Chapter 1 -- To the Eastern Sierra

Thursday, August 21, 1997

After much anticipation, the trip finally began at 10:23 am! I finally finished loading the van, and then drove away. First stop, Sausalito, to get cash and hold mail. Then to Mill Valley to get gasoline. Then to Marin Outdoors in San Rafael for Propane.

I camped on the Sonora Pass near Dardanelle, CA at Brighton Flat campground. First, I had set my sights on Mill creek campground, but I found it to have a campground host trailer with about 20 small kids running around. The campground was too small to get away from the kids. So I backtracked to Cascade Creek campground. It looked ok, with no residents at all. There was a sign on one of the restrooms saying CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC with a hand-lettered postscript saying MEAT BEE NEST. I don't know what a meat bee is, but I figured that restroom must have had a bee nest or something. I selected a site a respectable distance away from that restroom, got out, and could hear a dull roar of bees buzzing, all around everywhere. Then I started seeing them. Lots of them. Everywhere. Hungry. I quickly gave up on Cascade Creek. Fortunately, there are lots of campgrounds around here, and I pretty much have my pick. I got settled here at Brighton Flat at about 6:00pm. One bad thing is that this campground, like most of them around here, is too close to highway 108, a fairly busy highway. We'll see what it's like tonight. I'm tired of driving, and tired of traffic. Tomorrow, we'll visit hot springs in the eastern Sierra.

Friday, August 22, 1997

When I got up this morning, a rude lady wanted to collect my campground fee, even though it had already been paid. When she came to the door, I opened it, and Pepper, seeing her chance for freedom, seized the opportunity and jumped out, giving the lady an unreciprocated friendly greeting. The sour lady scowled, and said that Pepper is supposed to be on a leash when she's outside. Of course I knew that, and would have put Pepper on a leash had I been planning to take her out. All in all, she was extremely rude, and left me with a bad impression for what was otherwise a fairly pleasant campground.

I made it over the top of the pass, and got gas and a few groceries at Bridgeport. Mono Lake was the next stop, for pictures. Here's the lake as seen from Conway Summit, on Highway 395 looking south:

Mono Lake

I drove south through Mammoth Lakes, and stopped for a soak at a small hot spring, one of the dozens in the Long Valley Caldera. The weather is really too hot to soak in hot water for long. I continued south through Bishop, and stopped at Keough Hot Ditch. This place is wonderful, with lots of flow, and many clear, deep pools. Unfortunately, there were very prominent No camping signs all over. I soaked for a short time and pondered where I should spend the night.

Picture of Dead Pine After consulting the map, I went up into the White Mountains to camp at Grandview campground, east of Bishop. We're up high, above 8000 feet near the ancient bristlecone pine forests. I went for a sunset hike and snapped this picture of a dead tree. It's not a bristlecone pine; the elevation is too low around here. My guess is it's a piñon pine.

The telescope works wonders here. I looked at Lyra, since it's straight overhead now. I could barely resolve the "double double" Epsilon Lyræ with the high magnification eyepiece. This is an interesting object. It looks like a single, undistinguished star to the naked eye, but with small binoculars, it's obvious that it's two separate stars, equally bright. With a high power (100x or more) telescope, each of the two separate stars can be seen to consist of two equally bright stars, for four equally bright stars in total. It's a beautiful stellar system, and a good test of the telescope. I also got a beautiful view of Jupiter, and a nice view of Venus, as well. Saw open cluster M11 in Scutum.

Saturday, August 23, 1997

I had a lazy morning, read some Edward Abbey, cleaned house, played guitar. Today is a day of low ambition, at least as far as travelling is concerned. Around noon, I packed things up and drove to Schulman grove, where the bristlecone pines are. I had thought that the bristlecones reproduced by cloning, and so it was a semantic thing calling them the oldest living things on earth. But no, some of them have over 4000 years worth of growth rings in a single trunk! They're beautiful, twisted and weathered by the severe conditions up here.

On the way to Schulman Grove, there's a place called Sierra Vista, where you can see all 13 of the 14,000 foot peaks in the Sierra Nevada. I stopped to snap this photo.

Sierra Vista

The only 14K peaks in California that can't be seen there are White Mountain Peak, which is close by just to the north, and Mt. Shasta, which is a long way away to the north (We'll see it in a few days).

I went to a campfire program here at the campground. The ranger discussed the Great Basin, and the science of dendrochronology (tree ring dating) for about an hour. The nearby bristlecone pines have given scientists a continuous counting of tree rings (and record of local climate) for 10,000 years. This has been used to calibrate and verify Carbon-14 dating.

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©1997 Richard Cochran
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