On the way home I asked Dave, “Which day did you like the best?”
“I liked them all equally.”
While I loved each day’s adventure, I have to say I liked our last day the best. We packed a picnic and our fishing poles and drove up Rock Creek Road to Rock Creek Lake. If you take the group camping entrance there is easy access to a beautiful sandy beach. We plopped down our chairs, threw out a fishing line, sat back and soaked in the mountain scenery. I finished a book I was reading, took a walk with Kari around the lake and talked with our fishing neighbors.
We caught little dinker fish and were convinced that that’s all that were in this lake… until, that is, Dave caught a really big one. He was the envy of the beach (which he loved!). I admit I wasn’t too interested in fishing until Dave caught this big one. Then I baited my hook and stared at that sinker. When I saw it bobbing I got excited to reel in my first fish. However… just another dinker.
No worries… I’ll catch “The Big One” when we fish at Eagle Lake, our next trip.
Dinner for four!
So why was this my favorite day? Because it was so peaceful and relaxing. The perfect way to end our short trip to the Eastern Sierras.
I wasn’t ready to travel home. I love the Eastern Sierras, and in this crazy time we are living in a trip there was just the therapy session I needed.
Whitney Portal Road is a short but spectacular drive that takes you about halfway up Mount Whitney. It’s the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 4.421m (14,505ft) above the sea level.
This route is paved but narrow, steep and winding with dramatic switchbacks. The road ends at 2.557m (8,389ft) above the sea level at Whitney Portal. At Whitney Portal, there is a close view of Mount Whitney. The road to the summit was built in 1936 by Civilian Conservation Corps. Risk of rock slides on the way up. Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. It’s very steep, with some 14% gradients. The road has some narrow parts and blind corners. Like most eastern Sierra ascents this one starts out tame and ends up tough. The grade generally increases as you climb so that a five mile stretch in the 2nd half averages 9%. The hill lets up just before the finish at Whitney Portal and a parking/hiking area (trailhead to Mt.Whitney).
It’s a damned thing to behold. It twists and turns through an otherworldly landscape known as the Alabama Hills, a set of bizarrely constructed rock piles, before setting on a fairly straight shot for the foothills of Mount Whitney. The vistas change dramatically as you draw closer to the mountains, seeming more and more massive until suddenly they overwhelm you, and you’re a part of them, looking back down on the road, the hills, and the Owens Valley. In other words, there’s plenty of time to think about what you’re getting yourself into. It is a great and difficult climb out of the high desert up towards Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48.
I did not take any pictures on our drive up the Whitney Portal Road. I was too busy telling Dave how to drive!
Years ago we started to take this road. I looked up and saw how narrow and steep it was and I couldn’t do it. Dave begged me… tried to convince me we wouldn’t topple over the cliff. But I just couldn’t… so we didn’t. But this time I wanted to. Besides, there is a little cafe at the top and it was time for a burger and beer! (Dave skipped the beer… he had to drive back down that steep road!)
I’m glad we finally took this drive, and honestly it could have been worse. At least most of the way up it was a two lane road!
On Friday we headed out early, had breakfast at Tom’s Place (we never skip a visit to Tom’s Place), and then drove south to Lone Pine to check out the Alabama Hills. We drove the Whitney Portal Road once before for a short distance, but never ventured off on any of the many dirt side roads.
The Alabama Hills is BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), and did not have to close during the forestry closures (or anytime during the pandemic).
The rounded contours of the Alabama Hills appear in stark contrast to the chiseled peaks of the Sierra Nevada and, although considered geographically a separate range of hills, they were formed at the same time and are geologically part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Percolating water rounded the granite blocks and sculpted the many outstanding formations of the Alabama Hills.
There are stunning rock formations with numerous roads and trails winding through the area. Although only a few miles from town this 18,600-acre National Scenic Area can give one the feeling of being ‘way out there.’ Hidden coves and arches rocks with awesome views of Mt. Whitney and the Sierra Nevada can provide hours of contemplative solitude.
It’s vast. It’s safe. It’s inspirational. It’s a place where folks can enjoy a few hours, a day, or a weekend and each person can do just what makes them feel happiest.
We had a map that took us to one area that had a marked walking trail. It would be so easy to get lost in here… dirt roads and trails going in every direction.
Awesome would be the word I would use to describe this place. It was truly spectacular.
The Crowley Lake Columns only appear when the water level is low.
These majestic stone columns are something straight out of this world. They are considered a true geological masterpiece, rising up to at least 20ft tall along the shoreline of Crowley Lake, California. These stone columns are connected by high arches as if they are part of an ancient Moorish temple. It is not that easy to get here, however, the Crowley Lake Stone Columns are definitely worth making that trek.
These geological wonder stone columns of Crowley Lake were buried and hidden for ages under the tons of pumice and ash. The pounding waves of Crowley Lake helped carve out the softer materials at the base of the cliffs, eventually revealing these unique columns. There are over 5,000 columns within a 2-3 miles radius.
The stone columns at Crowley Lake are grouped together. They are also diverse in shape and size, but most of them have distinct encircled horizontal cracks about 1 ft apart. Many of them are still buried in the sand.
Let me confess… these are NOT my pictures. I borrowed them from the internet. But you can see why visiting these columns was on my list of things to see while in the Eastern Sierras. But alas it wasn’t to be.
The statement “it is not easy to get there” is an understatement. We finally got good directions from our RV Park hosts and we were on our way. There are no signs on these back dirt roads. “Make a left after the second hairpin turn.” … “stay to the left”… “narrow one-lane road”… “you will get to a very steep rutted hill”…
Everything we read said you HAVE TO HAVE 4-wheel drive. We do. However…
After several attempts to climb the steep area we had to give up. We kept spinning out and fishtailing. I’m a chicken at heart anyway, and I begged Dave to give up and he finally did. So, sadly, we never made it to the columns. We could have hiked, but we weren’t prepared for the 5 mile journey to do that.
So, for now anyway, I will just have to look at the internet pictures of the mysterious Crowley Lake Columns.
These pictures do not do the depth of the ruts or the steepness of the hill justice. It was way worse in person. Believe me!
One of the new places we explored was the Hot Creek Geologic Site near Mammoth. I can’t believe that of all the years we’ve been coming over to the Eastern Sierras we have never heard of this before. It paid to do my homework and find places we could visit if the forests remained closed.
Hot Creek Geologic Site is a wonderland of hot springs, fumaroles, and unpredictable geysers, all neatlyframed within a narrow, rock-strewn gorge. Steaming aquamarine pools may look like a perfect place to soak, but swimming is prohibited—for good reason. Hot Creek’s scenic canyon is like a mini version of the geothermal marvels at Lassen and Yellowstone, with water temperature often topping 200 degrees, heated by a pocket of magma lying three miles below the creek. The earth’s surface is in flux, too. New hot pools appear overnight, and boiling geysers erupt without warning.
Once a popular swimming and soaking area, Hot Creek has been closed to all bathing activities since May 2006, due to unpredictability, sudden, and frequent boiling water discharges. Flow rates, temperature, and geyser locations can be changed in seconds along the stream bed and its banks. Drastic changes in water temperature that is scalding hot and under massive pressure can burst into the air at any time. Currently, there are many roped off areas that swimmers once enjoyed.
Since 1998, 14 people died or have been seriously burned in Hot Creek. A lot of people have been injured. Now, no one is allowed to enter the water.
Kari kept pulling to drink water from the creek. We walked upstream far enough to find cooler water where she could quench her thirst. I think if I would have let her drink from the boiling water she would be afraid to ever drink from a creek again!
One of my favorite places to go is the Eastern Sierras. The RV park where we stay fills up fast so we make our reservations a year in advance. Last year because of the ‘C’ word our reservation got cancelled, so we were especially looking forward to this year.
But right before we were scheduled to go all the forests were closed. Our reservation was to start September 21st and the forests were “tentatively” scheduled to reopen on the 18th. I had no faith that would happen. We got a notice from the RV park that they would remain open because they were on private property. Their cancellation policy was two weeks in advance or we would lose our deposit. If the forests remained closed what would we do while there?… No fishing, no hiking.
“Let’s Go Anyway!”
I did some homework and found places that we could explore that were not affected by the forestry closure.
As it turned out the forests were reopened on September 16th.
Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. To recognize the significance of that day as well as honor the lives lost, National Geographic released a six-part documentary series, “9/11: One Day in America.”
We pledged we would “never forget” and this documentary is our reminder. It’s a hard watch, but I highly recommend it.
Renae and I took the short walk from Linda’s cabin to their neighbor’s across the street. The Dixie Fire showed them no mercy. It put into perspective how this destruction could have just as easily been them. As the saying goes… “There but for the Grace of God go I”. My heart hurts for this family and all families that return home after being evacuated to find everything gone.
I chose to convert these pictures into black and white, because honestly that’s what it looked like… black burnt trees and white ashes.
On August 5th Ron told Linda that things didn’t look good for their Chester cabin as the Dixie Fire was marching toward Chester. On August 6th they got word that the fire blew over their cabin… but they didn’t know exactly what that meant. On August 8th they received a video of their cabin… still standing. They could breathe a sigh of relief and cry tears of joy.
When I heard they were going to clean up after the fire we invited ourselves to go and help. Good friends Bob and Renae came too and with the six of us working it wasn’t long before their dusty, soot covered cabin looked happy again.
The cabin was saved but their view has changed dramatically. The blackened forest surrounding them is a reminder of just how blessed they are.
Probably because of the water used by the firemen there are already signs of new life…
Now more than ever we pray for everyone that are not as fortunate as Linda and Ron… those that lost everything, those being threatened by one of the many fires still burning, and those that are anxiously awaiting to go back home. We give a huge THANK YOU to the firemen that work day and night to save our homes, cabins and businesses… they are our heroes!