ExploreDesert: Alabama Hills - Laurel Lakes - Mono Lake - Bodie - Coyote Flats

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ExploreDesert

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This trip to the Eastern Sierras was originally planned to take place last summer as a way for us desert dwellers to escape the heat. But as our departure time grew closer, personal plans began to change and ended up not working out. In a way, it was better that way - giving me time to refine the trip to best utilize our time. And now, looking back, it would have been mostly disorganized chaos compared to the epic trip we just had. This trip wasn't without change though - what originally started out to include our entire group slowly dwindled down. 6 vehicle and 14 people reduced to 3 vehicles and 4 people. In addition, the girls decided to stay home so that meant only one thing... Man trip. :friday:

Our newly found freedom allowed for some welcomed flexibility - leaving a day early, more diverse camping spots and the ability to cover ground more efficiently. This ended up turning into a win, win, win situation!

We left Wednesday after work and met up at the Pilot at the 15 & 395 interchange. Fueled up, grabbed a quick bite and set off for our first camp which was to be in the Alabama Hills, just west of Lone Pine.

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We pulled onto Whitney Portal road right about 9:30 and made the drive towards the famous landscape. Just as we were to make the turn onto Movie Rd a bright light appeared on-top of the mountain. At first, it looked like maybe a vehicle coming down the road, but soon the light began to cast light like a search helicopter. It was coming right at us as we pulled over to get out of the vehicles for a better look. We stood there in awe once we knew it wasn't a car, helicopter or plane. Our adrenaline pumping as whatever it was passed nearly right above us. Was is a meteor? A failed rocket launch? A disintegrated plane? Nearly a minute went by as we watched whatever it was come apart in the dark skies - fragmented fireballs scattering as it flew over the eastern horizon. Throughout it all, I kept thinking I should grab my camera but for some reason never did. Sort of bummed I didn't.

We continued to our camp for the night to relax around the propane campfire before calling it a night. A long adventure awaits us in the morning.

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Since we were in the valley the temperature rose quickly and as a result we packed up quickly to get our way towards higher elevations. We'd have to make a stop in Bishop for fuel and breakfast at Schat's Bakery. By the way, how is it even possible to make bread that good?

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ExploreDesert

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The drive up to Bishop gave us some free time to research what last nights fireball was all about. Turned out to be the second stage from a Chinese rocket disintegrating in the atmosphere. How it just so happened to become visible at the "official" start of our trip was pretty cool.

From Bishop we'd skip taking the 395 any further north. Time for some dirt. A route through the Volcanic Tablelands would guide us up to Round Mountain - east of Lake Crowley, via Casa Diablo Rd.

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The slight elevation gain gave us some relief from the heat, but it was still in the high 80's. Definitely cooler then back home. As we approached Lake Crowley the group decided to take a break along the waters edge and relax a bit and soak in the view. Being that it was a Thursday, we had the entire beach to ourselves.

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A bit more refreshed we began the trek into Long Valley and the Hot Creek area. Winding our way through the trees and various trails, we'd eventually end up dropping off at highway 203 into Mammoth.

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As soon as the tires hit the pavement it started to rain - which sort of worked out since we were getting hungry. Decided to stop at Roberto's Mexican Cafe for some killer food and a ice cold cerveza while we waited for the weather to clear before our next adventure. Well, the weather ended up making real a mess of things rather then clean. The dirt and dust we collected so far turned into spots and mud. Couldn't complain too much - after-all it is a off-road trip...

Deadmans Pass northwest of Mammoth was next up.

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We didn't spend much time at the top. Though the views seemed endless and the cool breeze was nearly perfect, we needed to start towards our camp for the night - Laurel Lakes.

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Coming up to the trail-head that leads to Laurel Lakes, there were a few vehicles in the parking area as well as a few people that appeared to be completing a day hiking throughout the local mountains. A bit further up a gentleman was walking up the trail with a gas can in a basic backpack which seemed rather odd. As we approached he turned around obviously now aware of our presence and stuck out his thumb. "Oh great..." was my first thought, but as I pulled along side I can see he couldn't have been a hiker as he was too clean cut and not dressed the part. "Anyway I can get a ride to my truck? Can't believe I did it, but ran my Colorado out of gas" he said as I got within earshot. Usually I'm not one for picking up hitchhikers, but the guy seemed genuine enough and didn't appear to have bad intentions.

Told him to throw his pack in the bed and hop in. We began the journey up the long and windy mountain side and struck conversation. Ended up being a super nice guy - a local to the Mammoth area and a previous resident of North County San Diego. Before long we rounded a corner to discover his truck parked along the hillside. Bid farewell and continued towards the Lakes.

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Upon reaching the high point of the trail the rain returned, bringing lightning and thunder along with it. Seeing a bolt strike the mountains peak right next to us then hear the sky rip apart was exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. We rushed down the switchbacks and found a spot suitable for the 3 rigs where we'd wait for the storm to pass. Eventually it did and gave way to some great weather to explore our surroundings. We found that we had the entire place to ourselves - just the way we like it.

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It was a long day and ended it like we always do - around a fire and looking at the stars.

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ExploreDesert

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Rad pictures! I wish my trip reports were this EPIC!
Thank you!

Great report so far! The photos are spectacular!
Thanks!

Awesome photos! I want to hit Laurel Lakes before winter.
-M
Thank you. Definitely do! Laurel Lakes is an amazing place.

Toyota pornography! What a killer trip! Did you guys shoots video?
Hahaha. Yeah, we love our Toyota's. No video. I've thought about it but honestly too much work for our style of travel.
 
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ExploreDesert

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As it turns out, the Sierra's are riddled with flying insects. Even more so when around a body of water. That morning it was very apparent that the bug spray went on way too late and we were eaten for dinner by the lake locals. Red bumps and itching isn't the best way to start a fresh day - but we survived. Regardless, we really took our time getting ready with a warm breakfast and hot coffee before packing up and organizing for the adventure ahead.

Lot's of ground to be covered today so let's get started!

Step 1 - Return to Mammoth for fuel and a quick car wash... (yup, that happened.)

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Step 2 - Cross over the 395 to take forest roads north towards Mono Lake. Not much time was spent on photo's for this particular section as it closely resembled areas we've already been through. Instead we put the pedal down and enjoyed the smooth trails through the trees.

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Eventually the trees come to a abrupt end as you cross over Hwy 120 and the size of Mono Lake dominates the horizon. Bright blue sky reflects off the salty water giving it a surreal type appearance. From the 120, Old Bodie Railroad Grade eventually ends at 1N54B - a narrow and silty path around Mono Basin. By far the dustiest section of trail in recent memory - it was mostly a chore and rather eventful other then the memorizing view out the driver side window.

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On the eastern most edge of the lake, the trail "Y's" off into two different directions. The original planned route to the left was blocked by a rather large and questionable ravine. The right was a straight shot towards Pole Line Rd. I decided to follow the original route so at this point the group went in two different directions for a few miles and were to meet up at the road crossing. Eventually the direction I took led to run along sandy two track and through a stretch of white sand dunes - some of my favorite terrain to drive in.

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All was going well until something shiny in the distance caught my attention. A mid 2000's Tundra and a smaller 4 door car appeared stuck in the soft sand directly on the trail blocking passage through. I stopped a ways back and observed my surroundings. No one was around and only a single set of footprints nearby. I locked up the truck and proceeded by foot to scope out the situation, slowly approaching the vehicles from the side. Getting closer I could tell that a vehicle was running, then could see figures inside the car through the dark tinted windows. The rear door suddenly pops open and a older man emerges, looking pretty wiped out from either sun exposure or some type of substance. I asked if everyone was OK and if they need any water or supplies but the offer was refused stating that they had what they needed. The only request was if I had a tow strap and could help them out. Quickly examining their situation, knowing the sand was quite soft in this area, my truck being a overweight pig and currently alone I reluctantly said there wasn't anything I could do. Apparently they had a tow truck on the way so I wished them the best and continued on my way. Honestly, it was a weird deal and didn't feel right and glad I got out of there. In all reality, probably over thinking it but better safe then sorry.

Now, the tricky part was figuring out how to get around and back onto the main trail. The sand was soft and covered in bushes and vegetation. I spent some time waking around and plotted out a path that wouldn't leave any sort of imprint other then tire tracks in the sand.

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Met up with the group on the other side of the highway and we made our way to Cottonwood Canyon Rd. The clouds we saw from a distance while driving around Mono Lake had intensified and were moving into our direct path. As we got closer the rain began - followed shortly by hail, then heavy downpour.

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Step 3 - Visit Bodie Ghost Town during a raging thunderstorm. Even with the thunderous weather the main parking lot was nearly full and a few brave souls were out walking around. The odds of getting struck by lightning and enjoying a nearly empty ghost town was a risk we were willing to take so we suited up and enjoyed the creepy ambiance.

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AlysonH

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Really loving this write up and the photos! Not sure if someone else asked, but what kind of camera are you using?
 

ExploreDesert

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Really loving this write up and the photos! Not sure if someone else asked, but what kind of camera are you using?
Thanks!

Got sucked into the Canon mirror-less lineup. Not the best and lots of compromises compared to other brands but the lenses are cheaper and kick ass. Most of the photos used here are done using the Tamron 18-200MM zoom since it's easy to get whatever focal length I need while on the move and the Rokinon 8MM for the super wide angle stuff and astrophotography. Bodie was shot using the Canon 11-22MM lens.

Nearly any camera with a couple decent lenses can produce awesome results. The more you use them, finding a great shot comes natural.178edee164a84f1c9b7705ffa5d.jpg
 
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4xFar Adventures

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That's a lot of glass! Is that your typical load out, or do you only take select lenses based on the trip?
 

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We got lost within Bodie - more time was spent among the relics then was originally intended. It's one of those places where the more you look the more you find. Every building and section of the town had something new and interesting that captivated us. What a time to be alive! Old mining equipment that's considered a thing of the past was once the latest and greatest. Empty streets were once bustling with people of all ages. The booming sound from the clouds would have instead originated from the giant mill rested against the mountainside. If time travel were possible, I'd absolutely love to come visit a town like this back at it's peak to talk, experience and live the life people once did.

Our extended stay meant we'd have to cut our trip through the Bodie Hills to Mosonic Mountain and the Chemung mine short, but I think it was a worthy trade-off. Even still, hopping onto pavement because it's "easier" is never an option for us, so a detour would still give us a taste of the remaining route. Couldn't have hit the trail at a better time! The rains left the dirt in the perfect state of being wet enough to keep down the dust, but dry enough to not make mud. Needless to say, we made really, really, REALLY good time to our turn off point - Aurora Canyon. :smiley_drive:

No time for fancy pictures as we were getting tired, hungry and racing the clock against the sun. Also, too much fun driving.

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Quick stop at Bodie Masonic Rd and Aurora Canyon intersection. This is looking down towards Bridgeport.

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Aurora Canyon Rd ends in-between the town and the reservoir of Bridgeport on highway 182 and only a couple miles from the 395. Our camping spot was to be in Copper Mountain northwest of Mono Lake. A series of trails leads up the ridge adjacent to Lundy Lake.

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The time we finally found a suitable area we were beat. Usually on our trips there is at least one day that's mentally and physically draining and today was it - at least for me it was. First thing after a long hours behind the wheel is a cold beverage, followed by getting the Tepui set up. From there it's time to relax, eat dinner and become memorized by the mediocre view.

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Saturday morning was a early start since we'd be making the haul back to Bishop for supplies in preparation for Coyote Flats. We made quick work of packing up camp and hitting the 395 south. Couldn't pass up Mahogany Meats along the way, although collectively we spend well over a couple hundred dollars on beef jerky. Worth it? Definitely.














Unfortunately, Ryan informed us that a family matter would put an end to continuing any further and would have to head home from this point. We were all pretty bummed, but at least it happened towards the end of the trip and many more adventures are to come. We said our good-byes and went our separate ways.

Dave and I took off, zig-zagging through the Bishop Reservation until we finally connected with Coyote Valley Rd and began the short lived slight incline to the foothills. From my research I knew that the ascent towards Coyote Flat was rather steep, but it wasn't until being there in person was it put into perspective on how quickly you get to the 9,500Ft level. Without a doubt - the vehicle and most importantly the cooling system need to be in top shape to make the climb. In testament to that, this climb made the mechanical fan on the Tacoma go to full lock a few times along the way - the first time I've ever heard it do so while driving.

It's not that it's extremely steep per-say, it's that it never ends...






(You can see the Volcanic Tablelands off in the distance)







Eventually the radical elevation gain begins to taper off as get into the upper valleys. Coyote Creek still had a fair amount of water running.








Coyote Valley Rd come's up to it's first split off at the 7S10 that heads south/south-east towards Baker Creek and Funnel Lake. It also continues straight via route 8S18. Since we were down to 2 vehicle and made some awesome time up the mountain we decided to go explore the area before finding a camp. That would also free up tomorrows scheduled and allow for a early departure back home.









We branched off the main route and turned south to check out Coyote "Lake". Ended up being dry so we continued to head north when the trail ended at a series of switch backs going up the mountain side. Not looking well traveled, off-camber, narrow and on loose shale rock we decided it would be in our best interest to go for it. Up we went.

Each one of those elements I'm not a big fan of. Add them together and it's a true butt-pucker experience. Add to the fact that we knew it ended and would have to turn around or back down. Fun.





 
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ExploreDesert

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This next portion I'm going to call "The Adventure of Dave's 4Runner". Rain, lots of driving and letting Dave take the lead didn't allow for much diversity with the photography.


We backtracked down past Coyote Lake and rejoined the main trail. At the spit off we took 31E303 to the top of the ridge and above the remaining snow line.








The distant clouds had made their way on top of us and brought varying severity of rain along along with them. Couldn't have asked for better timing - the small shelf road we were just on would have been that much more intense if the rock was slippery from the wet.






Creeping up to the 11,000ft mark a small group of deer where roadside. They didn't seem frightened and stayed put as we slowly drove by. From this point forward we saw numerous groups running through the trees - but not a single coyote. Maybe they should rename the area... :elkgrin:






We continued south-west toward a overlook of South Lake when it started pouring rain and the temperature dropped to about 52*. I didn't want to take the time to get the camera in it's protective rain sleeve and now regret it. The overlook at the end of the trail was epic! We soaked in the view before becoming drenched and made our way to the Lindner Prospect. All that remains is the collapsing ore bin, remnants of track and audits that have either collapsed or been blown shut.




Next up was backtracking a bit and exploring the 8S109 and the Schober Mine.










Looking back to the ridge and where Coyote Lake is located down in the valley.







The 168 to Lake Sebrina is visible in the distance.




Winding down through the trees an old cabin at would have been the Mill site for the mining operations.