Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mono Lake and Tioga Pass

One of the special features of the Eastern Sierras is Mono Lake. Today it is a small remnant of what once covered this region. Like the Great Salt Lake, this lake no longer has an outlet. Water leaves only by evaporation, causing the natural salts to accumulate. Today Mono Lake is three times as salty as the Pacific Ocean.

In that briny environment live tiny brine shrimp and alkalai flies. These in turn feed millions of birds who come to this lake to feed during migration and to nest in the spring. It also brought the Kudzidika people here. Then, in recent history others came. Miners seeking the gold and silver in the hills of the region, ranchers and other settlers. The demand for wood changed the environment and the hostilities of newcomers toward the native Paiute and Shoshone people changed the face of the region. Still later came the representatives of the Los Angeles Water District. More than any other arrival, these changed the land dramatically.

Streams that had previously fed Mono Lake and Owens Lake to the south, were diverted into aqueducts to feed the growing populations of the Los Angeles Basin. Owens Lake no longer exists, except for a shallow puddle in the spring. Mono Lake is a much smaller, and more saline remainder of what was once here. When it is windy, the alkalai flats of both lakes spin blinding and health impacting dust.

Islands in Mono Lake, formed by volcanic action, were threatened with ceasing to be islands. One became a peninsula, allowing coyotes, fox and other predators to attack the eggs and new chicks of the nesting birds.

Eventually the Friends of Mono Lake prevailed in the courts. Los Angeles had to quit taking all the water from the steams feeding the lake. Even with this court help, the Lake is still in danger. Drought years expose the peninsula.

Still, this is a special place, one beloved by many, including photographers. Fresh water springs under the lake bring up water. As the calcium in that water interacts with the briny lake water, tufa towers are formed. As the lake has receded,these towers are exposed. The eerie landscape intrigues visitors.

Above:Double rainbow over the lake.

Below: Tufa Towers on land and in the lake and briny water with foam. The water of Mono Lake is thick and silky in appearance. It is bouyant. Mark Twain described it in "Roughing It" and said the the akalinity allowed one to toss in dirty laundry and have it come up cleaner than if an expert laundry woman had rubbed it on a wash board.

Below: views from Tioga Pass, the "backroute" into Yosemite. It closed the following day due to snow. Here is a view of Half Dome....not the usual one seen from the Yosemite Valley.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Eastern Sierras

The above campsite is in one of my favorite spots. Goodale Creek is a primitive campground between Big Pine and Independence. Lava flowed here at some point and some is visible behind my motorhome in the photo. The Sierras highlight the landscape to the west and it doesn't matter if you are parked facing north or south, the view is spectacular. To the east are Owens Valley and the Inyo Mountains. Changing weather conditions light the mountains and drops snow on the peaks.

It is a good location for exploring the surrounding area. It was my base for spending time at Manzanar, the Alabama Hills, the trip to Whitney Portal, and Big Pine Creek Canyon. Part of the time another RVer, Boomer, Photographer, Don Peterson joined me. It is always fun for me to go out shooting with another photographer. It makes me get up earlier than I would if I was going alone, gets me excited and makes me look twice at things .He had only briefly visited this area a couple years ago so I played guide. I love sharingspecial places. And it is fun to then share the photos we have taken.

The above two photos are other scenes at Goodale Creek campground. Its obvious that there is plenty of space and peace and quiet.

Below are some typical scenes from the Alabama Hills. This site has been used for many films and one almost expects to see the Lone Ranger, John Wayne, or Gary Cooper to ride out between the narrow piles of sandstone boulders.

This is Don with his camera

This arch must be the most photographed scene in the Alabama Hills so of course I had to do some versions of it too. The weather did not cooperate; Mt. Whitney can often be seen in the background but clouds blotted it that morning.

Above: Fun lighting near Hwy 395 driving home from town one day.

Whitney Portal is the trail head for those who wish to hike the highest peak in the lower 48. For those of us with less strenuous desires, the drive to the Portal and a walk around the base of this waterfall, the small lake, and the trees in the area is a great way to spend some time.
Below: On the drive back from Whitney Portal the skies opened enough to look back, from near the Alabama Hills, to see Mt. Whitney. The sculpture is something new from my last trip to the area. It seems to mark the entrance to a new home in the area, but it make a great prop for the view.

Another day included the drive on the June Lake Loop with dozens of stops. Extreme winds the day before cleared the air and did not knock all the leaves from the aspens. The loop is protected some. Snow was still blowing from some of the peaks and open areas had blown clear. High wind advisories along Hwy 395 kept me off the roads. The windshield was blown out of a car parked at the Mono Lake Visitor center which is an indication of the velocity.

Rush Creek tumbles down the mountain on its way to Mono Lake. In recent years, court orders have required that the water enter the lake rather than being diverted by the Los Angeles Water Department.

Below: After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, all people of Japanese ancestry, down to 1/8, were removed from their homes and businesses and placed in concentration camps, relocation centers, whatever term you want to use. Manzanar, along Hwy 395 was the first camp. Here people were housed in military barracks, fed in mess halls. The site is now a National Historic Park under the National Park Service. Within the last two months, they have opened two barracks and a mess hall so people can see the living conditions.

Guard tower to prevent people from leaving the camp. Eventually people were allowed to legally leave. Among those leaving were young men who fought in one of the most decorated army units, fighting for this country in Italy while their parents, siblings and children were held behind barb wire at home.
I knew much of this story, but a new tidbit on this visit was that children of Japanese descent in orphanages were also sent to this site. Any child with as much as 1/8 Japanese ancestry was transferred to Manzanar. .
But what can one expect of hysterical times and racism. Hysteria and racism can do some strange things. I have trouble imagining a 4 year old orpahn being a threat to national security, but that is what happened.

Return to Bodie

During my visit to the eastern Sierras, I returned a couple of times to Bodie State Historic Park. I spent three seasons 2002-2004) working at Bodie. Located thirteen miles off Hwy 395, south of Bridgeport,Bodie is one of the gems of the region.
This remote gold and silver mining town was once, briefly, California's second largest city. With close to 13,000 people, only San Francisco surpassed it. But in less than a year, the population had dropped to a fraction of that.

Still, Bodie hung in there, existing as a mining town up until WWII. The school and post office closed that year, along with the mine and mill. The federal government closed gold and silver mines during the war as they were not essential industries. Although attempts were made to revive the operations after the war, they were unsuccessful

Today, Bodie sits in a "state of arrested decay." The buildings, to the extend horrible budget restrictions allow (and with help from the non-profit support group) are stabilized but not restored to their pre-ghost town existance. The guiding rule is to keep the town looking as much as possible as it did in 1963 when it became a state park. All the artifacts are originals. Fortunately a leading family bought up and preserved much of the town and a few other families hung in there, some justusing their homes as summer homes, some on a more regular basis. An armed caretaker helped to prevent wholesale looting.

Wholesale looting did happen at Aurora, NV just over the state line from Bodie. It is sad. Mark Twain spent some time in Aurora and wrote about his experiences in the Esmerlda Mining District in "Roughing It."

As many photos as I have taken of the place, I can't visit without taking more. There is always some new angle, some play of light. One of my goals was to do some reflection photos in windows and then some photos using a polarizer to better see inside. I found last season at Yellowstone I had a great reflection photo to share with guests, but needed a companion polarized photo. A couple of them are included here....I apologize for the small renditions and quality the blog allows.
A visit to Bodie always means seeing some of the folks I worked with there. Ranger Mark Langner and his wife Lynn Inoye are some of my favorite people. Thanks to both of you for another good visit to Bodie, fine meals, a bit of wine, lots of conversation and laughter.

Inside a stable, looking toward the church and a couple of residences.

General view of town. The house on the left is the Gregory House where I lived during my seasons at Bodie. Pretty rough on the outside, basic but comfortable inside. In fact, I considered the claw foot bathtub the high of luxury. This was one of the houses that was occupied into the fifties, by a rather gnarly, unfriendly character. But, since it was occupied in the Depression, and after the war, it had modern plumbing and was fairly sound. Buildings like this now house staff.

Many old wagons, as well as later automobiles and trucks, litter the fields around town. In the museum are two elegant hearses.
In discussions last summer with guests on my photo tours, I realized it would be good to show a couple of window shots, with and without polarizers. I played with a number of these while I was in Bodie. The window in the first two shots is the old general store. Without a polarizer, the reflection includes the mining hill, the1928 Dodge-Graham truck as well as the interior with the dye advertisement.With the polarizer, emphasis is on the wonderful ad for Diamond Dyes.

That old Dodge-Graham still runs although starting it is a chore. Each year it is towed to Bridgeport (does not meet highway requirements) and is driven in the parade as the Bodie float. Town is small enough, the parade circles town several times. I've driven the truck in town. and helped to tow it into the barn for winter storage. The Yellow Bus in Yellowstone with its new engine, transmission, starter, and power steering is a piece of cake compared to this one.

I arrived one morning as Mark was about to do his patrol of town. It was the last day of hunting season and he wanted to drive around the back side, up over Bodie Bluff, to make sure all the gates were closed, no one had trespassed. I rode along. This view of Bodie is one most visitors never get to see. It was taken from the top of the Bluff, in the area where the mining shafts are located. Dropping straight down, as much as 800 feet, this area is dangerous and not open to the public except on a limited, guided basis. The rocky hillside in the foreground, a great place to find pikas and there haystacks (winter feed supplies), below is much of what remains of the town with business district and some of the homes. In the distance, the snow capped Sierras. It is fitting as Sierra Nevada translates from the Spanish as Snowy Mountains.

Another reflection shot. I could have included dozens of photos of old equipment, so consider yourselves lucky to get just a few reflections. The house which is reflected is the Gregory House, my old residence.