California

Horseshoe Meadows and the Eastern Sierras

Our first trip to Mammoth for the summer: five days of mountain biking, hiking, wandering, exploring and eating at Tom’s Place. Officially, the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park was open, but in reality, the top 2/3 of the mountain was still covered with snow – the only rideable trails were the bottom bunny trails. This forced us into riding lower-elevation trails which were also free to ride – all good (and warmer).

Driving up the Lubken Canyon Road toward the Horseshoe Meadow Road. Yes, it's spectacular scenery, but I'd rather be in Wisconsin.
Driving up the Lubken Canyon Road toward the Horseshoe Meadow Road. Yes, it’s spectacular scenery, but I’d rather be in Wisconsin.
The road to Horseshoe Meadows climbs more than 6,000' in around 15 miles, topping out at just shy of 10,000'. The photo is looking north, up Owens Valley, toward the town of Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills. The Inyo Mountains are on the right.
The road to Horseshoe Meadows climbs more than 6,000′ in around 15 miles, topping out at just shy of 10,000′. The photo is looking north, up Owens Valley, toward the town of Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills. The Inyo Mountains are on the right.
Looking for marmots in Horsehoe Meadows. The Meadows were a proposed location for a Disney ski area, but when the Wilderness Act came into existence in 1964, and the resort concept was abandoned.
Looking for marmots in Horsehoe Meadows. The Meadows were a proposed location for a Disney ski area, but when the Wilderness Act came into existence in 1964, and the resort concept was abandoned.
Alabama Hills in the foreground.
Alabama Hills in the foreground.
The Minarets are the series of jagged peaks, located in the Ritter Range of the Sierra Nevadas.
The Minarets are the series of jagged peaks, located in the Ritter Range of the Sierra Nevadas.
While Mammoth Mountain was technically open for mountain biking, the bottom/bunny trails were the only open trails, which forced us to ride Lower Rock Creek and other lower-elevation rides. A good thing.
While Mammoth Mountain was technically open for mountain biking, the bottom/bunny trails were the only open trails, which forced us to ride Lower Rock Creek and other lower-elevation rides. A good thing.
Crossing into the John Muir Wilderness on the McGee Pass Trail.
Crossing into the John Muir Wilderness on the McGee Pass Trail.
Looking across Crowley Lake at Glass Mountain on the left, and Banner Ridge.
Looking across Crowley Lake at Glass Mountain on the left, and Banner Ridge.
Laurel Mountain.
Laurel Mountain.
Please, no trundling on the New Zealand Mud Snail.
Please, no trundling on the New Zealand Mud Snail.
Escaping the cold and snow on the Lower Rock Creek Trail, just before the first road crossing.
Escaping the cold and snow on the Lower Rock Creek Trail, just before the first road crossing.
Lunch at the top of Sand Canyon, at 10,000'. After lunch, Carol rode down Sand Canyon - in 10 miles, she lost 4,000' elevation. Yep, that's steep.
Lunch at the top of Sand Canyon, at 10,000′. After lunch, Carol rode down Sand Canyon – in 10 miles, she lost 4,000′ elevation. Yep, that’s steep.
I support "no posing," but "no trundling"? Who among us hasn't trundled?
I support “no posing,” but “no trundling“? Who among us hasn’t trundled?
The LADWP efficiently sucks water out of the Owens River Gorge destined for pools and carwashes in Southern California.
The LADWP efficiently sucks water out of the Owens River Gorge destined for pools and car washes in Southern California.
The Owens River near Benton Crossing.
The Owens River near Benton Crossing.

Death Valley, Eureka Dunes, Steel Pass, Saline Valley Rd.

On Friday afternoon we met friends Dave and Irene, George and Vince, and Bob at the Eureka Dunes in Death Valley. The dunes are the second highest in North America, but that wasn’t why we were there. The plan was to drive  up thru Steel Pass, stop to visit the Warm Springs, then exit the park on Saline Valley Road.

George and Vince in the black Bronco are followed by Bob, meeting us at the Eureka Dunes.
George and Vince in the black Bronco are followed by Bob, meeting us at the Eureka Dunes.
Carol shows off our camp site at the dune. We were sure too get there early enough to watch the sunset and shadows on the dunes.
Carol shows off our camp site at the dunes. We were sure too get there early enough to watch the sunset and shadows on the dunes. Here’s a cool video we made of the trip, including a sunset time-lapse of the dunes.
The morning sun reveals critter tracks on the dunes.
The morning sun reveals critter tracks on the dunes.
The backside of the Eureka Dunes.
The backside of the Eureka Dunes.
After leaving the valley floor and the dunes, we head up through Dedeckera Cayon.
After leaving the valley floor and the dunes, we head up through Dedeckera Cayon. The road stair-steps up and over rocks and ultimately tops out at near 5,000′ at Steel Pass.
Carol is the first in our group to take advantage of the Marble Bath, near the summit of Steel Pass. To help the cause, we added a couple hundred blue marbles to the bath (which, as it turns out, is not a lot of marbles).
Carol is the first in our group to take advantage of the Marble Bath, near the summit of Steel Pass. To help the cause, we added a couple hundred blue marbles to the bath (which, as it turns out, is not a lot of marbles).
We checked out the lower Warm Springs.
We stopped to check out the lower Warm Springs. Even though we’re in a National Park, clothing is optional at these springs. Nope, none of us had to worry about sunburning personal areas.
The remaining towers of the Salt Tram near Saline Lake. At the turn of the (last) century, salt was mined, then carried 14 miles over the Panamint Mountains to the town of Keeler in the Owens Valley. It operated sporadically from 1913 to 1936, but ultimately proved too expensive to operate.
The remaining towers of the Salt Tram near Saline Lake. At the turn of the (last) century, salt was mined, then carried 14 miles over the Panamint Mountains to the town of Keeler in the Owens Valley. It operated sporadically from 1913 to 1936, but ultimately proved too expensive to operate.
Bob, George and Dave arriving at the shores of the Saline Lake.
Bob, George and Dave arriving at the shores of the Saline Lake. Remaining towers form the salt tram run up and over the Panamints to the shores of Owens Lake.
Remaining rotted piers, where salt used to be mined in Saline lake.
Remaining rotted piers, where salt used to be mined in Saline lake.
Carol and George get the fire started with the help of a little gasoline.
Carol and George get Saturday night’s fire started with the help of a little gasoline.
Sunday morning sunrise.
Sunday morning sunrise. The drive out of the park on Saline Valley Road was going to be challenging – a week prior it was hit by heavy rains, flooding, mud slides. The water had turned the regularly smooth graded dirt road into 4×4 fun.

Video: Death Valley, Eureka Dunes, Steel Pass, Saline Valley Rd.

Starting at the Eureka Dunes in Death Valley, we drove through Steel Pass and out of the park on Saline Valley Rd., stopping briefly to see naked people. Saline Valley Road had been recently trashed by heavy rains, transforming it from a smooth, graded dirt road, into a genuine 4×4 experience. A seriously fun weekend.

The Road to Coyote Flats

For the day, Steve and I rode our dirt bikes from just outside Bishop, into the High Sierras, to Coyote Creek, Coyote Flats and Coyote Ridge – anything “coyote.” I’d driven to Coyote Flats several times, and it turns out that riding a dirt bike is much faster and easier – the bumps in the road get much smaller.

The road to Coyote Flats climbs steeply after leaving Bishop, following canyons and along ridges in pine trees.
The road to Coyote Flats climbs steeply after leaving Bishop, following canyons and along ridges in pine forests. Steve rode his Husky, I was on my Suzuki DRZ400.
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Once you get close to the top and the Flats, the road parallels Coyote Creek, crossing back and forth several times.
A self-portrait on Coyote Ridge with the Sierras in the background, a little over 11,000'. Comparing photos I've taken in past years, there's much less snow this year.
A self-portrait on Coyote Ridge with the Sierras in the background, a little over 11,000′. Comparing photos I’ve taken in past years, there’s much less snow this year.
On Coyote Ridge looking west.
On Coyote Ridge looking west.
Stopping to inspect abandoned mining operations.
Stopping to inspect abandoned mining operations right about here.

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South Lake at the top of Bishop Creek.
South Lake at the top of Bishop Creek.
Steve crossing Coyote Creek.
Steve crossing Coyote Creek.

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An abandoned DOD high elevation landing strip at 11,000' on Coyote Flats.
An abandoned DOD high-elevation landing strip at Coyote Flats right about here.

Driving up McGee Mountain

Carol was flying from Mammoth to LA for the day, so Steve and I decided to take advantage of her missing the discomfort of high elevations and big drop-offs, by driving to the top of McGee Mountain. We made it to just shy of the summit at 10,866′. The road was narrow, steep, and full of switchbacks. And fun.

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Near the top of McGee (not pictured), the road almost flattened out.
Near the top of McGee (not pictured), the road almost flattened out.
Crowley Lake from the top of McGee. Highway 395 runs along the bottom of the photo.
Crowley Lake from the top of McGee. Highway 395 runs along the bottom of the photo.
The GPSs pink breadcrumbs shows off the road's numerous switchbacks.
The GPSs pink breadcrumbs shows off the road’s numerous switchbacks.
The McGee summit  is on the left - we got to within 300 vertical feet (10,549').
The McGee summit is on the left – we got to within 300 vertical feet (10,549′).

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The good news: Should you leave the road, there's no trees to stop you from rolling down the slope until you break up like a Space Shuttle over Texas.
The good news: Should you leave the road, there’s no trees to stop you from rolling down the slope until you break up like a Space Shuttle over Texas.
A good view of the many switchbacks on the McGee Mountain road - not good for big/wide trucks.
A good view of the many switchbacks on the McGee Mountain road – not good for big/wide trucks.
Convict Lake and Laurel Mountain (left of center).
Convict Lake and Laurel Mountain (left of center).

Big-Ass Wind Turbines

These semi-constructed wind turbines are in the desert, southwest of the town of Mojave. They’re big – I parked the truck at the base of one, for size comparison. I was getting ready to see what the view looked like from the top of one, but a security guard took exception to my plan and suggested that I leave the area.

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Bodie Ghost Town

Bodie  became a California State Historic Park in 1962, and is preserved in a state of arrested decay. Only a small part of the town survived, with about 110 structures still standing, including one of many once-operational gold mills. We wandered the deserted streets of town, occasionally peeking inside building – interiors remain as they were left.

Here is a residence of Mr. J.S. Cain, who was eventually the town's principal property owner. Cain moved to Bodie when he was 25 and built an empire.
James Stuart Cain’s Home
“Here is a residence of Mr. J.S. Cain, who was eventually the town’s principal property owner. Cain moved to Bodie when he was 25 and built an empire. He began building his empire by putting lumber barges on Mono Lake and transporting timber for Bodie – the same timber that was needed to support the mine shafts, stoke the boilers that ran the machinery, built the buildings, heated the homes and cooked the food. Wood was a BIG business in Bodie.” — Bodie.com

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Chock full of hundreds of interesting artifacts from the years gone by, this 1879 building was owned by Harvey Boone, a direct descendent of Daniel Boone!
Boone Store and Warehouse
“Chock full of hundreds of interesting artifacts from the years gone by, this 1879 building was owned by Harvey Boone, a direct descendent of Daniel Boone! In July 1884 this building was almost destroyed by a fire that gobbled up the buildings from Boone’s store to Kingsley’s stables – almost the entire block of Green Street.” — Bodie.com
KT and Carol peek inside a building.
KT and Carol peek inside a building.
Dechambeau Hotel and Post Office (with arches) and the I.O.O.F. Hall.
Dechambeau Hotel and Post Office, and the I.O.O.F. Hall
“Here stands the Dechambeau Hotel and I.O.O.F. (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) Buildings. Once a bustling meeting hall, and at some point a “health club” of the times, where members would come to use the barbells and primitive workout machines. This building is located at the south end of Main St.” — Bodie.com

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Mojave Road: West to East

Carol and I joined a bunch of friends to run the Mojave Road eastbound, starting in Afton Canyon and running to the river. We deviated from the Mojave Road at Marl Springs, and bopped down the pole line to visit the Kelso Depot, and then returned to The Road through Cedar Canyon.

Desert Longhorn Sheep in Afton Canyon.
Desert bighorn sheep in Afton Canyon (no, this is not a diorama).
An old, buried boxcar in Afton Canyon, just below the train tracks.
An old boxcar in Afton Canyon, buried just below the train tracks. Right about here.
The Mojave Riverbed runs thru Afton Canyon, flowing away from the Pacific.
The Mojave River runs thru Afton Canyon, flowing away from the Pacific.
A train running northbound through Afton Canyon, on its way to Las Vegas and beyond.
A train running northbound through Afton Canyon, crossing the Mojave River at Basin, CA.
Stopping to regroup after passing thru Afton Canyon.
Stopping to regroup after passing thru Afton Canyon.
One of the Tacomas was two wheel drive and experienced problems in the soft sand, providing lots of amusement for the rest of us.
One of the Tacomas was two wheel drive and experienced problems in the soft sand, providing lots of amusement for the rest of us.
Crossing Soda Dry Lake.
Crossing Soda Dry Lake.
Stopping to sign in at the Mojave mail box.
Stopping to sign in at the Mojave mail box.
The Frog Pond behind the mail box.
The Frog Pond behind the mail box.
At Marl Springs, we deviated from the Mojave Road, running down the pole line to Kelso, to check out the newly-renovated Kelso Depot, now a BLM visitor center.
At Marl Springs, we deviated from the Mojave Road, running down the pole line to Kelso, to check out the newly-renovated Kelso Depot, now a BLM visitor center. NPS: “Civil engineers working for the railroad in Los Angeles drew up the plans for the ‘Kelso Clubhouse & Restaurant,’ in 1923. The building would include a conductor’s room, telegraph office, baggage room, dormitory rooms for staff, boarding rooms for railroad crewmen, a billiard room, library and locker room. Construction started in 1923 and the depot opened in 1924. Originally, the restaurant and telegraph office each had three shifts, operating around the clock. This continued through the boom years of the 1940s, when Kaiser’s Vulcan mine caused Kelso’s population to grow to nearly 2,000.” The Depot is right about here.
The telegrapher's office in the Depot.
The telegrapher’s office in the Depot.
The Beanery in the Kelso Depot still serves food. They also make an unbelievable banana shake.
The Beanery in the Kelso Depot still serves food. They also make an unbelievable banana shake.
Carol manages to relax in the Kelso waiting room.
Carol manages to relax in the Kelso waiting room.
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Old graffito at Ft. Rock Springs. There's also numerous Indian petroglyphs nearby.
Old graffito at Ft. Rock Springs. There’s also numerous Indian petroglyphs nearby.
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Sunset in Lanfair Valley, the location of our Saturday night camp.
Sunset in Lanfair Valley, the location of our Saturday night camp.
Igniting the campfire in Lanfair Valley.
Igniting the campfire in Lanfair Valley.
The ruins at Ft. Piute Springs.
The ruins at Ft. Piute Springs, located right about here.
The Mojave Road elevation profile from Afton Canyon, with detour to Kelso, Lanfair Valley and ending at highway 95.
The Mojave Road elevation profile from Afton Canyon, with detour to Kelso, Lanfair Valley and ending at highway 95. Click to embiggen.