Dave King and I had out annual Back to the Bristlecones adventure with some students and friends. I traveled with Mike Uriell and Shelly Brinton, AKA. the mountain goat. We stop pen the old mining town of Randsburg on Hwy 395 on the way north to catch some morning lingering on the old church and warm up the cameras and our groggy minds since we left San Diego at 4am thursday morning to try and avoid the traffic in San Bernardino. The temperature was heating up quickly so we took a quick runt to the Trona pinnacles. Shelly promptly climbed the first peak we stopped next to. The temperature at 9:30 was already pushing up ward into the 100’s. We were going to spend the night in Ridgecrest because there were no rooms to be had in Owens Valley do to the influx of gear tourists the in area. as it was we got the only room left in the Best Western. We made quick stop to see the BLM’s collection of wild horses just outside Ridgecrest before cooling off at the Matarango Desert Museum there. By noon the temp was 103 and hid in the air-conditioned room quickly going over the next days travels and looking at our current collection of images.
We left early Friday morning to avoid the heat and passed east of Owens Lake and dropped in to an old mining relic called Darwin where there was some fun images to be had. On the way back we stopped at Keeler, another unique desert shanty town with a lot of quirky thing to discover. By 11am the heat was upon us and we dashed north to Big Pine, grabbed a hardware store sandwich before heading upward into the White mountains that are east of Bishop. Once we were at 10,000 feet elevation the air temperature dropped to a livable 73 degrees. After spending some time with ranger David at the Sherman grove we left a dust trail on the rough rocky road for 10 mile to the northern bristlecone grove to eat our lunch a relax at thee high altitude. It is always a good idea to take the first day easy when you are going to spend a few days at high elevation.
That evening we met up with the rest of the group at the Crooked Creek Research station run by the University of California. They have a fine facility there and a great cook named Tom. The bunk rooms are fine but the showers can be bone chilling cold. It is a two story log structure with bunk rooms, meeting room, and dining room. There are several outer cabins with sleeping quarters. We brought our own pillows and sleeping backs for the military metal style bunks.
After a great dinner and some star shooting images we crashed. After breakfast we made sandwiches and headed out to find our lens adventures. I have been going to the Bristlecones since 1965 when I was in the USAF and we were load testing helicopters by the Sherman grove. I don’t think the 4000 year old bristlecones changed very much in 50 years that I have been patrolling there.
That night I lectured on managing business practices for landscape photographers who want to get in the business of selling there image.
Sunday was a great day but the weather changed and the clouds and lightening moved in around noon time. I did the three mile down hill trail and three mile back up and I was exhausted. Luke Ce caught a picture of David King and I setting on a bench hydrating with several bottles of water. Shelly was off climbing to mountain tops and Mike was fading fast in the car.
That night after dinner I took one look at Mike’s eyes and realized he was in trouble with altitude sickness. We quickly tossed our gear in the car and headed to lower elevation hoping to find a hotel room for the night. Every hotel in the whole Owens Vally was booked out. By 10pm we found a hotel in Big Pine that just had a cancellation. We raced from Bishop to Big Pine and ran into the hotel rooms and dove into the beds. Mike was already looking better.
Breakfast next morning was met with strong winds, rain and lightening. We headed south with windshield wipers flaying sheets of water off the windshield. The sky began to clear by the time we reached Olancha south of Long Pine. The rest of the drive was routine with the Sunday flow of traffic through San Bernandino.
Five days later I talked to Mike and found out that he slept for 3 days trying recover and get his energy back. I’m glad we left high altitude when we did. Altitude sickness can do some serious damage to you body if not kill you if you don’t take immediate action to correct it.
I’ll be going back again next summer and if you can take a 4 day break the trip is well worth it. Let me now if your are interested and want to go. I know almost every rock and tree and canyon in the Owens Valley and can give you some insight where to find great places.
Enjoy the images and let me know if you think any are interesting to you.