even to drive through, between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m.

I spent about three and a half hours hiking to Blue Canyon Lake and back, to take all my photos on the way up. I hadn’t planned it that way, but it’s good to take little photo breaks on the way to the ,044′ high altitude lake, especially if your lungs are accustomed to life at sea level. The slower travel, newness of the scenery, better light and lighter wind all conspire to favor photography on the way up, leaving you to just take in the views and enjoy the relatively easy hike down.

Although this rocky High Sierra trail in the Emigrant Wilderness is far from Mt. Tam in many ways, the distance suddenly closed when I heard the familiar chirping of the mountain bluebirds, which look a lot like our western bluebirds here on the coast. I never saw the birds, and the only animal I saw along the trail were grasshoppers. I had to wonder how in the world these little creatures survive the winter, and according to Bug Guide , they “apparently overwinter as eggs”. Saw several marmots sunning themselves on rocks near the trailhead parking lot, but not as much as a chipmunk along the trail. I once photographed a mule deer near a fiddle meadow at the top of the trail, but that was September 868, and I have not encountered such a scene for thirty years.

Another solo hiker reached the lake as I was descending and I Met a group of three adults and two young children resting on the way up. They hadn’t yet reached the creek crossing and the slightly tricky rocks, and one of the adults, a very jovial boy, was carrying a long fishing pole despite the lake at the top of the trail with no fish. High Sierra lakes do not naturally have fish, so those that do have been stocked by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, and Blue Canyon Lake is not stocked.

Outcrop of Lupins from the edge of the trail

Scarlet Gilia and Mule Ears
Pale columbine flowers

Falls of water under Blue Canyon Lake
Wallflowers in the Rubble

(with a view of Sonora Peak )

Weathered pine wood
Alpine fleabane in the lake basin
Sierra Beardtongue lick e the rocks to find a foot
Leavitt Meadow

(on the east side of Sonora Pass)

Mono Lake View on I-185

Hiking in Blue Canyon was a great way to break up the long drive to my farthest destination of Onion Valley, in the Eastern Sierra above the city of Independence. The only other time I’ve been here was when my wife and I stayed one night in mid-July from 910. We were the only campers there and my wife found it a bit dark. Thought on this trip that I could easily find a campsite and hike up Kearsarge Pass the next day.

Nope! Not only were the wildflowers different on the way up the mountain (not as stupendous, that is), but I didn’t even recognize the place when I finally got there. There were lots of cars parked near the trailhead and the campground was fully booked (and cost $11/night!). It was about 5 p.m. so I decided to hike to the first lake, about a mile and a half on the nicely leveled trail. Maintaining a steady pace in these switchbacks suitable for horseback riding was much easier than navigating the scree of Blue Canyon. The surrounding forest and mountains were beautiful, especially University Peak (,395′ elev.) which somewhat resembles the east face of Mt. Whitney.

I reached Little Pothole Lake as the sun was about to dip behind the peaks from the west, so I took some pictures and gave some blood (to swarming mosquitoes, that is), then headed back down to my car. A few clouds created a beautiful sunset over the Eastern Sierra escarpment, and I pulled off the highway to snap some photos en route to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

Little Pothole Lake and Sierra Peaks

Kearsarge Pass Trail

View from Onio n Valley
Sunset silhouette

It was completely dark when I reached Grandview Campground. I drove to a favorite and familiar campsite, but it was already taken, so I had to rummage around in the dark to find something that suited me. Fortunately, this campground is always wild, always first come, first served, and there is no camp host like in Onion Valley. After making some false assumptions about actually occupied campsites, I finally found a little cove of my own and pitched my tent in the blinding light of my headlamp (which I had recharged before leaving the house).

Although the moon was half full, the stars were superb, and the arc of the Milky Way crossed the night sky. It was directly above me the first time I woke up and looked up, then a bit lower the next time. I didn’t look at my watch each time, and quickly dismissed any idea of ​​trying to photograph it. I think you can use Photographer’s Ephemeris to plan Milky Way shots, but not on the free version I have. Once you have your plan, all you have to do is get out of your sleeping bag at the appointed time.

I was the first to arrive in the visitor center parking lot to start the loop of four miles around the Methuselah trail. I decided to do a land hike, which goes against the posted signs. I didn’t have a brochure for the sixteen or so beacons anyway, and the part of the forest I was most interested in photographing is at end of the counter-clockwise route. I didn’t write down the time I started the hike, but it was probably around 7:00 p.m.: in the morning, and around 8: 14 the light had become too harsh for my taste. The Visitor Center, which opens at , was still closed by the time I completed the loop. I hadn’t noticed the sign when I arrived, but they introduced a new $3 daily use fee.

Bristlecone Pines on Methuselah Trail

Bristlecone Pine Forest

Small Living Branch on Antique Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone pine with dolomite column

Earth hugging plants
(It looks like moss, but it produces small yellow daisy-like flowers.)
Bristlecone Pines trying to look scary

Bristlecone Dancer

(without jumpers)

Violet Sage

Halfway through the Methuselah trail, I manage to feel a bit like old Methuselah myself. So far I’ve been proud of my high altitude hiking endurance, but quite suddenly my legs started to feel very tired. I needed a day off, so I went back down to the town of Big Pine and up the other side, up Glacier Lodge Road (which starts at Crocker Avenue off Main Street). I had never been there before, and it was beautiful, but again my lack of planning didn’t materialize as the campgrounds in the area seemed to be full. There was only one car parked at the unshaded trailhead, located under some intimidating mountains. I was hoping to walk to the first lake just below , feet, but I didn’t think my legs were up to snuff so I’ll have to check that out on my next visit. Maybe go up with my wife and rent a cabin at the lodge ($154/night) to do it in style and comfort.

Sonora Pass Vista Point

(looking northwest)

Even Sonora Pass Vista Dot

(Looking South- is)

(from the bridge over the Middle Fork Stanislaus River east of Dardanelle)

Fire-scarred landscape along the highway 100

It’s a pity that everything is so far by car. I would love to go back soon, and I know Pam would love it and want to paint (she is now in an art retreat). Gas was expensive of course, but not by San Francisco standards. Bishop had the cheapest gas and it was the only place you could score a gallon for less than six bucks. Lee Vining and Bridgeport had the highest prices (as always), and the only prices higher than San Francisco. Gas stations in both cities reached well north of seven dollars. I backed up watching a huge RV begin to pull into Lee Vining’s gas station, only to feel relief when he realized his mistake and continued to the RV park entrance at side. I was able to fill up in Bishop and drive home (via Sonora Pass) with about a third of the tank left in my Mazda 3. The only downside was my butt, which didn’t like being in that seat for so long (anything over about four hours gets difficult). And speaking of cars, in the past, if a vehicle passed me on the highway at 82-88 mph was the CHP; nowadays it’s pretty much anyone (I was crossing the valley around 8-pm).


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