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Family And Friends: San Diego To Tucson

Family And Friends: San Diego To Tucson

Posted by on Feb 13, 2018 in Arizona, California, Gallery, Travel | 32 comments

Bidding farewell to the Central Coast, our travels from San Diego to Tucson were a whirlwind tour of time with family and friends.

We were looking forward to seeing family in San Diego; when we discovered that no less than four of our favorite full-time RVing buddies were also in the area, our dance card filled up immediately. A week later, when we moved on to Tucson, we serendipitously met up with another favorite RVing duo and their trusty side-kick.

Four-and-a-half years ago, I never imagined the friendships that would blossom in our travels. Honestly, I secretly feared we might be lonely as we roamed the country. As it turns out, we’ve made many wonderful friends through our blog, as well as through fortuitous encounters on trails, in campgrounds, and during our yearly camp hosting gig on Lopez Island. One thing is for sure, meeting up with friends adds depth and camaraderie and a whole heck of a lot of fun to our travels.

We gathered with our RVing buddies for a delightful evening at Stone Brewing at Liberty Station in San Diego. What a great group of friends and fellow travelers! Hans and Lisa (Metamorphosis Road), Pam and John (Oh, the Places They Go!), LuAnn and Terry (Paint Your Landscape) and MonaLiza and Steve (Lowe’s Travels) showed up for an evening of reconnecting, sharing stories, and plenty of laughter. We didn’t get kicked out of the restaurant, so we apparently showed some restraint.

Liberty Station all decked out for the holidays (yep, this blog is far behind)

A very fun gathering of RVing friends and fellow bloggers at Stone Brewing, Liberty Station. Clockwise around the table: Hans, Eric, John, Steve, MonaLiza, Pam, Laurel, Lisa, LuAnn, Terry.

Dos Picos County Park, our home for the week while visiting San Diego

We always enjoy our time with Eric’s family in Poway (sister Penny, brother-in-law Tom, nephews, and families)

A great day of biking and fun with Pam and John along Mission Bay

Time for a lunch break on our bike ride

Meeting up with Terry and LuAnn for a beautiful day of hiking at Lake Poway

A delicious lunch and catching up at Stone Brewing in Escondido

At the top of Iron Mountain in Poway with Steve and MonaLiza

Lunch at Marinade on Main in Ramona; MonaLiza is happily anticipating that beer tasting

Moving on to Catalina State Park, a Tucson favorite

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Tucson on previous visits. This visit was short, but we still managed to hike every day in Catalina State Park (one of the benefits of staying in the park). Fortuitously, just a few sites down were Sue, Dave, and Lewis (Beluga’s Excellent Adventure) and we had a great time sharing a happy hour, a birding hike, and a wonderful dinner out with them. More good times with good friends.

A very rude saguaro cactus

Happy hour with Sue and Dave—and Lewis, the butler

On the birding trail with Dave and Sue

A fabulous dinner at Vivace in Tucson. Go here if you find yourself in Tucson.

And of course, a few of our feathered friends:

A Phainopepla (what kind of a name is that? I liked it better when they were called “Silky Flycatchers”)

A Cactus Wren, always one of our favorites with their very big personalities

A Roadrunner, another of our perennial favorites

We saw a coatimundi on the trails at Catalina State Park! That was a surprise.

A Northern Flicker, isn’t that feather pattern gorgeous?

A sweet little Verdin, the first to show up when we put out our hummingbird feeder

A beautiful Broad-billed Hummingbird stops by for a drink

A Cooper’s Hawk on our picnic table; probably eyeing the little birds at our feeder :-(

Next Up: Hiking The Chiricahuas

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The Central California Coast: Monterey, Morro Bay, & Ojai

The Central California Coast: Monterey, Morro Bay, & Ojai

Posted by on Feb 8, 2018 in California, Gallery, Travel | 36 comments

Idoubt there’s anyplace more alluring than the Central Coast of California. We’ve traveled sections of the coast many times, but there’s always something more to discover in this enchanting stretch of ruggedly beautiful landscapes and charming towns. There’s even a castle, which I thought might be weird, but turned out to be fascinating.

In early December, we returned to do several things that had been on our list for a while: Kayaking Elkhorn Slough near Monterey (with the hope of seeing sea otters), visiting Hearst Castle in San Simeon, and biking the trail between the idyllic hamlet of Ojai to the beach town of Ventura.

Adventures Near Monterey

A storybook cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea (the locals just call it “Carmel”)

The charming La Bicyclette restaurant in downtown Carmel

A good way to start the day: Smoked salmon and vegetable crepe at La Bicyclette

Interesting rock formations at Point Lobos State Reserve

A windy day at Point Lobos; the color of the water here is always astonishing!

Brown Pelicans in their fancy breeding plumage

An American Crow dressed in basic black

Great Blue Heron doing yoga on the rocks

Famed Cannery Row, the setting of John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name, was once home to a booming sardine canning industry. It’s now paved with a plethora of t-shirt shops and other touristy things, most not of interest to us (with the exception of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is outstanding. But we’ve been before, and the lines during the holiday season were ridiculous, so we passed this time around).

A beautiful multi-use recreational trail follows the waterfront and we walked a couple miles of it, from Fisherman’s Wharf to Pacific Grove. Next time, we’ll bring our bikes and bike the entire 18-mile trail.

Cannery Row transitioned from sardines to tourists when the sardines went away

A fisherman’s mural overlooking Monterey Bay

A lovely little beach lined with seals near Pacific Grove

Paddling nearby Elkhorn Slough is one of the most fun kayak trips we’ve ever done. (If you don’t have a kayak, you can rent one at the Moss Landing Harbor.) The slough is home to an array of birds, seals, and best of all, a flotilla of sea otters. Swimming, playing, and diving for food, they surprised us and themselves each time they surfaced next to our kayak.

These guys could not possibly be cuter. They fish for scallops, crabs, sea urchins and other shellfish, then flip onto their backs to enjoy the feast. To break open a clam or scallop, they pound the crustacean on a favorite rock they carry tucked into an armpit pocket. As we paddled along the slough, the “chink-chink-chink” of rock on shell ricocheted across the water.

The experience was fantastic, but our photos of the otters were kind of pitiful. It’s really difficult to get good photos of fast moving critters from a bobbing kayak. But just a few days later, from dry land, we had the opportunity for more otter photography when we moved on to Morro Bay.

Paddling Elkhorn Slough

The picturesque wetlands at Elkhorn Slough

A mama and baby harbor seal watch us paddle by

An adorable sea otter pops up next to our kayak in Elkhorn Slough

For our explorations in and around Carmel, Monterey, and Elkhorn Slough, we stayed at Laguna Seca Recreation Area County Park. It’s an unusual campground, in that a raceway is a large part of the park. We’ve stayed there twice, and appreciated the proximity to the things we want to do and the reasonable cost for the area. Electric and water hook-ups, dark night skies, and if you ask for a site in the Chaparral Campground overlooking the valley (away from the racetrack), the views are wonderful.

Reservations are taken by phone at least one week in advance, and we make sure there are no races scheduled while we’re there (they know the schedule far ahead). Oh, and bring your own drinking/cooking water because the water has a high level of arsenic (don’t worry, just don’t drink it). There’s also a nearby shooting range. This campground just gets better and better, doesn’t it?? Seriously, it’s a good one.

Campsite on the hillside at Laguna Seca County Park

The view from our campsite overlooking the Salinas Valley

Adventures Near Morro Bay

Morro Bay is one of our favorite areas on the Central Coast. The wetlands are excellent birding habitat, and even more enticing, the bay is home to a year-round population of sea otters. This is a good place for seeing the otters from land—but you’ll still need binoculars or a zoom lens for up-close views.

Morro Bay State Park Marina on a perfect day

Walking the boardwalk through the estuary at Morro Bay

A Long-billed Curlew wades in the shallows of Morro Bay

A sculpture dedicated to the families of fishermen overlooks Morro Bay

A colony of sea otters floating in the bay

A sea otter’s coat is the thickest and most luxuriant of any animal on earth, which doomed them to being hunted almost to the brink of extinction. They’re still endangered, and it’s always a thrill to see them.

Sea otters aren’t only cute, their behavior is engaging. They wrap themselves in kelp to keep from drifting out to sea while napping or hold paws with each other while floating on their backs. Their near-constant grooming rituals keep their fur fluffed and their bodies buoyant. Most endearing of all is watching otter moms with their babies—they cuddle and groom them, blowing air into their fur to keep the babies afloat.

How could anyone want to make this adorable creature into a fur coat?

Awww……

Wrapped in kelp to keep from floating out to sea while napping

A sea otter mom grooming her baby

Babies stay with their moms for up to eight months

Beautiful Montana de Oro State Park, just a few miles from Morro Bay

Hidden beaches at Montana de Oro

A Snowy Egret searches for a meal

About a 30-minute drive from Morro Bay is a legendary California castle perched high on a hill overlooking the Pacific. The childhood dream of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst (inspired by a European trip with his mother), the castle was built by Julia Morgan, California’s first female architect.

Twenty-eight years of collaboration resulted in a 165-room mansion and 127 acres of terraced gardens and pools. Hearst referred to it as his “ranch home.” It’s opulent, excessive, and at the same time, tasteful. Maybe not my taste (too many heavy tapestries and dark, brooding furniture) but still, beautiful.

Hearst Castle is a California State Historic Park, and the tours are excellent. The backstory is fascinating  (interesting history of a colorful and controversial man, stories of the rich and famous, scandalous relationships, and a peek into life in the castle). I’d love to return for a tour of the upstairs and the guest cottages.

Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the main house is modeled after a Spanish cathedral

The lovely courtyard

One of the castle towers

The dining room resembles a medieval dining hall. Guests had to dress for dinner, despite the fact that ketchup and mustard were served in bottles on the table. Hearst liked to keep things rustic at what he called his “ranch residence” (AKA the Castle).

Casa del Mar (House of the Sea), one of the guest cottages on the Hearst estate

The fabulous indoor swimming pool, reminiscent of an ornate ancient Roman bath

Just a few miles from the castle is a large, noisy colony of elephant seals. We’ve been here in the spring when the seals are giving birth and the enormous males are dominating the beach. This time, the bull elephants were just beginning to return to the colony. As they mature, their noses grow, ending up as pendulous appendages that look like an elephant’s trunk.

The young males were practicing their drum-like vocalizations (produced by inflating their noses and trumpeting) and the chest bumping battles that establish who will be king of the beach harem. When the older, bigger, and stronger males arrive, the younger ones won’t stand a chance.

Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery

Two young male elephant seals squaring off

A raucous meeting of elephant seals

We stayed, as we always do since we discovered this little gem a few years ago, at El Chorro Regional Campground. It’s conveniently located between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, in the beautiful rolling hills of the Central Coast. Full hookups, dirt sites but plenty of greenery, excellent Verizon. There are hiking trails from the campground and the lovely San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is part of the park. The sites tend toward the smaller side (we were fine with our 27-foot trailer), but if you have a big rig, you might want to consider a pull-through site.

El Chorro Campground

Adventures Near Ojai

The Ojai Valley Art and History Museum

Bart’s outdoor bookstore has an excellent collection of books and great atmosphere

Ojai is a lovely, peaceful little town on the Central Coast. Our main reason for returning was to bike the Ojai-Ventura bike path. It’s a wonderfully maintained trail and a great 15-mile ride. After a couple of hours at the beach, we were happy to catch the bus back to Ojai instead of having to ride 15 miles back to town (the bus is conveniently equipped with bike racks).

On the bike trail from Ojai to Ventura

Biking along the Ventura beachfront

Wonderful pelican sculpture on the beach

An impromptu rock sculpture on the beach

Camp Comfort (don’t you love the name?) is a tiny county campground just two miles from Ojai. Full hookups, concrete pads, nice little laundry, and excellent free internet. We had a site backing up to the seasonal creek and enjoyed our peaceful stay.

Camp Comfort in Ojai California

Next Up: Fun With Family And Friends: San Diego To Tucson

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Getting Our Kitsch On Route 66

Getting Our Kitsch On Route 66

Posted by on Dec 3, 2015 in Arizona, California, Gallery, Travel | 23 comments

John Steinbeck christened it the Mother Road, and everyone from Nat King Cole to Van Morrison has crooned the catchy tune celebrating the 2400 mile cross-country journey along this most famous of highways. Route 66 is tenacious—almost 90 years after its creation and three decades after it was declared obsolete, this old road lives on in the collective sentiment as a symbol of adventure, freedom and opportunity.

For the most part, it’s a broken down dream, a piecemeal byway lined with fleabag motels, dusty storefronts, seedy bars, out-of-service gas stations, and half-lit flickering neon signs. Nonetheless, every time we near a section of the Mother Road we’re drawn in, and I begin to hum, “If you ever plan to motor West, Travel my way take the highway that’s the best, Get your kicks on Route 66….”.

In late October, our route took us through Williams, Arizona, a small town that proudly proclaims the distinction of being the last holdout on Route 66 bypassed by an interstate. Left to wither on the vine—like every small town along the route when four-lane divided highways left them in the dust—much of the downtown has seen better days. But there’s a revival going on, and unlike many other towns that went belly-up along the venerable old route, Williams appears to be thriving: 1950’s era motor courts, mom & pop cafes, scruffy bars, and Indian curio shops share the street with a mix of new businesses (most with a retro twist). And of course, there’s a plethora of shops over-stuffed with Route 66 memorabilia and souvenirs. It doesn’t hurt that Williams is also the gateway to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but many people visit simply for the nostalgia of a simpler time—wishful thinking though that may be.

We lunched at the new and attractive Kicks on Route 66, and after making two circuits of the main street to peruse all of the attractions, stopped by South Rims Wine & Beer Garage for a flight of local beers. Had we known that the sketchy looking 1912 Sultana Bar was written up in Gourmet Magazine as one of the best bars in America (seriously?) we would have ventured in. If you’re into Route 66 memorabilia, you’ll love Williams. You’ll find everything to decorate your home, your vehicle, and yourself—from tea towels to license plates to stick-on tattoos—emblazoned with the beloved Route 66 insignia.

About the campgrounds:

We found two convenient places to stay along I-40, which also happens to be old Route 66. In Needles, California, Fender’s River Road Resort is a fine little park on the banks of the Colorado River. For the very reasonable price of $14 a night (with Passport America) we had full-hookups, laundry, and good Verizon coverage. We especially appreciated the use of a lovely deck overlooking the river, where we enjoyed G & T’s and unwound after our almost 300-mile drive from Lone Pine.

Another 175 miles the next day brought us to Williams and the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park. Although it’s basically a big parking lot, it’s a very nice parking lot, and is conveniently located just two blocks from downtown Williams and the historic district. It’s a bargain at $23 (with Passport America) and includes full hookups, laundry, use of the amenities at the nearby hotel, and good Verizon coverage.

Next Up: An Unexpected Adventure In Navajo National Monument

Getting Our Kitsch On Route 66

Pulling Into The RV Park In Needles

Yep, We're On Route 66

Nice Site At Fender River Road Resort

Sunset Over The Colorado River

On The Main Drag In Williams

Beer Flight At Kicks On Route 66

Last To Fall And Proud Of It

Pete's Route 66 Gas Station Museum

Service Station Turned Cafe

Classic Autos Abound On Route 66

Elvis, Of Course

More Residents Of Main Street

Every Possible Route 66 Souvenir

Local Color On Route 66

1950's Grand Canyon Pullman Railcar

The World Famous Sultana, Circa 1912

South Rims Wine And Beer Garage

Grand Canyon Railway RV Park

Getting Our Kitsch On Route 66
Pulling Into The RV Park In Needles
Yep, We're On Route 66
Nice Site At Fender River Road Resort
Sunset Over The Colorado River
On The Main Drag In Williams
Beer Flight At Kicks On Route 66
Last To Fall And Proud Of It
Pete's Route 66 Gas Station Museum
Service Station Turned Cafe
Classic Autos Abound On Route 66
Elvis, Of Course
More Residents Of Main Street
Every Possible Route 66 Souvenir
Local Color On Route 66
1950's Grand Canyon Pullman Railcar
The World Famous Sultana, Circa 1912
South Rims Wine And Beer Garage
Grand Canyon Railway RV Park
Getting Our Kitsch On Route 66 thumbnail
Pulling Into The RV Park In Needles thumbnail
Yep, We're On Route 66 thumbnail
Nice Site At Fender River Road Resort thumbnail
Sunset Over The Colorado River thumbnail
On The Main Drag In Williams thumbnail
Beer Flight At Kicks On Route 66 thumbnail
Last To Fall And Proud Of It thumbnail
Pete's Route 66 Gas Station Museum thumbnail
Service Station Turned Cafe thumbnail
Classic Autos Abound On Route 66 thumbnail
Elvis, Of Course thumbnail
More Residents Of Main Street thumbnail
Every Possible Route 66 Souvenir thumbnail
Local Color On Route 66 thumbnail
1950's Grand Canyon Pullman Railcar thumbnail
The World Famous Sultana, Circa 1912 thumbnail
South Rims Wine And Beer Garage thumbnail
Grand Canyon Railway RV Park thumbnail

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Play Date In Lone Pine

Play Date In Lone Pine

Posted by on Nov 28, 2015 in California, Gallery, Travel | 19 comments

We never intended to spend quite so much time traveling along 395—not that we didn’t want to, but we needed to get to Florida by Thanksgiving, and with only six weeks to make the cross-country trip (and having already burned through a week of that) we didn’t have the luxury of lingering.

But there was one more stop along 395 that we just couldn’t resist—a play date in Lone Pine with friends Pam and John (Oh The Places They Go!), fellow full-timers, avid hikers, and excellent trail companions—we first met up with  them last winter in southern Arizona for a hike, and have been plotting to reconnect ever since. An extra added attraction in Lone Pine was getting to see Jodee and Bill (On The Road Abode) again, and meeting up with Sue and Dave (Beluga’s Excellent Adventure) for the first time. Our planned one-night stand in Lone Pine quickly turned into three.

One of my biggest reservations about traveling full-time was leaving behind our community of friends in Ashland. If I could have talked them all into joining up into one big caravan, I would have. (Believe me, I tried.) Alas, none of them were ready to take to the road full-time. But we were, and despite my worries about being lonely on the road, we embarked on our journey. Little did I realize just how rich this gypsy life would turn out to be.

As we’ve traveled full-time over the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve found friendly, interesting, fun loving, adventurous, and generous people along the way. We’ve developed friendships with people who happened to be our next door neighbors for a night or two, striking up conversations that led to happy hour or a hike, and then to planned meet-ups on the opposite side of the country in our circuitous journeys. We’ve established enduring friendships on Lopez Island, where we’ve camp hosted for five summers. And much to our delight, we’ve made a number of friends through our blog. Our community of friends now extends across the country, and my fears about being lonely in our journey have been assuaged. If anything, our concerns now are more about arranging our travels so that we can join up with the many good friends we’ve made on the road.

And so we found ourselves in Lone Pine, meeting up for a fun day of hiking with Pam and John—first along a four-mile downhill section of the steep Mt. Whitney trail (starting at the portal and heading down), followed by a late afternoon adventure into the Alabama Hills in search of the Whitney Portal Arch. We had a blast! The Alabama Hills are a playground of boulders and arches, with winding paths that lead to beautiful panoramas, rock scrambling, and treasure hunts in search of hidden arches and movie sites. Hollywood has been using this intriguing and scenic landscape for movies since the 1920’s, with films from Gunga Din to Star Trek shot here.

In our couple of days in Lone Pine, Eric and I hiked and explored from daybreak to sunset, visited the interesting little Lone Pine Film History Museum (where Eric reconnected with his childhood hero, Hopalong Cassidy), and enjoyed a sunset campfire and happy hour with the sociable and fun-loving Lone Pine gang at our rustic and beautiful site at Tuttle Creek BLM campground, right next door to the Alabama Hills. It was a delightful diversion in our cross-country journey—our only regret was that we needed to move on far too soon.

About the campground: This is one of the most beautiful campgrounds we’ve stayed in. The amenities include spacious sites, gorgeous vistas of spectacular mountain peaks (including Mt. Whitney, the tallest in the lower 48), a terrific location at the doorstep of the Alabama Hills, dark night skies, peace and quiet, sweetly scented sagebrush, and good Verizon coverage. All this, for a mere $2.50 per night ($5.00 for those not yet eligible for the Senior Pass). The downsides: no hookups, most sites require leveling skills, and although there is supposed to be water available until the end of October, the hydrants were padlocked when we arrived. Which is a good reminder to always arrive with full water tanks! It’s also a good idea to arrive fully stocked with provisions—the only grocery store in Lone Pine is wretched.

Next Up: Getting Our Kitsch On Route 66

Playdate In Lone Pine

Ready To Hit The Trail

John Keeps Us On Track

Starting Four Miles Of Downhill Hiking

Happy Hikers

Views From The Trail

Like A Watercolor Painting

The Boys In Camo

At The End Of The Trail

Pam Says, "I Know That Arch Is Here Somewhere!"

Whitney Portal Arch

Pam Approaches The Arch

John Preparing To Leap Through The Arch

The Expedition Returns

A Fun Campfire Gathering

Early Morning In The Alabama Hills

Mobius Arch At Daybreak

Same View Mid-Morning

Hiking Into The Alabama Hills

A Natural Playground

King Of Lathe Arch

Trying To Capture The Light

Hunting For Arches

Photographing Heart Arch

The Eye Of Alabama Arch

Two Famous Roads

Beautiful Rock Formations

Eric And Hopalong Cassidy

Lone Pine Film Museum

Thinking About A New Career

A Beautiful Campsite At Tuttle Creek

Sunset Reflections

Playdate In Lone Pine
Ready To Hit The Trail
John Keeps Us On Track
Starting Four Miles Of Downhill Hiking
Happy Hikers
Views From The Trail
Like A Watercolor Painting
The Boys In Camo
At The End Of The Trail
Pam Says,
Whitney Portal Arch
Pam Approaches The Arch
John Preparing To Leap Through The Arch
The Expedition Returns
A Fun Campfire Gathering
Early Morning In The Alabama Hills
Mobius Arch At Daybreak
Same View Mid-Morning
Hiking Into The Alabama Hills
A Natural Playground
King Of Lathe Arch
Trying To Capture The Light
Hunting For Arches
Photographing Heart Arch
The Eye Of Alabama Arch
Two Famous Roads
Beautiful Rock Formations
Eric And Hopalong Cassidy
Lone Pine Film Museum
Thinking About A New Career
A Beautiful Campsite At Tuttle Creek
Sunset Reflections
Playdate In Lone Pine thumbnail
Ready To Hit The Trail thumbnail
John Keeps Us On Track thumbnail
Starting Four Miles Of Downhill Hiking thumbnail
Happy Hikers thumbnail
Views From The Trail thumbnail
Like A Watercolor Painting thumbnail
The Boys In Camo thumbnail
At The End Of The Trail thumbnail
Pam Says,
Whitney Portal Arch thumbnail
Pam Approaches The Arch thumbnail
John Preparing To Leap Through The Arch thumbnail
The Expedition Returns thumbnail
A Fun Campfire Gathering thumbnail
Early Morning In The Alabama Hills thumbnail
Mobius Arch At Daybreak thumbnail
Same View Mid-Morning thumbnail
Hiking Into The Alabama Hills thumbnail
A Natural Playground thumbnail
King Of Lathe Arch thumbnail
Trying To Capture The Light thumbnail
Hunting For Arches thumbnail
Photographing Heart Arch thumbnail
The Eye Of Alabama Arch thumbnail
Two Famous Roads thumbnail
Beautiful Rock Formations thumbnail
Eric And Hopalong Cassidy thumbnail
Lone Pine Film Museum thumbnail
Thinking About A New Career thumbnail
A Beautiful Campsite At Tuttle Creek thumbnail
Sunset Reflections thumbnail

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The Quintessential Sierra Nevada Hike

The Quintessential Sierra Nevada Hike

Posted by on Nov 13, 2015 in California, Gallery, Travel | 28 comments

If there’s only one hike that you do in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in eastern California, make it this one. You’ll walk through forests of sweetly scented Ponderosa pines, boulder hop over rushing mountain creeks, cross meadows while gazing up at 13,000-foot mountain peaks, and meander past no less than seven glacial-carved lakes reflecting the surrounding landscape.

The Little Lakes Valley trail—at just under eight miles round trip, including side trips to various lakes—is the quintessential Sierra Nevada hike. Here, you can enjoy an adventure in the high Sierra Nevada mountains without: 1) the rigors of a multi-day backpacking trip, and 2) suffering through a painfully steep high elevation climb. This spectacular hike is so easy (we’re grading on the Sierra curve, mind you) that it almost seems like cheating. Views this grand generally require much more effort.

The trailhead—unappealingly named Mosquito Flat—is the loftiest in the Sierras at 10,250 feet, thus the relative ease of getting high into the mountains. Despite the name, the trail was mosquito-free in late October. The fall is also a good time to enjoy this popular trail sans crowds—we hiked for long stretches without seeing another soul. The chilly temperatures and snowfall from the previous day likely had something to do with keeping people away.

From Mosquito Flat, the trail began with a steep uphill rocky climb, but that soon leveled out and opened up to the first magnificent view of a burbling creek and jewel-like lake fed by glacial melt. Along the gently rolling terrain, one after another lake appeared every 20 or 30 minutes, seductively luring us along. All the while we were captivated by the snow-capped mountain peaks fading in and out of the clouds, and entertained by Clark’s nutcrackers calling raucously from high in the ponderosas.

Don’t miss going all the way to the end of the trail: Lovely Upper Gem Lake is an aquamarine jewel set in a granite bowl, bordered on three sides by mountain peaks. It was the perfect spot for lunch and relaxing by the water. We found the return hike just as magnificent, offering a different perspective of the lakes and mountains. (Many thanks to our dear friends LuAnn and Terry, who highly recommended this hike.)

About the campground: We stayed for two nights at Brown’s Town Campground in Bishop, specifically to hike the Little Lake Valley trail (30 miles away). After a week of dry camping in our travels along 395, we were ready for a couple of nights with water and electric hookups. It was a peaceful stay, Verizon coverage was good, and as a bonus, we got to meet up with fellow full-time travelers Jodee, Bill, and their sweet dog Tessa at the Mountain Rambler Brewery for dinner, excellent local beer, and fun conversation. It was a great reward at the end of our long hiking day.

Next up: Tips for High Altitude Hiking

Little Lakes Valley: The Quintessential Sierra Hike

On The Road To Bishop

Into The John Muir Wilderness

Crossing Ruby Creek

Beautiful Box Lake

Side Trail To Chickenfoot Lake

Along The Shore Of Long Lake

Contemplating The Grandeur

Hiking Through The Ponderosas

Trail To Gem Lakes

Fresh Snow On The Trail

Approaching Gem Lakes

First View Of Lower Gem Lake

Lower Gem Lake

Crossing The Creek To Upper Gem Lake

A Chilly Day At Upper Gem Lake

Starting The Long Trek Back

Stunning Mountain Peaks And Streams

Appreciating The Beauty

Rockwork On The Trail

On The Final Stretch

Brown's In Town Campground

Campsite On The Golf Course

Jodee & Bill At The Brewery

Little Lakes Valley: The Quintessential Sierra Hike
On The Road To Bishop
Into The John Muir Wilderness
Crossing Ruby Creek
Beautiful Box Lake
Side Trail To Chickenfoot Lake
Along The Shore Of Long Lake
Contemplating The Grandeur
Hiking Through The Ponderosas
Trail To Gem Lakes
Fresh Snow On The Trail
Approaching Gem Lakes
First View Of Lower Gem Lake
Lower Gem Lake
Crossing The Creek To Upper Gem Lake
A Chilly Day At Upper Gem Lake
Starting The Long Trek Back
Stunning Mountain Peaks And Streams
Appreciating The Beauty
Rockwork On The Trail
On The Final Stretch
Brown's In Town Campground
Campsite On The Golf Course
Jodee & Bill At The Brewery
Little Lakes Valley: The Quintessential Sierra Hike thumbnail
On The Road To Bishop thumbnail
Into The John Muir Wilderness thumbnail
Crossing Ruby Creek thumbnail
Beautiful Box Lake thumbnail
Side Trail To Chickenfoot Lake thumbnail
Along The Shore Of Long Lake thumbnail
Contemplating The Grandeur thumbnail
Hiking Through The Ponderosas thumbnail
Trail To Gem Lakes thumbnail
Fresh Snow On The Trail thumbnail
Approaching Gem Lakes thumbnail
First View Of Lower Gem Lake thumbnail
Lower Gem Lake thumbnail
Crossing The Creek To Upper Gem Lake thumbnail
A Chilly Day At Upper Gem Lake thumbnail
Starting The Long Trek Back thumbnail
Stunning Mountain Peaks And Streams thumbnail
Appreciating The Beauty thumbnail
Rockwork On The Trail thumbnail
On The Final Stretch thumbnail
Brown's In Town Campground thumbnail
Campsite On The Golf Course thumbnail
Jodee & Bill At The Brewery thumbnail

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Magical Mono Lake

Magical Mono Lake

Posted by on Nov 6, 2015 in California, Gallery, Travel | 36 comments

Night before:

“I want to shoot Mono Lake at sunrise.”

“No you don’t.”

“What do you mean? Of course I do!”

“I don’t think you really want to. It’s going to be below freezing in the morning.”

“Yes, I do want to. I really do.”

Next morning:

“It’s 5:00! Time to get up!”

“Uh-uh.” Burrow deeper under covers.

“You said you wanted to shoot the sunrise. We have to leave here in 15 minutes if we’re going to get there in time.”

“Changed my mind.”

“No you didn’t. Come on. Your coffee’s ready.”

He was right. I really did want to go. And so we drove to 15 miles from our campground at June Lake to Mono Lake in the dark, traipsed down to the shoreline in the freezing cold and waited for the sun to rise. There were at least twenty other hardy souls on the shore—apparently some kind of photography workshop. Each person had a tripod, expensive camera, and a bag full of enormous lenses. They were fiddling with their settings, discussing exposures and apertures and depth of field. I had my camera in one hand (set on automatic exposure) and my coffee mug in the other. These are the moments when I think I really should get around to reading my camera manual.

We waited. And waited. Finally, the sun rose—but it never got that exciting. I think we got better photos a couple of days previously at sunset, which in my opinion happens to be a much more respectable time of day.

However, I did overhear one of the photography instructors mention that he was going to walk through the tufas to the other side of the lake to capture the sun’s reflected glow on the mountains and water. Out of curiosity, I followed. Now that was worth getting out of bed for. The alpenglow on the mountains, reflected on the lake, was sublime.

Mono Lake is a unique, otherworldly place. It’s a large lake, at 65 miles square, and ancient, at over a million years old. Because it has no outlet, it’s almost three times as salty as the ocean. What makes Mono Lake so unusual are the rock formations that emerge from the water—knobby limestone spires called “tufas” that are formed by the interaction of carbonate-rich alkaline lake water and calcium-rich freshwater springs. The conditions are perfect for tiny brine shrimp and alkali flies, both of which provide nutritious snacks for millions of migratory birds. In fact, Mono Lake is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, and provides critical nesting habitat for tens of thousands of water birds.

It’s magical to see the towers silhouetted against the sky when the sun is rising or sinking; the sky turns various shades of pink, purple, and orange, and the tufas turn to gold at the magic hour just after sunrise or just before sunset. The best concentration of tufa towers is at the South Tufa grove, about 10 miles south of the visitor center, where a stroll through a tufa forest leads to a picturesque view of tufa islands just offshore.

Tufa grows underwater, and the only reason these towers are visible is because of the unquenchable thirst of Los Angeles, which began diverting water from the lake in 1941. In less than 40 years, half the volume of water disappeared, and Mono Lake was dying. Thanks to tenacious citizens who recognized the value of the lake, the area was declared Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area and mandates were established to control how much water can be siphoned off. Since 1994, the lake has recovered to about two-thirds of its original level.

We had planned to kayak the lake during our stay in the area. Alas, the weather didn’t cooperate—it was either too rainy or too cold, so we’ll save that adventure for another time. For now, we’re happy that we experienced both sunrise and sunset at lovely Mono Lake.

Next Up: Little Lakes Valley: A Quintessential Sierra Hike

Magical Mono Lake

Mono Lake Visitor Center

On The Trail Behind The Visitor Center

West End Of Mono Lake

Tufa Formations On The West End Of Mono Lake

Strolling Through The Tufas

Late Afternoon On The South End

Lovely Colors At Sunset

Fire Peeking Through The Clouds

Early Morning In The Tufas

Tufa Silhouettes At Sunrise

Morning Reflections In The Lake

Tufa And Alpenglow

Golden Morning Light In The Tufa Forest

Sunrise Reflected On The Mountains

Warming Up At The Latte Da

Magical Mono Lake
Mono Lake Visitor Center
On The Trail Behind The Visitor Center
West End Of Mono Lake
Tufa Formations On The West End Of Mono Lake
Strolling Through The Tufas
Late Afternoon On The South End
Lovely Colors At Sunset
Fire Peeking Through The Clouds
Early Morning In The Tufas
Tufa Silhouettes At Sunrise
Morning Reflections In The Lake
Tufa And Alpenglow
Golden Morning Light In The Tufa Forest
Sunrise Reflected On The Mountains
Warming Up At The Latte Da
Magical Mono Lake thumbnail
Mono Lake Visitor Center thumbnail
On The Trail Behind The Visitor Center thumbnail
West End Of Mono Lake thumbnail
Tufa Formations On The West End Of Mono Lake thumbnail
Strolling Through The Tufas thumbnail
Late Afternoon On The South End thumbnail
Lovely Colors At Sunset thumbnail
Fire Peeking Through The Clouds thumbnail
Early Morning In The Tufas thumbnail
Tufa Silhouettes At Sunrise thumbnail
Morning Reflections In The Lake thumbnail
Tufa And Alpenglow thumbnail
Golden Morning Light In The Tufa Forest thumbnail
Sunrise Reflected On The Mountains thumbnail
Warming Up At The Latte Da thumbnail

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