Saturday, October 15, 2011

Eastern Sierras: Onion Valley & Independence

I've been lagging for awhile now, in both my blog postings and also in perusing my fav bloggers' postings (although I've continued to post on Facebook, as the entries there don't take much effort and are generally short & sweet). 

I've hit a bit of a rough patch lately due to health issues, but nothing insurmountable. No 'woe is me' BS, though, cuz life is good, life goes on, and there are a lot of other folks out there worse off than me. Never underestimate the power of love, family and prayer!

Now on to the next leg of our summer vacay in the Eastern Sierras, which I had intended to post over a month and a half ago. After hitting South Lake & Lake Sabrina from Bishop on August 14th, we headed up to Onion Valley (Independence region) the next day. The best time for summer wildflower viewing here is in July, so we were a tad late in the season, but the Mountain Larkspur, Sierra Angelica, Fireweed, and a few others were still in primo bloom. Here are the highlights of our excursion:

8/15/11 Onion Valley Road. 

From the town of Independence off Hwy. 395, Onion Valley Rd. ascends about 5,000 feet to 9,200 feet to the parking area at the end of the road (about a 15-mile drive), where a Forest Service campground and several popular wilderness trailheads are located. 

Elaine, Gil & I camped here back in July of 2000 - an amazingly beautiful setting surrounded by Aspens & pines, with the roar of Independence Creek in the backdrop and  a view of several (we saw three) waterfalls cascading down from the surrounding peaks. 

The only downside to that trip was our constant paranoia about the bears. We have a lot of experience desert camping and wouldn't bat an eye if we saw a rattlesnake, scorpion or Coyote. But bears?? We never saw no freakin' bears in Death Valley or the Mojave! Here in Onion Valley, however, it seemed that we were accosted by signs at turn and corner in the campground, warning us of the perils of not putting EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING EDIBLE OR THAT HAS AN IOTA OF FRAGRANCE TO IT far far away from your campsite, preferably in the next County, or at least in one of those supposedly impenetrable metal bear boxes. So after dinner, I remember we hastily threw all our food, utensils, toiletries, etc. into said bear lockers and then donned our impromptu hazmat suits to cleanse and purify our campsite before bedtime. Still uneasy though, we decided to tie a bunch of bear bells on a clothesline and rigged it around our tent as an early warning system in case a bear decided to encroach on our sleeping quarters. Last but not least, we collectively downed a couple bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon as a night cap to take the edge off our general edginess. Well, needless to say, the night passed without incident, but we woke up with raging migraines the next day. Moral of the story: when in bear country, just use common sense and the bear lockers as recommended, have fun, and don't spend the entire time obsessing about bears; most importantly, NEVAH EVAH BOOZE IT UP when camping out at high elevations!

Onion Valley Road.

Greenleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula). This manzanita carpets a large portion of the high montane chaparral along Onion Valley Road.

Greenleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula). Onion Valley Road.

Onion Valley Road.

Greenleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula). Onion Valley Road.

Per Sue Irwin's California's Eastern Sierra, A Visitor's Guide, "Onion Valley...offers a unique opportunity to see seven different pine species growing within a few miles of one another. Five species can be seen at the roadend in Onion Valley. Foxtail, limber, lodgepole and a few whitebark pines grow together in the campground; nearby, on the rocky slope traversed by the Kearsarge Pass Trail, stand some large Jeffrey Pines. Pinyon pine becomes the dominant conifer a short distance below Onion Valley, and a stand of ponderosa pine-unusual in the Eastern Sierra-thrives at Seven Pine Grove, located where Onion Valley Road crosses Independence Creek about eight miles below the roadend."

 Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum). 

Great Red Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata). 

Corn Lily (Veratrum californicum). 

Inyo Meadow Lupine (Lupinus pratensis var. pratensis).

Sierra Rein Orchid (Platanthera leuchostachys). 

Gil & Hana surrounded by Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) next to Independence Creek. 

Bear scat, down near the creek!!

Hana checking out a tree (probably smells like a bear's been there). Unfortunately, this shot also makes Gil look like an oddly-shaped satyr with a fluffy tail and two front paws...

Hana, cooling her paws in Independence Creek.

Independence Creek. That orange-hued splatter art on the rock is pretty cool, but I have to wonder, is it natural or man-made?

The ubiquitous Great Basin Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).

 Goat's Beard/Yellow Salsify (Tragopogon dubius). 

Parking area at road end of Onion Valley Road. Onion Valley is named for the Swamp Onion (Allium vallidum), with it's beautiful magenta-hued flowers, which grows in abundance here. Oh, yeah, and den dere's da bears...a ranger once told us that if we decided to forgo the bear lockers and leave our foodstuffs and/or toiletries in our vehicle, we may as well leave the windows rolled down so they could just climb in and out at will - otherwise, these guys will readily tear out your windows or windshield to get to the goodies. And don't think they won't go after the beer in your cooler, either!

8/15/11 Gil and Hana in the backdrop of a nice stand of Sierra Angelica (Angelica liniariloba).

Sulfur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum).

Gil, trying to find his way into the Snow Survey shelter. If I weren't around, he'd probably try to break the padlock.

Wright's Buckwheat (Eriogonum wrightii). Lots of this buckwheat in bloom all along Onion Valley Road and up through the trailheads at the road end. 

Corn Lilies a bit past their prime. The Mountain Larkspurs (Delphinium glaucum), however, were in full bloom with many towering at over 6' tall! 

Corn Lilies (Veratrum californicum).

Tinker's Penny (Hypericum anagalloides).

Brewer's Fleabane (Erigeron brewerii).

Sierra Angelica (Angelica linearloba).

Got it...keep it wild. No problemo.

Hmmm...okay then! The intelligence quotient of these ursine critters is slightly perturbing...

Now, that's just patently freaky!

Blue Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana).

Mountain Gooseberry (Ribes montigenum). Kearsarge Pass trailhead.

Wyoming Paintbrush (Castilleja linariifolia). 

Hikers descending Kearsarge Pass trail.

 Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum). 

Mountain Marsh Larkspur (Delphinium polycladon).

Mountain Marsh Larkspur (Delphinium polycladon).

Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa).

 Blue Mantle (Eriastrum densiflorum). Lower elevations of Onion Valley Road.

Fremont's Bushmallow (Malacothamnus fremontii). Lower elevations of Onion Valley Rd.

Prickly Poppy (Argemone munita). Lower elevations of Onion Valley Rd.

Bridge's Penstemon (Penstemon rostriflorus).

Bridge's Gilia? (Gilia leptalea). Lower elevations of Onion Valley Rd.

Lower elevation of Onion Valley Road, with Prickly Poppies (Argemone munita) in bloom.

On our way back from Onion Valley through Independence, we stopped by Mary Austin's home on 253 Market St. (corner of Webster of Main Streets). Mary Austin was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, best know for her first book (1903) The Land of Little Rain, a collection of essays about the peoples, plants, and animals of the Eastern Sierras and arid desert regions of California. 

Mary Austin's home. For years (our first visit here was in July 2000), the house has been closed to the public. It looks like there's been some renovation and I'm guessing it's under private ownership now, but I sure hope they'll open it up one day to visitors.

Hana, looking alert from the neighbor's poochies barking (probably at her).

Large willow tree at Mary Austin's home.

Mary Austin's home. 

Post Office in Independence. You can tell this little town is patriotic!

Historic Inyo County Courthouse (built in 1869) in Independence, still in operation today.