spring road trip 2010 – day 4
Posted on 9 Aug ’10
My day starts early, I’m fortunate enough to see dawn slowly consume the eastern sky, a sight I seldom witness. The valley is peaceful and quiet; winds are almost non-existent, more an occasional breeze than wind at this hour. I make coffee and a few photographs but, mostly I sit quietly, sipping my coffee, letting the day come to me. There is a chill but nothing like yesterday morning; rather, this is the type of chill you know will be gone as soon as sun light becomes direct. Karen stirs in the tent after a bit and emerges ready for our excursion to the racetrack for sunrise. I make another cup of coffee for myself, hot cocoa for Karen and we head off.
We go to the other parking area this time, the one closer to the “island” and start walking out on to the racetrack. Our destination is the island, Karen is curious about it and wants to explore the northern end of the racetrack this morning. The island, specifically, is what draws her attention. There do not seem to be many of the moving rocks on the northern portion; there are some scattered here and there, not nearly as many as on the southern end of the racetrack.
This obviously makes isolating one much easier. Like shooting fish in a barrel it is; the rocks can’t hide and they don’t move very fast. The rising sun gradually warms the cool blues of dawn making for some nice long shadows. The side light really accentuates the texture of the playa surface. The mountains surrounding the racetrack hold on to deep hues of blues and purples on faces still in the shade of morning.
We enjoy our morning excursion, the sunrise, the island, exploring the racetrack. My mind wanders back to the conversations of yesterday regarding how exactly these rocks move. I have no real idea; it is just one of those amazing little mysteries. Besides, it’s more entertaining not knowing. Wouldn’t the world be a dreadfully boring place if one knew everything… After all, does it really matter? For all I know, flying monkeys manifest each night and move them around. Now, wouldn’t that be a sight to behold! Wait, I’m going down that path again..ahem. (that would be cool though…)
Karen climbs to the top of the island quickly; coming back down presents more of a challenge. She overcomes the obstacles, joining me once again on the playa. We enjoy the solitude together; basking in the warmth kindly provided by the sun as it peeks over the mountains. We wander around for quite a while before we are driven back to camp by hunger. We cook up some delicious eggs and bacon! Saving much of the bacon for bacon and tomato sandwiches we will have for lunch. Karen has done such a good job planning our meals, they have all been most excellent! Our plan today is to head towards Lee Vining. We are to do two back-to-back backpacking overnights. The first by Lundy Lake and the second to Twenty Lakes Basin via Saddlebag Lake. We need to stop in Lee Vining to resupply and obtain a permit. We’re both very much looking forward to these outings.
But, first things first, we must break camp, leave no trace. A stop at the spa is mandatory upon our departure from Homestead. While I see a man about a horse, Karen takes advantage of the opportunity for a cat nap in the warm sun. All packed and ready to go, so long Homestead and racetrack, thanks for a wonderful time we will not soon forget. Pleasant temperatures coupled with a beautiful sunset and sunrise, helped immensely to make up for the morning at Mahogany Flat. We’re both in to the vacation rhythm now, time is not relevant; we do what we want, when we want. That liberated feeling of not being tied to a clock and a schedule is wonderful!
As we make our way back up racetrack road we discuss where we want to stop. We had noted several things on the way out to which we agreed we’d visit on the way back. We were anxious to get to camp the day before; tired, cold, we just wanted to be there, be done with the drive. Our first stop on the way out is, of course, Teakettle Junction because all the tea kettles at Teakettle Junction are cool! This time, we spend more time reading the inscriptions and taking a closer look at all the various kettles. We had also made a mental note to stop at the joshua trees. It’s like this, you’re driving along racetrack road and all of a sudden the landscape changes and there are a gazillion johshua trees in this one area; and then they’re gone again. There are several such areas; large amounts of cacti, then none. Very cool indeed.
I liked the concept of photographing the dense area of joshua trees but I ultimately did not like the reality of the photographs. I elected instead to focus on this isolated one; which, to me, presented itself as more interesting. Not in the lone tree way but, in its surrounds and obvious dominance; tucked away in a little bowl, no doubt consuming all available water to the detriment of any other joshua trees brazen enough to attempt root.
Alone, yet totally in power. Seemed it was just fine with being alone, almost as though it sought solitude. A stoic testament to the fortitude and resilience of desert flora; the model for efficient utilization of natural resources. Sustenance delivered only to the areas that need it for continued growth; the remainder sacrificing for the greater good. The durability of desert life always amazes me. I’ve never really been drawn to the desert, I’ve always found it bleak and depressing. But, it does grow on one given continued, moderate exposures. If nothing else, my appreciation has grown considerably for what it takes the animals and plants to survive in such a hostile environment. They are really quite impressive in their adaptability and cleverness.
Karen loves cacti and we continue to stop in various places along the drive out. She is especially keen to make a photograph for her parents. I am not as drawn to cacti but enjoy her exuberance and have fun just seeing all the things which are around. Noticing the little things that might otherwise be easily overlooked. The small plants and wild flowers which will surely be gone shortly as the daily temperatures continue towards their summer peaks. The subtle hues and colors of the various rocks. The small insects which make quick work of transiting from sheltering shade to sheltering shade on their journey to who knows where.
We hit the paved road which ends at ubebe crater loop; off the back of which is the dirt road which traverses twenty some odd miles to the racetrack. We decide to take a look at ubebe, we are going right by it on our way out. I have two takeaways from this short stop, which left a big impression, a) big hole in the ground, b) hellish wind verging on hurricane force. Karen gets out of truck, gets back in truck – quite quickly realizing that the wind is indeed powerful enough to lift her small frame and do with it what it wants. Falling into said big hole in ground is most decidedly a) not on the agenda and b) not even remotely an option. I lean forward into the wind, work my way out to crater’s edge; make a couple of utterly irrelevant photographs of big hole; turn around, lean back against the wind while returning to the truck. We’re outta here… Completing the loop we arrive once again at the road leading back to scotty’s castle which looks like they are widening in anticipation of huge summer crowds which no doubt flock to DVNP in droves for the 120+ temperatures.
We settle in to what promises to be a rather long drive, we’re headed for Lee Vining today. It will undoubtedly be many hours with a majority of them in desert heat. Not that, that is a bad thing. Karen is loving it and falls asleep shortly after we pass Scotty’s Castle. As I’m driving along, alone with my thoughts, I glance at the side mirror and like the image I see. I slowly pull over, so as not to wake Karen, and make a few images I dub coming and going. Now that I see the image though, I want to refine it a bit more next time. I like it very much as it is but, see some ways I would like to improve it overall. I need to print it and live with it on the wall for a bit.
We pass by devil’s cornfield and the dunes. We had planned to stop at the dunes on the way out because it had been very windy when we passed by on the way to the racetrack. It is still rather windy and we’re both feeling more inclined to be on the road rather than traipsing around sand dunes while having our skin exfoliated by a natural sand blaster. We stop at stovepipe wells for gas and Karen wrangles the left-over bacon from breakfast into nice BLT (hold the lettuce) sandwiches. We enjoy the sun and warmth on the wind sheltered side of the truck before moving onward. We both “know” it won’t really be warm where we’re headed but, we still hope.
We bid adieu to death valley national park for now. So long heat, we’ll miss you. We head straight onto 136 since we’re heading towards 395 north, rather than taking the turn on 190. It cuts off a little backtracking mileage since 190 actually dips south before intersecting 395. Besides, it’s a nice stretch of straight road offering some very nice scenic opportunities. Taking advantage of one such opportunity I stopping to take one last parting shot just past the 190 turn. I look across owens lake, not only is it painfully obvious that there is still plenty of snow left at the altitudes we have planned but, there is weather hung up on the sierras.
My internal conversation goes something like this. Never know, maybe it’ll be nicer by tioga pass; right…and monkeys are going to fly out of my ass. We’re heading up north, it doesn’t get nicer, it gets colder! Not only heading up north but, literally up as well, from sub-sea level elevations to six thousand feet plus some change. Not likely the weather will improve as drastically as would be required for backpacking to eleven thousand feet. Nothing like a little internal good cop, bad cop routine to keep one’s spirits up…sigh.
We settle in to the picturesque yet monotonously straight drive up 395, past lone pine, past independence, past big pine, etc. We both agree that we’d like to visit manzanar, making a note to visit it on a future trip to death valley. We stop in bishop for gas and groceries. Heading out of bishop we really begin to start gaining altitude; the temperature outside starts its descent. By the time we hit lake crowley and the mammoth exit we’ve lost over twenty degrees. The snow on the peaks of the mountains in the inyo national forest becomes even more plentiful; not to mention the levels of descending snow and ascending road are on most decidedly on a collision course. By the southern june lake loop exit the two are old friends; snow is abundant on the sides of 395. Not that nice white, pretty stuff – this is the ugly grayish matter that is more ice than snow; it’s the dirty pack that takes forever to melt. Luckily we do descend a bit as we get closer to the mono basin so snow and road are once again separated, even if only by only a few hundred feet of elevation.
We turn up tioga pass road, noting with a tinge of sadness, the big closed sign is still up. Our immediate destination is before the gate and the snow level has retreated to higher elevations. We figure while we may be in for a chilly night at least we’ll be able to camp someplace we both very much enjoy. We stopped here last year and were able to score one of the best sites in the place. This year, however, we’re not so fortunate – the campground isn’t even open for the season yet…good grief, our carefully crafted plans continue to be thwarted! We continue up to poole power plant to at least get out of the truck and stretch our legs a bit. We need to decide what to do now, we’re both in a bit of a funk at this point. Crap, crap, crapity, crap, crap! Though, the sun is nice, the wind is blocked, the temperature a bit cool but, it is nice to be out of the truck; we stroll around a bit and decide to look for another location to make camp. We climb back in the truck and start heading back out poole plant road.
We find a nice campground, we even get the same site number! We settle in to Murphey’s Motel…room 17. Only one of the campgrounds was open for business; we discussed it and decided that a hot shower wins out over hypothermia. Besides, we need to decide what we’re going to do now, we are obviously not going up to saddlebag lake or the twenty lakes basin. We didn’t plan for this weather and do not have the appropriate gear to contend with ice and snow on a trek. Bummed but at least comfortable for the night, we busy ourselves with housekeeping chores and downloading cards. We head to nicely’s for dinner – a meal must be had at nicely’s any time I’m on this side of the sierras – a hefty slice of chocolate cream pie works to take the edge off the disappointments of this day…