Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mono Lake Basin - Eastern Sierra Nevada - June 2018

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Where Does This Road Go?

It is a rite of passage, a sign that summer has begun. We stopped for our first meal of the season at Walker Burger in Walker, California on highway 395. This place is down home America. At least the down home America of our youth before multinational corporate franchises took over the exits off the interstates. We'll stick to the small roads and support small town businesses. The slower pace is a joy.

Our meal was in the early afternoon and after watching the birds congregating at the feeders in the garden setting at Walker Burger, we continued south on highway 395. Where were we heading? We really hadn't  made a decision. At this point of our adventure, south was good enough. 

We stopped in Lee Vining for a baby sized soft serve at Mono Cone and wandered about town. Shortly after leaving Lee Vining we decided to drive east for a while and turned onto highway 120. We saw a familiar dirt road heading north.

"We've always wondered where that road goes," I said to the Lady. "Want to find out?"

"Let's do it!" was the Lady's quick reply.

The road led to beautiful places.

We found a wide spot cut out of the sage.

We had passed onto BLM managed public lands and this area is obviously a sheep grazing allotment. Sheep were not present but the evidence covered the ground. The sea of sheep pellets was only a minor annoyance since we had expansive views all around us and complete solitude.

Night came softly. It gently settled in around us. Coyotes announced its arrival with their songs.

We sat in silence as the landscape darkened. We waited for the last bit of light in the sky to spread across Mono Lake.

We were up the next day before dawn. We walked with our mugs of coffee and watched the return of daylight. The coffee warmed us as the temperature was 33°.

After a simple breakfast and lowering the top of the camper, we headed back out.

There's always something on our list to go searching for. It seems our list is endless. On a previous trip in this area we had searched for an ancient petroglyph site without success. We decided to give it another try. A series of 4x4 roads took us to our starting point.

The Lady is always anxious to get going. And I like to follow and compose photos.

We were searching an area of springs. Our previous search had turned up stone flakes from tool making and other tidbits. What would we find this try?

Our first find was fresh bear tracks. "Fuzzy face was through here!" the Lady said as she pointed out the classic fore foot back foot placement. She loves bears as do I.

We turned up nothing new around the spring complex so headed up to the ridge tops for the view. A species of dandelions - related to desert dandelions, but with minor differences - were abundant in open spaces with sandy soil. They were the dominant wildflower with scatterings of Indian Paintbrush.

We found a spectacular stacked rock hunting blind on one high point.

We continued up to a high rocky outcrop overlooking the Owens River from the Inyo Craters to Crowley Reservoir.

Most all of the beautiful meandering spring creek - the Owens River - visible is in private ownership.

The Lady picked a large cross country circle to take us back to the truck.

We returned to the truck and explored more of the area, finding one outstanding dispersed camp spot that you may hear about in the future. We continued to the west and followed the road up to Bald Mountain Lookout, arriving around mid afternoon. We had not seen another person all day.

The views from here are world class.

Bald Mountain is on the edge of the Long Valley Caldera. USGS has a presence here with monitoring instruments.

Since no one was around, and this was her favorite kind of spot, we wanted to spend the night up here. We parked the truck off to the side, went for a couple walks, and explored the area.

A log building - of more recent origin - serves as a winter warming hut when snow blankets the mountains.

The views of the eastern Sierra Nevada in the evening light were wonderful.

We enjoyed the vistas from our chairs on the roof.

This was as good as our previous evening's vigil as day turned over into night.

The next morning, and at 51°,  was equally special.

It was a quiet drive home on Sunday. We were absolutely refreshed by this quick getaway and discovering where a few more roads lead.


  1. Looks like that was a successful and very nice getaway! I hope to read about the elusive rock art panel one of these days!

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. Thanks Monte.Surprised to see how much snow is left on the peaks.
    Another great story.

  3. I'm a little envious, it was 76 degrees at 5:00 this morning in Tucson!

  4. It's always great to take that road you've driven past so many times. You did have some magnificent looking camp spots.

  5. Again another great trip, photos and write up. In my old back yard. Spent a lot of summer afternoons out there getting firewood with my old Ford 4x4 pickup, a six pack of beer and the chainsaw (free permit good for ten cords back then). I ought to email you a trip report file I had on my old website about a 2007 trip of three days and two nights on a series of roads I linked together from my home in Big Pine and in the country just east from there and northeast. Even lonlier and history as well.

  6. Did I read that right -- the roof of your pop-up supports the chairs?? That is a sturdy pop-up!

    There is nothing like the high lonesome country of the Eastern Sierra. Thanks for posting this!