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“Look out your windshield, straight ahead of you,” I said to my buddy Barking Spider.
He had just climbed in his truck after the four of us had enjoyed a walk along Heenan Reservoir below Highway 89’s Monitor Pass. I was standing between our trucks and had just closed our passenger door after opening it for the Lady to get in. That’s when I saw it. I could see Barking was looking too far out, “No, right in front of you, about 20 feet away.”
“Whoa!” he exclaimed.
Barking and the Mrs. wanted to do a weekend trip with us. We had bantered about a few possibilities as to where to go and decided on continuing our exploration of the Sweetwater Mountains north of Bridgeport. It was close by, the area receives comparatively little visitor pressure, and the geology and landscape are interesting. We took our time traveling and enjoyed checking places out along our route. This included Heenan. We walked along the reservoir and spotted the bald eagle nest but saw no activity. Near the end of our walk an adult bald appeared over the water and splashed down twice but was unsuccessful in coming up with a trout.
We looked at tracks, saw an abundance of western tent caterpillars nests, and enjoyed the warm morning. I was hanging back and watching for cruising trout along the shore. And there they were, coming at me. I called for the others to come back and get a look at these Lahontan Cutthroats. They were surprised at the size of these two trout, well in the neighborhood of 20 inches long.
That brings us to the bear. It appeared to be occupied with eating something off the brush. We assumed it was tent caterpillars.
It was unconcerned with our presence. Our voices and movements near our vehicles did not provoke any noticeable aggressive or defensive responses. It would look up occasionally and check on us.
All of us in our group have experienced many encounters with bear. We took photos, enjoyed watching it, and then hopped in our trucks, continued on our way, leaving our new friend busy being a bear.
We headed over Monitor Pass and then south on 395. Bircham Flat Road, then Lava Springs Road found us up at 9200 feet in the Sweetwater Mountains and at Lobdell Reservoir. I’ll just be frank here, please be tolerant. Lobdell Reservoir is an abomination, a sad remnant of past poor land use practices. It once was a high mountain meadow that was excavated out with with bulldozers and the dirt pushed out to form earthen dams around three quarters of the shore. There is stark evidence that one dam has catastrophically failed in the past, digging out a huge gully as the flow made its way into Deep Creek. To my unprofessional eye it does not appear that any of this meets current dam safety requirements and may not be allowed to fill. Both ditches that once diverted nearby creeks into the reservoir are now abandoned. It appears that water is now only allowed to be held in the excavated hole and no longer contained by the dams except at the outlet down Desert Creek.
We set up camp above the east side of the reservoir.
Before dinner we walked over to an abandoned cabin back in the trees above one of the ditches. The road in is clearly marked as closed to vehicles. We carefully opened the door and saw this is one rat and mouse infested cabin and we quickly dubbed it a “Hanta Hotel.” The last people to use the area left stacks of garbage filled black trash bags in the adjoining shed for animals to rummage through. The animals did, thoroughly. This is a very sad place. At least the doorway showed some history.
After dinner we walked the extensive meadow system to the north.
A pronghorn high tailed it out of here, leaving only a little dust and a blur along its exit. We were excited about getting a fleeting glimpse. The meadows gave us clues what the area now covered by Lobdell might have been like.
As the sun set we headed back to our camp.
It was windy and we noticed the effects of the waves coming off the mountains on the east side.
The evening light was spectacular.
The moon rose along the crest of the Sweetwaters and into the pink clouds.
It just got better.
And then it was time to turn in for the night.
The next morning we were ready to head to the top of the Sweetwater Mountains.
The views as we climbed were incredible in the clean air.
Our route took us into the high East Fork of Desert Creek.
At the first switchback is a prospect area were prospecting was done with bulldozers and lots of explosives. Debris has moved all the way down filling the creek bed.
We found what we figured they were looking for.
The route climbs until it hits a broad plateau above timberline and finally the summit of Mount Patterson is visible.
We continued to consult our topo maps to track our progress and identify nearby features.
The crest of the Sweetwater Mountains just stunned us with their beauty.
How lucky we were to be up here, alone, in this grand place.
Soon we were on the top of Mount Patterson at 11,673 feet.
The wind was howling. We found a depression just off the summit to take refuge.
We started our trek back down into the full force of the wind.
There was just a hint of build to the east.
Back at camp we awaited the evening light and our rituals of relaxing wanderings.
The next morning showed signs of the approaching storm with clouds working their way over the Sierra crest.
Between cups of morning coffee we made our way to a nearby high spot.
On our way home we made a quick stop to check on history. Only a few years ago pieces of Fremont’s long lost cannon were found in Deep Creek.
We wanted to familiarize ourselves with the area. You can find more information about the discovery here: Fremont’s Cannon.
It had been a great weekend exploring new places and reaching new heights.
Postscript – A couple of things to consider if you are visiting the Sweetwater Mountains. Although there is very clear signage directing visitors to stay on designated routes (and there are lots of designated routes – ones with numbers) with their vehicles, it was very disheartening to see much evidence that many blatantly disregard this direction. We found places where vehicles had recently driven directly across meadows and streams far from any road. In areas above timberline, such as off the summit of Mount Patterson, vehicles have driven straight down and up in several places off the designated route. On the broad plateau below the summit vehicles have plowed donut circles. We saw several places where routes were clearly marked as closed with fresh tire tracks past the signs. There is also evidence that these high meadows are used for grazing allotments. We did not see any cattle or sheep, but I would expect that around July 15th animals could be moved into this high country for grazing. Be forewarned about another side to the sweet Sweetwater Mountains.