Wintery Spring in the Eastern Sierra 2017

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Cruising the 395 from Lone Pine to Mammoth – “Allergies be gone!”

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

With the winds blowing strong and the pollen abound, my allergies were wreaking havoc on my well being, but we still pushed on with the day. It was Julia’s first time visiting this grand region again since our last Eastern Sierra romp in 2014. I felt bad because I was dealing with headache’s shortness of breath, and wanting to blackout which did not make me the sort of company you’d want to have around on a trip like this. Despite all my symptoms, I was determined to help show her a good time today.

We had started our day in Lone Pine and made it to Independence where I took a one hour power nap. The nap must have worked cause I felt a little better and so we proceeded further north. As we reached Bishop, I could feel myself getting just a bit better still.

“We made occasional stops along the way including a nearby field with one of Julia’s ‘Lonely Trees’ as she puts it.”

“I do my best to find places to pull off the highway and get her that shot.”

“It was time to get back in the Starship and continue our northbound venture.”

As soon as we hit the Sherwin Grade, it was like the allergy symptoms just disappeared. It must have been the fact that there was lots of snow and overcast at that altitude, I felt amazing! This confirmed that whatever the winds were blowing around back south were putting me through hell. Suddenly we were having an exceptional day!

“Heading up the Sherwin Grade, we ran into some rain which became snow as we neared the top.”

Julia had wanted to take a dip in one of the many natural hot springs near Lake Crowley. As we got closer, we turned off on Benton Crossing Road which looked as though it was still in the midst of a winter siege. I pulled up behind a couple of vans that were parked by the access roads to the hot springs. It seems there were two large groups who had hiked out to the hot springs. Julia and I attempted to make the hike, but the snow was two feet deep in some areas and we were not dressed to take on the soggy and frigid two mile trek in the snow. I had spotted the marking of snow shoe prints, which explains how folks were getting out there. A pair of those would have made the trek much easier for us.

“We had two vans worth of hot spring enthusiasts parked here.”

Across the road was an access trail to other hot springs and Lake Crowley, but the as the sign clearly stated, it was closed. Rather than be defeated, Julia and I stuck around and snagged as many pics as we could before setting off again to another location.

“We had flurries falling on us as we walked along Benton Crossing Road as it steamed from the absorption of sunlight.”

“Definitely not going very far on this trail.”

“Filthy vermin, this is the kind of crap I have ZERO tolerance for.”

After we had enough of the Benton Crossing area, Julia and I thought we could take a stab at the Hot Creek Geological Site since it was just a few miles up the 395. As we exited the highway, we made our way past the airport and fish hatchery toward our destination, but we found that the usual 1.5 mile dirt trail had a rather thick covering of snow on it. I noticed that there were some tire marks that seemed to go onward over the first hill, so I made a couple of attempts to proceed. Even with 4×4, I found the Starship coming to a halt. It was a bad mixture of snow, ice and snow all atop a muddy dirt trail. I knew that even chains wouldn’t help as my limited slip axle wasn’t working correctly. On the second attempt, I got snagged in the dirt pretty badly, so I fought for the next 10 minutes to get us out of there and back on the highway.

“Two attempts and it was just too much snow and ice to handle.”

So much for any photos of Hot Creek today, maybe next time. After escaping the slip and slide of doom, Julia and I headed out to the 395 and drove south just briefly to visit Convict Lake. As we made our exit and drove up the road a bit, the weather had started to drop a decent amount of snow on us. It was beautiful, but also risky if we stayed too long and the snow continued. We parked at the Marina and walked around sharing a jumbo umbrella to keep our camera gear as dry as we could.

“The snow was starting to fall pretty good as we arrived at the Convict Lake marina parking.”

Convict Lake

GPS Coordinates: 37.5907212° N, 118.8619977° W

Convict Lake is a lake in the Sherwin Range of the Sierra Nevada in California, United States. It is known for its fishing and the dramatic mountains (including Mount Morrison) that surround the lake. Its surface lies at an elevation of 7,850 ft (2,393 m).

The lake was named after an incident on September 23, 1871, where a group of convicts escaped from prison in Carson City. A posse, from Benton, led by Deputy Sheriff George Hightower, encountered the convicts near the head of what is now Convict Creek. Posse member Robert Morrison, a Benton merchant and Wells Fargo Agent, was killed in the encounter, and Mount Morrison was named after him. It has frequently been noted on lists of unusual place names.

Convict Lake is known for its fishing, including Rainbow trout, German brown trout, and a species of sucker fish. Due to the high demand of fishing in the lake and stream, the lake is stocked once a week during the summer with rainbow trout, supplied by nearby hatcheries. There is a three-mile trail for hiking around the lake and a trail that connects the lake to the Sierra Crest.(Source: Wikipedia)

“Large sheets of ice and snow had broken free and lay scattered along the edges.”

This was Julia’s first encounter with this natural alpine lake. I had been here once before, but this was my first time seeing it frozen over like this. I was aware that the lakes in the Eastern Sierra Nevada will freeze over during the winter, but I never knew how long they stayed that way. Considering that this was the second day of Spring, I suppose this gave me a good idea of what the lakes up here are like even after the Winter season has officially ended.

“Convict Lake is usually pretty windy which generates choppy waters, but this was a peaceful and colder version.”

“It was nice to see Ol’ Stumpy still hanging around the shoreline in this wintry setting.”

“It was difficult to see the west end of the lake at times due to the falling snow.”

“The view was simply beautiful and the snow made it a very peaceful experience.”

“A small video showcasing the weather as it was that day.”

Lunchtime at Toomey’s

GPS Coordinates: 37.6499475° N, 118.9867092° W
After getting our fill of the Convict Lake wonderland, Julia and I headed out to grab some very tasty lunch at Toomey’s in Mammoth Lakes. I had taken my mom here once in 2015 and it was very good. This would be Julia’s first time at the place. She was craving a fat, juicy burger and I was in the mood for something healthy, but filling. Fortunately for us, we were traveling during the weekday and didn’t have to fight with a whole lot of traffic getting through town.

“Downtown Mammoth was looking pretty relaxed without the typical weekend crowds.”

“Julia got her wish, she had ordered a very tasty looking burger and fries.”

“I ordered a plate of the seared Ahi Tuna with some delicious mango salsa, cucumbers, and white rice.”

Of course our lunch was absolutely scrumptious and to walk it off, we took a light stroll through the downtown area. There were all sorts of neat shops we had not yet visited so naturally we had a good look around. After a short while, we felt a slight sweet tooth setting in so we knew exactly where we wanted to go for our post lunch sugar fix.

“We stopped in at Schat’s Bakery for some savory treats.”

“So many wonderful goodies here, what to pick?”

“The choice was tough, but we picked a carrot cake and split it with some tea.”

“We took some chocolate truffles for the road.”

After relaxing in Mammoth for a bit, we started our way back to Lone Pine, but we stopped at various places along the way. Descending down the Sherwin Pass, we exited at Gorge Road and began stopping along Old Sherwin Grade Road. There was lots to see here so naturally the cameras were firing off relentlessly.

“A large field expanse is spread out in front of a very snowy Mt. Tom.”

“She’s always a very photogenic subject in my honest opinion.”

“Of course this horse got a little jealous and wanted in on the photo session.”

After playing around along the road side of Old Sherwin Grade, Julia suggested we take Pine Creek Road to see what was hidden in the mountains. The road was a bit steep at times and certainly led us straight into the mountains. There were some very amazing and unique mountain views here that neither one of us had seen before. We took our time and pulled over to get in plenty of shots here.

“Pine Creek Road takes you straight into the mountains here.”

“There was a cold front setting in so we made quick work to get what shots we could.”

“The granite peaks in this area were very detailed and great to photograph, particularly the snow covered rocks.”

“Julia spotted a very cool ‘Granite Gateway’ so we hiked as far as we could to get a closer look.”

“This ‘Granite Gateway’ was awesome!, we could literally hike into the next mountain trough from here.”

We continued along Pine Creek Road until we could go no further. A large yellow gate was locked and preventing folks from entering. This was the home of the Pine Creek Mine  as we discovered. This mine was known for producing tungsten, a material with extremely high tensile strength and known for having the highest melting point of an astounding 6192 °F!, (3422 °C).

“From the locked gate, this mountain peak loomed overhead. It’s detailed face was spectacular!”

“The sun began to set and it was time for us to head back. This was the view of the White Mountain Range getting the last light of the day.”

The day trip was a most excellent one. We didn’t rush along too much and managed to soak in a lot of region. We were surprised to have experienced such a winter setting on the second day of Spring. We will definitely have to come back again when the temperatures start to melt the snow. With 2017 going down as a near historic snowfall for California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, we can definitely be expecting some very powerful rivers, glorious waterfalls and overflowing lakes in the warmer months.

Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”



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