Road-tripping in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains

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In Hope Valley, California, the fall colors were in full effect.

10-27-2014

Last week Laura and I took a road trip along the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We packed up our pickup truck with warm blankets, clothes, food and camera gear; we also tossed in our dog, Pepper, for good measure. This was our first chance to try out “RV-ing” with our little camper shell.

My camera gear was pretty minimal. I brought one camera body, an Olympus OMD E-M1 with three lenses: Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8, Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro, and Olympus 75-300mm II f/4.8-6.7 zoom lens. I packed a small carbon fiber tripod but never used it. The in-body image stabilization of the OMD cameras is very good, and I never encountered a time when I felt I needed the tripod. I even took some shots hand-held at 1/4 second that came out very sharp!

Laura used a Canon T4i with a Sigma 18-200mm stabilized zoom lens.

The first day was our travel day from Lincoln to the Highway 395 corridor. Our route took us up Highway 50 toward South Lake Tahoe and we headed southeast over a couple of high elevation passes to get to HWY395. We reached 8,300 feet on Monitor Pass and the breathtaking views opened up as we crested the top.

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The expansive view of the Eastern Sierra after crossing over Monitor Pass.

We spent our first night at the Topaz Lodge & Casino at Topaz Lake just across the Nevada border. The next morning we began our southbound journey down Highway 395.

The fall colors were in various stages of progress. Some trees were bare, presumably stripped by the high winds frequenting the area. Some were still green, with the rest showing yellow, orange and red colors. The contrast of the vibrant colors against the stark rocky terrain provided some compelling visuals.

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Along HWY 395 south of Bridgeport, the trees were in various stages of change.

Our first stop was the ghost town, Bodie. Bodie is a California State Park that consists of dozens of buildings from the gold rush era. If you look through the windows of some buildings, you can see old furniture, appliances, toys, bottles, and sundry items on the shelves.

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The historic town of Bodie sits at 8,375′ elevation.
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The former Post Office (left) and the I.O.O.F. hall (right).
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This rusty car is probably one of the most photographed relics at Bodie.
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One of the many residences at Bodie, this one has a partial vehicle in front.
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Looking through the windows of the Boone Store, many of the furnishings and products are still in place.
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Laura and Pepper take a break in the shade.
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The cemetery above the town tells many of the stories of hardship during the heyday of Bodie.

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After visiting Bodie, we set up camp for our first night of RV life. We stayed at an RV park outside of Bridgeport, along the Bridgeport Lake. With the severe drought, we could see where the lake was supposed to be. We had a great view of the area and we managed to sleep through a very cold night. The rear window of the camper was frosted over by morning, and Pepper had a nice chunk of ice in her water bowl.

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The accommodations were minimal, but for $23, the view was unbeatable. The lake levels would normally reach the area just beyond our campsite.

On our third day, we visited Mono Lake. Mono Lake is considered an oasis in the desert, although the high salinity content of the water makes it undrinkable. No fish live in the lake, either. It is home to nearly two million migratory birds who feed on the brine shrimp in the waters. Large tufa towers, a form of limestone, rise above the waterline and provide an eery and dramatic texture to the view of the lake.

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Tufa towers rise out of the waters at Mono Lake.
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The South Tufa are the most accessible in the area.
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More views at the South Tufa location.
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A circular polarizing filter increases the contrast in the tufa and the clouds.

This is also the part of the trip where we began to see the most fall colors. The June Lake Loop (Highway 158) is located off HWY 395 between Mono Lake and Mammoth Lakes. We followed the 16-mile loop and saw lots of colors. I made a mental note to return to this area before we left for home.

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The fall colors along the June Lake Loop were at their peak. I knew I wanted to return to this area when we had more time.

We spent the third night at a hotel in Mammoth Lakes. After the freezing encounter the previous night, we wanted a place that included a hot shower. It also provided a place to watch the third game of the World Series. (Torture)

On our fourth day, we headed toward the city of Bishop. We knew we would be in a warmer part of the region so we searched for an RV park in Bishop. We wanted to balance out the other “RV-night” with something more pleasant and comfortable. The forecast for the overnight low was around 44°, so we were pretty happy with that.

Brown’s Town is a very nice campground-like RV park on the south end of town. They have several historic dioramas at the front of the park that have artifacts on display inside small buildings. Bathrooms and showers were available in the park. The general store sells basic items along with snacks, scooped ice cream and homemade pies. Now we were really roughing it!

Before setting up camp for the night, we drove south about 60 miles to Lone Pine. We were hoping to get a good look at Mt. Whitney, but the area had some smoky haze so the mountains were difficult to see. We had a great lunch at a Lone Pine main street cafe and returned to Bishop.

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I took this photo from our truck, moving at 65 MPH along the highway near Bishop. (Laura was driving.)
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Another photo taken from a moving vehicle. This was just north of Bishop.
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Our view of the sunset from our truck at the RV park in Bishop.

On Friday, we began our journey home. We planned to drive north up HWY 395 and spend the night near Minden, NV. Along the way we returned to the June Lake Loop and captured some amazing fall colors.

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A meadow next to Silver Lake on the June Lake Loop.
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Looking across Silver Lake.
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The wind was blowing strong that day, but the view along Rush Creek (near Silver Lake) was spectacular.
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Rush Creek colors, above and below (circular polarizing filter set at 3/4 strength).

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The weather was changing on Friday, with very strong winds and a forecast of rain on Saturday. We stayed the night at a motel in Carson City, NV and drove home in gusty winds and rain on Saturday.

Overall, the trip was a great success. We lucked our way into the best time to see fall colors in the Eastern Sierra and had great weather along the way. We worked out the bugs in our first RV experience in our camper and look forward to more trips like this one.

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