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 Larkspur (Delphinium glaucum).

Mountain Larkspur (Delphinium glaucum).

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.


  1. Your visit reminds me that maybe it's probably time to reread The Land of Little Rain. I remember enjoying it but it's been so long I don't remember much of what I was enjoying... Ah old age. Anyway, I hope you're coming well enough with the health issues. There's nothing wrong with slowing down when life tells you to. As far as the plants, I'm struck by how few of the ones you show I know. Most of the genuses are familiar, but not the particular species. And once again you've proved something I've said to others before, that I've never met a manzanita I didn't like. A. patula looks like another gorgeous species.

  2. I saw your comment over at Lisa and Robb, that's why you have dropped off my radar lately.

    Your orange splatter is a particular sort of lichen? Enjoying the water spray?

  3. When you come back, it's with a bang. I treat each of your posts like a little book, and read a chapter at a time. This one will keep me busy for awhile. Stay well. Thanks for your comments over yonder, and love to Hana.

  4. Thanks, James - I, too am gearing up for a rereading of The Land of Little Rain. Mary Austin was such a great advocate of the land & peoples of the American Southwest. She was also idiosyncratic, complicated and conflicted in her own personal life. A fascinating woman. The A. patula is indeed another gorgeous specimen of manzanita - my photos don't do them justice. I bought a 1-gallon from Las Pilitas nursery last year, but it didn't survive our summer. Will try again this fall.

    Elephant's Eye, you're probably right - it didn't occur to me that the orange splatter could be lichen! I'm likin' your lichen theory!

    Karin, you're da bomb! And, I'm doing ok so far:) Thinking of Phoebe - I'll bet she, Yuki and all our beloved pets of yore are having a blast up in poochie heaven...

  5. That sounds like a wonderful trip - love the pictures of the flowers.

    Glad you're health is improving. Looking forward to more blog posts - I just don't have time for Facebook.

  6. Gil's satyr pose made me laugh out loud...I did have to look twice to see Hana lurking back there. I'm impressed you found so much in bloom! I love all the paintbrush blossoms, and you still found columbine in flower in August too. I just planted a couple...I hope they make it. I think of all the flowers you've shown here, the only other one that resides in my garden is the sulfur buckwheat, and I absolutely love it. Seems hardier than the rosy buckwheat planted nearby, and the blooms are more prolific too. I really need to get out more next season and see some of these wildflowers, in the wild!

  7. Thanks, Town Mouse! I know what you mean about Facebook. If you both blog and Facebook, it can take up a lot of time, but I must say that FB is a great way to reconnect with old friends, classmates and family that might not otherwise find you through the blogosphere.

    Clare, you should have good luck with columbine. I planted one about 3 years ago in a planter bed, and it's come back stronger and more floriferous every year and has even gently reseeded (there are 6 of them now in the same planter). I would so love to grow many of the plants we've come across in our Sierra trips, but alas, many don't adapt very well to our lower elevation climes. However, the few that I have grown successfully include Great Basin Sagebrush, Fireweed, Sulfur Buckwheat, Blue Elderberry, and Cow Parsnip (needs lots of water and partial shade down here). Hope you'll get to make it out to some great wildflower destinations next year!

  8. Beautiful images, as always!

    As for the health thing. Don't listen to doctors who tell you that would won't be able to do such-and-such anymore. Prove them wrong! Seriously. It's really important to keep moving, and push up against limitations.

  9. Our little local library, which is definitely hit and miss on the books I seek, has Land of Little Rain. I'll pick it up today.

  10. Lisa, I will prove them wrong! And Robb has been through a lot more than me, so I take great inspiration from his courage & tenacity. I'll be damned if I can't keep moving like I use to :)

  11. Karin, I think you'll enjoy Mary Austin's writings. In her personal life she was complicated, conflicted, impassioned, perhaps a tad of a hypochondriac, and eccentric. Great combo for a writer...Btw, 'Mary Austin and the American West' by Susan Goodman & Carl Dawson (2008 UC Press) is a decent bio in case you want to know more about her life & times.

  12. Wonderful post. I really enjoyed the vistas and the wildflowers. Assuming you were writing about black bears, not grizzlies, it all seemed a little over the top but on reflection those west coast bears must be much more habituated to people and cars than their countrified cousins in Minnesota north woods and boundary waters canoe country. :)

  13. troutbirder, yes - I was writing about black bears. They are especially problematic in popular destinations like Yosemite National Park, where people (along with the tons of food, beverages, and other 'edible' goodies they bring with them) abound. Wish we had your countrified bear cousins here in Cali!

  14. LOVE your comment about bears. i am from the mojave so rattlesnakes are a delightful sight for photographing.

    bears scare me to death. the one time i camped in bear country i was so nervous did not sleep well at all.

    love your blog. i was looking for the names of some of the wildflowers i photographed and your page was a great help.


    1. Hi Lara! Yes indeed - give me a rattlesnake anytime over bears or even mountain lions! We just came back from another Eastern Sierra trip with our two Akitas, Addy & Sasha, but didn't see any bears this time, just sheep, cows and deer. I took WAY too many pictures, so have just started posting some of them on my travel blog "Western Sojourns." Glad some of my wildflower pics were of help to you!

      All the best,