travelling the Owens River Valley

A week ago I drove up to the Eastern Sierra to do some photography. Its been a while since I’ve had a chance to get up there and I figured I would try to do a few things I had always meant to but never managed to do before. I started off by heading up into the White Mountains Friday night after work with a view to getting dawn pictures the next morning. As I drove up into the foothills, the snow began. I took the drive along the roof of the White Mountains slow and easy as wind whipped snow across my windshield. After a long slow drive I reached the Patriarch grove. This is the home of the Bristlecone pines, which are the oldest living things on the planet. I really wanted to try to get the warm dawn sunlight carving out the skeletons of these windsmoothed trees. The road to the parking lot was closed so I parked by the barriers, put my sleeping bag out in the back of the xterra and tried to get a few hours of sleep before dawn.

It was cold and the wind howled, but managed a little shuteye as my car rocked in the wind. Finally the sky lightened enough to see outside so I sat up and looked out. I was in the middle of a cloud, so visibility wasn’t great, and it looked as though my dawn in the Bristlecone pines was going to be a bust, but I got bundled up and headed out to try to get some pictures anyway. After hiking up into the hills the clouds parted and allowed a little light in, and then a little more, and suddenly it was gorgeous. I managed a few pictures and wandered around smiling like an idiot in the dawn light. After a couple of hours in the cold air I was ready to head down into the Owens Valley. The drive down into Bishop from the White Mountains on the Silver Canyon Road is very exciting. Its a 4 wheel drive road which heads down 6000 feet in about a mile, which means its very steep. I set the xterra in 4 wheel low and 1st gear and crawled slowly down the switchbacks into the valley. I had a bit of a headache from going sea level to 11500 feet and sleeping there, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that elevation was the problem, and I headed straight across the valley and up the other side into the Eastern Sierra. I had never driven up past the Buttermilks to North Lake and wanted to see where the road went. After climbing back up to 9200 feet the road ends at Lake Sabrina. This is a big fishing destination as it is stocked with trout. The water level is still very low, even after a wet winter. It would require about 5 or more years of reasonable rain to get the water level back up to former levels. Anyhow, I decided to circumnavigate the lake. I saw that there were paths heading up both sides of the lake, but it turns out they don’t actually meet at the far end, so I had a bit of bush whacking and path finding to complete my circuit. After a strenuous 4 miles of hiking my elevation headache was a bit aggressive, and my lack of sleep from the night before was catching up with me, so I headed back down to Bishop on the valley floor and took a bit of a nap. That turned out to be just what the doctor ordered, and, refreshed, I hit the road again to head down to the Alabama Hills. I stopped for dinner in Lone Pine, then drove the back roads in the hills until I found a snug little area hidden in the desert granite towers. I took a few night pictures of the rocks lit by my tail lights, then settled in to get a much better sleep then the night before.

When the sky lightened up I packed up and headed out to look for some dawn pictures. I found a few arches in the rock but couldn’t find a useful one for getting the alpenglow on Mt Whitney. Instead I took a few pictures here, and a few pictures there, then hiked up to the top of one of the hills to get some exercise. After a couple of hours of playing around in the hills and exploring the roads around the Alabama hills I was ready to start my drive back to LA. I had decided to take my time on the way back and stop at anything that caught my eye, so I proceeded to do just that. A goodly way back south the road passes an obvious cinder cone of a volcano, and right beside the base of that there is a road to Fossil Falls. I had seen this sign for many years and meant to check it out, so this was the perfect opportunity. I wasn’t sure exactly what fossil falls was, but I soon found out. It turns out that it is called this because it is a dead waterfall. The Owens River used to flow over the edge of an old lava flow here, and it carved the rock into all kinds of strange and wonderful curving shapes. Dropping probably a hundred feet down through water smoothed lava, it is a wonderful place to climb around and take pictures, so I did just that. Then I took one final drive out over the lava fields to a cliff overlooking the lake, the cinder cone and the edge of the lava flow. After that I was ready to head on home.

This was a wonderful weekend exploring the backroads of the owen’s River Valley, and I can’t wait to get up there and explore a little more.

(if the format of the email is screwed up please click on the title at the top to take you to the blog page at and don’t forget to click on the link below or any of the pictures to take you to the full gallery at

Road tripping the Owen’s River Valley

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