Sunday, Aug 24, 1997
Near the town of Mammoth Lakes, there's a gravel road turnoff with a sign saying Bald Mountain Lookout, 11 Miles. That was just too inviting to pass up. On the way up there, I passed this interesting pumice meadow. It looks like one of those pictures they show you how to paint on the public TV stations, a beautiful open meadow surrounded by pines, with snow covered peaks in the background. The ground is all pumice, with a sparse scattering of grass.
I continue on to the top of Bald Mountain, and I'm rewarded with a great view!!!! A 360 degree panorama of the Long Valley Caldera. I could see the cinder cones on the island in Mono Lake, only 100 years old, plus the Mono Craters, about 600 years old. It's amazing how all this area blew up in the relatively recent past. I saw Boundary Peak on the Nevada/California border, standing out with its white color (granite, I guess). Also visible were the Minarets of Devil's Postpile, Mammoth Mountain with its ski runs, Crowley Lake, Mono Lake, and lots more.
There was a fire spotter there, who invited me up to the crow's nest to look around. She showed me all the interesting points to view. She had a little Mexican dog, Piasa, who didn't particularly like having Pepper as a guest, but they got along OK. I got there around 4:45, and she said I was the first visitor that day (Sunday). She was a blatant Texan. She was very friendly, and had that willingness to converse with a stranger that comes from isolation, I suppose. Her job reminds me of a lighthouse keeper. She was concerned that the government would cut her job, but she says she always spots a few fires each year before they get big, and the firefighting money saved by keeping those fires small more than pays for her meager salary. She showed me her spotting equipment, which had a large protractor-type ring over a map. She had me sign a guest register, and she gave Pepper a biscuit before we left.
She had suggested that I camp at Bald Mountain Springs for the evening. I went there, and it was beautiful, but there were mosquitos (because of the water). Also, it was sheltered, and I wanted to do some stargazing, so I went to a beautiful meadow which I had passed on the way in. The meadow is probably two, maybe three miles long, and a half mile wide. I camped at the north end, to give a great view of the southern constellations.
I had probably the best night of stargazing ever tonight! The sky was very clear, and the meadow gave a perfectly unobstructed view. There was a tiny bit of light pollution from the town of Mammoth Lakes, but the glow from town, even right on the horizon, wasn't nearly as bright at the glow from the Milky Way there. The only reason I was sure it was light pollution was that it was in front of the distant mountains.
I set up the telescope about 20 yards south of the van. First, I got a view of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. Then I searched for the galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major. It took me awhile to find them (I was starting before the sky was really dark), but they were clearly visible when I found them. The most fun thing was just scanning the southern sky with binoculars, and then identifying what I was seeing. Several clusters in the southern sky were easy naked-eye targets. M22 in Sagittarius, and M6 and M7 and NGC6231 in Scorpio were particularly brilliant. The table of Scorpius was worth staring at for quite awhile, with its many clusters. I spent awhile just staring with the naked eye, using the star chart to identify every single constellation which was above the horizon. Finally I went over to Andromeda and saw the Galaxy M31 better than I'd ever seen it before. I could easily see its two companions NGC 221 and NGC 205, as well as a dark band in the galaxy itself, hinting at the spiral arms. All in all, pretty impressive.
August 25, 1997. I awoke to a wonderful view of the meadow through my "picture window", as seen above. Pepper and I went on a short hike across the meadow. She lagged way behind me, a bit overheated. Here you can see her panting, and if you look closely in the upper right, you can see the white van at my campsite. Pepper and I had the whole meadow to ourselves.
I went and visited the Mono Lake South Tufa. It's an eerie, interesting landscape. I ran out of film during my hike of the Tufa, but the Tufa are over-photographed, anyway. I snapped the shots below before running out of film.
Off in the distance, I noticed a large cloud, which was growing and rising. I thought it must be a forest fire, but the smoke was very light colored. Whatever it was, it was huge. Someone mentioned it to the ranger collecting the entrance fees, and she said it was a military installation near Hawthorne, Nevada, where they destroyed old ammunition. Sure enough, the smoke stopped pretty quickly after it started. Some pyromaniacs must've had lots of fun out in the desert today.
I went up north to Bridgeport, got gas, dog food, and water, and headed for Buckeye Hot Springs. This is a spot I've been to twice before. I got the prime camping spot today, just across the road from the springs under a tree. The previous occupants had made a couple of Godseyes, those popular 60's things made by wrapping colored yarn around a couple of crossed sticks. They were fairly fresh, because the colors were very brilliant even though they were exposed to the harsh sunlight. A hummingbird was poking at them, as though he thought they were food.
As I soaked in the springs, I met a guy who was talking about astronomy and who was sure we'd be hit by a meteor sometime soon, with catastrophic results. I told him about my telescope, and he seemed interested. He lived in rural Nevada, with no light pollution, so he was in prime star-gazing territory. But he said "The sky looks so big, where would you even start looking?" I told him "Sagittarius". Then I described some of the things I'd seen the previous night. He said I may have inspired him to go dust of his old telescope and/or binoculars to take a look.
Also in the springs, I met an older grey-bearded man who was camping with his horses. He was planning on taking part in a wagon train across Sonora Pass from Bridgeport to Twain Hart. The event will be a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the first settlers coming across that route.
Spent the day and evening at the Godseye spot near Buckeye springs again, without starting the van's engine. Today was a lazy day, even by my sabbatical standards. I read quite a bit of Edward Abbey, played guitar, refreshing myself on several minuets and other classical pieces that I had half-learned in the past. Pepper and I hiked up the hill a ways, found a small stream with running water, but not much else. Pepper didn't want to hike much, and was dragging behind quite a bit. We stopped under the shade of a couple of trees to rest. It's amazing the difference shade makes in this desert heat. It wasn't too hot, felt like 70 or 75 in the shade, but 95 or more in the sun. I don't know what the real temperature was, probably somewhere in between. The humidity is incredibly low, as evidenced by the static electric shocks I get when I pet Pepper too vigorously.
I've been learning to like the local Country station out of Bishop (KIBS). It plays modern country, plus old stuff like Glen Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy and Olivia Newton-John's Let Me Be There, even the original Wichita Lineman (Can't remember who sang that one). I hadn't heard these songs since hearing them on WFIW in my hometown during my youth. I still remembered all the words, though, and you can bet I sang along. The other thing that endears me to this station is the local news. They announce all the local birthdays and anniversaries, every traffic accident, the court cases, etc. They even announced that "Nothing of importance happened in the city council meeting, except that a retiring police officer was honored." This is the kind of news I grew up on.
©1997 Richard Cochran