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.
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!
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!
“There are no days so delightful as those of a fine October.” Alexander Smith
“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.” Jim Bishop
I live in Bakersfield, which sits roughly in the middle of California. This year has been a hot one. Most summers, we average 126 days of 100+ degrees, but this year there were more than 150 days. Fall weather offered unusually high temperatures as well. It is technically fall, but it does not feel like it. The trees about town that typically offer some fall colors have been slow in putting on their show. Except for one little tree in my neighborhood. Although it stands less than 10 feet tall, it has boldly offered vivid red leaves to remind us all that fall is in the air.
That little tree encouraged me to take my annual trek to find fall colors. Some years, I head up to Bishop while others I visit Yosemite. This year, I decided I would travel to both locations, figuring I would see some fall colors somewhere en route. Of course, even if I didn’t find fall foliage, the drive itself always offers wonderful views. It is just great to be on the road again!
My first day was an easy four-hour drive from Bakersfield to Bishop. The drive up the Kern River Canyon via Highway 178 initially showed sporadic bits of color.
Eventually, the golden blooms of Rabbitbrush wandered along the highway along with the occasional tree or bush in bloom.
The juncture of Highway 178 and Highway 14 (which soon becomes Highway 395) offered some great views as usual. I love the clouds!
Once traveling on Highway 395, I was I took a short detour near Lone Pine to enjoy the Alabama Hills and a view of Mt. Whitney.
Lone Pine offered some quick glimpses of fall colors as well.
Back on Highway 395, heading toward Bishop, fall colors started punctuating the landscape as the sun started to set.
These red-winged black birds did not readily pose for the camera. The spotted one is a juvenile.
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A Few Quotes about the Joys of the Open Road
“Roads were made for journeys not destinations.” Confucious
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” Jack Kerouac
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep rolling under the stars.” Jack Kerouac
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” John Muir
“Still around the corner, there may wait a new road or a secret gate.” J. R. R. Tolkien
“A bend in the road is not the end of the road. . .unless you fail to make the turn.” Helen Keller
“I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.” Walt Whitman
“Only one who wanders finds new paths.” Norwegian Proverb
“It’s always best to start at the beginning. And all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.” Glinda, the Good Witch of the North
“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, to roam the roads of lands remote, to travel is to learn.” Hans Christian Andersen
The first time I visited Bishop and Mono Lake along U.S. Highway 395 was years ago with my dad. We went out to find fall colors in California, an easier task than many assume. At that time, we planned to visit other places along Highway 395 at some point in time. That, however, never happened. Dad died in February 2014. This year was the first Father’s Day without him. To honor the day, I decided to visit some places along Highway 395 that I knew he would have loved. It was a great weekend full of nature, reflection, memories and visits to two new places along Highway 395.
Earlier this year I visited Sequoia and Kings CanyonNational Parks. These glorious parks are nestled against the western side of the Sierra Nevada. The lofty peaks of that mountain range can be seen in the distance as one drives through the parks. However, Mount Whitney is the highest peak of the Sierra Nevada; actually, at 14,505 feet, Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States.* Still, it is not visible from western views of the mountain range. Although I knew I would not hike to the top, I wanted to see this mountain!
Fortunately, Highway 395 runs along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada as the road travels through the Owens Valley, offering great views of the entire range. Then, in Lone Pine, California, an access road runs 13 miles west into the mountains, heading to the trail head that leads to the summit, which rises about 2 miles in elevation high above Lone Pine. En route, the partially paved road runs through the Alabama Hills, passes several camp grounds, and then ascends to the Mount Whitney Portal at an elevation of 8,360 feet. The 22-mile-round-trip hike to the top of Mount Whitney starts at the Portal.
Some Views in Lone Pine, California
Turn Left on the Yellow Road
The Alabama Hills, where many westerns and other movies have been filmed, including classics such as Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger as well as scenes in films including Gladiator, Star Trek Generations, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Various Views of Mount Whitney
*Mount Whitney’s Height: The elevation of any mountain is really an estimate, an educated guess based on the measurements that can be taken at the time. One plague on the summit reads 14,494 feet while another reads 14,496.811 feet. By 1988, improved technologies gave the newest estimate to be 14,505 feet.
ANCIENT BRISTLECONE PINE FOREST
Forty-two miles north of Lone Pine and fifteen miles south of Bishop along Highway 395 is Big Pine, California. It sits in the Owens Valley between the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains at an elevation of 3.989 feet. The town is not big; the 2010 census recorded its population as 1,756. The tribal headquarters for the Big Pine Band of Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Indians operates out of Big Pine. But I traveled to this locale for its access to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the Inyo National Forest, just 13 miles east via Highway 168.
A few years ago, I did not even know that the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest existed. But now I am impressed with the strength, tenacity, and rugged gnarled and twisted beauty of these trees.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest sits on the eastern face of the White Mountains at an elevation between approximately 9,800 to 11,200 feet. The Forest’s Patriarch, Schulman and Methuselah Groves are home to the world’s oldest living non-clonal organisms.** The Methuselah is 4,750 years old, and the Patriarch—discovered and dated in 2103—is 5.064 years old. Imagine that: The Patriarch germinated in 3051 B.C. Incredible! Visitors can hike various trails through the groves to get close to the Bristlecone Pines. However, the oldest trees are not marked with signs to protect them from vandals. In 2008, an arsonist set fire to the Visitor Center, destroying the building, all the exhibits and several trees. Very sad.
Highway 168 runs east from Highway 395 up into the White Mountains. It is a great twisty curvy road that has lots of big dips, like you are on a roller coaster. I loved it. The canyon walls and wildflowers were gorgeous too. But the “dip in the road” was the most fun, making me think of an old B.C. cartoon from John Hart.
Some Views Along Route 168 Heading Up & Down White Mountain
Once in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, the road eventually shifts from paved to gravel and offers some impressive sweeping vistas as well as closer views of the trees themselves.
At the Visitor Center
**Oldest Living Organisms: A list of the oldest living things includes items such as a half-million-year-old actinobacteria, 5500-year-old moss, and 100,000-year-old sea grass. In 2014, Rachel Sussman published an intriguing book that captures her research on this topic: The World’s Oldest Living Things.
I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT MY TURNING 60 NEXT YEAR DOES NOT SEEM SO BAD, GIVEN HOW OLD SOME THINGS ARE.