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Archive for September, 2019

The Whitney Portal Road

I love traveling Scenic U. S. Highway 395.  There are so many spots to see along the way, such as the Ancient Bristlecone Pine National Forest and Mono Lake. The road even connects with a gateway to Death Valley. (I’ve written on Death Valley’s history including Lone Pine and “The Wedding of the Waters” as well as its 2016 Wildflowers).

The other day, a good friend and I stopped overnight in Bishop, after driving the Tioga Road from Yosemite Valley.  Heading home to Bakersfield the next day, it made perfect sense to grab a deli lunch from Erick Schat’s Bakkery for a picnic at the Mt. Whitney Portal.

A Delightful Drive along the Whitney Portal Road

The Whitney Portal Road starts in Lone Pine, California, and runs 13.7 miles to the Whitney Portal Store, the staging area before hikers ascend to Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet).  The road to the trailhead was completed in 1936.  The Portal sits at 8,374 feet, a bit more than halfway way to the summit’s elevation.

As the drive begins, Mt. Whitney looms in the distance on a fairly straight, level stretch of road through the Alabama Hills.

Although not officially part of the Sierra Nevada, the Alabama Hills are part of the same geological formation and time frame as the majestic mountain range. The Alabama Hills were just shaped by different erosion patterns, giving them their rounded contours and boulders vs. the sharp ridges and jagged granite of the mountains.

The Alabama Hills are composed of two basic types of rocks.  The orange, rather drab weathered rock is metamorphosed volcanic rock from about 150-200 million years ago.  The other rock, biotite monzogranite, is from 82-85 million years ago; this rock type underwent spheroidal weathering and produced the potato-shaped large boulders strewn about the area.  This impressive public area was appropriately designated a national scenic area in March 2019.

This nice little brook was a pleasant surprise.

And I always like the breezes that make the grasses dance.

I’m not sure when this friendly mascot appeared on the scene, but he’s been welcoming visitors along the drive up toward Mt. Whitney for years.  I call him Cyril.

About half-way to the Mount Whitney Portal, the road starts to ascend into the Sierra Nevada. Its twists, turns and switchbacks follow a steep 9% grade for about 5 miles. The drive itself was prominent in two older films: Lucille Ball’s The Long, Long Trailer (1954) and Humphrey Bogart’s High Sierra (1941).

A Fun Video:  Here is an excerpt from Lucy and Desi’s drive up the mountain!

The parking for the Portal Store is not very extensive, but the area is pretty.

Eventually, we found a place for our picnic before heading back down the mountain.

The views back down into Owens Valley and the Alabama Hills are spectacular.

I love this drive from Lone Pine, California, to the Mount Whitney Portal.

If you have not yet visited the Alabama Hills, add the drive to your to-do list.  You may even discover it looks familiar, since it has been used many times in television and movie productions, such as The Lone Ranger and Bonanza and Gunga Din and How the West Was Won.

A Little Trivia:  I lived in Alabama for a year and loved the red soil that I saw in the fields where I walked my dog.  I figured the Alabama Hills must’ve somehow been named for a similar soil makeup, given their color. But no.  The Alabama Hills were named after the CSS Alabama, a Confederate warship deployed during the American Civil War.  Many of the prospectors in the area were sympathetic to the Confederacy, so when news of the warship’s exploits made its way out to California, lots of mining claims were named after the ship.  Eventually, the whole range took on the name Alabama Hills.

Driving Tioga Road in September

Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Road is an incredible drive.  In fact, it is my favorite scenic drive.  It offers the usual twists, turns and inclines of most mountain roads.  But it also passes through a range of gorgeous landscapes.

Tunnel View

El Capitan

This year, after an unusually heavy winter, the road was not open for unrestricted driving until July (vs. its usual May opening).  In mid-September, I wandered into Yosemite National Park, entering via Wawona and Tunnel View. Eventually, I headed east on Highway 120, officially starting onto Tioga Road near Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance.

From this juncture outside of Yosemite Valley, the drive rises gradually from about 6,000 feet through pine trees, heading along Highway 120 toward Tioga Pass, which is roughly 50 miles away at almost 10,000 feet.  The road itself winds through sheer granite cliffs, showcasing impressive craggy rock walls, trees erupting from the rocks and fantastic views.

There Was Even a Mushroom Growing on a Tree Trunk

There were even some wildflowers still lingering along the road.

I Love Lupine, But This Was the Only Little Bud In Sight

An impressive stop is Olmsted Point, sitting at 7,500 feet.  The trees, by this time, have diminished, and the impressive views of the granite rocks and mountains stretch in all directions.  In the distance, you can even see Half Dome. The boulders are strewn everywhere.

That’s Half Dome in the Distance

At one parking area, there were some butterflies and bees who actually posed a bit for photographs.  This delightful little butterfly is called a Great Spangled Fritillary.

Tenaya Lake is the next gem that surfaces along the road.  Its sparkling blue waters are eye-catching.

My favorite stretch along this drive wanders along Toulumne Meadows.  This wide expanse is a gentle dome-shaped, sub-alpine meadow, sitting at 8,619 feet.  Its 39 inches of rain annually comes mainly in the form of snowfall.  The spring is probably the most beautiful time of year to visit the meadows when there are marshes and wildflowers scattered across the area. I last drove this route in August 2017. But any time of year, the wide expanse is impressive.

Not far past Toulumne Meadows, the drive ascends to Tioga Pass, sitting at 9,945 feet.  From there the road descends fairly quickly on a steep drop to the park entrance not far from U.S. Highway 395.  Tioga Lake sits along this stretch of the route.

As Highway 120 nears Highway 395, the rocks take on a reddish hue indicating some iron must be in the rocks.

At the end of the drive, I settled in at a hotel in Bishop. I stopped at Erick Schat’s Bakkery in the morning before heading home.

It was a great drive!



It’s Fall!

Today is the Autumnal Equinox.

“There is something incredibly nostalgic and significant about the annual cascade of autumn leaves.”   Joe L. Wheeler

I love this time of year.

Even though I live in California, where many feel there are not really four seasons, I see the change of colors about town in small doses every year.  In about a month, I will take a drive looking for greater swatches of autumn colors strewn along the highways and back roads.

Until then, here are some photos from last year that offer a promise of what autumnal glories are to come in 2019.

“Leaves grow old gracefully, bring such joy in their last lingering days. How vibrant and bright is their final flurry of life.”   Karen Gibbs

“There is a subtle magic of the falling of old leaves.”  Avijeet Das

“No King has a throne more beautiful than a bench covered with the autumn leaves!”  Mehmet Murat ildan

“Rebellious leaves going out in a blaze of glory, setting trees aflame in riotous color. Reluctant surrender of rumors of coming winter.”  John Mark Green

“Autumn! The greatest show of all the times!”   Mehmet Murat ildan

“How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.”   John Burroughs

 “The leaf of every tree brings a message from the unseen world. Look, every falling leaf is a blessing.”   Rumi

“The fall leaf that tells of autumn’s death is, in a subtler sense, a prophecy of spring.”   Robert Green Ingersoll

“Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it.”   George Eliot


When I think of MAGIC, several things come to mind. First is the sleight of hand antics performed by magicians on many stages everywhere.  Even better is the magic inherent in the Harry Potter World.  I just love such things as the pensieve, the time turner, the invisibility cloak, and the spell that makes any purse hold so very much.

But the best magic is the majesty of Nature that is everywhere. At least for those who take the time to stop and notice. 

As Marian Green explains, “The words ‘Natural Magic’ might appear to be a contradiction in terms, but Nature is Magic.”  I add this suggestion:  Spend time in Nature. Then, whether looking out to the horizon or down at the smallest detail, let the magic of Nature bring you peace, comfort and strength. That is when you will notice the magic all around you.

Hills Near the Carrizo Plain

Field View Along Highway 178

 “Just feel the magic in the air and the power in the breeze, feel the energy of the plants, the bushes and the trees, let yourself be surrounded by nature at is best, calm yourself, focus and let magic do the rest.”  Sally Walker

“Everywhere we look, complex magic of nature blazes before us.”  Vincent Van Gogh

“I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful—an endless prospect of magic and wonder.”  Ansel Adams

“There is a secret garden where miracles and magic abound, and it’s available to anyone who makes the choice to visit there.”   Wayne W. Dyer

Grand Tetons

Bryce Canyon National Park

Klamath Falls Wildlife Refuge

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Mount Shasta

Crater Lake

“Fairies are invisible and inaudible like angels. But their magic sparkles in nature.”  Lynn Holland

“Align with nature. . . magic happens.”  John Friend

 “To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.”  Mary Davis

 “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”   W. B. Yeats

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”  Rachel Carson


This post was my response to the Lens Artists Photo Challenge #63: Magic.

Nature in Focus

“Always remember your focus determines your reality.”  Qui-Gon Jinn

Effective focus is the heart of photography.  Without it, a vista can be simply a blur of colors.  But when captured with crisp, precise focus, the vistas become places to re-visit time and time again.

Still, I prefer—when out in Nature enjoying the silence—to focus on the little things.  The smaller “views” that can be too easily overlooked.  The bird chirping on a wire or visiting at an open window.  A bee buzzing about a flower. I love the wonder of the small views of Nature I can capture in a photo.

Flowers themselves, in glorious, magnificent detail are my favorite subject.  I agree with Georgia O’Keefe about enjoying flowers: “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.  I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower.  I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”

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“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely every hundredth of a second.”   Marc Riboud

“A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away.”  Eudora Welty

“Photography takes a moment out of time, altering life by holding it still.”  Dorothea Lange

“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”  Ansel Adams

“All photographs are accurate.  None of them is the truth.”  Richard Avedon

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photography. When images become inadequate, I will be content with silence.”  Ansel Adams

“Photography is an act of observation.  It has little to do with the thing you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”  Eliot Erwitt

This post is my response to Tuesday Photo Challenge—Focus.

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