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Autumn in the Sierras: Part 1

Well, October is coming to an end and I'm happy to say that I did a fair amount of traveling in the past 27 days. The first trip this month was to Monache Meadows for some camping and off-roading. Just 8 days after that, I took a solo trip to Bishop, CA to capture the fall color over the course of a few days. I'm still working my way through the photos from that trip with the first batch featured here in this post.

Overlooking Sabrina Basin in Fall, near Bishop, CA

As the departure day for my trip rolled around, I had feared I'd missed the fall color. I'd been watching the fall color reports (at this awesome site) over the previous couple weeks and it looked as though everything around Bishop had already peaked. But much to my delight, I was wrong! Turns out the color was peaking in exactly the areas I wanted to be in exactly the days I was there. Absolute perfection!

I left Southern California early, arriving in Bishop by about noon. So after checking in and getting some turkey in my stomach, I headed out to the Sabrina Basin area to see what the color was like.

I was, uh, dumbfounded to say the least. My mouth was agape. Literally. It was ridiculous. For an east coaster, it might not have been anything special, but for me, I really could not believe how colorful it all was. I'd never seen such vibrant yellow leaves before. And so much of them! Ah...I was like a kid in a candy store. Plus, the picturesque crags and peaks towering over these gorgeous Aspens...man-oh-man, it was a treat. I hope the pictures will do it justice, but I'm betting not. Not because I think the pictures came out bad or anything, but because there's really no way a photo could record the child-like amazement of my very first encounter with true fall color.

Am I coming across as a bit callow?

Anyway, so I spent the first part of the day shooting in a nice patch of bright yellow aspens, just soaking in the color. The good thing about fall color is that it's one of the few things in landscape photography you can shoot in midday light and still get decent results. In fact, I could make the argument that fall color is best photographed in midday light (but I still think sunrise or sunset is best). You just need to position yourself so the leaves are a little backlit by the sun.

Fall Color in the Eastern Sierras

Fall Color in the Eastern Sierras

For sunset, I decided to hit the Piute Pass Trail up near North Lake. I was hoping to hike up into an area where some mountain peaks would catch the sunset light. See, the problem with shooting in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains is that you're in the EASTERN Sierra Nevada Mountains. That means sunrise is when these mountains get the good light and unless you have clouds, sunset is pretty much nothing.

The hike was tough and steep and I didn't get nearly as far as I originally planned, but I got a few good shots with sunset light on the Piute Crags.

Piute Crags on the Piute Pass Tral

Piute Crags on the Piute Pass Tral

Piute Crags on the Piute Pass Tral

Piute Crags on the Piute Pass Tral

So, that marked the end of day 1. Now I originally planned to get up around 5:15 the next morning to get in position for the sunrise. I set my alarm, got to bed early and was raring to go. But apparently my body wasn't on the same page as my mind. Instead, I slept right through my alarm...2 hours past my alarm, in fact. I wanted to kick my own ass, but I'm not that flexible.

I hustled out to my pre-determined sunrise location overlooking the Sabrina Basin and although I didn't get the very first light of the day, it was early enough yet to get some good shots.

Overlooking Sabrina Basin in Fall, near Bishop, CA

These next two shots are very similar, but I still can't decide which I like better. I'm leaning towards the second one down.

Overlooking Sabrina Basin in Fall, near Bishop, CA

Aspens in the Sabrina Basin in Fall, near Bishop, CA

Overlooking the Sabrina Basin in Fall

^ Click for a larger view

Then it was off to Lake Sabrina for the final shots of the morning.

Lake Sabrina in Autumn

Reflections in Lake Sabrina in Autumn

Reflections in Lake Sabrina in Autumn

^ Click for a larger view

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of this trip!

Monache Meadows

Over the weekend, my brother and I took a short camping trip to the Kern Plateau in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. The place we chose was into Monache Meadow where the south fork of the Kern River makes its way through beautiful mountains and forest.

Monache Meadow and Olancha Peak at sunset

We chose this area to visit because it is only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles by way of the Monache 4-Wheel Drive Trail (Road 34E38). I wanted to put my 4Runner through its paces and really test out the new auxiliary lights. Other bonuses to this area of the Sequoia National Forest are that it's dispersed camping, campfires are allowed and there are no fees required to camp there. I'm used to campsites where you have to pay a $15-per-night fee, you have to supply all your information short of a urine sample, the campsites are pre-designated and your only scenic view is of the back of a Winnebago. That's why I've always preferred backpacking over car-camping.

But with a little bit of research, I found Monache, which I figured would carry all the benefits of seclusion that backpacking brings with all the convenience and fun of having a car with you. And it definitely delivered. It's a great place to camp if you have a 4x4 to get you there.

After getting settled in to our campsite along the Kern River, we headed out to the huge Monache Meadow to catch the sunset. I played with some lichen-covered rocks, reflections and the river in the foreground of my shots with the gorgeous Olancha Peak in the background to catch the sunset colors.

Monache Meadow and Olancha Peak at sunset

Monache Meadow and Olancha Peak at sunset

Monache Meadow and Olancha Peak at sunset

We stayed until twilight before heading back to camp...

Monache Meadow and Olancha Peak at twilight

After some grub, we were in for a cold night. It got all the way down to 27 degrees. Some of you out in the midwest may be chuckling right now, but that's pretty damn cold for this Southern California kid! But despite the painful cold, I got up before sunrise to catch the morning light on Bakeoven Meadow. I was pleased to see the entire meadow was covered in frost, which made for some real fun subject matter.

Bakeoven Meadow at sunrise

Frosty Plants in Bakeoven Meadow at sunrise

Frosty Plants in Bakeoven Meadow at sunrise
^ Click for a larger version

Frosty Plants in Bakeoven Meadow at sunrise

Fence in Hessian Meadow at sunrise

Fence in Hessian Meadow at sunrise

Overall, the trip was a fantastic experience and I'm pretty pleased with the shots. Feels like it was a productive 2 days. I'll definitely be returning to this area in the future. I'd really love to see it in the springtime.

Trip to Sierras – Part 4

Finally, the last installment of images from my recent trip to the Sierras! This covers our last day there, which was really just a half day as we left town by about 2:00pm. To view the previous installments of images covering days 1 and 2, click the links below:

- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3

Click any of the panoramas to view larger versions.

Mono Lake Sunrise

We got up before sunrise again and I decided to hit Mono Lake for the second time. I really just wanted to redeem my first trip there (see Part 1) and I thought sunrise and a little change in location might make the difference. My plan was to first try the main parking lot. If it was packed, I'd turn around and head down a side road to a different, lesser-visited area. Well, surprise surprise...it was packed.

With more than a hint of exasperation, I flipped the car around and headed down that side road where I found a little clearing along the brush. Apparently this was the overflow parking area for the South Tufa main lot. We were the only car there, it was well detached from the busy main lot and boardwalk, and I could see some tufas beyond the brush that looked promising. Added bonus: didn't have to pay for parking.

So I parked the car, got my gear, strapped on my headlamp and started hiking into the brush towards Mono Lake. My lady stayed back in the car to enjoy the sunrise from the comfort of heated seats. Since I hadn't scouted this area yet and there was no clear-cut trail, it was a bit of a chore getting down there. I found myself losing the "trail" quite often and having to push my way through some tall brush. But, that's part of the adventure and I couldn't complain!

After about 10 minutes of bushwhacking, I made it to the shore and looked around. Perfect. Not a soul in sight. It was the solitude I'd been itching for since day 1. Also, the tufas down here, although not quite as stunning as the main area, were still very gorgeous. The banks were much more muddy and harder to navigate, but that was a small price to pay for the privacy.

As I started planning my shots, I could hear the crowds from the main South Tufa Reserve. They were far enough away that I couldn't see anyone, but I could definitely hear them. I could also see the dirt road off in the distance that lead to the South Tufas. Every time I looked back, I'd see headlights from about 3 cars making their way towards the lot. One right after the other. Car...car...car...car. It seemed to never end.

All I could do was shake my head. There still wasn't another tripod in sight for me, though, so I was happy. I could only imagine how crowded it was getting out there. But anyway, enough about the crowds, here are my shots from the morning:

Mono Lake Panorama

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Sunrise

Mono Lake Tufas

Mono Lake Reflections

Mono Lake Panorama

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Tufa

Mono Lake

Mono Lake Panorama

After Mono Lake, some breakfast, check-out and a browse through the local stores, we headed out of town. On our way out, we took a drive through June Lake Loop. Wow. I really wish I had seen this place earlier in our trip. It was stunning. Silver Lake was so picturesque I just had to break my general rule of not shooting in the middle of the day. Luckily, this type of scenery does okay with midday light (although still not as pretty as sunrise or sunset).

Silver Lake

Silver Lake

So there it is! All 4 installments of images from my trip! I hope you enjoyed the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them (that's a tall order). I can't wait to go back. This place is absolutely jam-packed with photo ops and I can't wait to add some more of them to my portfolio.

Thanks for following along!