Part 1: San Diego to Trona Pinnacles


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The Experience

Our plan to get to Reno would take us through the Mojave Desert and then into the Owens Valley along US-395.  We expected the trip to take 4 days which would allow us to see the local sights and explore some areas that we had not seen before.  Our destination for the day was the Trona Pinnacles.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

Almost every trip north from San Diego involves I-15.  Usually, we leave in the middle of the day to avoid rush hour traffic.  But, on this trip we were not lucky.  While we missed rush hour, there were numerous traffic slowdowns.  And it was hot once we were away from the coast.  We fueled in Victorville and heading north or US-395.  North of Victorville, we spotted a large jet cargo aircraft doing touch-and-goes at the regional airport.

We took the Trona cut-off from 395 and headed over the mountains.  From the pass we got a view of Searles Dry Lake in the distance.

We wound our way through the mountains and eventually hit the turn-off to the Trona Pinnacles.  From the dirt road, we could see down the Trona Railroad line to Trona with chemical plans nestled against the far range of mountains.

We came up over a small rise and got our first view of the Trona Pinnacles.  These pinnacles are actually tufa which resulted from hot springs boiling through brine lakes and augmented by algae.  These calcium carbonate pillars are some of the largest in the west, possibly the world, and much taller than Mono Lake tufa.

The pinnacles stretch along a fault line where the hot springs vented to the bottom of the brine lake.

A number of these formations were quite large.  As we got closer the size of the formations became apparent.

There were trails that allowed us to drive among the pinnacles.

From the Pinnacles, we could also see Searle Dry Lake to the north.  A big, flat, bunch of nothing except mineral-laden salt which is mined by the chemical plants in Trona.

We drove around some of the pinnacles and decided to find a place to camp.  Kathleen spotted this large lizard as we pulled into our spot.

We set up in a random wash that had a flat area.  We were intentionally close to several large pinnacles because I intended to try a new feature in one of my cameras.  The pinnacles in the distance are hundreds of feet tall.

It was quite hot so the first order of the afternoon was to attempt to cool off.  Beer helped, but the ground was hot and was radiating like a stove.  With the light breeze it was tolerable, particularly after the 3rd beer and the shade from Thor's camper.

We crossed the Trona railway line on our way to the pinnacles.  As the sun was getting low, we heard a noise of the approaching train.  These trains haul the minerals extracted from Searles dry lake to market.

After the sun went down, Trona was bright pool of light in the blackness of the desert.  These plants work 24/7.  You can see the dust from their operation.

I discovered a new feature in my Olympus camera that came with the recent firmware upgrade.  This feature allows in-camera "stacking" of multiple exposures taken over time.  The directions for use were rather ambiguous so some testing was in order.  The first test was run after sundown, but not fully dark.  This stack is 4 60-second exposures.  Note the star trails starting to form.

I wanted long star trails which would require 30-45 minutes of exposures.  I ran another test when it was fully dark and attempted to "light paint" the pinnacles with my flashlight.  I discovered a number of (rather obvious) facts.  First, even a strong flashlight is weak from the camera's point of view when seen from hundreds of meters away.  Second, if there is ANY dust in the air, the flashlight will show it.  The speckles in the photo above are not from high-ISO but rather dust in the air highlighted by the flashlight.  Look closely and you will see my shadow under the large pinnacle at the right.  I painted the pinnacles for about 15 minutes to get the illumination you see above.  Total exposure time was about 40 minutes.  Interesting, but it would have  been more interesting to let the previous test just continue to run for another hour or so although if I do it again (and I will) I will start when it is a bit darker.

It was a calm, clear and cool night so we slept well.  Tomorrow, we would head up the Panamint Valley and over to Cerro Gordo Ghost Town.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2015, all rights reserved.
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