Location Scout to Bodie and Mono Lake

 

Steve Burns and I left Friday for a location scout up 395 to the eastern Sierras to look into locations and possible lodging for workshops into this region.  Of special interest to me was the potential for fall colors in the Eastern Sierras.  We were off to a late start but then we really had no definitive schedule to keep.  By mid afternoon we were going through Bishop and heading towards terrain that really reminded me of the Rockies.

We passed several great views along the Sierras and finally I could not stand it any longer so stoped for one shot of an abandoned ranch just south of our destination, the town of  Lee Vining.

Nearly evening along US 395 just south of Lee Vining, CA.  There was no way not to stop, at least briefly, for this scene.  Canon 5D MkII. 70-200mm f4.  You can click on this image to see it enlarged.

Nearly evening along US 395 just south of Lee Vining, CA. There was no way not to stop, at least briefly, for this scene. Canon 5D MkII. 70-200mm f4. You can click on this image to see it enlarged.

I had not made reservations since I thought we would be at our intended destination, Lee Vining by about 4 pm and it was already approaching 6 so I was nervous about spending a lot of time with the shot.

We finally got into Lee Vining as it was getting into twilight and by the time we got there, there was not a two-bed room to be found.  We wanted to stay at Murphy’s since it had been recommended by several students but it was full.  They suggested another place… but it too was full.   We ended up about two miles north of town in a quaint little motel right out of the late 1880s.  In fact the main building where the office and restaurant are located was moved down from Bodie years and years ago along with other buildings including a brothel.

Saturday was to be a busy day scouting as much of the area as we could and getting a sense for good shooting views and timing of distances to better help the planning pf future workshops.  Well at least that was the plan.

To accommodate it we could not spend much time anywhere and after all this was a scouting trip not a photo trek.  Soooo the plan was to go north to Bodie, perhaps take a few shots for a brochure/flyer to advertise a workshop, then head south, scope out the roads around Mono Lake, then perhaps do the June Lake loop by late afternoon.  It took us just short of an hour to drive from Lee Vining to the entrance to Bodie.  Right on schedule… The plan was intact and holding.

The plan lasted until Bodie.

When we got out of the car I made a point of saying we did not have a long time to be here.  But I had forgotten the Bristlecone Pines trip and also forgotten that if you watch Steve closely when he is shooting it appears that he individually exposes the 18 or so million photo sites on his camera’s sensor… one at a time.

Now to be fair, spending a whole day in Bodie would still not be quite enough to do it right.  And it was apparent that a three-day trip would simply end in frustration for all if we included Bodie… Or maybe even of we didn’t!

Bodie Is a standing ghost town kept more or less alive by the State Parks and a non-profit foundation.  Towns of this size in Colorado have mostly crumpled under the weight of the deep winter snows.  Bodie gets snow but not like that.  Plus there are Rangers and volunteers to keep the snow shoveled a little and to brace up the old buildings when they start to reach a critical mass.

Overlooking the town is the stamp mill, a sprawling complex that, when running would have bathed the town in its incessant pounding hammers.  Here is a shot of the Bodie hotel with the stamp mill in the background

The Bodie Hotel with the Stamp Mill on the hill in the background

The Bodie Hotel with the Stamp Mill on the hill in the background

This was a thriving town in its heyday and at its peak had almost 10,000 people working the mines and servicing the miners with supplies, food, entertainment, and… Stress relief…  Here is the town pool hall, gymnasium, and “Bodie Club.”

The Bodie Pool Hall and "Club" next to what looked like a post office inside.

The Bodie Pool Hall and “Club” next to what looked like a post office inside.

Of course the miners’ spiritual needs had to be met as well and here is the church.

The church in Bodie

The church in Bodie

I had enough shots in about an hour for a flyer and looked around for Steve.  He was off way across the field headed for the stamp mill.  My heart sank.  I knew we were in for another hour AT A MINIMUM.  There was no point belaboring it.  Oh we’ll, it gave me time to start this blog on my iPad.

Finally we were back on the road headed back to Mono Lake.  Mono Lake is a natural lake but one ruined by LA’s greed for water.  It is fed by mountain snow melt and springs.  But LA diverted so much water from its sources that it has lost almost 50 feet in height.  Evaporation overpowered input and the  lake started a precipitous decline.

This afternoon the wind was unusually quiet and the water though not quite like glass was still highly refelective.  We first stopped along the edge at a boat ramp to get a sense of the lake and see if we could spot the famous tufa towers.

Mono Lake shoreline.  THe small deposits of tufa seem to mirror the clouds in the sky and reflected in the calm water.

Mono Lake shoreline. THe small deposits of tufa seem to mirror the clouds in the sky and reflected in the calm water.  THe white island is volcanic and was formed in an eruption about 250 years ago.  This is still a geologically active area.

As the water level continued to fall it exposed fascinating towers of a limestone-like material called “tufa.” The towers are formed when the calcium rich spring water bubbled up through the water already rich  in sodium chloride and sodium bicarbonate… Sort of like a cave in reverse.

We spent the afternoon exploring various roads and trails around the lake searching for the best places to bring photo students.  And of course we were forced, yes forced, to take some photos ourselves.  We certainly didn’t want to but the photo god Photon held a light beam to our eyes and said in a sonorous voice, “Get thee and thine camera out there and make sorme bloody good images!”  So of course we had no choice but to give it a try.

I wanted to avoid taking something like the millions of shots I’d seen of the lake but at last gave in for this black and white shot of the formations.

Black and White traditional styled shot of the tufa towers along the shore line of Mono Lake.

Black and White traditional styled shot of the tufa towers along the shore line of Mono Lake.

As we prowled along the large array of tufa formations on the south end of the lake.  the clouds were fantastic and promised an interesting play of light as the sun got lower in the sky.  So, since the day was shot anyway and there was no time to go check out the areas for fall color, we decided to wait for the light.

Most of the shots I have seen were standing off from the towers similar to the shot above, but I wanted something different. Instead of shooting the formations as some distant thing I wanted the viewer to be part of the scene so I decided to frame some of the towers WITH other tufa towers.  As the sun set lower in the clouds shafts of light appeared and I decided to try for it.

Late afternoon light streaking through the clouds over Mono Lake and its famous tufa towers.

Late afternoon light streaking through the clouds over Mono Lake and its famous tufa towers.

These formations look a lot like the coral rock in Florida.  It is not as hard as coral but it still would produce some major road rash if you tripped and fell on it.

I shot my card full and since my legs were on their last legs I told Steve I was headed back to the car.  He wanted to wait to shoot deeper into the sunset.  I went back, packed up my gear and moved to a picnic table right in front of the car.

As the sun approached the horizon it was blocked by heavy clouds with just a tinge of the orange smoke from the fire.  The lake became still as the winds died down and the soft pastels seem to hush everything for a moment of reverence.  Only the buzz of the insects broke the nearly absolute stillness.

It was a spiritual kind if quietness looking out over the lake, the ubiquitous rabbit brush, and the gathering cloud cover.  Now and then the slightest breeze would bestir itself to check out the basin all around me then settled backdown as if some spirit had shushed it into quietness.

Finally, as if on cue, the sun slipped behind the sierras summoning twilight and was the signal that it was Ok for the breezes to come out and play.  I could sit here forever and be content.

Sunday dawned cloudless, warm, and bright.  The incredible clouds of Saturday were replaced by a blank cyan sky.  Saturday night was a bad joke since our lodging snafu continued unabated and I now was in a “room” that most Hostels would have been ashamed to offer.  My RV has a larger bathroom and the lower bunkbed… yes, bunkbed… had an oversized mattress that draped over the sides.  It was just delightful… NOT!

I was so tired however that I kept telling myself that motel rooms are just for sleeping and cleaning up and had I intended to stay in a hostel it would have been OK.  But not for the price.  But the factor that kept me from bolting was that it was the last available lodging in the area and I was simply not up for heading down the road hoping to find a motel somewhere along the way in the dark.

My primary purpose for the trip was to scope out places for fall color scenery and if there was time, to also go see Bodie and Mono Lake. Thus far we had done exactly the opposite and seen none of the places where colorful fall trees were the feature.  So, for Sunday the plan was to cruise through the June Lake and Mammoth Lake loops, take some notes and maybe a shot or two on the way back south.

That plan lasted until we had eaten breakfast and started south when Steve REALLY wanted to go back to the tufa in Mono Lake because he realized his shots from the previous night were soft.  So, back to the tufa towers we went.  For my own tastes and styles the light was harsh and uninviting, especially since I had some good shots from the previous evening.  So while Steve went on back to the tufa towers I took up residence at the same picnic bench as last night and will be completing this blog entry.

Now, unfortunately, I need to come back to scope out the eastern sierras for fall shots but I don’t know when I will have the time.  I may have lost the window to scout out for this fall’s workshops or field trips.  I am SOOOOOO happy about that.

Yes, Dr. Cooper, that is sarcasm…

About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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