I have been going to Mammoth during the winters on a regular basis for over 20 years, but this was my first time in the area during the summer – a long overdue experience. You really don’t need any specific reason to want to visit the High Sierras in the summer, but in this case, I guess I did and a Photopills photography workshop with Joshua Crips was mine.
This was a one day workshop based on landscape and astrophotography that started mid morning and since I was driving up from San Diego, I thought it appropriate to leave the day before and stay the night at Alabama Hills, about 2-3 hours south of Mammoth. As usual, I got a bit of a late start and it being a Friday, the traffic was not in my favor – arriving well into the night with no real idea of where I was going (this ws my first time to Alabama Hills, which is a great area for astrophotography and star gazing, extremely dark skies with an amazing view of Mt Whitney), I managed to find a dark and lonely road where I spent some time setting up a few shots of the Milky Way. With no gps or phone signal, I basically just drove until I found what looked like some rock formations and a place to pull in for the night. What I woke up to was more than I could have imagined, arriving blind to the solitude around me the night before, I had stumbled upon a beautiful morning view.
The drive from Lone Pine (town next to Alabama Hills) to the Mammoth Lakes area is easy, broken up by a few small towns until you hit the grade out of Bishop, where a 4000 ft climb is a test of some vehicles. Using overdrive and not trying to set any speed records got me to my destination with out incident and although the “Pele Roja” is a 1995, the solid, low milage 351ci motor gets the job done.
Like I mentioned before, this was my first summer visit to the area and the drive up and into town was beautiful, the snow from an above average year was still capping the tallest peaks and wild flowers were scattered about, soaking up the summer sun. After our lecture in town we headed to the Minaret Vista (9265ft) for the sunset, an expansive view that is well worth the visit and typically inaccessible during the winter months.
Our next stop was the main event of the evening, Mono Lake – about a 30-45 min drive from the town of Mammoth lakes and while this stretch of the 395 has it’s own share of some steep, high elevation climbs, slow and steady gets you there every time! Arriving at night and not knowing where to set up, we found that during the peak Milky Way season (especially on the weekends), the shoreline can be crowded with like minded folks, eager to find the right shot. After a while, some of us decided to drive to another location, away from the main tufas and found some very interesting “mini tufas” that set up nice for my composition.
With some inside information from another participant in the workshop, I was able to find a really cool spot not to far away to “camp” for the night – with an ARVBNB camper van, parking and taking the key out of the ignition is all the is required! As the location was on BLM land and the access was not maintained, I needed to engage the 4×4 to make sure I had no problems dealing with the soft, sandy like road conditions. After a very peaceful night sleep, I woke up once again to a complete surprise to my surroundings, the pitch black drive in the night before yielded no clues of the beauty of the area.
The High Sierras in the summer show a different perspective from the winter scene, allowing more access to an adventure worth retuning to.