EASTERN SIERRA MAGIC
By Shirley and Jim White
“Pass the fried chicken” I said to Shirley. Last night’s fried chicken at Nicely’s restaurant in Leevining had been more than we could eat last night, but really hit the spot today. We were sitting in our lawn chairs on the shores of Rock Lake at 9500 feet in the Eastern Sierra. It was October 2, 2013 and we were photographing the fall colors in the Eastern High Sierra on what was to be one of our most fun trips. We were out for 5 days and had camped our first night at the Virginia Lakes. We camped along the shore of one of the smaller lakes where one could walk along the shore in the dry grass and fly cast into the shallows with a strike now and then from a good size trout. The Aspens along the highways from Carson Pass were O.K. but the real vivid colors were to be found in the higher mountains south. We photographed the colorful Willows and Aspens in the open high valleys to the north from along the Virginia Lakes road first. Really nice!
Above Rock Lake at the 10,000 foot level the leaves were already blown from the Aspens. As we ate our fried chicken the wind picked up with a little icier bite to it and we slipped on our light fleece sweaters, which were to stay on the rest of the trip. The Rock Creek drainage is always one of our favorite places to shoot yellow and red colored Aspens. Shooting from along the road up, following the creek with the mountains in the background is hard to beat.
Our trip to Bodie, the old gold mining ghost town and State Park was great because of our encounter with the sheep along the road going in. Two bands of about 500 sheep each were grazing along the road, with the sheep herder and his dogs. Some of the dogs were the Great Pyrenees Herding dogs which are very large and white. One of the dogs broke from the herd and ran up the hill to the road into the arms of my wife Shirley. She believes that this dog must be the grown-up pup she had played with last fall, and that the dog remembered her! Who am I to argue with real dog and women love in the Sierra?
We camped at Convict Lake with the weather lady in Bishop forecasting winds 25 to 35 knots with gusts up to 45 knots in the evening. Our pop-up camper has a solid aluminum roof which flexes and pops like a gunshot when the wind hit the 45 mark. Shirley said “she now knows what real rock and roll feels like”. While listening to the wind blow we heard the Coyotes howl about 3:30 am and I just had to go out and stand in the lee of the camper to hear them better. Wow, I had forgotten how bright and icy sharp the stars are in the really high mountains.
Shooting Convict Lake the next morning was a challenge. My tripod would blow over if I did not hang a rock from the middle hook. I wanted to photograph the lake before the sun hit the peaks but I was about 10 minutes late. I was amazed the D-600 picked up so much detail in the shadows with the sun so bright on the peak above the lake. I am not sure yet, but I think I like it.
When we think of the Owens River Road we think first of horses, Cowboys, Hot Creek, a Cow Camp I know, and the wind. We went there this time because of the Cow Camp. I really love a picture I took of the camp many years ago, with an old stuffed sofa alongside the cabin. I know two other Cow Camps like this one, but you have to ride for hours on a horse to get to them. The one in Owens Valley you can drive up on a hill behind the camp and photograph the cabin and horses in the background if you are lucky. We were not lucky this time but we shot it anyway. The Cowboys had driven into the camp just before us and were un-loading horses to go move some cattle. The wind picked up and later when glassing the valley I saw a Cowboy lunging his horse. Horses get spooky real easy when the wind blows hard and he was trying to take some of the fire out of the critter. Been there and done that.
The radio said roads to the south were closing to campers and trailers because of the wind and we could barely see the mountains thru the heavy blowing dust. We headed north looking for some color and clear air to breathe. The Little Walker River just south of the Sonora Pass road was our home for the night. This is one of the most beautiful river valleys in the eastern Sierra. This was our first time to camp in the campground at the upper end of this valley. The temperature dropped like a rock that night. The temperature in the truck read 13 degrees at 7 am the next morning before sunrise. I was so excited to photograph the nearby Aspens before sunrise I wore nothing but my long johns and a down jacket. My knees burned but hay…I had a nice warm camper to retreat to. The coffee was hot so what else could you want?
On the way out we photographed the Aspens along the Little Walker River below the road and perched on a high dead limb in a tree along the road was a Red Shoulder hawk, with his feathers puffed out looking like a football. Outdoor photography at its best! We stopped at the Meadow Cliff restaurant in Coleville and had their Spanish omelet which was their special…Yum.
Go give it a try. We have found that even if our pictures are not great, you can’t fool our eyes. What we see has got to be magic.