Lone Pine and Alabama Hills

Thursday, October 10

Mono Craters as we leave  Lee Vining.

Mono Craters as we leave Lee Vining.

After the sleet and snow day of yesterday, this morning dawned clear and cool. Now we could comfortably get on down the 120 miles south to the town of Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills to meet up with friends Jim, Gayle and now new friend Debbie. They had moved down from the Bishop area a few days earlier and were scouting out suitable places to camp for the 3 rigs. It is an amazing drive down this stretch of 395. The always impressive Sierra Nevada Mountains were even more so because of the light layer of snow they were now dusted in. When we pulled into Bishop for groceries and gas, I got a call from Jim to let us know they had changed location yet again. This was the third change in 3 days, but each change upgraded the site a bit more. It’s good to have friends in the advance.
8591It is uncharacteristically busy in the Hills right now. The Lone Pine Film Festival is happening over the weekend and people and their rigs are piling in. The government shutdown has severely limited where people can stay in the area and most seem to have gravitated to the Hills. It’s a no brainer for us to camp here though. One of the best views in California, wide open spaces, interesting rock formations – all for the cost of – FREE.

The Whitney peaks.

The Whitney peaks.

8851_potatoThe formations here contrast wildly with the granite peaks of Mt. Whitney and Lone Pine Peak that loom over the Owens Valley, even though they are about the same age as the mountains behind them. Made up largely of biotite monzogranite, their appearance is that of giant potatoes grouped together and standing on end. This is simply due to the way the rock weathered over time. It is astonishing to think that the high peaks here are just the exposed top 10,000 ft. of the range. Another 10,000 ft. of sediment fill the valley.
8603Over time, the area has become a labyrinth of dirt roads that snake all through the hills. It is administered by BLM and all considered dispersed camping. There are countless places to pull over to camp. Once set up, It can be a task to re-find the spot after leaving – especially at night. GPS systems have made this easier, but even with the proper coordinates, I was able to get close, but couldn’t be sure exactly where Jim  & company made camp. We arrived at a location the Garmin told us was close, and while I was unhooking the RAV4 from the Lazy Daze, Jim pulled up to greet us. He could see us from the chosen site, but it was disguised enough so that it would have taken a little exploring to find the right road to get to it.

Gayle returning from a walk with Sophie.

Gayle returning from a walk with Sophie.

So we made it. We met Debbie and her cute doggies, Rupert and Elliot, also the Cummings new kitties, Elvis and Sophi. I’m happy not to travel with pets, but it sure is fun to watch the antics of these goofy critters when we visit friends. The rest of the day we spent catching up on our various doings. We took a short leg stretching walk around the immediate area to check out some of the movie location sites. Most of the hundreds of movies filmed, all or in part, here are pretty obscure or really old, but there are many times even now, while sitting in a movie theater, that I have been pulled out of the film when I suddenly see, not a Mars landscape, but the Alabama Hills. After the walk, we all retired to our various abodes for the evening.

Our camp in the Alabama Hills.

Our camp in the Alabama Hills.

Friday, October 11
During the night, Mary was up and down a couple of times. By morning it was clear she was going to need a helping had of the local pharmacy. We spent a good portion of the day calling Mary’s San Francisco doctor to get a prescription, calling the Lone Pine pharmacy to see if it had arrived, and waiting around until it did. Fortunately the medication seems to have done the trick and she is now feeling better.

Most of the day was shot by now and all there was left to do was get together for happy hour. The days have been very warm here, but as soon as the sun goes down, it cools off really quickly. Our happy hour started outdoors between the rigs, but we soon had to head indoors. J & G offered up their 30′ LD so we could continue on inside. It’s always fun to see other peoples rigs. I often find myself lusting after the amenities of the different floor plans and lengths. The extra 4′ of J & G’s really gives a feeling of space in the lounge area. We all 5 of us fit quite comfortably in there. It was just a really pleasant chatty evening.

Saturday, October 12

8610Saturday morning, all the stars aligned. We made tentative plans the evening before to hike the Whitney Portal trail up to Lone Pine Lake. While Mary and I have been up to the trailhead before, we have never hiked this trail. The hike is listed as moderate, but it was a 1,300′ ascent in 3 miles starting at 8,660′. I’m sure it is moderate for someone. But really it wasn’t so bad. The day was cool, especially at this altitude – 56 was the forecast high for the day. We were all surprised to see how much snow and ice still remained in the parking area for the trailhead. It is mostly in deep shadow because of the heavy tree cover, so the snow melts slowly here. Up on the trail though, the first part anyway, it was very open and snow free. In no time a few of us were sweating and puffing. We were off and walking by 11:00 AM.
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8617The trail starts off with many very long and gradually rising switchbacks. It was in great condition as well. Not nearly as many rocks and loose gravel to make us slip as I’ve seen on countless easier hikes. This helped make the hike seem much smoother. Frequent stops for breath and pictures actually made it quite pleasant. The views all the way up were just spectacular. It wasn’t too long before the trail entered more tree cover though so, more ice and snow were on the trail. But it was somewhat slushy by this point in the day, so walking through it (with the aid of our walking sticks) was not bad at all.
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8637It took Mary, Debbie and I a good 3 hours to get to the lake. Jim & Gayle were waiting for us when we got there. They are pretty amazing hikers – especially Gayle. They probably would have made it an hour earlier, but they kindly stopped for us laggers. Mary and I stopped from time to time to photograph the landscape. Our hikes always takes a long time because of this, but we all finally arrived at the lake. It is easily one of the nicest mountain lakes I’ve seen.
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Jim surveys his domain.

Jim surveys his domain.

There weren’t nearly as many people up there as I might have expected if judging by how many cars were in the parking lot – but there were still quite a few, from infants to us older folk. We found a nice sunny spot on some rocks next to the lake for lunch and rest. Soon we were walking around checking out the views and making pictures. All great fun.
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8689Now it was time to return. We left around 3 PM and returned pretty quickly. It was all downhill after all. Mary and I dawdled as we usually do when the light gets nice, but 2 hours later, we were down and headed back to camp – exhausted. At least I was. I actually felt pretty good all things considered, but the constant pounding took a bit of a toll on my back and hips. I was just a little achey next morning. No one wanted to cook, so we gussied up a bit and went into town for a nice pizza dinner at the Pizza Factory. But it was Saturday night in Lone Pine on the film festival weekend so it was pretty busy and boisterous at the restaurant. We did manage to get a table for the 5 of us and much beer and pizza consumption commenced. There was still time for dessert, and a handy McDonalds nearby, so it was ice cream sundaes all around. A very satisfying day.

A bit breezy up on the peaks.

A bit breezy up on the peaks.

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Sunday, October 13

8730I had the terrific idea of getting up predawn to photograph sunrise on the mountains from somewhere in the jumble of rocks that is Alabama Hills. I was up in plenty of time and staked out at a spot I found the morning before. I was set up and ready just as the sun hit the tip of Mt. Whitney. As I made my first exposures, my screen informed me that there was no card in the camera. Nor was there one in my bag. I had left it sitting in the Lazy Daze thinking I would download the images last night. But I never did and so forgot about it being there. Oh well. It was a pretty sunrise though. I just stood and watched it anyway. Back in camp with card in camera, I did the above shot. Mary made me a nice omelet as a consolation.

Solar mule.

Solar mule.

Much of the rest of the day was just that – rest. We caught up on reading, writing and photo processing. Later in the afternoon, we went back into town for the big parade. It may have been the quietest parade I’ve ever seen, but it was cute. There were luminaries from the local film festival, a few old-time stars in cars, some folks dressed up as old movie stars, a local cheer squad, and some other local characters. Old cars of course, and the local fire crews wraped up the festivities. We strolled to the craft fair in the park at the edge of town before heading home.

Mr. and Mrs. Cowboy Santa.

Mr. and Mrs. Cowboy Santa.

Big guy in a little car.

Big guy in a little car.

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A Hoppy copy.

A Hoppy copy.

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My guess is the Duke.

My guess is the Duke.

Debbie has been traveling with Jim & Gayle in her own Lazy Daze for several months now. Over the past couple of days, we’ve been able to get to know her a little, and when we got back in camp, I asked if she would let me photograph her for the project.  I think she embodies the spirit of what the full-timer lifestyle is all about. She is self sufficient and with a great attitude. She agreed. I wanted to include her two crazy pups, but hat was kind of a challenge. Those two almost never stop moving, but I actually got a couple where they were semi still. We had a nice conversation while her dogs terrorized each other and us. I’m glad I was able to include her. Here are a couple.

Debbie and Rupert.

Debbie and Rupert.

8804It was getting to be late afternoon, but J & G invited us all over again for another extended happy hour. More beer, wine, chips and dip ensued. We’ve had great fun visiting these 3. It is not often we meet people we consistently get along with so well. Lots to talk about and things to do together. We both hate to have to leave, but it is time. They all plan on being in Quartzsite in January for the big RV gathering, so we will soon get to all hang out together again.

Monday, October 14
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We pulled up stakes this morning, but not before I had one last chance to photograph at sunrise. This time I was out in plenty of time, had my choice of vantage points and got some nice shots.
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8837We said goodbye to our friends for now, then traveled back up to Bishop and are camping a little north of town. We bypassed this area on the way down, so now we plan to stay here for a few days, hiking and looking for more aspen.

Debbie, Mary and I, and Jim and Gayle.

Debbie, Mary and I, and Jim and Gayle.

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