Autumn on U.S. 395. What a glorious season for exploring an amazing scenic highway! We have traveled 395 many times in the past, but this is the first time during peak fall color. This is also the first time we have been able to just slow down and explore the intriguing side roads we saw, but never visited in the past. What an adventure!
From Washoe Lake State Park, Nevada, we moved about 95 miles south to Bridgeport, California, staying for a week at the Paradise Shores RV Park. Paradise Shores is a small, older, but nicely maintained park on the shores of the Bridgeport Reservoir. The park has a lovely view of the eastern Sierras to the west and rolling sage-covered hills to the north and south. The water level in the Bridgeport Reservoir was very low after the long dry summer months and years of drought. The campground was very busy with fishermen, hunters and other sportsmen drawn to the area.
While at Bridgeport, we explored a few of the glacier-carved canyons piercing the eastern Sierras. We drove through the Sonora Pass and visited Twin Lakes, Green Creek, Virginia Lake, Lundy Lake and the Tioga Pass.
Driving into these canyons you first cross the massive sage- and grass-covered mounds of glacial debris, or terminal moraines. It is amazing to see the series of moraines left by successive pulses of ice as the glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age.
Once past the terminal moraines, the valleys resemble giant troughs with easily discernible debris mounds along the edges, or edge moraines. It’s humbling to consider we are driving along the floor of a canyon where once a river of ice over 1000 ft deep flowed!
As we moved higher in elevation in each of these canyons, generally between 7,500 and 9,500 ft elevation, we found groves of aspen in glorious fall foliage. We had planned our trip to pass through this area during peak fall color and we were not disappointed. Gazing past the sere brown of the sage and grass lowlands upwards to the grey craggy peaks of the Sierras, you would see explosions of gold and yellow aspen, mixed with the dark green of evergreens or lighter green of aspen yet to turn. Altogether, a glorious sight!
While in the Bridgeport area we took day trips to nearby Mono Lake and Lee Vining, enjoying several lunches at the iconic Whoa Nellie Deli Restaurant at the entrance to the Tioga Pass. We also visited the historic Chemung and Masonic Mine ruins.
Bridgeport Night Photography
After scouting the Chemung and Masonic Mines during the day, I returned on two evenings to photograph these ghost mine ruins at night. Quite an experience to explore these historic ruins by bright moonlight and flashlight. Another evening I photographed several old cabins in the Sonora Pass which may have once been used by the nearby Marine Mountain Warfare Training Center. Finally, I photographed some of the wonderful vintage neon signs in Bridgeport.
Moving on from Bridgeport, we traveled about 85 miles to the BLM Horton Creek Campground at Bishop, California. About 10 miles north of Bishop, California, Horton Creek Campground has the spectacular backdrop of the eastern Sierras and sweeping vista views of Round Valley, the Volcanic Tableland, as well as the White and Inyo Mountains across the Owens Valley. Like other BLM campgrounds in the area, Horton Creek is a primitive, but well maintained campground, with often cleaned vault toilets, dump station, and a few hydrants for potable water.
Since this was a dry site with no electrical or water hookups, we only stayed at Horton Creek for 12 nights, leaving when we had nearly exhausted our fresh water tank. We were quite comfortable using our solar panels and batteries, although we did have several cloudy days when we really needed to conserve electricity to not deplete our batteries too far. We would not have been able to stay too much longer at Horton Creek, even if we had wanted to, since the campground was closing for the season on November 1.
During our first few nights at Horton Creek, a storm front was passing through and bringing extremely high winds to the area. At times we felt like we were in a wind tunnel, with high sustained winds and even stronger gusts that would really shake our rig. Rock and Roll! We had some rain showers and we could see snow squalls sweeping down the higher elevations in the Sierras. One night, we saw a rare, ghostly moon-bow – a double moon-bow for a short time.
We were pleasantly surprised when our long time friends, Naomi and Bill, joined us for a few days at Bishop. Naomi and Bill recently retired from careers as educator and commercial photographer, respectively. We enjoyed a day trip to Lake Sabrina and Aspendale. We found a few stands of aspen still in brilliant fall color at Aspendale, but most of the trees around Lake Sabrina had already dropped all of their leaves. Disappointing, but still a great outing and we did have Apsendale.
We enjoyed lunch at the Mountain Rambler Brewery and a visit to Galen and Barbara Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery. Naomi and Bill introduced us to a nice place for dinner – surprisingly, the Back Alley Bowling Alley in Bishop – good food and good price, a place the locals go. Before we knew it, it was time for Naomi and Bill to drive home. (We miss you both, but look forward to seeing you in SoCal this winter.)
Other highlights of our stay in Bishop include a visit to the famous Erik Schatt’s Bakkery for Shepard’s Bread and danishes, another visit to the Mountain Light Gallery and to several local bookstores. Several afternoons I photographed rock art – petroglyphs – on the Volcanic Tableland, including the Bishop Sky Stone, Chidago Canyon and Chalfant Valley Panels. We also took day trips to Lake Sabrina and South Lake, as well as a short visit to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and the Grandview Campground. We have a lot of fond memories of our many trips with the SBVAA astronomy club for star-gazing at Grandview – beautiful dark skies at 8,600 ft elevation. We enjoyed a great BBQ lunch at the Copper Top BBQ Restaurant in Big Pine, CA.
Mobile Phone Woes on the Volcanic Tableland
One sour note during our stay was that I damaged my mobile phone while photographing the Sky Stone on the Volcanic Tableland. Somehow I slipped and leaned against a boulder too hard and managed to crack the screen of my phone. I was able to buy a replacement phone in Bishop, but I was not able to unlock and recover anything from my old phone. Not too much of a loss, contacts and apps were backed up to the Cloud, but not photos – manually backed up, except for about two weeks worth of snapshots I had taken – mostly photos from the Lake Washoe and Paradise Shores campgrounds for use in campground reviews. Apologies in advance, but when I do these reviews, I will have few, if any photos. Oh well, lesson learned – I’ll back up the phone pics more often, now.
Lone Pine, California
From Horton Creek, we moved on to the Boulder Creek Mobile Home and RV Park at Lone Pine, California. We intended to stay four nights at this full service RV park, but extended our stay to six nights due to a storm moving through the area. We enjoyed our stay at this very nicely maintained park, catching up on laundry and cleaning before moving to another dry site. This was our first stay at Boulder Creek, although we had stopped several times in the past to use their dump station. We were very pleased with the amenities available at this park as well as their super-sized dog run.
From Boulder Creek, we moved just a few miles west of town to the BLM Tuttle Creek Campground for an 8 night stay. Like Horton Creek, Tuttle Creek is a primitive, but well maintained campground, with spectacular views of the Sierras, tawny rocks of the Alabama Hills, the Inyo Mountains across the Owens Valley, as well as the vast, mostly dry, Owens Lake.
While in the area, we enjoyed day trips to sites along the Owens Valley and around the Alabama Hills, including drives along Movie Road and Lubken Canyon Road. It’s fun to see the locations where so many movies other shows were filmed through the years. We celebrated a quiet Halloween by carving pumpkins.
Vintage Neon Signs at Lone Pine
One evening I photographed some of the vintage neon signs in Lone Pine. I always find neon a fascinating subject to work with.
End of the Travel Season
As the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.”, and so too our travel season has drawn to an end. Leaving Tuttle Creek on Election Day (we voted by mail this year), we returned to our winter grounds at the Silent Valley Club in southern California, about a 235 mile drive. For the next few months we will be in and out of Silent Valley, as our membership allows. We look forward to reconnecting with family and friends over the holidays, as well as making plans for next year’s travel season.
That’s all for now. Take care and enjoy the journey!