Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving in the Sierras

This Thanksgiving, Craig and I spent the weekend in the Eastern Sierras near the town of Bishop, California. I had driven through this area before near Mono Lake a few years earlier during another backpacking trip, but this time around, I was fortunate enough to see what else it had to offer.

Our first stop on the trip was a quick stopover at Mono Lake, a large, yet shallow saltwater water body that formed ~1 million years ago. I never get tired of seeing the scene at Mono Lake. Formed by the precipitation of carbonate minerals and geothermal activity, stacks of tufa columns resemble bizarre castles scattered around the wide and serene water body. The backdrop to this flat, ancient lake bed is a sudden upheaval of mountains thrust up to elevations that are capped by powdery snow.

Me with the tufa castles

Tufa and mountains...a Craig for scale

A carbonate geologist in heaven.

After spending a few hours exploring the scene at Mono Lake, we drove on to our campsite at the Buttermilks. This area, mostly known for great bouldering, is also geologic wonder for earth scientists. Wind and water molded the granite in this area to shape out huge egg-like rocks, creating an otherworldly view. Although we're not much for bouldering or rock climbing, we weren't left with nothing to do. The mountains surrounding the area allowed us to go hiking right outside the front  door of our tent.

View looking east from our campsite

Looking east at sunset from our camp near our campsite with part of the Buttermilks in the foreground.

The Great Pumpkin on a chilly night.


Hiking on Day 2 just behind the Buttermilk area

View from the trail. More mountains in the distance.

Craig hiking

I found a nook on a rock at the Buttermilks.

Tiny Craig on top of a climb.

Bouldering, Erica style!

As if this place wasn't cool enough, it also boasts some of the oldest trees in the world--Bristlecone Pines! We spent a day hiking through the Ancient Bristle Cone Pine forest, which was a short drive away from our campsite. It was pretty snowy and we didn't have snowshoes, leaving us limited in where we could access. Regardless, we had a great time wandering through the woods and enjoyed a beer in the snow.

Craig forgot his beer when climbing up onto his Bristlecone perch.

One of the older Bristlecones in the forest

Craig along the trail

On the last day, we heard word of a natural hot spring along the road that would take us back west to the Bay Area. After following a few back roads along the nearby ranch lands, we saw steam rising up on the chilly morning that hovered around freezing. After parking, it was a few minute walk along some pallets laid out on the trail to reach the hot water pools. We were surprised to find that even though we arrive around sunrise, there were already a few people there. 

We spent several hours relaxing in each of the three pools while chatting with the other soakers. It was so surreal to be in such a beautiful setting and lounging in water heated from the earth's mantle. By the time we got out of the water and walked back to the car, we didn't even need to put on pants and sweaters because we were radiating heat. The cold air offered a source of refreshment, waking us up for our return drive home!

View of the surrounding mountains from our hot oasis. Note the frost on the grass!

Craig and me in the hot springs. What a view!

Mountainscape on the drive.