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    Road Trip USA: Five Days Camping in the Buttermilk Country

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    DAY ONE: Leaving Swall Meadows for the Buttermilk Country of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California. Early September 2018.

    My adventure in the high Buttermilk Country of the far eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California began at the home of good friends in Swall Meadows.

     

    I left the small village of Swall Meadows one clear morning and drove to Bishop, California and then up State Highway 168 before turning up the jeep tracks to my camp site in an aspen grove high in the Buttermilk Country.

     

    Swall Meadows is beautifully situated at the foot of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains.

     

    It was a beautiful morning when I set off . . . the camper fully provisioned for many days in the wild.

     

    I stopped to get the lay of the land.  The Buttermilk Country was on the other side of Mount Tom, up a gradual incline toward the high peaks.

     

    Driving up into the mountains on the sandy and rocky jeep trail.

     

    My first view of the aspens along a stream . . . the yellow color is a sign they are a little water stressed . . . and the nights are getting cold up here.

     

    I drove deep into the high country and found a level spot next to a stream along a jeep track in an aspen stand.

     

    It was late afternoon when I found my flat camp site.  I set up the shade tent . . . but left the rest of my setting up for later . . . the steep and clear sunlight begs for a ramble with my camera.

     

    I walked up the jeep track from my camp.  A glorious afternoon.

     

    I had found a magical place to camp.

     

    The sun was low in the sky . . . and an early shadow was expected as the sun was going to go behind the nearby high mountains of the Sierra Nevada.

     

    Such incredible light and color.

     

    The forest floor under the giant Ponderosa Pines, all cones and needles.

     

    As the mountain shadow descended over the aspen grove, I followed the sound of a babbling stream nearby.

     

    Believe  it or not, the water here, at 8800 feet on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains, is diverted through a system of pipes and small waterworks like this . . . to serve the city Los Angeles many hundreds of miles away.  Gotta have those green lawns!!!

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    DAY TWO: Exploring my immediate surroundings

    I was up when the first light hit the high peaks.

     

    When the light finally hit my little patch of forest . . . the scene was like a fairyland!

     

    I was camped way up close to the Eastern High Sierra Nevada mountain peaks.

     

    I was camped in a mix of dry Ponderosa Pine, small aspen thicket, and rocky forest.

     

    Clear light, bright forest.

     

    A big mix of trees . . . size and type.

     

    After a light breakfast and coffee, I grabbed my camera for a walkabout near my campsite.  I first followed this nearly obscured old jeep track up into a nearby stand of bright aspens.

     

    I was amazed by the colors and clarity of light and air.

     

    The summers' succulent growth had dried after a long summer in the sun.

     

    And throughout my walk -- always a quick glimpse of the tall Sierra Nevada.

     

    The brightness of the autumn yellow aspen leaves was astonishing.  I have not bumped or oversaturated these colors . . . these aspens were THIS bright.

     

    Such a glorious place to camp.  This photo brings back such a strong memory for me:  This is where I camped up in the high Buttermilk Country. 

     

    A delightfully cool, clear, and still morning.

     

    I love the look of these old, grand Ponderosa Pines in the transition from high country to desert.

     

    I slung a rope up over a big branch and hoisted my food pails up there . . . bear-proofing?

     

    The yellow aspen in the bright, clear morning sun . . . at 8000 ft. elevation.

     

    Tall yellow aspens against a deep blue mountain sky.

     

    Absolutely quiet; not a breath of air movement . . . only the sound of my boots crunching on the pine needles . . . .

     

    A forest portrait.

     

    I took a mid-day walk out along the road I came in on . . . heading out of my little grove of pine and aspen.

     

    Pretty views opened up as I walked down the hill.

     

    After a drop in elevation of only 200 feet, the aspens were no longer yellow . . . either there is more ater here or the night temperatures have not turned the leaves yet.

     

    Yes, a soaked meadow above the track . . . a mountain bog and a babbling brook even at this late summer day.

     

    Another wet meadow below the track . . . .


    The long track . . . I would hear about one 4X4 a day pass on this jeep track.  Although it does not look too rough right here, there are some very bad patches that definitely require four wheel drive and high clearance to get by.

     

    I turned around here and walked back up to my campsite.  I would take a much more challenging hike the next day.

     

    I was so pleased when I arrived back at my camper . . . to see the fantastic spot I had found.

     

    I was happy to sit in my camp chair behind my camper and look at this view  . . . for the rest of the day.

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    DAY THREE: A WALK OUT OF THE WOODS INTO THE DRYLANDS

    All of my walkabouts begin with walking out of the forest grove where I camp.

     

    The trees become sparser and the ground drier.

     

    On this walk along the jeep track I noticed a camp site that had been used quite a bit in a stand of ponderosa pines.  A nice place for several vehicles on a family outing.

     

    Further out of the woods.

     

    The drylands beyond.

     

    Further towards the high altitude drylands.

     

    Pines in the dry landscape.

     

    Out ahead a desert track.  I have missed this kind of topography during my many years in the wet tropics.

     

    Contrary to what some may think, there is so much to see out here.

     

    Looking down the valley toward Bishop, California, many miles away and many feel lower in elevation.

     

    What is over that hill?

     

    A large erratic stone and a view down valley to the Buttermilk formation of large boulders.

     

    Beautiful view back to Mount Tom.

     

    Looking back up the road on my walk I see a beautiful grand view.

     

    I took a second look back up the jeep track and noticed a hiker coming my way.  He was backpacker from nearby Bishop who had been walking, camping and climbing at higher elevation for five days.  He stopped for a chat about the local water rights battles involving stream diversion to meet the water needs of an ever-expandig Los Angeles.  He felt that if any more mountain stream water were diverted 'over the hill', this whole region would become a completely arid region . . . absolutely no plants whatsoever . . . another Death Valley.

     


     


     

     UNDER CONSTRUCTION

    MORE TO COME


     

     

     

     

     

     


    Road Trip USA: Bonneville, Utah to Swall Meadows, California

    In early September 2018, after camping/spectating at the World of Speed land speed event on the Bonneville Salt Flats, I drove at a 45 degree angle across the state Nevada to get to Swall Meadows, California in the Eastern Sierras.

    On the road again!!!

     

    The road out of Utah went through some very deserted landscape.  There were miles and miles between any sign of human activity.

     

    A little human activity after the first hundred miles . . . a roadside stop up ahead on the right.

     

    I suppose these geological features exist all over the  world, but they would be obscured by forests and  towns, and farms.  Out here, in this high scrubland, every little remnant of a cinder cone still stands out.

     

    I absolutely love this type of landscape . . . and I don't know why . . . maybe the expression "high lonesome" explains it.  I feel pulled to just wander around these hills . . . for years.

     

    An endless expanse of an endless variety of shapes and colorful vistas.

     

    Here and there can be seen traces of  former mining operations in the scars on the mountains.

     

    An abandoned water tower servicing an abandoned rail spur near Cherry Creek, Nevada.

     

    I passed by many roads I didn't have time to explore.

     

    A story for each abandoned shack out here . . . a story never to be told.

     

    Used and left behind.  I'm surprised the hot rodders and rat rodders haven't scavenged these old truck cabs.

     

    Hopes of ranching left behind with the decaying split beams.

     

    It is good to have four wheel drive when nature calls.

     

    An ancient bristle cone pine trunk.

     

    A left behind moon on a clear Nevada morning.

     

    A solar reflector energy farm way out in the desert.  Amazing technology . . . you could almost smell the fried birds from the road!

     

    Loving my life on the road!

     

    A long road to an other abandoned mountainside mine.

     

    Scrub brush, dry lake, and mineral rich mountains.

     

    With so few structures around, I stopped at each one . . .

     

    Mineral rich hills . . . another abandoned mining operation.

     

    Strange hills left behind to weather after mining.  This looks like  a tungsten vein.

     

    The colors, shapes, and textures of these mined hills were simply fantastic.

     

    Geology everywhere (of course).

     

    Along the highway a gypsum deposit.

     

    An active gypsum mine.

     

    Coming up on the Boundary Range, which separates Nevada from California.

     

    Some stunning flowering scenes as I began to gain in elevation into the Boundary Range.

     

    Up and over a mountain pass through a sea of yellow!

     

    There were a few wide spots in the road along the way  . . . here in Benton, California.

     

    Fabulous textures of age.

     

    After Benton (and Benton Hot Springs), the GPS took me down 120 miles of gravel road to my destination.  I was very happy about it too!

     

    100 miles of this!  I took my time.

     

    I drove for two hours on this gravel road and did not encounter a single other vehicle.

     

    The trees became larger the more altitude I gained.

     

    Up and over and up and over many steep passes . . . .

     

    And on such a beautiful day . . . .

     

    After two hours on Owens George Road I crested a hill to see Crowley Lake, just 15 miles from my final destination.

     

    Civilization At Last!!!!!

     

    The view approaching Swall Meadows; looking toward Bishop, California in a recent burn.

     

    Near Swall Meadows where I would base myself for my next adventure: camping up in The Buttermilk Country.

    Road Trip USA: Bodie Ghost Town, California

     

    In June of 2018, as a part of my bigger year-long road trip, my wife and I took a trip from Oregon to the Grand Canyon.  Along the way we stopped at whatever seemed interesting along the way.
    In east-central California, off of US Highway 395, is the old ghost town of Bodie, now a popular and much visited National Monument.  It is one of the largest and most complete ghost towns in the USA (Jerome, Arizona is another).

     

    We arrived a the broad site of Bodie in a light drizzle under threatening skies.

     

    Our first view of Bodie was of scattered shacks and abandoned mine tailings.

     

    And after parking and walking into the cluster of old weathered buildings, the layout of a town started to appear.

     

    Bodie became a town in 1876 when a productive vein of gold was discovered there.

     

    Even though it was mid June, the elevation of 8379 feet (2554 m) combined with the wind and mist, made the surfaces wet, revealing the colors and textures perfectly.

     

     
    Bodie had a population of 7000 before the gold was all mined  . . . and was connected to the world by a small gauge rail line.

     

    At it's height, Bodie had two churches, a Wells Fargo Bank, a myriad of shops and services, as well as its own hydroelectric generating station 13 miles away.

     

    There were 2000 buildings in Bodie at one time.  There are nowhere near that many left today . . . but it is still an impressive sight to see.

     

    I am a fan of old doors and windows . . . especially weathered old doors and windows.  I was in photographers' heaven in Bodie.

     

    Several of the old general stores still had period merchandise in them.  I am not sure if the items inside were left behind or carefully placed there years ago by over-eager National Parks staff, but the interiors are a marvel.

     

    A photo of a general store interior, taken through the window since visitors  could not go in. Fascinating.

     

    Bodie sees nearly 200,000 tourists yearly.  The day we were there, we saw two large tour busses and four smaller vans full of tourists from France.  They loved the place too.  The building with the open door is the tourist information center, gift shop, and historical display.

     

    The museum had this wonderful horse drawn hearse, as well as many other finds from the site.

     

    A lovely collection of amber bottles in the museum.

     

    A number of the buildings used some kind of metal siding . . . as well as metal shingles on the roofs.

     

    I was fascinated by this metal siding.

     

    The small metal sheets were used all around Bodie.  This house used metal for the roof, as a siding, and for various patching.

     

    Upon closer inspection, I came to the conclusion that the metal strips were, in fact, opened up 'tin cans' . . . which were made from iron and steel in those days.  Because of the altitude and cold weather (303 nights a year with below freezing temperature), and deep snow (average 10 feet or more of snow per year) in the winter meant they must have had to import a lot of food . . . which at that time was packed into cans.  You can see the can ridges on some of the large metal strips.

     

    A kind of early recycling.  In addition, these walls are visually very interesting in their own right.

     

    One more . . . just for the artistic effect.

     

    1881 was the highest production from the Bodie mines: $3.1 million US dollars.  The total value of all the gold pulled from the ground here was $34 million US dollars . . . a lot of money at that time!

     

    There is still a lot of mechanical debris left over from the age of industrial mining.

     

    It is interesting to try and imagine where these parts went and what their purposes might have been.

     

    Your guess is as good as mine . . . .

     

    There were many mine head rigs and tanks across the area.

     

    Although the rail line was torn up, trucks continued to supply the town with food, supplies, and machinery.

     

    There were some very nice old homes here.  Although it was designated a ghost town as early as 1915, there were still a few hardy souls who lived in Bodie up into the 1950s.

     

    This view back in the day would have had many more houses in it.

     

    One house had an open door . . . so I went in for a look.

     

    Fantastic!

     

    Although tens of thousands of visitors come to Bodie every year, it still feels like a discovery to find these old abandoned rooms.

     

    I cannot tell if the furniture is original, but those layers of linoleum sure are!

     

    Again, some of these old homes were lived in up to the 1950s, so I am not sure if this is one of those houses or it it dates to the end of mining around 1916.

     

    "The last breakfast" table still set.  At least they didn't have to do the dishes on that last day . . .

     

    Wonderful patina of age.

     

    The old wood stove would have been the center of life in this very cold place.

     

    Looks like a cozy room . . . at one time.

     

    I spent a long time in this old house . . . soaking up the silent beauty . . . and reflecting on the human lives that were lived out here . . . and my own life.

     

    Such beautiful visual compositions laying around everywhere.  Another photographers' paradise!

     

    The longer we stayed, the darker the sky became . . . we started to move back to the camper at about this point.  There was much more to see in Bodie, but the rain would drive us out.

     

    This steel out-house looks like it has tipped over in the past . . . I wonder how this happened?

     

    Darker and darker . . .

     

    My fellow tourists were heading to cover from the approaching rain.

     

    This shop-front must have been beautiful back in the day.

     

    This intreguing and tilting little building was beautiful from the front and side (next photo).

     

    Such wonderfully defined textures and colors . . . highlighted by the fine mist that has settled on them.

     

    Sweet little place . . .

     

    Fine, honest door (and self-portrait!).

     

    Time to go.

     

    The sage brush has reclaimed most of the streets and paths.

     

    I would like to come back here . . . perhaps when there is some snow on the ground . . . and better light.

     

    Commemorative plaques.

     

    And so, we drove off from Bodie.

     

    One last look at the scattered shacks and sheds among the sage.

     

    We drove back out the 20 miles to US Highway 395 and headed south toward Mono Lake.

     

    We pulled over on US 395 at this amazing viewpoint high above Mono Lake.

    Road Trip USA: Benton Hot Springs, California . . . Almost A Ghost Town

    On my drive from the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah back to my friend's house in the High Eastern Sierras, I took a 'short cut' down some very small, and often unpaved, roads.  One of the joys of this type of travel is the discovery of amazingly photogenic little wide spots in the road.  One such gem was Benton Hot Springs, just off of US Highway 6, just across the state line . . . on California State Road 120.

     

    The Benton Hot Springs Hotel is the pride of the nearly dead town.  The hotel (now closed) was founded as a general store and Wells Fargo Station in 1868.

     

    This lovely, and poetical plaque was placed on the old hotel in 1968.

     

    A nice place to lean a chair and pop open an ice cold Nehi on a hot summer day.

     

    The old hotel/store still had its old gas pump outside.

     

    A lazy place lost in the dust of time.

     

    But what caught my eye in the first place as I drove along State Highway 120 were the old abandoned cars just beyond the hotel.

     

    Although these cars were not necessarily abandoned where they sat (they had obviously been towed to their present locations for photographic effect, one suspects), they made for a wonderful atmosphere of age and neglect . . . my favorite subject!

     

    When I crisscrossed the USA with my family in the '50s and '60s, these kinds of scenes were common.  Now, not so much.

     

    I spotted a few very interesting cars here, like the 1934-1937 Chrysler Airflow (middle) - the first production car that attempted aerodynamic streamlining to increase economy.

     

    I had fun being an "art photographer" with all the shapes and patterns around me.

     

    These scenes lend themselves to black and white photography, so I have added a number of B&W photos to the end of this blog entry.

     

    There weren't very many buildings in Benton Hot Springs, but this one had nice arched windows.

     

    A chopped up old VW bus.

     

    There was a nice old farmhouse across the road from the hotel.

     

    Very pretty little place . . . and only 30 miles to Bishop, California . . . the nearest mall.

     

    Although very fascinating to look at, it is a shame to see these old farm implements rusting away in the harsh weather.  The average low temperature in January is 16(f) and the average high temperature in July is 92(f).

     

    An antique tractor.

     

    Another antique tractor.


    People who live out in the deserted parts seem to like to drag old stuff out of the hills and old mines and display it around their houses as yard decor.  In Benton Hot Springs someone had gathered many old wagons and wagon wheels just outside of town.  These should be preserved too.

     

    There was a hillside covered with these old wagons from the horse and buggy days.

     

    Benton Hot Springs sits in a green valley below Boundary Peak.

     

    I walked out of town and up a hill to get a view of Benton Hot Springs.

     

    "If these walls could talk."  Indeed.

     

    As I travel the world I often ask myself, could I live here, in this place?  I mean actually live here . . . to actually move to the place and make a life there.  I am capable and free enough to live wherever in the world I want.  I can say YES, I could live here.  I may look into it more closely.

     

    I left Benton Hot Springs behind and headed into the rocky landscape along California State Highway 120 toward Swall Meadows.

    Road Trip USA: The New Jersey Shore

    December 2018: Five days in Ocean City, Cape May, and Atlantic City, New Jersey.

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    Ocean City:

    I have good friends who are semi-retired and live year round in Ocean City, New Jersey.  I spent a wonderful five days visiting them.

    I brought my bicycle with me so that I could ride the many miles of Ocean City boardwalk.

    Although Ocean City is a very old beach resort (for mostly rich folks from Philadelphia), many of the old beach houses were torn down and replaced with these fanciful 'kit' beach houses.  About 80% of these are vacant during the off-season.

    Ocean City has a nice beach.  There used to be a major pier, but it was washed away during Hurricane Sandy . . . which also inundated Ocean City streets.  The pier in the background is the private pier of the Ocean City Fishing Club.

    Ocean City has a few attractions, including a very fine boardwalk.  The town is 'dry' - alcohol is not sold in stores, so it has gained a reputation as a family beach.

    We had the beach to ourselves every day.


    I had the good luck to be here between storms . . . and wind.  Quite mild and calm days for December.  We took a nice bike ride to a nearby island and saw this inlet along the way.

    Much of the area to the west of Ocean City is designated as a wildlife reserve.

    Beach erosion is still an issue.  Successive hurricanes and 'noreasters' severely depleted the sands.  The local government dredged the seabed and sprayed sand back to make a new beach.  It will have to find it's new 'natural' levels.

    Wonderful patterns, shapes, and shadows in the beach dunes.

    Wind patterns in the sand.

    With my good buddy, Bud.

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    Cape May

    My friends and I drove 20 minutes south to the lovely colonial seaside village of Cape May in the late afternoon to see the decorated old Victorian and Colonial houses.

    The sun had just gone down . . . and the houses were beginning to take on their night identity.

    There are so many cute houses in Cape May.  The Cape May Historic District has over 600 listed homes.  Fantastic!

    Cape May was first established as a village in 1632, on of the earliest settlements along the Atlantic coast.  Most of the homes in the Historic District are of the Late Victorian Era Style.

    The beautiful Victoria B&B . . . .

    The Queen Victoria B&B front door.

    Lovely turreted Victorian mansion.

    The pastel colors of the perfectly restored (maintained?) Victorians were so sweet.

    As the darkness continued to fall, the old houses began to light up in their Christmas charm.

    Although not as grand or ornate as some others in Cape May, I like this modest white house the most: it seems so inviting.

    Another one of my favorites . . .  that enclosed porch is just perfect!

    A typical Cape May street in the Historical District.

    Photographers love the 'magic hour' - the first and last hour of sunlight, but we also love the 'Blue Hour' - the time just before dark when the sky is a deep blue.

    The holiday decorations were very nicely done . . . and NONE of those horrible inflatables!

    Such a lovely little town . . . "The way it used it be" . . . at least for the few who could afford it, even back then.  My friends said this is "Philadelphia money."

    At times it seemed we were walking through a movie set . . . so perfect was the restoration . . . 

    These two were gems: big porches on both floors!

    Such a fantasy house!

    Cape May!  

    A beautiful gem in the blue hour.

    I could live here!

    The old houses come in many colors.

    Tourists come to Cape May all year. 

    There is an old timey park in Cape May with a lovely gazebo.

    Such a festive feeling.

    The buildings around the old town square.

    There is a nice walking street of old shops in Cape May proper.

    The shop windows were dressed for the season.

    So pretty.

    My friend, Bud, doing some last minute shopping.

    Christmas trees seemingly in every window!

    The interior of this hotel was nicely festooned with Christmas regalia.

    There was even a small Christmas Market in the garden of the old Heritage Hall Hotel.  Yes, we had glüwine.

    There were many cute little shops around the town center.

    As sweet as the commercial area of Cape May was, the star of the city is the vast numbers of Victorian houses lit in Christmas decorations.

    Gems in the night.

    Lit up like Christmas, as they say.

    A dream house . . . 

    Another favorite of mine . . . this pink grand dame in all its glory!

    Seen earlier in the daylight, now a gem box of amazing color and form.

    It was late (and  cold!) when we finally left Cape May.  I want to come back and stay in one of these old beauties.  I have added an additional entry at the end of this blog focusing on just the front porches of these old Victorians (Bottom).
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    Atlantic City

    I drove north 30minutes from Ocean City one nice winter day.  I brought my bicycle with me and had a nice 10 mile ride along he famous Atlantic City boardwalk.

    Atlantic City has been the dream retirement spot for eastcoasters for generations. . .

    Hurricane Sandy and other major storms have played havoc with the Jersey Shore.  After dredged sand was blown in, an attempt to stabilize the new beach.

    The boardwalk and most of the buildings seemed to be in a good state of repair.

    The famous pier at Atlantic City was closed for the season.

    But, of curse, it is the Atlantic City boardwalk that attracts people, even on this cold and clear December day.  I really enjoyed my 10 mile bike ride along this wooden bike path.

    As I took a closer look at the large hotels, I was shocked to see so many of them boarded up . . . closed and abandoned.  The economic collapse of 2008 and the establishment of Native American casinos in Pennsylvania had a major negative eeconomic impact on Atlantic City.

    There were a few shops and a couple of cafes open to service the winter wanderers, like me.

    The weathered remains of a hotel beach party set-up . . . the last trace of the summer season.  I rode my bike back five miles, loaded it into my camper, and drove back to Ocean City . . . good exercise for the day.