Lapping Up the Lake Country

I got an early start Monday morning, leaving Tahoe before breakfast so I'd have plenty of time to reach Mono Lake in northeastern California by early afternoon.  That way I'd be just in time to take a nice long walk in an area I knew from previous visits to be breathtakingly beautiful and delightfully unusual.

When I rounded the bend of southbound Highway 395 that yields the first sweeping view of Mono Lake in the distance, I spied a strategically located scenic pullout that proffered the chance to sit and savor the luxuriant landscape and so quickly pulled over.

After taking in the immense canvas of blues and grays and tans that stretched from edge to edge of the vast horizon, I eventually noticed that the 100+ yards of guardrail framing the picture postcard view had evolved into a do-it-yourself gallery of sorts, plastered densely with all sorts of individualized expressions, many of them exuding a distinctly alternative flavor (e.g., I saw stickers from at least 5 different Burning Man theme camps).  It rapidly became obvious that this would be a marvelous place to leave another one of my magnets, so I selected a spot right next to a bumper sticker for the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot (a classic roadside attraction), a destination made even sweeter by the Andre the Giant sticker affixed to the "O" in the word "Spot".  I enjoyed how my curmudgeonly little magnet had the audacity to exhort viewers to WORK amidst a flurry of handbills glorifying leisurely activities, in a locale frequented mostly by frolicking vacationers.

I departed the overlook aglow with the warm feeling of having left something I'm fond of in very good company and headed off to consult the state park oracles concerning a good place to hike in the area.  Which ended up being a good thing, because the trail I'd selected when consulting my map earlier in fact turned out to be closed due to snow.  The friendly gal at the desk instead advised me to take a drive along the spectacularly beautiful June Lake Loop just south of the town of Lee Vining.  From there, I'd be able to access a trail head that would lead me out to a beautiful alpine lake nestled in the foothills that rise from the shores of Mono Lake and march westward to become the Sierra mountains.

June Lake Loop turned out to be every bit as scenic as promised.  I turned off onto a long winding dirt road that cut a narrow swathe through a scraggly meadow and was soon delivered to the Parker Lake trail head.  I parked the car and bundled up since the weather was still unseasonably cold and blustery, though the sun did seem to be managing to stay in view a good bit more than it had for the last few days.  There were only two other cars in the parking lot and it was in fact a good long while before I laid eyes on any of my fellow hikers.

I ambled contentedly along the trail which led steadily upward through quiet groves of pine and aspen.  I soon heard the rush of moving water and didn't hike too much further before the trail merged with the bank of a small river I suspected emanated from Parker Lake.  Signs of recent flooding were in evidence, recent enough that a clump of uprooted trees I encountered hadn't yet lost the bulk of its upraised soil to the elements.  It was hard to imagine how the placid little rivulet that gurgled beside me had been capable of moving entire clusters of trees!  But being from Texas (home of merciless and frequent flash flooding) I knew to just go ahead and believe it, even if it seemed incredible.

I gained enough elevation on my walk that I began to encounter snow.  At first just a light dusting on the underexposed patches to either side of the path.  But not much further along, snow began to encroach on the trail itself and even lay in deep drifts in the undisturbed areas beside the trail.  The slanted afternoon light and cold mountain wind both flowed through the dark boughs high over my head, feeding my finely-dialed-in senses with a feast of light and shadow and sound.   When I emerged from the forest onto the shore of Parker Lake, I felt curiously exposed.  The scene before me was stunningly beautiful - a small valley dominated by the crystal clear water of a sparkling alpine lake, snow capped mountains for a backdrop - but strangely, the balance of intimacy had been thrown off all of a sudden.  I didn't linger long before looping back to seek the comfort of the forest and start my journey back to the car. 

As I walked along, I savored all the rich colors I saw repeated all across the mountain side: blinding white, earthy moss green,  rich red brown umber, and the occasional sooty black scar that some of the trees near the lake bore, signs of a fire that wasn't all that recent, but one that had left a lasting mark.

The colors of the aspen (below) are so delicious.  I'm also intrigued by the way the new branches seem to emerge from lurid scars on the trunk.  So very violent looking for such a placid seeming tree.

My best guess is that the rock pictured below is some sort of petrified wood.  The colors are exactly the same ones I encountered in my trip to the Petrified Forest.

From the trail looking north, Mono Lake in the distance:

After I returned to the car and rejoined the June Lake Loop, I was pleased and amazed to see that the road became even more scenic than before - definitely a road to detour for, one I feel sure I'll revisit.  I merged back onto Highway 395 with the notion of stopping for dinner in the quaint little town of Bishop.  I've had such interesting meals there in numerous visits I've made previously and this time turned out to be no different - I enjoyed freshly grilled Korean style ribs on a picnic table beside the highway.  Bulgoki was definitely not what I had expected to eat in Bishop!  I pushed on a few more miles southward to the tiny town of Lone Pine where I could easily access a road that looked like a good place to cross over into Nevada.  I found a well kept motor court motel in town with a friendly clerk who gave me what turned out to be a travel tip of solid gold.  Only I didn't know it at the time because what I really wanted was to settle in for the night and dream of trees.   

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