This weekend we are in Lone Pine for the inaugural Owens Valley Bird Festival where we'll be leading field trips on Saturday. The event begins on Friday evening so we headed north in the morning to do some hiking. The original plan was to hike to Kearsarge Pass but the weather system that's been hanging all week squashed that idea. When we got to Independence and looked up towards the Sierra crest, the clouds hung half way down the mountains and what we could see had fresh snow.
It didn't take much thinking to change plans to the other side of the Owens Valley. Mazourka Canyon Road heads east from the south end of Independence and travels 20+ miles to the Inyo mountain crest. We only went about 5 miles and parked at the beginning of a mining road that looked good on the map.
The road started gentle but quickly steepend so that we gained 1000 feet in the first mile. Our first bird of the morning was a Say's Phoebe shortly after starting. Black-throated Sparrows quickly were added to the list and would be common throughout the day. About two miles (and 1700 feet elevation gain) in we connected with a more formal road and turned to the south towards a spot on the map labeled Black Eagle Mine. Two Chukar ran in front of us for a while in this stretch. There were numerous species of cactus in bloom all along the trail including several barrel cactus, claret cup, and beavertail.
The ascent to the mine was pleasant and easy hiking on a well graded road. Rock Wrens called and sang at regular intervals. Occasional dry washes we passed by had reasonable flowers from rains earlier in the season.
At an elevation of 7,000 feet, the Black Eagle Mine was active from 1900 to 1917 and again in 1938 pulling a variety of ores from the ground including lead,copper, silver and gold.
A quick break for lunch and we retreated back down the road to a turnoff that would take us down a dead end road to Willow Springs where we hoped to add a few migrant birds to the list.
The wind had picked up substantially by this time and bird activity was minimal. We added a few species including Dusky Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Bewick's Wren. Our choice of route from the spring required backtracking a mile and 500 feet of elevation to the road or cross country north through unknown country. Of course we chose cross country. After traversing several ridges and canyons we stumbled upon a wonderful historic mule trail that had to date back to the turn of the 20th century.
Although we are certain that few hike this old trail any more it was in remarkably great shape and headed exactly the direction we needed to go. It was a fantastic end to a great day.
This dry mountain range doesn't hold many bird species, and we only managed 15.
The total distance for the hike was right at 12 miles with 3,300 feet of elevation gain. It was cool and breezy all day with temps ranging from 50 to the mid 60's.