EASTERN SIERRA NEVADA PART 3   BISHOP TO LONE PINE

Updated: Jan 26

Bishop CA is a small town located central to my trip plans. The main sites I wanted to see while here were the Bristlecone pines, the Buttermilk country, and the arches in the Alabama Hills at Lone Tree. Being further south now, snow was no longer a hindrance.


My first photo excursion was to a canyon named Pine Creek Canyon. Getting there involved driving about 10 miles north on US 395 to the Rovana exit. Proceed on the Pine Creek road 8-9 miles to a locked gate. The gate blocks access to a defunct tungsten mine. This narrow end of the canyon is over-towered by high, rocky peaks. There were quite a few boon-docking campers off the side of the road. This was my introduction to the favorite haunts of rock climbers I would find during the rest of my trip. There is also a trail that takes off from this point, a trail that starts steep and becomes steeper. In 4.5 miles it takes you to beautiful high country scenery. Too much for my old legs so I stopped by the side of the road and took pictures of the peaks over my head near the end of the road.


Pine Creek peaks


The Buttermilk country is an area west of Bishop, the foothills if you will, in front of sharp granite peaks. Miners traveling out of the mountains named this area; supposedly they would stop at the local farmers and buy buttermilk to drink. Now the area is a favorite spot of free climbing rock climbers. Access the Buttermilk by exiting Bishop via West Line Street. Drive 7 miles then turn right on Buttermilk Road. This gravel road wanders westward through great formations of weathered granite boulders. The road was easy for my Jeep but low slung cars might scrape here and there. I traveled this road 3-4 times while in Bishop, at different times of the day, taking photos. The peaceful atmosphere of the area was palpable and being enjoyed by campers spread out widely throughout the area.


Buttermilk boulders in early morning



Typical Buttermilk boulders


The mountains backing up the Buttermilks The 4 peaks on the left are called the 4 Gables


A famous attraction associated with Bishop is the Bristlecone Pine Forest within the nearby Inyo National Forest. The Bristlecone pines are the oldest living things on earth. By ring dating, scientists estimate them to be 4,500+ years of age. The Bristlecone Pine Forest in the Inyo National Forest are located east of Bishop, at an elevation of 9,800 to 11,000 feet. You reach it after an hour drive over a very steep (8% grade) winding paved road. At one point the road narrows down to one lane as it squeezes through a narrow gap in the rocks. The first night I made the drive, I arrived just as a rainstorm started up. Fearing lightning, I got right back in the Jeep and went home. The next evening the weather was much better, so I took a hike on the 1 mile long Discovery Trail. The Methuselah Trail is your other option; it is much longer and takes several hours. I took photos as I hiked the trail, finding the best 2 trees near the end of the hike. The Bristlecone Pine Forest was everything I had hoped for and more.


Bristlecone Pine


Bristlecone Pine



I also wanted to visit a cluster of lakes west of Bishop; Lake Sabrina, South Lake, and North Lake. These lakes were a bit of a disappointment in themselves. The water levels were low? because of water diversion, and much of the rocky bottoms were exposed. But the snow-covered peaks surrounding the lakes made up for the lack of lake water, at least to me. South Lake was higher and still had snow banks in the parking lot and around the lake. I had to slide down a long snowbank to get to the shore. I think I liked the peaks above South Lake best of the three. I left North Lake for last and found it to be not as open, with thick tree growth blocking any views. But on the road leading down to the main road, I found a nice spot to photograph the peaks over Lake Sabrina from a different perspective.


Lake Sabrina peaks from turnout on North Lake Road



South Lake panorama


One of the unexpected pleasures of this month-long trip was the trip up to Glacier Lodge and Big Pine Canyon. 16 miles south of Bishop is the small town of Big Pine. Turn west on Crocker Street that turns into Glacier Lodge Road. After 11 miles you reach the parking lot of Glacier Lodge. Glacier Lodge is just a rock foundation now. Over the decades, this large lodge was destroyed three times (fire, avalanche) and rebuilt. It used to be the favorite haunt of many of Hollywood’s stars while filming movies down the road at the Alabama Hills. A short hike up the North Fork Trail quickly brings you to views of the Palisade Crest. The Palisades are a 16 mile long section of mountain peaks, many 12,000-13,000 foot tall, and 5 peaks over 14,000 feet. When I had gone a reasonable distance, I found a good turnaround point and sat down. I spent 15-20 minutes just taking in the scene; spectacular snow capped 14,000-foot peaks, lush greenery, with a snow melt fed creek roiling along below me. I felt embraced by the high mountain atmosphere. Everyone should feel this kind of peace in their lifetimes.


Big Pine canyon and the Palisade peaks The three in the back are over 14,000 feet tall.


It is 45 miles from Bishop CA to Lone Pine CA. So I moved my pickup camper down to the Boulder Creek RV park just south of Lone Pine. The Alabama Hills are a distinct area of approximately 30,000 acres of heavily eroded granite boulders. A group of ex-confederate army soldiers named it. If you are of my age, the scenes will seem familiar; nearly 400 movies, hundreds of TV episodes, and over 1,000 commercials have been filmed here. It started in the1920’s and continues to this day. Some opening scenes from “Iron Man” with Robert Downey Jr were filmed here, along with “Tremors “with Kevin Bacon. The Museum Of Western Film History is at 701 S. Main St. in Lone Pine. Admission was only $5.00 and was the best bargain of my trip. The museum is full of memorabilia, film cars, posters, actors’ clothes, guns, hats, etc. There are quite a few niches each dedicated to specific western actors; Hopalong Cassidy, John Wayne, Rex Allen, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and many more.


The hills themselves are easily accessible. Over time, many roads have been established and parking spaces for boon-docking campers are spread out through the area. And you can take off hiking in any direction that suits you. Naturally eroded holes and arches are out amongst the rocks. The most famous is named the Mobius Arch. You can look through the arch and see Mt. Whitney in the distance. Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain peak in the contiguous USA. Another hole I found is called “The Eye Of Alabama”. It is a round hole located high on top of a rock. From close-ups to panoramas, the Alabama Hills is a photographer's delight.


Typical Alabama Hills terrain


Eye of Alabama arch



Mobius Arch with Mt Whitney in the distance

Since this is the last segment of this Eastern Sierra Mountains road-trip blog, I feel I should sum up my feelings about the area and the trip. During my month-long trip, I barely scratched the surface of the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. I could spend many, many years exploring these canyons and mountains, if fact many people have done just that, and still not see everything. My biggest regret is not having taken this trip when I was much younger so I could hike longer and deeper up into the high country.


You can see all of the photos I took on the Eastern Sierra Nevada roadtrip at https://unsplash.com/@stp_com

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