Part 4: White Mountains to Reno


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The Trip

Our camp was at 8500 feet and it rained all night.  It was quite chilly the next morning and getting Thor awake with a "high-cold" start produced huge clouds of acrid white smoke.  Our initial plan was to go higher on the mountain and see the Bristlecone Pines, then descend through Silver Canyon.  We had committed to being in Reno by the end of the day and the time factor was part of our decision to not take the harder route.  Instead we reversed and headed south and back to the Owens Valley

The photos below are what we saw.

Our camp was in the Pinon Pines.  Pinons provide a very nice nut, called pignoles by the Italians and pine nuts by the Americans.  The native Indians survived on these nuts.

We traveled north toward the Bristlecones and hit a view point that gave us an awesome view of the town of Bishop in the Owens Valley, 6,000 feet below.  The Sierra Nevada was still cloud-cloaked from the previous night's rain.

From the viewpoint we could south to Deep Springs dry lake.  Deep Springs is in the middle of nowhere on the California-Nevada border, but gained notoriety during the Cold War as being a Russian nuclear weapons detection outpost.  The U.S., as part of the SALT agreement, allowed them to have a set of personnel stationed there to insure that no nuclear weapons were being tested at the Nevada Test Site, only 50 miles away.  Other than that bit of history, Deep Springs is just another dry lake bed.

We continued north to the Bristlecone Pines area and stopped to see the exhibits, but the Visitor's Center was closed.

The Bristlecones are twisted, gnarly, slow-growing trees that can thrive where less hardy species cannot.  Some of the trees are many thousands of years old and analysis of their tree rings give us an intimate look at long-term weather patterns in the west.  Despite all the media fluff about California's drought being caused by Global Warming, this area has suffered many prolonged droughts in the past and the current one is just-another in this cycle.

The Bristlecones produce a very dense wood that is highly resistant to insects and decay.  These properties are critical to its longevity.

We continued north and passed the 10,000 foot elevation point into alpine tundra.  White Mountain peak is over 14,000 feet and still has plenty of snow.

After hitting our 4x4 road junction, looking at the map, looking at the clock and reading the warning signs, we decided to change our plan and return to the Owens Valley via the paved road.  Near the bottom of Westgard Pass we got a nice view of the Sierra Nevada range to our west.  Westgard is a very steep road and has a section where the state highway is only one lane as the road goes through a volcanic canyon.

After a resupply and food in Bishop, we headed north toward Benton on US-6.  On the western flanks of the White Mountains, irrigation provides the basis for productive agriculture.

One mile down the road, with no irrigation, you get "basin and range scrub".

Near Benton Hot Springs the clouds cast deep shadows on the landscape.

From the grade just west of Benton Hot Spring, the clouds cleared enough to allow a view of the high peaks of the White Mountains.

We continued toward the west and got our first view of Mono Lake.

Despite being late, we decided to stop at Mono Lake and check out the tufa structures.  These structures were created by the same processes as those that formed the Trona Pinnacles: salt lake + mineral hot springs + algae = tufa tower.

Some of the towers were quite large (20 feet) but in general they were much, much smaller than those at Trona.   Trona's pinnacles were hundreds of feet tall and much bigger in circumference.

The salt-tolerant brush and bright clouds provided interesting contrast to the buff-colored tufa.

As mountain runoff has been siphoned off for human usage, the level of Mono Lake has continued to fall exposing structures right on the waters edge.

For a sense of scale, the tower at the left is about ten feet tall.  Note the "oily" reflection of the clouds in the lake.  The dense brine in the lake has a higher viscosity and is therefore less disturbed by wind producing nice reflections.

On regular water, the breeze would have produced significant ripples and ruined the reflection.

Several areas had large clusters of towers.

Some of the towers had complex shapes with portals.

This set was one of the tallest we saw, perhaps 25 feet tall.

This set of towers were quite thin and had interesting shapes.

Mono Lake has several kinds of salt-tolerant grasses and brush that can grow near the briny water.  Note the portal in the tufa near the right edge of the photo above.

We prepared to continue our travel north and got a view of nice reflections of the hills and clouds to the west.

We continued west to US-395, then north.  From 395 we got a nice shot of the clouds reflected on the saline waters of Mono Lake.

There had been a large landslide that blocked one lane of 395.  Workers had equipment on the slide area attempting to put in rock bolts to help stabilize the cliff.  The blue thing is a kind of high-mobility backhoe that can ascend steep/rough terrain.

These workers risk life and limb placing drain hoses to divert runoff from the face of the slope.

From the grade to the north of Mono Lake, we got a parting view looking southwest.

This was a longer travel day that we had hoped, but our plans got disrupted when we spent an unplanned night at Cerro Gordo.  But, we got to Reno in enough time to have dinner with our Unimog buddies Chas and his beautiful wife Vanessa.  The grades we encountered today were steep and Thor was down to 20 mph on several of them.  The high altitude stresses diesel motors, so a careful watch on exhaust gas temperatures was required to prevent overheating and damage to the motor.  We spent the night in a low-budget RV park in downtown Reno.  It was sufficient, but not much more.

Tomorrow, we go to the "party house" and assist with preparations.

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