To the Lower 48’s highest point!

3Been back from Cali a while.  But, I still wanted to write about the rest of my trip. So, here goes…

On Saturday April 29th, I left Three Rivers, California after three days.  It was a nice town.  The people aren’t LA-LA landers.  They’re older and more modest.  Frankly, the area reminded a lot of the Texas Hill Country, except the hills are bigger and devoid of cedars… and some of the most majestic mountains on the planet are nearby.

My next destination was Mount Whitney, California.  This is the highest peak in the Lower 48.  It tops out at 14,505′.

Staying here wasn’t the goal.  It was a stop before Death Valley.  However, looking back, that place impacted me more than expected.  As I type these words, I’m filled with longing to drive all US 395, at the base of the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevadas, which climbs in elevation northward, and takes you to Mammoth Lake, a ski resort just over the Tioga Pass that takes you into Yosemite National Park.24

John Muir remarked on the lucidity and colors of the light above the Sierras.  I understand now.  Just a couple hours piqued my curiosity to experience more of the wonders he wrote about in his book My First Summer in the Sierra Nevadas.  But I wasn’t there yet…

First, had to leave Tulare County, California.  Frankly, it impressed me.  This county is #1 in agricultural output for the whole United States.  That’s because the Sierra Snowpack gives life to countless streams that create rivers terminating in the endoheric drainage basin that was once Tulare Lake.     Those streams are sloughed, canaled and morphed into oranges, almonds, grapes, grass, cattle and countless other commodities.  Again, the money that has come to California!

Anyway, headed south to Bakersfield.  The smell of spilled sauerkraut and old luggage permeated my Sexy Sienna, as seen in the photo above, in spite of whistling air rushing into my windows for coolness.  Old football injuries discomforted my back as the bright California Sun made me wince even with sunglasses.  Snacked on apples, oranges and habanero almonds.

25

Got to the Pumpjack Mecca of Bakersfield; then headed east to Tehachapi; then north on US 395 into Lone Pine, at the north end of Owens Lake.   Owens Lake is neat too.  Once upon a time, it was a lake.  Now it’s not.  Now it’s just a dust bowl because the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation’s largest municipal utility took all the water – and I can’t imagine the stories of greed and graft that accompany its history!

Lone Pine’s kinda’ neat.  It’s high desert at 3727′ in elevation.  Above is a panorama of Lone Pine’s Valley from the Sierra foothill above and to the west.  Owens Lake’s dry bed is in the upper right.

The eastern slopes of 1the Sierras run west of this small town of 2000 souls.  Their undulating peaks and crags stretch endlessly from south to north horizons.  Not a cloud was in the sky – the first clear day affording my first clear view of these Sierras.   It was something else.

John Muir called them the Range of Light.  The sky was so blue.  The light so clear.  It shimmered off the granite giants with a luminosity as mesmerizing as Sedona’s.

Thus, I had to drive Whitney Portal Rd from Lone Pine to Whitney’s base at 8000-plus feet, from high desert to ponderosa country.  It was worth the detour.  The views along the winding way got higher and better.  At the top, at the base camp where I took this photo on the left, snow covered the ground.  But the chilly air was offset by warm rays of the sun unimpeded by humidity.

Again, that light.  Muir described the Sierras as a wonderland, as a place that carries the imagination from horizon to horizon with a play of color and light off the effulgent vegetation finding its home on crags and clefts overlooking some of North America’s grandest scenery.5

All this leaves me with a longing that Muir indulged for a lifetime.  To see all of the Sierras… to see all of California… but oh well.

After my fill, I left for Death Valley.  Don’t regret not staying longer at Lone Pine.  But I’ll be back.

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