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Creek Running North

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May 10, 2005


It has been too long since I have seen aspens. They were leafless today, lining the wet sides of canyons along the Walker, the Carson, the South Fork of the American.

I was pressed for time, I thought. Not enough time to get out of the truck, to watch the white water fume down the slopes on one side toward San Pablo Bay, on the other side of the crest down into the saline lakes of Nevada. I was racing storms across the crest, unwilling to get caught in a whiteout. The roads stayed dry beneath my tires.

I am in Bishop, flanked by mountains. The Sierra and the Whites rise to 14,000 feet. Bishop is just over 4,100. That is a fair amount of relief. Up and over half a dozen passes in excess of 7,000 feet on my way here, I watched the sky for snow. A few flakes fell, here and there. A storm dusted the summit of White Mountain as I pulled into Bishop.

Near Deadman Summit, where Becky and I have camped a few times, the snow was deeper the further you got from 395. I stood on a drift in my old useless boots – tread worn off long ago, and heels peeling away from the lasts, but their steel toes still work - and smelled the bark of Jeffrey pines.

The rivers! I felt for a moment as though I was back in the northeast, where a two-foot ribbon of white down a rock face is hardly worth notice. After a good rain our hill in Pinole sprouts a hundred springs, tiny rivulets the width of a garden hose that eat away the curbs’ foundations bite by bite. The ephemeral flows of the Sierra Nevada are larger, some of them, than Pinole Creek. Wet slops of snow fell from drooping pine branches, the great melt feeding stream upon stream. Branch feeding branch. South of Topaz I drove through a steep canyon, just enough room in it for the road and the West Walker River, swollen and white-capped with spring runoff.

It has been too long. From Bridgeport, the otherworldly prominence of the Saurian Crest was veiled by blizzard. From Lee Vining and June Lake I looked at Bloody Canyon, Mounts Banner and Ritter. All places that have blistered my feet.

Tomorrow I head for Lone Pine, then Death Valley – by way of the former site of one particular Joshua tree. Then into Nevada and the Tikaboo Valley, where wingnuts try for a glimpse of a building that once held a weather balloon, and where the ranges of the two varieties of Joshua tree overlap, and the two interbreed. Then toward the Canyon.

Posted by Chris Clarke at May 10, 2005 10:24 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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I am so jealous. The Eastern Sierra -- Owens Valley, Mono Lake, etc -- is my favorite place on the planet. And I haven't been there in nine years.

Life is too short. I must get back soon. Thanks for the reminder.

Posted by: P.M.Bryant at May 11, 2005 08:49 AM
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I'm another of the Eastern Sierra alumni. I lived in Mammoth Lakes and Bishop for 22 years. Moved away in 1996, and sometimes wonder why.

Chris, you DO know you drove past a half dozen natural hot springs today, doncha? One of my Golden Moments (repeated scores of times) was to sit in one of those fabulous mountain springs and watch the sun go down, sipping dark beer while my dogs prospected around in the sage for arthritic jackrabbits.

Bishop's big to-do, Mule Days, is coming up in just a few weeks. I was a mule packer, back when, and enjoyed being part of the spectacle for several years. But I think the best of the Sierra is when you drive out from all the human hullabaloo and find the solitude.

One of the many reasons for saving the wild places is that the only way to gain perspective on humanity is to get away from it for a bit, and clear your head.

The Eastern Sierra is one of the sanest places I've ever lived.

Posted by: Hank Fox at May 11, 2005 10:05 AM
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joy to you in the journey, my friend.

Posted by: Anne at May 12, 2005 08:13 AM
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Ah, the Eastern Sierra--one of my all-time favorite parts of California. Thanks for the wonderful photos and travelog.

Posted by: Redondowriter at May 25, 2005 04:49 PM
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