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Friday on the Carrizo Plain

I just love when clouds produce shadows!

Friday, a friend and I took a drive out towards the Carrizo Plain. (The Carrizo Plain National Monument itself was closed).  We figured the drive would not show the spectacular color of the 2017 Super Bloom.  Heck, we were not even certain we would find any color at all.  But we knew the drive—with its hills and vistas, its trees and rock formations—would be beautiful enough.

Besides, it was just nice to get out for a drive along a desolate road through the countryside.

We left Bakersfield, taking Highway 58 heading west toward Carrizo Plain.  Initially, there were some purple blooms lining the road.

Eventually other small groups of flowers started to pop up.

 

We took Soda Lake Road, heading past Soda Lake to Highway 166 and back home.  That road—part paved, part not—always has some great vistas.  Today the distant hills seemed to have some especially distinctive variations and shadows.

There were a few flowers along the way as well.

That’s Soda Lake in the distance.

This is the little blossom out in the fields–its size is smaller than a dime.

This little butterfly was a lovely surprise!

Heading home we finally saw another car–and we stayed at a safe social distance.  We did wave, however!

It was a great day!

A LITTLE NOTE:  Today (May 20) would have been my dad’s 100th birthday.  Hard to imagine.  This pandemic would have been hard on him, even though he was a world-class worrier.  He would have enjoyed taking this drive with me as we often took little nature treks together.  Of course, I would have had to convince him that such a drive is indeed essential, so okay to take given the safer at home rules.

Dad out on a little adventure.

Mom and Dad together out on a little adventure.

Dad passed in 2014.

I always feel like Dad is with me in spirit on my nature treks!

NATURE IS ESSENTIAL

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”  David Attenborough

It has been a long spring, made worse by this COVID-19 pandemic and the decisions telling all of us to stay home to stay safe.  We are frequently reminded that we should only be venturing out for what is essential.  Of course, for most, “essential” tasks revolve around obtaining food, water, medications and healthcare.  But for me, what is truly essential includes much more than these basics!

What exactly does essential mean? According to The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, something is essential if it is “of utmost importance, basic, indispensable, necessary.”  Some obvious synonyms would be fundamental, cardinal, vital.  Anything that is essential has a sense of urgency and importance.  It is the key thing that keeps one going.

FOR ME, NATURE IS ESSENTIAL. 

Trips into Nature keep me going, make me feel calm and grounded, link me to the miracle of life that is all around. With this long pandemic-shrouded spring, I really needed a trip into Nature.  My plan was to spend the day driving the back roads in and around the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Lancaster.  But just before I was set to leave, I saw a news item that said the roads were barricaded to keep people out.  Drats.

My guess is that hordes of people may have descended on the area over the weekend, trampling the fields, crowding the roads, and otherwise ignoring social distancing. After all, it was the first good-weather weekend since this ordeal began.  Or it could just be a random edict.  Either way, my plans were being undermined—and that would not do.

I NEEDED A TRIP INTO NATURE.

My new plan was simpler, just drive to Gorman at the Grapevine and wander the Gorman Postal Road.  If flowers are in bloom in the area, they are usually there too.  It was a glorious afternoon.

California Poppy

“The earth laughs in flowers.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Spring is Nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s Party!’”  Robin Williams

Lupine, One of My Favorites!

“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon the verdant green hills is the most perfect refreshment.”  Jane Austen

“An understanding of the natural world and what’s in it is a source of not only a great curiosity but great fulfillment.”  David Attenborough

Great Valley Phacelia

“Unless we are willing to encourage our children to reconnect with and appreciate the natural world, we can’t expect them to help protect and care for it.”  David Suzuki

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”  John Muir

“On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it.”  Jules Renard

“I go to Nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”  John Burroughs

“When one tugs at a single thing in Nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”  John Muir

This little guy did not cooperate at all for photos.  The butterflies in the area never even paused anywhere!

“Nature is not a place to visit.  It is home.”  Gary Snyder

“The happiest man is he who has learned from Nature the lesson of worship.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Kern Tarweed (maybe)

“They are much to be pitied who have not been given a taste for Nature early in life.”  Jane Austen

I always love it when there is a nice spring breeze wandering the hills as well.  (Sorry I forgot to turn off the radio.  At least I am not singing along!)

ONE AFTERNOON: Two Drives

I started the day in the early afternoon, heading first to June Lake, but I figured there would also be time to head out to Convict Lake as well.  It was a good afternoon!

I love the June Lake Loop Drive (Highway 158).  The best color depends on finding the best week to go exploring.  My first drive on this scenic byway, the leaves were long gone, but even barren aspen trees are pretty.  Last year was a pretty good year.  This year, I visited in the second week of October.  Some pretty fall colors were out there, waiting to be appreciated!

I do love aspens!

Views of Grant Lake

Heading back to the hotel, I took a short drive out to Convict Lake. I had not driven this road before. Since it was just a short jaunt to the lake, I wandered on down the lane. It’s an area that is worthy of more time and attention.

This inquisitive little guy stopped to say hello.

I’ve never really enjoyed fishing, but this does look like a great way to spend an afternoon.

GREAT RESOURCE:  As I planned this year’s trip, I stumbled onto California’s Eastern Sierra Fall Color Map (Inyo & Mono Counties).  It highlights 22 scenic spots where fall color is likely to be found.  I visited some new spots this year, but have more places to see in future years.

Big Pine Country

This year, in the second week in October, I started my trip to the Bishop area to appreciate the lovely show of fall colors evident in Nature.   When to visit is always a bit of a crap shoot, but others had been posting wonderful photos, so I headed out a bit earlier than past years.  I also planned to visit some other canyon drives rather than just checking out the June Lake Loop Drive.

My first stop this year was a short one wandering a bit into Big Pine Canyon.  It was already late afternoon when I started.  I was tired and still needed to secure a hotel, so this was a quick trip. I basically stayed on Glacier Lodge Road and did not even go all the way to the Lodge.  Short, but pretty drive!

GREAT RESOURCE:  As I planned this year’s trip, I stumbled onto California’s Eastern Sierra Fall Color Map (Inyo & Mono Counties).  It highlights 22 scenic spots where fall color is likely to be found.  I visited some new spots this year, but have more places to see in future years.

Signs of Fall Along Highway 395

This year, while visiting the Bishop area looking for fall colors, I drove Highway 395 several times from Lone Pine to Lee Vining. Of course, the canyons that intersect the highway offer a great chance to see wonderful autumn color.  But the highway itself offers its own beauty.

This tree south of Bishop always catches my eye—it is my favorite!

These red leaves were on a little tree in a parking lot in Bishop, calling out for everyone to notice it in all its glory.

Some views along the highway.

These trees and views pop up at the intersection of Highway 395 and Highway 120 heading into Yosemite National Park.

Of course, Mono Lake is always a wonder!

No wonder this Highway 395 is called a SCENIC DRIVE!

Early Fall on Highway 178

Every Autumn, I take a drive to Bishop for a couple days to look for fall colors.  It is always a nostalgic trip because I think of my dad traveling with me.  We made the first trip together years and years ago.  I now imagine him traveling with me in spirit.  This trip is always a chance to slow down and contemplate the wonder of Nature as the end of the year approaches. It is a great time to realize how lucky I am and to start making plans for the new year.

This year I made the trip during the second week of October, a bit earlier than previous years.  I started the drive traveling on Highway 178, which initially follows along the Kern River.  It is one of my favorite drives, regardless of the season. There are not many trees along the route that offer much fall color, but the Rabbit Brush, sage and other scrub brush offer enough color to usher in a beautiful fall.

Sacred Datura, also known as Locoweed, punctuated the roadside.

I do not know what these rust plants are, do you?

A Quick Glimpse of Lake Isabella

There Was a Nice Purple Color Gracing the Hillsides

Rabbit Brush

IMG_0192

Mountain Asters

If you have not driven Highway 178 lately, consider taking a nice leisurely drive some afternoon.

GRAY LODGE WILDLIFE AREA IN OCTOBER

The first time I visited Gray Lodge Wildlife Area north of Sacramento was in February 2019.  It was a great day with lots of birds:  geese, ducks, herons, egrets and even sandhill cranes and swans.  Since the area is a wetlands that supports birds all year long, I figured the best way to really know the area is to visit it several times throughout the year.

This time, I visited in early October.  The area showed the beginnings of fall colors across the landscape.  There were some birds, but nothing like the numbers from my earlier visit.

Still, it was a great leisurely afternoon! I saw a few others out at the site, but mainly I was on my own on the dirt road scenic drive.

Birds were around, but most were either overhead or out on the water.

Sometimes, my closeup lens would let me get some birds in focus, even though the colors often stayed muted.

Northern Pintail

Common Egret

Great Blue Heron

I did not notice the spider until later

Snow Geese Dark Phase (I think)

Black Necked Stilt

This green algae was all over one of the waterways

This Great Blue Heron was hard to spot even with a closeup.

American Coots

A Common Egret playing hide and seek.

Lesser Yellowlegs

I don’t know what there are, but they sure are pretty!

I dropped by Sutter National Wildlife Refuge thinking I might see some more birds, but the road at this access point was roped off.  The area did have pretty golden fields.

It was a great afternoon.  I’ll have to visit again, maybe in winter–or early spring.

PHOTOS THAT FILL THE FRAME

Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park

“If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.”   Jim Richardson

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”  Elliott Erwitt

Taking photographs can be seen as an easy task. Just point the camera (or phone these days) and click.  But some photographs are better than others.  They somehow capture our attention, pull us in, make us pause for a moment, help us appreciate what we see.  These reactions are what I like about photography.  Plus the captured memories.

Pretty Buds, Yosemite National Park

But how do photographers capture those photos.  In great part, it is trial and error.  Some good advice is to fill the frame.  Get close to the subject.  Look for different perspectives. See what can be eliminated from the photo as well as added.  Experiment by taking lots of photos.

Here are some more of my photos where I was able to fill the frame.

Tuolumne Meadow, Tioga Road, Yosemite National Park

Yucca Bud, Red Rock Canyon, California

Mount Whitney Behind Alabama Hills, California

Great Fritillary Butterfly, Whitney Portal Road, California

Of course, there are also times when I literally frame a photo in my side view mirror.  Let me explain.  I am a roadside naturalist.  My mobility limitations mean that I experience nature along scenic drives, staying in my car to capture whatever wonders I can.  A long time ago, I accidentally caught an interesting photo in my side view mirror. Since then, I look for what I might otherwise miss in those side view mirrors.

Back Roads around Bishop, California

Flowers in Carrizo Plain, California

Afternoon Light, Leaving Carrizo Plain, California

Autumn Leaves along the Merced River, Yosemite National Park

Aspen Grove Near Bishop, California

Hills along Highway 58 Heading to Carrizo Plain, California

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Some Quotes to Remind Photographers to Just Take Photos

“There are no rules for good photographers, there are only good photographs.”  Ansel Adams

“I walk, I look, I see, I stop, I photograph.”  Leon Levinstein

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”   Ansel Adams

“To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk.”  Edward Weston

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

“Best wide-angle lens?  Two steps backward. Look for the ‘ah-ha.’”   Ernst Haas

“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”  Ansel Adams

This post is my response to the Lens Artist Photo Challenge 66: Filling the Frame.

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!

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE DRIVE YOU’VE DISCOVERED IN YOUR TRAVELS?

 

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