Bodie California

If Mono Lake birding was a disappointment, Bodie, a nearby ghost town, was an unexpected pleasure. In fact, I’d never heard of Bodie until the day before when a birder at the Mono County Park told me that he never went by without stopping at Bodie. I really didn’t expect much since I’m generally not into “historic” sites, but we spent more than half a day visiting the site, and I’ve spent longer than that playing with the photos and still haven’t finished with half of the shots.

Here’s an untouched shot that shows two of the older buildings in the town. I suspect that the rock house was one of the oldest homes, particularly since there was nary a tree in sight around the town.


There’s nothing wrong with the shot; it’s certainly a better shot than most of the visitors would get with their phone cameras. It may be “realistic,” but it doesn’t really capture the “feelings” generated by this mining town which was founded in 1859. 200, 000 annual visitors don’t come to visit ruins, they come to recapture the feeling of California’s great gold rush.

The following photos attempt to convey the sense of history that I got from the town, providing a window into the past. This was my first attempt to capture that feeling.


In this picture the house is actually quite close to the way it looks today, colors and all. I’ve just turned the background to black and white and given the shot a sepia tone.

This shot is a little more radical. Everything in the photo, including the house, has been “antiqued,”


as I attempted to convert the photo into an “aged” photo, one taken close to the time the houses were actually built.

This photo was taken through a very dirty window with a lot of morning glare.


The original photo is clearer than this, but I preferred to “rough” things up a little. I thought that I’d lived in some pretty drab shacks in my early life, but even the poorest of them looked like mansions compared to this.

I took a different approach in this shot of the community church whose interior seemed to convey a sense of simplicity and dignity.


This last shot was taken in the museum. I was shocked how much the colors popped when it was rendered in Photomatix Pro 5 since it’s much brighter than it seemed .


I must admit that I was only mildly interested in the personal artifacts found in the museum but was drawn to this painting because it offered such a stark contrast to the desert setting of the town.

Mono Lake Probably Won’t Become one of my Go-To Places

I’ve heard so much about birding at Mono Lake the last few years that I was really excited about our trip there. In fact, we probably spent more time at Mono Lake than any other single place during our trip. We stopped on the west side on our way in, where we got my favorite shots, ones I posted on an earlier post. The only birds I saw there, though, were California Gulls.

We went to the north end of the lake the next morning, but the birds were a long way out and the sun was directly behind them, making them little more than silhouettes.


In fact, even with a 500mm lens about the only birds I could positively identify were the large Osprey on the left and the large Great Blue Heron on the right.

A birder told us that the north end of the lake was beautiful at sunset, so we decided to come back just before sunset. We did manage to get some better pictures, but we were still a long ways away and these shots didn’t seem that special when compared to the ones I got at Bear River earlier in the summer.


Leslie did manage to get a nice shot of a Northern Harrier while I was trying to get shots with the 1000 mm lens.

Northern Harrier

However, the only shot I probably won’t delete is this shot of a Clark’s Nutcracker, not the first time I’ve seen them, but the first time I’ve ever managed to get a shot of one, a rather blurry, dark shot at that.



Strangely enough, a Clark’s Nutcracker landed right in front of me later in the trip, but I was carrying a 17-55mm lens and it was gone long before I could get back with a birding lens; otherwise I could delete ALL of the bird pictures I managed to get at Mono Lake.

I wouldn’t go as far as Mark Twain did in Chapter 38 of Roughing It when he remarked:

Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn, silent, sail-less sea–this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth –is little graced with the picturesque. It is an unpretending expanse of grayish water, about a hundred miles in circumference, with two islands in its centre, mere upheavals of rent and scorched and blistered lava, snowed over with gray banks and drifts of pumice-stone and ashes, the winding sheet of the dead volcano, whose vast crater the lake has seized upon and occupied.

However, I would concede it’s probably not going to become one of my “Go-To” places, and not just because it is farther away than most of my “Go-To” places.

The East Entrance of Yosemite

Since our campground at Mono Lake was just a few miles from the east entrance of Yosemite, we felt that at the very least we had to drive up to the park entrance. I’m certainly glad we did because it might have been the most beautiful drive of our trip, though I’ll have to admit it was also the hardest to photograph.

I’m always disappointed the way tall cliffs are reduced to six inches tall in a photograph, but if you click on these shots and see them at 1280, you can see how tall the cliffs are in relationship to the cars parked beside the road.


In other words, I was pretty happy with how this picture turned out and was also happy with this shot of a lake near the top of the pass. It is composed of six different shots, first joined together in HDR, then the final three shots joined together to show the whole lake that was impossible to capture with even my 17mm wide-angle lens.


My favorite shots, though, weren’t shots of mountains or lakes but, rather, shots of trees that reminded me of the Bristlecone Pine we had seen the day before.


The altitude combined with rocky soil means that any tree up here is going to have to struggle to survive, and these three trees show the character that results from such struggles.


If I were going to caption this last shot I would label it “precarious,”


since it seems a miracle that the tree hasn’t fallen off that cliff. Luckily, it had sense enough to lean into the mountain and not trying to look over the cliff at the beautiful lake below. Otherwise, it would have been labeled “driftwood.”

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

After leaving Great Basin National Park I’d resigned myself to the idea that it would be several years before I got to see the Bristlecone Pine I’d driven nearly a thousand miles to see. It was only by pure chance that I learned there was an Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest just a few miles down the road from Mono Lake. I was talking to a fellow birder who was walking the camp where we spent the night and complaining that the rain had spoiled the first part of our trip. He said that the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest wasn’t too far down the road, easily visited in a day. Needless to say, it never crossed my mind that we wouldn’t visit the park.

It was a long, slow drive from the main highway, but it was certainly worth the time spent. I’m sure I’ll return to the park to take the 4 mile walk that we didn’t have time for. Leslie and I found it challenging climbing the steep hill even on the discovery trail right outside the visitor’s center. A mile doesn’t seem very far, but at 10, 000 feet carrying camera equipment it took a lot longer than I expected, and I was winded by the time we started back down hill. Perhaps the only thing harder than climbing that hill has been editing all the pictures and deciding which are worth posting.

Luckily, we didn’t have to walk too far from the Visitor’s Center to see our first Bristlecone Pine. You can still see the parking lot in the lower right of this shot



Seeing this tree inspired me to make it to the top, especially since the trees seemed to get more spectacular as we climbed.

I found it hard to believe that trees that have lost this much bark can still survive,


yet it seemed to be common trait on all of the old Bristlecone Pines we saw. All but the youngest of the pines showed the same pattern.

Needless to say, the woodworker in me loved the patterns found in the trunks of these trees.


The higher we got the smaller the trees got, perhaps not surprising considering that they seemed to be growing out of sheer rock,


but I was surprised to read that the smaller, more deformed trees were actually the oldest trees, that they tended to live longer than the taller trees.

If that’s true, I wonder how old this tree must be since they live up to 5,000 years long.


Perhaps the most magnificent tree I saw, though, appeared to be dead, or at least I couldn’t see any sign of foliage on it.


Dead or alive, it’s a triumphant symbol of endurance.

Once again, though, we ran out of time. Next time I’ll camp at the top, get up the next morning and walk the 4 mile trail where the Methuselah tree is located before continuing on my trip.

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