Part 7: Bishop, CA to San Diego


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The Trip

Our mission for the day was to get from Bishop in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains to San Diego: about 400 miles or so.  In Thor, this is a pretty full day and the trip was made longer by some of the large mountain grades that we encountered on our path.

The photos of the eastern Sierra were taken with my old 6mp Epson RD-1 rangefinder camera with Zeiss Biogon 35mm manual lens pointed out the window of Thor while we were rolling at highway speed.

Our path took us south along the axis of the Owens Valley along US-395.  The Owens Valley is a case study in feast and famine.  "Back in the day" (before the water was "stolen") the OV was rich in farms and orchards.  But, Los Angeles bought water rights and took the water south.  This much contested action resulted in civil insurrections, murders and general discontent for more than 50 years.  And it is still a sore subject with the locals today.  If interested, read "Cadillac Desert" by Mark Reisner.   It is a great history of water in the west.  And trust me, there is NO commodity that is more precious than water.

The photos below are what we saw.

The morning sun illuminated the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada during our drive south.  The photo above is noteworthy because it shows some of the interesting geology of the area.  Note the dark brown lower hills -- this is lava.  The upper cliffs of the mountain expose lighter color rock and have a darker cap rock.  The upper cliffs still have some snow on them despite warm temperatures in the valley floor.

Note the volcanic crater behind the trees.  There is another crater just above the storage silos at the left of the photo above.  The eastern slopes are part of the Owens Valley and have a number of small farms.  The Los Angeles Municipal Water District (MWD) purchased most of the water rights in the Owens Valley back at the turn of the (previous) century thus starving most of the valley ranchers for water.  The water flows south via a much-contested aqueduct to serve both LA and San Diego.

The side canyons are the only areas that have water.  The output of these canyons is siphoned into the aqueduct and shipped south.

These are rugged mountains and the foothills were frequently covered in lava from nearby volcanic craters.  Note the lava rock at the base of the foothills and the crater near the left edge of the photo.

The Sierra Nevada is a high, rugged range that was a nearly impassable barrier to early travelers.  It is still a challenge today and the southern Sierra (the highest part) only has a few passes in several hundred miles of mountains.

This photo shows the truth about the arid west: if you don't water it, it does not grow.  The small stream that comes out of the steep canyon allows the fields to be verdant green.  The adjoining terrain is scrub brush.

Further south, we got into higher terrain that still had snow at the peaks.  There is a small creek near the center of the photo which supports the trees that can be seen there.

A big portion of the infrastructure in the eastern Sierras was built in support of the aqueduct that supplies Los Angeles.  These power lines are part of that infrastructure.  Note the intense road up the side of the mountain face.

We had studied maps and Google Earth before our departure from Bishop.  There was a point of interest near US-395 at the southern end of the Owens Valley called "Fossil Falls".  Fossil Falls is the remnants of an ancient water fall that was active during the last ice age.  The river bed was cut through a volcanic lava flow resulting in an interesting canyon.  Since we were driving right past it, we decided to check it out.  Above, Thor dwarfs a regular SUV in the parking lot at Fossil Falls.

To the north of the parking lot is a large cinder cone.  The cone is being mined for cinders that are likely put into BBQs as part of the heating surface.  Some of the mining equipment is visible at the base of the cinder cone.  Note the gnarly lava rocks in the foreground.  These are sharp, very hot in the summer and difficult to walk on.

To the far west of our position at the base of the mountain is the aqueduct.  A portion is exposed at the left of the photo above.  The power lines carry energy generated by the water coming through the pipes as it loses altitude during its travel south in the Owens Valley.  The structures are part of the pipeline caretaker's residence.

At Fossil Falls, this rock shows "fluting" that is the result of hydraulic action on the rock.  The rock has been polished smooth by the sand and grit carried in the water.  Eddies in the current produce the flutes.

Once you realize what you are looking at, the flutes were everywhere.

This canyon was the main water course and was a roaring stream during the last ice age.  Notice the fluting on the rocks on the left bank.  Given the barren, arid terrain today it is hard to imagine a large river flowing here.

Water, when armed with an abrasive like sand, acts like a cutting tool and can erode the hardest stone given enough time and strong enough flow rates.  The deep flutes in the canyon wall provide visual proof of this power.

These tourists were from Germany and were marveling at the sight.  The flutes were everywhere.

The narrow crack in the lava channeled the water and increased its speed and cutting power.

Here the hydraulic action cut loops and eyes into the volcanic rock.

Near the base of the falls the powerful hydraulic action combined with abrasive sediment in the water cut deep pockets into the rock.

Near Boron, we passed a large solar collector in operation.  The sunlight is captured as part of what is called "thermal solar".  Collected heat us used to make steam to run a turbine generator.  This is opposed to "photovoltaic solar" which turns sunlight directly into electricity.

It was a pretty long day.  The weather was warm, but the heat was not a factor until we got into the L.A. area.  We did well on traffic as there were minimal slowdowns other than the normal freeway merging areas along the I-15 corridor.

Bishop is a nice little town and the road along the eastern face of the Sierra Nevada rage is quite spectacular, particularly in the morning sun.  The Owens Valley is worth a visit if your travels take you to the area.  Travel is great, but it felt good to pull into our driveway.  The extra miles have caused us to exceed our maintenance interval so we have plenty of mechanical actions in the near future.

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