Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Wanderings in the Eastern Sierra

With about a week and a half to squander before our move to our new place in June Lake, we ended up wandering in the Eastern Sierra. Mom and Dad were heading south, and we were able to meet up for a night in the Oh! Ridge Campground in June Lake. The weather was cloudy and cold, so we spent a morning walking the neighborhood around June Lake so we all could be come familiar with our future surroundings. Mom and Dad proceeded south to warmer climes outside of Lone Pine at one of our favorite campgrounds at Tuttle Creek. We stayed up north, hoping for clearer weather for some hikes.

Mornings are consistently cold this time of year, often in the low 30’s. This dictates our morning routine. The sun does not break over the horizon until about 7 am, so we put on all our layers before emerging from the tent. John starts the stove to boil water for tea, and we take down the tent before breakfast. By the time we eat and pack the remaining gear into the truck, we are chilled. We start up the truck, pile in, and blast the heater on the way to the trailhead. Upon arrival, we put on our boots and change into our hiking shorts. It is a bit chilly for the first mile of hiking, so we move briskly.

We had some notable hikes. One was up the Sierra Crest south of Mammoth Lakes. This spine is the divide between the watersheds where water flows west to the Pacific, or east into Owen’s Valley. It is also an important physiographic feature – the moisture-laden clouds of winter storms draft up from the west and hit the crest, releasing moisture in the form of snow. Mammoth Mountain, in the heart of the ski area and on the Crest, acts as a barrier and receives much more snow than locations just a couple of miles to the east which lie in the shadow of the mountain range. The top photo is a view looking north from the Crest – Lake Mary and Twin Lakes are in the foreground, the town of Mammoth Lakes beyond them, and the prominent bare mountain to the left is Mammoth Mountain.

Another day was spent hiking up McGee Creek Canyon to Steelhead Lake. Lunch was consumed on the shore of the lake, and jumping fish frequently broke the surface of the water. The water was so clear we could see them swimming just offshore. It was the middle of the week, and no one was there to try hook them – we don’t fish, so these trout were safe.

A hike up Pine Creek Canyon just north of Bishop was a spectacular day. This canyon is the location of historic tungsten mining operations. Although not currently active, the facilities look like they could be called into service at anytime. The second photo shows the mill operations near the trailhead. We followed the path of the road leading to the ore deposits. This road is no longer maintained, but easy to follow by hiking. It was a steady grade, passing through the zone of contact metamorphism that created the skarn deposits that are so rich in tungsten. The colors of the rocks in the canyon were marbled and deeply contrasted between the gray of the intrusives and the red of the country rock. The road eventually ends at Morgan Pass, but we stopped a couple of miles short of that to eat lunch on the shore of Lower Morgan Lake. The third photo is a view of this lake.

After a dip in Keough Hot Springs , we too ended up at Tuttle Creek for yet another reunion with Mom and Dad. Strong winds due to a Santa Ana condition kept us near camp for a much-needed day of rest.
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