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    « Road Trip USA: Leesville, Louisiana - A Childhood Home | Main | Road Trip USA: Bonneville, Utah to Swall Meadows, California »

    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-expanding City of 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.

     

    I sat out in the desert sage awhile before walking back into my stand of trees in a powerfully clear afternoon light.

     

    A little stream crossed the track as I entered the dry woods.

     

    On my way back up to my campsite I  couldn't help but notice that the sun was now backlighting the bright aspen leaves.

     

    I have to say that this view nearly took my breath away!  Rare natural beauty I will remember for the rest of my life!

     

    I stopped all along my return walk and marveled at the light and beauty.

     

    I took many, many photos of this backlit stand of yellow aspens, each with different camera settings to make sure I captured the perfect image.  My posting here, on my photo blog, is only at 850px wide . . . but the uncropped version of this photo is amazingly sharp.

     

    I deviated off the jeep track a few times to stand in the middle of the bright aspens.

     

    I could have stood right here FOREVER.

     

    I took a photo about once every ten steps, such was the natural beauty and the fantastic light.

     

    When I got back to my camper I changed to a very long lens (335mm) to capture this compressed depth of field photo of the jeep track and the rocky hills many miles away.

    __________________________________________

    DAY FOUR: OUT OF CAMP AND UP INTO THE MOUNTAINS

    I woke up late and stepped out into this: another bright clear day high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

     

    Over breakfast and good coffee, I looked out through the forest and caught glimpses of the high peaks that surrounded me.

     

    I decided I would walk up a jeep track I had driven in on . . . it looked like it went up to the base of these mountain slopes.

     

    It was early September and there were only a few remaining patches of snow high up left from last winter.

     

    After cleaning up, and making the campsite bear-proof, I set off on my forest track in the other direction.

     

    I already knew I wasn't the first person to experience the beauty of this place, but I found it interesting that "B.W" was here exactly 64 years ago . . . to the day (9/5/1954 to 9/5/2018)!  So they must have been here at the time of the yellow leaves too!

     

    To say it was another glorious day would be understatement!

     

    This time as I walked out of my aspen woods I was walking uphill.  I was glad I had four-wheel-drive coming in . . . the road is very rough.

     

    The mountains revealed themselves as I left the aspen stand.

     

    It might be easy to get lost up here as there are several jeep tracks going in all directions, but they were well marked, and matched my Google Maps. [I had surprisingly good 4G reception throughout my stay in the mountains!]

     

    Looking to the right, I had a huge view down to the valley below and the Boundary Range mountains (the Nevada boarder) well beyond.

     

    Looking to the left I had a view of flowering panoramas framed by high mountains.  This might be the most beautiful spot I have stood in my entire life!

     

    I took a track that would lead me in this direction.

     

    The jeep track with Mount Tom in front.  If you look closely you can see the traces of an old manganese mine.  The brown/orange streaks are rich deposits of manganese which now sit in protected National Forest land.

     

    I came to a 'T' in the track . . . this way went back down the valley and to the paved road into Bishop . . .

     

     . . . and this direction, the one I took, went up into the mountains.

     

    As I walked further toward the mountains I gained a view of a hidden valley full of aspens.

     

    A look down into the hidden aspen grove, but I did not see any path to get down  . . .

     

    Looking back across the late summer wild and wonderful flora at this altitude was extraordinary.

     

    The dried flowers with their seeds readying for dispersal.

     

    Such a beautiful place.

     

    Further and further up in altitude toward the high peaks.

     

    I had been seeing salt licks here and there near the road and wondered if there were still any cows grazing this high up . . . yep, there was one cow, way up here grazing in a lush green spot.

     

    I took a rest on this perfect 'chair' stone!  Very comfortable.

     

    I took may time enjoying the amazing wildflowers at this altitude.

     

    There were many outstanding compositions to photograph here.

     

    And up and up I went . . .

     

    This was the last of the aspens, or any trees, before the tree line.


    This is as far as I went up the old jeep track: a camp site with an incredible view back down the mountain.  I considered moving my camp up here, but was glad I didn't . . . . there was a big wind storm the next night and my camper and tent would have been blown off the mountain!

     

    A view I will never forget!

     

    So, I turned around and walked back down the track toward my camp site.

     

    My aspen grove does not look very large from up here . . . I believe the tallest pine was next to my camper.

     

    I enjoyed another view of Mount Tom on the way back down.

     

    I walked back into the stand of aspens and my camp.

     

    I took my time walking back in my woods.

     

    There were some large pines that surrounded the aspens.

     

    Another clear and bright day.  Wonderful light!

     

    Beyond the pines and into the bright yellow aspens.  Marvelous.

     

    Not far from my camp I found the foundation stones for what must have been a settlers cabin or hunting lodge.

     

    Nearing my campsite.

     

    Up this obscured jeep track and then my camper . . . I was hungry!

    ________________________________

    DAY FIVE: A LONG WALK DOWN A STREAM BED

    The hiker I encountered two days ago kindly gave me a NFS map of the area.  I saw a small dotted line on the map and decided to see if I could find it . . . it appeared to lead to a stream and rock formations.  I found the trail: an unused jeep track.

     

    It was such a thrill to walk out this old disused track . . . where does it lead?

     

    The old jeep track went through a dry pine forest . . . .

     

     . . . through a carpet of pine needles and cones.

     

    The track left the pine woods and I arrived in the arid scenery . . . and more views of the Sierra Nevadas.

     

    When you are rambling out n the drylands with no particular place to go, you sometimes stumble on interesting objects.  This stone was like nothing else I saw in the area . . . just sitting there.

     

    The snag of a burnt pine.

     

    Eventually the trail disappeared and I was left to wander around among the stones.  Wonderful.  It was a clear day, but the temperature had fallen . . . to the low 50s(f) today.

     

    I enjoyed trying to suss out the geological processes that formed particular stones.

     

    Some of the flora was different at this lower elevation and greater exposure.

     

    There were even a few cactus plants.  This area is covered in deep snow for many months of the year, so this cactus species must be very well adapted.

     

    I found it remarkable that there were still flowers at this late date.  Snow was expected here any day, ending the summer/fall season for good.

     

    I expect these seeds are meant to last over the winter, under the snow, until the temperature, light, and moisture are right for their germination.

     

    Absolutely beautiful.

     

    I followed my USFS map to where a stream was indicated and discovered there had been a fire in the recent past.  This is the point the fire ended and the unburned trees resumed.

     

    A giant burned snag towering over the arid scenery.

     

    I  continued to follow the burnt tree line down the valley.  There was a small trickle of water in the streambed.

     

    A strange beauty permeates these old snags  . . . perhaps it is the clarity of light that enhances a sense of connectedness to actuality.

     

    I walked all morning beside the stream amid the remnants of the old burn.

     

    I crossed over the stream here.

     

    Another beautiful day.

     

    At this point I am just picking my way between the stones and the brush . . . there is no trail . . . but it is very beautiful.

     

    I  made it this far down the valley. I had hoped to get to those large boulder formations in the distance, but I grossly miscalculated the distance and the time it would take.

     

    I sat here and ate my packed lunch and drank a bottle of tea.  I was not disappointed I had not made it all the way to the boulder formation . . . there was no shortage of beauty right here.

     

    My last look down the valley streambed (I believe it to be 'Birch Creek' from the maps).

     

    The walk back to camp on the abandoned jeep track was marvelous, with the grand mountain view always up ahead.

     

    Although I have lived in the tropics for 30+ years, this is still my favorite countryside.

     

    Mount Tom . . . always present in this stunningly clear air.

     

    Nearing my camp in this stand of aspens.

     

    Back into my dry woods.

     

    I was happy to be back in my camp.  The weather report was for a big storm to blow in that night with strong winds and snow likely.  I was a little concerned about driving down the mountain in the snow and ice . . . if it came.

     

    A magnificent place for a portable recycling throne!!!!

    _________________________________________________

    DAY SIX:  DEPARTURE . . . BACK TO SWALL MEADOWS

     The morning of my departure was bitter cold (28f) with a mix of rain and sleet falling on my camp.  I quickly packed it all back up into my camper.

     

    Wisps of snow on the high peaks.

     

    I left no trace at my campsite.

     

    My last look up to the mountains before I drove out of The Buttermilk Country.  The first snow . . .

     

    I took the southern route on the Buttermilk Country Loop down the mountain.

     

    The road out was a little frightening in a few places.

     

    Looking toward Mount Tom, shrouded in clouds.

     

    The 'back way' off the mountain goes across this dry plane.

     

    Beautiful clouds were hanging over Bishop, California.

     

    Nearing the paved road . . . I have been looking at these rocky hills from my camp for days and now I see them up close.

     

    The last steep hill to the paved Route 168.  Civilization at last.

     

    My drive north on US395 was unbelievably beautiful.

     

    A ribbon of cloud dressed the front slope of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Moutains.  WOW!

     

    Incredible.

     

    Back up the river canyons, the mountains in an early Autumn storm.

     

    Part of a weathered old homestead on the valley floor.

     

    I could live here . . .

     

    A painterly scene . . . glorious.

     

    Stunning beauty.  I must have stopped 10 times along the road back to Swall Meadows.

     

    Nearing Swall Meadows.

     

    Looking back to from where I have come.  I could not have waited an additional day to go camping here . . . I managed the last week of dry/warm camping in the mountains for the year.  Yes Paradise!

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