EASTERN SIERRA NEVADAS PART 2 LEE VINING/JUNE LAKE AREA

Updated: Jan 26

I drove south 40 miles to June Lake and the Golden Pines RV park. This served well as base camp for the next week because it is central to the sites I wanted to photograph in this area. It had the added benefit of being just 2 blocks from another, smaller lake called Gull Lake. Both June Lake and Gull Lake are beautiful settings.


Gull Lake early in the morning. This view was just 2 blocks from the RV park.


The first day I drove north back up US 395 to Conway Summit, about halfway between Bridgeport and Lee Vining. Turning west, a very good paved road led me directly to Virginia Lake. I was interested in this area because of several small lakes reached by short hikes. Perusing from the parking lot at the trailhead, I saw Virginia Lake was frozen over and snow covered the trailhead with about 4-5 feet of snow. I took a few photos that turned out nice but not what I wanted, and I tried bushwacking around the snowbank but found nothing but more snow. I drove back to June Lake, doing some scouting around Mono Lake on the way back.


Virginia Lake, frozen over


Trailhead at Virginia Lake

Next morning I again drove north, this time 7 miles to Lundy Canyon road. Turning west, I drove 7 miles to the trailhead. It was freezing in the pre-dawn. I hiked in about 1 mile; I was hoping to get to the Lower Lundy Falls.  After a reasonable hike on a good trail with switchbacks, I came to an overlook spot. I could see the falls which was flowing very full, and I could see the trail leading to it. The hillside above the trail was awash with snow melt, draining down onto the trail which looked like a small river instead of a trail. It was about 30 degrees with the wind blowing at 30-40 miles per hour so I took a few pictures and made my way back down the trail to the Jeep. I was wondering if my whole trip would go this way.


Lundy Canyon I had just left overlook and was heading back to Jeep


Lower Lundy Falls Note how the water is running down the hill onto the trail It was more a stream than a trail.


One of the main sites I wanted to photograph was Mono Lake which lies just a short distance southeast of Lee Vining CA. Mono Lake has quite a few calcium limestone columns rising out of the water in eerie formations. Long ago, volcanic activity under the lake caused the minerals to bubble out of the bottom of the lake. The calcium and limestone rose towards the surface, depositing in the shape of columns. In the early 1900s, Los Angeles water officials started draining the lake and dropping the water level low enough that they exposed the formations. The fight for water rights between locals and the Los Angeles Water Department is an entire story involving many hard feelings, legal wrangling, and even dynamiting of water pipes.


Mono Lake Tufas at dusk These were photographed from near the overflow parking lot.


In researching how to photograph Mono Lake, I came across a blog where the author suggested not going to the primary parking /information area where almost everyone goes to photograph the tufas, as they call the columns. Instead, he suggested going to an overflow parking area about 1/4 to 1/2 mile to the west of the main area, then bushwacking through the sagebrush and grass to the water's edge and following the lake shore to the west to a gravel bar. This gravel bar had an un-encumbered view of a whole different set of formations most people don’t see or photograph. I took this approach the first night with great results; the second night I went to the primary parking area and took pictures of another incredible set of tufas. These two evenings made up for the earlier frustration with the snow.


Taken from alternate site after bushwacking from overflow parking lot


Taken from main area where most people go when visiting Mono Lake


Just south of Lee Vining is a junction with Highway 120 which heads west up up to the Tioga Crest and Tioga Pass and onward to Yosemite Park. The sign at the junction said the pass was still closed by snow but I was able to drive up the canyon for several miles and saw some nice scenery. But according to the guidebooks I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the area just over this pass and east of Yosemite is an area of dramatic views and open areas easily hiked through. While writing this blog a return trip to the northern areas of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains is percolating in the back of my mind.


The view from the road leading up to Tioga Pass


June Lake is located on a 16 mile loop that exits US 395, travels past several other lakes and rejoins US 395 just a few miles east of June Lake. There are several hiking areas outlined in the guidebook;  I took the trail to Parker Lake. This four mile round trip is over a very reasonable trail, a few steep sections at first but then levels out to a nice walk thru the trees along a bubbling Parker Creek. Parker Lake lies below a tall canyon head wall; there was a huge waterfall dropping off a ledge way up near the top of the head wall. I could see it but did not have a telephoto lens with me to zoom in on it. I took several photos and headed down the trail. I met quite a few hikers heading up, and I noticed that many were senior citizen hikers.  


Parker Lake The headwall with the large waterfall is in the center rear.


One of the places I wanted to explore is called Horse Meadow. The turn off is 1.2 miles south of Lee Vining, then 3.2 miles over dirt road to a trailhead in the pines. There is a short section of road that is steep and rutted, requiring 4 wheel drive and low range. But the view is worth a few minutes of white knuckles.


Horse Meadow is a nice place to just hang out for a while and take in the high mtn. atmosphere



Close up of peaks overlooking Horse Meadow


Next day I drove 20 miles south from June Lake to Mammoth Lakes. I am an avid skier and have been intrigued about the stories of skiing at Mammoth throughout the summer. I followed the signs to the ski area and soon came to a roadside parking lot full , with overflow cars parked along the road shoulder across from the lot.  I continued up the road to the main lodge where again there were lots of cars. Also, the road I was driving on ended, blocked off by barricades. Skiers were using the road behind the barricades as a ski run!  



I backtracked out to US 395 again and headed south 4 more miles to the turnoff for Convict Lake. Going onto the lake, I saw it was nestled at the foot of large rock cliffs rising to towering peaks. The most interesting thing about Convict Lake is how it was named. In 1871, 29 convicts staged a bloody prison escape at Carson City, NV. Six convicts headed south,  pursued by a posse. The convicts were spotted at Monte Diablo Creek, now named Convict Creek. The posse engaged them in a ferocious gun battle which wounded one convict and killed one of the posse. Of the six convicts, 2 were caught in south Nevada, the wounded 18-year-old convict was caught at Pine Creek, and they caught 2 more near Bishop. One convict was never caught or heard of again. They put the two convicts who were caught last, and  the wounded 18-year-old in a wagon and sent them back to Carson City. Along the way a group of vigilantes stopped the wagon, had a mock trial, and then hanged the 2 older convicts.  They spared the life of the wounded 18-year-old.  The lake were the initial gun battle took place was re-named Convict Lake.


Convict Lake


Next site on my list was a canyon called McGee Creek Canyon. I initially wanted to go there because it is supposed to be a great place for wildflowers, but it was too early for wildflowers this year. It turned out to be a very nice hike with a gentle incline that takes you to the edge of the John Muir Wilderness in short time. The great view of the mtns. surrounding the trail helped make up for the lack of many flowers.




McGee Creek Canyon


A beautiful spring like day ( in mid June ) hiking in a high country canyon


This was as far south I wanted to travel from June Lake so I drove south to Bishop CA to my next base camp, at Highlands RV Park.   


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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