Sierra Eastside Adventures: Bishop, Mono Lake and Bodie

May 14th, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

First An Update on Philip Hyde at Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery

By 5 pm Friday, May 7, thanks to hard work by the Mountain Light Gallery staff, the Philip Hyde Exhibition was up. Kevin, the gallery operations manager and I started laying the show out at 7:30 am. The layout went quickly, the hanging took longer, but in one day Kevin and Janet, the framer, put more than 50 large 16X20 matted prints on the wall.

Sierra Wave Cloud, Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 1967 by Philip Hyde. Nationally toured to major museums, libraries and other venues as part of "At Mono Lake Exhibition" that helped raise awareness that the City of Los Angeles was depleting this one of a kind lake and threatening endagered and unique bird and aquatic species. The people of Los Angeles led the response to the campaign to restore the water supply of Mono Lake. Today the lake is rising steadily toward its historic elevation. Mono Lake is already 12 feet higher than its low point in the early 1980s.

That evening Bishop hosted a local art walk that had not been scheduled when we booked our show. Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery was open and many people coming through could see the prints of Philip Hyde up and getting their final leveling, enough to get interested to return the next night for the opening reception. Galen Rowell’s daughter Nicole Rowell-Ryan and her husband Ray Ryan drove up from the Central Valley and we talked about Galen Rowell and Philip Hyde. As the art walk began, Janet invited me to stop by the Pilates studio where she teaches body work. The Pilates studio had a group playing live music: hammer dulcimer, banjo, guitar, acoustic base and good singers. I told everyone about the Philip Hyde opening the following night. It was heart-warming to find out that many people had heard of Philip Hyde. The banjo player even had a copy of Slickrock at home.

The opening at Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery on Saturday night started out slow, but after about an hour the gallery filled with people. Barbara Laughon, Mountain Light Gallery public relations, said that the turnout was even larger than when they had a contest of photographers from the area and the gallery workshops. I spoke for about 30-40 minutes about Mom and Dad, their travels and the part Dad’s photography played in the establishment of a number of national parks and wilderness areas of the American West. The talk seemed well-received and people stuck around afterward to ask questions and chat. Camille in sales said that she was very busy ringing people up all evening. She said that evening they did not sell any Philip Hyde prints but one had already sold before the prints even made it to the premises.

Night Soft-Focus Industrial Photographs

Night Shadows, County Yard Near Bishop, California, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Hand held Nikon D90.

By a little before 10:00 pm I said my goodbyes and hit the road. I felt a little sad to be leaving having had an enjoyable time meeting everyone. I drove about an hour up to Mono Lake to catch the sunrise the next morning. On the way up the big grade between Bishop and the Mammoth Lakes turnoff, I spotted the same Mono County Construction Yard I had noticed on the way into town on Thursday night. The steel machinery and industrial forms were interesting lit up at night. I stopped and jumped the fence to make some hand-held-soft-focus-night photographs. Fortunately either the surveillance thought I was harmless or they were not paying attention as I made over 20 images.

Mono Lake Back Roads

I drove through Lee Vining to the Mono Basin National Forest Visitor’s Center to check the hours. It did not open until 9:00 am, which would give me time to photograph in the early morning. I drove back a few miles south of Lee Vining to the turnoff for South Tufa. In the dark I must have missed the turnoff because I drove for many miles until the road entered a woods and was climbing noticeably. Once I turned around, in a few miles I saw Mono Lake Mills historic marker on the right. I pulled off and noticed a small road going down toward Mono Lake. The main road seemed to parallel the lake shore and never get any closer.

At first I thought I would go just a short distance to find a secluded place for the night. However, the road smoothed out and headed straight for the lake shore that I could now see more distinctly in the distance under star light. I drove toward Mono Lake for some time, but then the road veered to the right to parallel the lake shore again. I decided to stop, hit the hay and find out what to do in the morning. The next morning I could see that the road I was on did seem generally to go to the lake even though it jogged back and forth in other directions a few times. The road gradually became alternately rougher and more sandy, it had turned into a 4X4 road, not meant for an old Ford Van with two-wheel-drive. I kept going until the track started down steeper into the Mono Lake basin. By then I was getting bogged down in the sand even going downhill. I imagined that coming back up would be next to impossible. The one consolation was that strangely enough I had good cell phone service way out there. I imagined that I would probably spend most of the day either digging myself out of the sand or calling a tow truck. Hopefully there was one in Lee Vining.

Morning Shadows, Mono Lake, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Hand held Nikon D90. I have been visiting Mono Lake for over 40 years but this was the first time I photographed it.

The track became even smaller and degraded into mainly sand. I kept looking for a good place to turn around but found none where the ground was hard enough in a large enough area for the van. Finally there was a wide place that looked like it had enough foliage on top of the sand to provide enough traction to turn around. It did not. I got about half way turned around and the back wheels started to dig in. Fortunately in the van I carry a small Army issue shovel that my parents had carried through all their travels. They taught me at a young age to use a shovel for going to the bathroom in the wilderness. It also came in handy for burying fires and organic garbage. Fortunately the Mono Lake sand did have a harder bottom down six inches or so and the sand itself was more like fine gravel, quite grainy and not completely soft. Also, I had recently put on four brand-new tires. As my two back wheels dug in, I stopped before the axel was buried. The sun was just hitting the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance and lighting up the Tufa and the far shores of Mono Lake. I abandoned the van and ran with camera in hand the remaining half mile or so to the lake shore.

Forgetting my vehicle troubles, I photographed while it was still very cold. The grasses were still brown, matted and showing signs that the snow had just melted away. The marshes were still soaked with melt water into which I sunk up to mid-calf. I had to keep moving to not sink in further.  After exhausting the photographic possibilities, I waded and sloshed back to my poor old van. I rested for a time then got back outside for the digging. By then it had warmed up and I was sweating as I shoveled the sand away. There actually wasn’t that much shoveling to do before I tried to get the van going. I was able to get out of the self-made hole and got going up the road. The trick to the road was that if you went too fast you would get bounced sky-high when you hit the ups and downs of the rougher areas. On the other hand, if you went too slow, you would bog down and stall out in the deep sand. I definitely bogged down a few times and bounced very high a few times, not to mention scraping the side of the van some on the close Junipers, sage brush and other desert growth along the road. However, I was amazed that I somehow miraculously made it past the worst of the uphill deep sand and up to the solid ground. I thought for certain I would lose a day waiting around for AAA to bail me out of my predicament.

At the Mono Basin National Forest Visitors Center I introduced myself. The desk staff pointed me to the back exhibit room where my father’s 1967 black and white print of the Sierra Wave Cloud is prominently displayed as part of the At Mono Lake Exhibition with photographs by Ansel Adams, Brett Weston, Philip Hyde, Timothy O’Sullivan, Edward Curtis, Al Weber, Ted Orland, Don Worth Dave Bohn, Robert Dawson, Clinton Smith, Stephen Johnson and others. At Mono Lake toured the country to help raise awareness to save Mono Lake. This early 1980s campaign will be the subject of another blog post. I met Deb and Lou Main who work at the Mono Basin Visitors Center. Deb Main is a photographer. Lou told me that many prominent photographers come through regularly to photograph Mono Lake. I told Lou Main that I was thinking of heading up to the ghost town of Bodie Historic State Park. My dad photographed Bodie with a group of his classmates from the California School of Fine Art in 1949.

A Hiking Quest For The Ghost Town Of Bodie

Window, Bodie Historic State Park, California, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

Lou said that Bodie Historic State Park did close at 4:00 pm and the sign at the entrance said the hours were strictly enforced. However, as a general rule, if I was just photographing and minding my own business, not barging into buildings or messing with anything, they would probably let me walk around and photograph after closing. Lou said that the main road was not open all the way in that time of year as there was still snow on the ground in the ghost town of Bodie. He said it would be about 1/3 mile walk each way. The mistake I made was to take the road along Mono Lake toward Hawthorne, Nevada, rather than to go in the main entrance to Bodie farther north off of U. S. Highway 395. From the route to Hawthorne, a back road to Bodie winds up through the hills and appears on a map to be shorter than the main entrance road, especially from along Mono Lake. On the map, the two roads look like they might meet near Bodie anyway. As it turned out, they did not come together until right at the entrance station. Meanwhile, the back entrance road gave me reason to worry right away.

About two miles in, a sign said, “Road Closed.” I considered for a moment that my father would have turned around at that point. He was generally a law-abiding citizen, unless there was a good reason, advantage or point to be made by breaking the law. I have never had any reason to break any serious laws to speak of in a manner that would get me caught. However, when it comes to adventure, I have rarely let a little thing like a few signs or road statutes get in the way. Considering I had already come close to 20 miles from the main highway and only had about ten more to get to Bodie according to the map, I decided to keep going and see why the road was closed. The sun was sinking toward the horizon. It was some time after 5:00 pm, the temperature was dropping and the wind had been very gusty all day. There were no gates but as the dirt road climbed, more and more snow appeared on it and runoff flowed down it, turning it to a muddy morass in places and at the least full of ruts in others. Along the hillsides, football to beach ball sized rocks had tumbled into the road. Lou Main at the Mono Lake Visitor Center said that the state park service had announced the main entrance would be open in about a week. He said that even though it had been an extra-heavy snow year, the snow had been melting fast recently. Just the previous week, the whole town of Bodie had still been under snow.

Fire House And Mine, Bodie Historic State Park, California, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

Up, up the trusty old van climbed past slippery sliding rutted and rock strewn road sections. Finally just as I began to see mine tailing piles and signs of perhaps an approaching town, there was a solid iron gate across the road. ‘Okay, no problem,’ I thought. ‘I can hike from here. It will only be 1/3 of a mile.’ I bundled up with as many layers as I had, wool hat, gloves and my camera. It was May 10, but it was also around 8,000 foot elevation and had just snowed lightly that afternoon.  As I stepped out of the van I might as well have been wearing a T-shirt because the howling wind went right through everything. I had on my long-haul Vasque hiking boots, the ones built for mileage.

The road on the other side of the gate wound around the mountain out of sight. Hundreds of fresh footprints reassured me I was doing the right thing and would be in wonderful historic Bodie soon, just around the bend. I rounded the bend and the road kept going up, up, and up. Finally after at least half a mile, already farther than the 1/3 mile promised, it began to sink in that I had not come in the main entrance. I was taking another road and who knows how far that gate would prove to be from Bodie. I came to the top of a rise in the road. Before me stretched a high desert valley and far away in the distance, there was the ghost town of Bodie. It was hard to judge the distance but I have done a lot of walking in my life. My guess was that it probably was at least another mile and a half, if not two miles to Bodie from where I stood.

Bodie Hotel Bar, Bodie Historic State Park, California, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

I looked down at the road and saw that most of my friendly companion footprints had deserted me at the top of the hill and turned around. However, I was there to photograph and the sun was getting lower all the time. I guessed it would go down on Bodie in about 45 minutes to an hour. There was no time to run back down to the van, drive forty miles around to the other entrance and then hike another 1/3 mile. I had to press on even though I was dead tired and my hands were literally numb. I knew I would have to mingle with ghosts and then hike back in the falling dark. I shrugged it off and said to myself, ‘I used to jog that far every day on purpose. Maybe I’ll just move my camera around under my arm and take a little jog.’ So that’s what I did.

At about 6:30 pm I arrived at the entrance to Bodie where the sign says, “Open 8:00 to 4:00 pm, Hours Strictly Enforced.” I walked right past the entrance and into the streets shutters blazing. I had about 15 minutes of sun. As the sun went down, the sky began to light up in various oranges against the dark stormy mood that had prevailed most of the day. Even after the sun set, a glow lingered and gave me a beautiful, soft light for photographing. I wonder if many photographers dare to capture sundown at Bodie with that foreboding sign up front. I was shivering and my hands were numb in the wind, but I hurried on in case I was kicked out any moment. I made a lot of exposures quickly. I am not sure my photographs do that amazing evening justice, but seeing Bodie in that light alone, without any photographs, was well-worth the hike. In a little while it became unbearably cold and when the oranges and reds faded from the sky, I decided to begin the return hike while I still had light.

Looking South From Entrance to Bodie, California, 2010 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

I passed the entrance station and began making my way up the long road to the top of the hill where I had first surveyed the scene. I had gone about 100 yards when a state park truck came over the horizon on the main entrance road. I moved smoothly on up the other road and either he or she did not see me, or did not bother to follow and interrogate me. I felt so uplifted, light and inspired, especially once I was able to put my hands deep into my pockets and get them warm again. The hike and jog back went very quickly. I even made it to the van before it was completely dark and made it out past the closed sign before any more rocks fell off the hills. As I pulled onto the road to Hawthorne, this time headed for U.S. 395 and home, I breathed a sigh of relief and elation.

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12 comments

  1. Richard Wong says:

    Wow. That sounds like quite the weekend adventure!

    I had a similar experience with taking the wrong road to Mono Lake in my 2WD. I ended up having to do a stream-crossing which further damaged a prior-damaged part of the car.

    At Bodie, my friend and I got yelled at over the broadcast system for taking photos from a neighboring hill past the main entrance at sunset. We weren’t even in the park. The rangers there are total a. h.’s.

  2. Hi Richard. Wow, I guess I was very fortunate in both places. It may be that the Bodie State Park Ranger pickup that came over the hill after I had gotten well out of the town, may have been the only Ranger on duty or around at that hour that time of year. I suspected as much but there were several vehicles parked around town both civilian and official, so I was not sure. Two cars were parked at one house that looked occupied too. I guess I just figured I would keep photographing as long as I could, which amazingly was as long as the light held. I would have given them an earful anyway about the lack of warning signs about the road closure down on the main road and so on. I had a whole pack of verbiage I was planning to unleash if they tried to stop me from photographing, including asking for the Chief Ranger whose name they gave me at the Mono lake Visitor’s Center. Probably would not have done any good though. Whew, glad I did not have to have that encounter.

  3. Derrick says:

    What an excellent adventure!

  4. Thank you, Derrick.

  5. I enjoyed reading your travel tale, David. Your pictures are lovely. Next time you give a gallery talk, you should tape it and put the video on your blog. I would love to hear it.

    Sharon

  6. That is a great idea, thank you Sharon. Will do. I need to at least tape record them because each has been totally different so far.

  7. Amy says:

    What a great adventure!

  8. Greg Russell says:

    David, sorry for the late reply to this post–we recently returned from a family camping trip to the eastern Sierra. I wanted to tell you that we stopped in at the Mountainlight Gallery on our way through Bishop…everything looks great!

    Hope all is well for you.
    Cheers,
    Greg

  9. Thank you, Greg. Glad you liked the show. I saw your amazing Mono Lake landscapes from your recent trip. The blue night photograph when all the other photographers left and gave you strange looks for setting up, is one of the best photographs I have seen of Mono Lake in a long time. Regarding the Mountain Light Gallery Philip Hyde Show, please share which print(s) was your favorite of the new releases and overall? Which did your wife like?

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