Monday, May 5, 2014

Southern Sierra Nevada

Hey now, this is a great place! Blue skies, warm temps, balmy breezes and fantastic scenery! Yes, we do feel a little guilty hearing about our soggy friends & family back in the Pacific NW, but we're coping with that as best we can.

Over the past week we have visited several notable places, the first being Rainbow Basin, a BLM site north of Barstow. It is a crazy geologic site, eroded out of some vast sink hole, and I never did quite get the whole story of how it was created. There are layers of colorful rock going in every direction with an exciting (but not too exciting) wash-boardy, dusty, narrow loop road going through it that has been carved into the terrain. I like excitement, don't misunderstand, but I also want to feel we won't be stuck out in the middle of no-where. Manageable, controllable excitement is best, I think. Anyway, we spent a night at a scenic lookout, hiked around the next day and then drove on. And looming in the distance were the southernmost Sierra Nevadas, startling in their height and beauty. 

Some of you old-timers, or folks who enjoy old B-westerns, would easily recognize this area. The main road going through it is called Movie Road, named for all the movies that were shot there back in the early days of action westerns. Thayer was sure he saw the exact spot where the Lone Ranger leaped off the rock onto the back of the bad guy as he galloped by on his horse.
If the City of Rocks was great, this area is even larger and better. The Alabama Hills are comprised of BLM land and designated for dispersed camping with sites are far apart and tucked in amongst the rocks. BLM usually equates to free with little-to-no amenities. That's fine with us!

We stayed for five nights, taking long walks, reading books, painting and sketching, taking pictures, and scrambling over and under the countless boulders and rock outcroppings. It did get hot during the few midday hours but the sun drops pretty quickly behind the wall of mountains and everything cools down to a perfectly nice temperature.

One hot day we drove the steep, winding 10 miles up the Whitney Portal road which leads to the trailheads for Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states at 14,510 feet.

We hiked up a few thousand feet to still frozen Lone Pine Lake, passing through forests of BIG trees with many varieties, including some that I was unfamiliar with.

Training the humans
After all our recent time in the desert it was really nice to get up into the cool trees and streams. This felt more like home and was a refreshing break from the hot & dry. We were stopped by snow above 10,000 feet but didn't really mind as we were plenty tired enough by then. Stopping on a sunny rock for lunch, we enjoyed the magnificent view and impromptu dinner show entertainment by the Stellar Jays hitting us up for a share of the grub. Then down the trail, down the scary road, and back to our little campsite next to Fred and Wilma's stone cave. We loved our stay in the Alabama Hills!
Modern day Flintstones

Adaptive camouflage

War refugee in her own country
A few miles farther along our journey we came to another must see site, the Manzanar War Relocation Center. Manzanar is one of ten internment centers created immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. With racial phobia growing in the US, the defined purpose was to inter, control and "watch" the Japanese Americans living in the west coast states. These citizens and whole families were unceremoniously uprooted from their homes and lives only because they were deemed a potential threat to the war effort.

Even though 2/3 of them were American citizens by birth, the government worried that they might retain some loyalty to the Japanese emperor. The other 1/3 of the prisoners were immigrants (mostly elders) from Japan who had been denied citizenship solely because they were Japanese!!  Thus, 120,000 Japanese Americans, infants to elderly, were interred for 2-3 years, from 1942-1945, with about 10,000 of them at Manzanar. 

It is a fascinating and sad chapter in American History, and only until recently (the Reagan Administration) did the US admit that an injustice was committed. With current events as they are it is even more sad that we seem doomed to repeat this horrible discrimination of imprisoning our people without due process. Lest we forget the tragedy, there are regular pilgrimages to the site by survivors and their families. 

Today the Manzanar site is mostly a ruin, though they have reconstructed several barracks and a mess hall for visitors. The visitor's center is very well done, presenting the concepts and events fairly and truthfully (I felt) but mostly focusing on the lives and experiences of the inmates.

"He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."  -  Thomas Paine

Moving along to the north, our next couple of nights were spent at lovely, green Dehy Park in Independence. A pretty little stream flowed through the trees and we found quiet, private parking. We spent the afternoon in the East California Museum, enjoying the best Native American basket exhibit that I have ever seen. The designs and workmanship of the artisans were outstanding. They also had loads of arrowheads, worked points and tools, and one ceremonial point was about 14 inches long!

Being a fan of Edward Curtis, I was excited to see about 20 beautifully framed prints of Native Americans. They were just stunning! Several months ago I read (and would recommend) a biography about him, a great book called The Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher. We owe much of what we know about the tribes from the early 1900's to Edward Curtis.

Outside the museum was the nicest collection of old wagons and rusty stuff that I've seen in a long time, most of it farm and mining equipment. The native plant garden was blooming like crazy and the scents were almost overwhelming. The path between the park and the museum went out into the sage, and I so wished I could take "pictures" or somehow capture the aromas wafting through the sage and lupines to share and remember. In the park we enjoyed sitting in the shade of the big trees with our feet in the water, watching yet another day draw to a close as the breeze wrapped its warm arms around us and fingers through our hair. 

You don't know how good you have it
until you've had it so good!
You can bet I'll be recalling this day when I find myself back in a classroom next year!

Ever northward we traveled, next taking in the surprisingly impressive and beautiful Fish Hatchery just north of Independence. Who would expect a large 3-story stone Tudor building, looking more like an old European monastery, to be California's first and greatest fish hatchery? It is a lovely building, situated on Oak Creek, and has a large pond loaded with the state fish, the golden trout.
Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery

Unfortunately, there was a forest fire in 2007 which preceded a terrible flood in 2008, damaging the ponds and tanks badly enough that the state abandoned the site. Fortunately, there was a volunteer group already involved with the facility and they have taken it over and preserved the historic building and grounds. They raise a few fish for seeding, provide educational programs for area schools, tend the grounds and pond and keep it open for public visitations year round. It would be grand to see it returned as a fully functioning fish hatchery again. I can't fathom how bad the damage from the flooding was but it seems like there is so much already invested in the hatchery that they/we/you would want to keep it going. 

Before heading on into Bishop for resupplying, we made one more stop. Keogh Hot Springs was right off the road and Thayer had memories of stopping there during one of his flying trips in this area. And goodness knows we can always use a bit of cleaning up! There is a little resort area with cement pools, camping, and "developed" stuff but we opted for the natural pools downriver. There are a series of semi-private pools that wind through the sage, rocks and grasses. They are a very pleasant temperature, nice even on a hot day. There were very few people and plenty of pools – a good ratio. One young family with children had the nicest pool. It had waterfalls, boulders and deep holes that the children were clearly enjoying. We also tried panning for gold in the gravel, using plastic cups, but had no luck. There were lots of little sparkles but they were pretty lightweight. 

We will now be heading deeper into the Sierra Nevadas, then going up and over Yosemite National Park and on to the coastal areas. We have only about four more weeks before ending up in Seattle....Nooooooo! It can't end!!!


  1. Only four more weeks???? How can that be? That isn't nearly enough time to see all there is to see in CA and OR! Are you going to Crater Lake? I heard they usually get 44 feet of snow, but this year got only 17, or something like that. They're a little worried about this summer. Probably still snow covered now. I know you can get to the village, but probably can't drive around the lake yet. I would recommend visiting Steens Mountain and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, but they're probably too far east for you if you've only got 4 weeks left and you're just starting into Yosemite before going out to the coast. You can go that way on your next trip to the Southwest.

  2. We are going to spend as much time here in the south as we can, saving the closer stuff for future journeys. It is nice and warm here, just lovely, and the scenery is fantastic.

  3. Great post and wonderful photos Jill.