Monday, October 17, 2011

Fall Foliage in California Exists! Mammoth Lakes, Eastern Sierra Nevada

I miss Fall. I miss the cool, crisp air, the hooded sweatshirts, the colors in the trees and on the ground. I miss walking to the train and kicking through little mounds of leaves. I miss Astoria Park and Central Park, literally aflame with falling red leaves in the low afternoon sun.

Fall has always felt sad and lonely to me, even though it is by far my favorite season. I am not sure why Fall makes me feel like I am falling. Maybe it's because cold is on its way and you have to wrap up inside your own skin. Maybe it's because everything around you is too beautiful to express.

Los Angeles does not have a traditional Fall. Yes, the trees turn color and the leaves fall. There is no winter in Los Angeles, and Fall basically stretches from November to March. It is a lovely time of year. But.

Fall is (in New England anyway) a few weeks of concentrated bursts of color and cold. Every day, the leaves change to some other, unimaginable, nonexistent shade until streets and parks that are usually so ordinary, are now something out of a technicolor dream. Fall jolts you out of yourself with its color. You want to hang on to these yellows, oranges and reds but you know they won't last. Fall forces you to live in the moment, as much as you can handle.

Fall in Los Angeles is slow and spotted and lacks urgency. It is beautiful in its lingering, gentle way.
But I had heard iridescent fall existed in the California Sierra Nevadas, and with our time constraints (Friday evening-Sunday night) we headed to Mammoth Lakes.

It was a five and a half hour drive each way, and worth every moment. We got to our very reasonably off-peak priced cottage around midnight. Mark immediately lit a fire and we stared at it like zombies for a good hour before going to bed.
Keith, who owns the Edelweiss Lodge, told us to head over to Rock Creek Canyon. He heard there was color around there.

on the 395 south heading to Rock Creek Canyon

We soon found ourselves on a Leaf Hunt, and part of a rabidly passionate community of people on the prowl for bursts of color.
There are roads veer turn right off the highway and into the mountains. On any given Fall day, some of these roads will have color, and others won't. People exchange information, photographs, and predict what canyons will peak on what day. Dozens of cars pull right off the highway to photograph and gaze at the swaths of color. I wanted to yell out the window, "I LOVE ALL OF YOU PEOPLE!" They are fall-crazies, just like me.
We had heard that Rock Creek Lake was lined with reds, but found the reds had already fallen. Part of the fun is exchanging information with other leaf hunters (!!) but the real adventure is your own sense of exploration.  The road through Rock Creek Canyon was lined with beautiful aspens.

Rock Creek Canyon
We parked the car on the side of the road and made our way down a thin trail to the rushing creek. We followed the water until we found a fallen tree to cross over. We carefully stepped over the slippery tree to the other side. We were on a little island of aspens, all alone, with our own window onto the snowy mountains.

Rock Creek Canyon
By the time we picked our way back up to the car, an old guy (maybe in his 70's) with a walking stick, who we had seen walking by himself earlier, miles and miles away, walked in to the aspens where we had just emerged. I hope he found this spot too. Along this road, we saw a few cars of elderly women, smiling with their cameras. I want to be just like them when I am their age.

Next, we headed to Convict Lake. The Sierra Nevada mountain range and its surrounding environs hold tons of murderous history. This lake is named after a group of escaped convicts who were hunted down at the lake. The color was mostly gone but the walk around the lake was still lovely. I had heard that it was possible to see bald eagles at the lake. I saw something giant fly across the lake and snapped a picture. It's probably not a bald eagle, I thought. I had never seen one before. I showed the picture to Mark. "You just took that? Where is he? I wanna see a bald eagle!"

Bald Eagle at Convict Lake
After a delicious beer tasting at the Mammoth Brewing Company (my favorite was the 395 double IPA), we managed to just catch the sunset at the Minaret Vista back in Mammoth Lakes. There were about 30 people up there, all set up with their tripods, maniacally running back and forth, as the sunset turned the whole sky pink in every direction.

Minaret Peaks at Mammoth Lakes
Here, I eavesdropped on a passionate conversation about "Where to find the reds." A few people said Bishop Creek was the best place to go right now. We decided to head there the next day.

on the way to Bodie

But first, a little detour to Bodie. I'd wanted to go to Bodie pretty much upon moving to California. It is a genuine Ghost Town. As this was quite the drive, and we never know how long we will be living in Southern California, we decided to make the three hour detour to Bodie. This trek deserves its own blog post, especially because we had a long talk with the ranger who LIVES there. Here is a little sneak peak at Bodie:

If you look inside the windows, there is still furniture and other signs of life
Back on the 395 south, at the exit for Virgina Lakes, dozens of cars were pulled off to the side of the road to gaze upon this:

Off the 395. I almost crashed into the divider.

The drive into Bishop Creek took a lot longer than I anticipated. We had to drive up to about 8500 feet. We didn't know where we were going. I didn't see any reds, as the photographers atop the Minaret Vista proclaimed. But we continued up the mountain. We randomly turned into a campground, drove onto a one lane road that winded up, away from the cars full of color hunters.

This is how we went about most of the weekend. On a whim. Planning nothing. Talking to people and getting advice about what to do next. It is how we like to travel-- just leave. This way. That way? OK. This is actually the way we shoulder through life, too. I was a little disappointed at the long detour, and the lack of color. Then we came upon this.

Somewhere in Bishop Creek Canyon
And everything, all the trouble, the ups and downs on the mountain, the long drives, the hunting-- all worth it, for the moment to gaze upon nature and feel like you are not seeing something real, but you are, this is Earth, this is our home, this.

1 comment:

Thuan Phat said...

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