Sunday, June 21, 2015

Bodie State Historic Park (by Susan)

Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie
Saturday as part of the Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua I went to a history program at Bodie. For those that don’t know Bodie is a now a state historic park, but was once known as the most lawless and toughest mining camp in the West.  It had a population of 8,500 people in the 1880s.

We had two really good guides. First Terri Geissinger showed us around part of the lower town giving us town history including a peek into the jail. Then we met Chris Spiller who dressed in period costume as the wife of the superintendent. As Mrs. Hoover, she showed us the various jobs available in the stamp mill which processed the ore, extracting the gold and silver.  She also told us the pay for each job. I managed to pass the test for a skilled job as an electrician. I guess I must remember something from college. She also told us that she was sure her brother-in-law would be a mine president one day. He did become a president, unfortunately it was of the U.S. 

The Common Ravens waiting for...

... the Hearse
Where they store the loot
Mrs. Hoover
Stamp Mill
Ore Stamps
Can you name this and become an electrician?
The leaning tower of Bodie

Tin stamping detail

The wicked city had a church
Good, by God, I’m going to Bodie

Distance: 3 miles

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Big Cottonwood Loop

Hiking along Cottonwood Creek
The Cottonwood Lakes/Horseshoe Meadow trailhead complex near Lone Pine gives hikers a variety of choices for adventure.  We had hiked many of the trails in years past but planned this week to connect two of the major passes with a big loop. If the weather cooperated and we didn't run out of gas climbing to the first pass, we would continue around the loop. Blue sky greeted us upon arrival at the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead (elevation 10,000 feet) early in the morning. Getting out of the car we immediately heard the chatter of a flock of Red Crossbills high in the trees. The first couple miles of trail traverses a low ridge then follows along Cottonwood Creek for an easy warm up for the climbing that would come soon enough. This section of trail with a mixture of Foxtail and Lodgepole pines entertained us with good birding. Two of my favorite mountain bird songs were regular - the beautiful flute-like song of Hermit Thrush and the bigger than life musical song of the diminutive Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Soon enough the creek and trail turned to the west and began the ascent to the Cottonwood Lakes basin below Mount Langley. This 14,026 foot mountain, just a few air-miles south of Mount Whitney would dominate our view for much of the morning.

Cottonwood Basin.  Mt. Langley is in the middle, New Army pass slight left at the top of the cirque.
Mule deer near a lower Cottonwood Lake.  Mt. Langley above.
The lakes basin, even at over 11,000 feet and near tree line had good birding. A couple of Savannah Sparrows flitted about the grass at the edge of a lake. Wilsons, MacGillivray's, and Orange-crowned Warblers were seen and heard wherever there was water and willows. Mountain Bluebirds worked the meadows for insects. Mule deer grazed along a lake edge, not a care in the world.

To cross the divide and reach the west side the trail climbs an ancient glacial cirque, cresting at New Army Pass - elevation 12,300 feet.  

A near treeline "moonscape." 

Glacial cirque with New Army Pass near the center. This nearly 180 degree panorama flattens the amazing view.

Cottonwood Lakes basin from cirque wall near New Army Pass

The last stretch of trail to the pass

New Army Pass with Mt. Langley still dominating the view
On top, Rock Wrens and American Pipits were all that was left of the avian crowd. We were hoping for Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, but the lack of snow here appeared to have sent them elsewhere. As we started down the west side, two things happened - the Great Western Divide came into view in all its glory, and we walked right into a herd of 10 Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. They tolerated our presence with a casual glance and let us get reasonably close for fantastic looks.

The view west from New Army Pass - Great Western Divide

Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep!
After a quick lunch we looked at the clouds and decided to go for the loop.  What could go wrong?! We descended down to treeline again at 11,000 feet, turning south on the Rock Creek/Siberian Pass cutoff to connect with the Pacific Crest Trail at Mile 755. It was about this spot that Zeus became angry with us and began rattling the heavens. The first raindrops fell as we continued south on the PCT, occasionally ducking under a large foxtail pine to avoid the worst of it.  Thankfully it was relatively warm and most of the rain was a light sprinkle as we made our way to Cottonwood Pass and the exit back to the east side.

Big Whitney Meadow in the rain

Susan says I'm a rain magnet. I don't understand why. :-)

The PCT intersects Cottonwood Pass right at the crest.  A quick drop of 1,100 feet through foxtail pine forest with a Sooty Grouse every few hundred yards brought us to the edge of Horseshoe Meadow.  A short cross-country jaunt took us back to the correct trailhead and our waiting car.  

Horseshoe Meadow from Cottonwood Pass

Mileage: 21
Accent: 3,500 feet

Map Track

Bird Lists:

Cottonwood Trailhead
New Army/South Fork Junction
New Army Pass
Rock Creek Trail Junction
PCT Mile 755
PCT Mile 750/Cottonwood Pass
Horseshoe Meadow

Monday, June 8, 2015

Morgan Pass

For several reasons, including the weather forecast, we decided to do a relatively easy hike on Friday.  Our trek would start from the Mosquito Flat trailhead at the end of the Rock Creek road.  This trail is extremely popular in the summer season as it starts already in alpine habitat at 9,800 feet elevation.  Our hike would take us through the beautiful Little Lakes Valley and on to Morgan Pass at 11,000 feet.  Morgan Pass divides the Rock Creek drainage from Pine Creek to the southeast.  Pine Creek contains one of the largest Tungsten mines in the world, active from 1918 until 2001, along the flank of Mt. Morgan.  Because of the relatively tame terrain, the Rock Creek trail through Little Lakes Valley and over Morgan Pass was the original route into the mining area.  Today there is little evidence that this was once a busy mine access road kept open in winter by giant snow plows.

The view south toward the Sierra divide from the Long Lake outlet
 The trail through Little Lakes Valley wanders up and down through gorgeous meadows and past numerous alpine lakes.  The strange spring weather we have been having continues, and we found quickly melting overnight snowfall of around an inch from the start.  It was much too early in the year for flowers, but they will come soon enough.

Long Lake view to the west

With the weather holding, at Morgan Pass we decided to continue over and down to Lower Morgan Lake.  Views toward Pine Creek opened to the southeast.

Small tarn near Morgan Pass.  The edge of Mt. Morgan on the left, Mt. Tom in the far background

Lower Morgan Lake
The first of the alpine flowers
Reversing course, and with the thunder clouds building, we hustled back down the trail.  A short off-trail detour took us past Chickenfoot Lake.  Then a leisurely stroll through the lakes basin and back to the car - just as the first raindrops fell...

Little Lakes Valley from Morgan Pass

Sierra Crest from Chickenfoot Lake outlet
Mileage: 10.6
Elevation gain: 1,800 feet

Map Track

Bird Lists:

Trailhead to Morgan Pass
Morgan Pass to Lower Morgan Lake