Post Trip Recap: Bishop Creek Fall Colors 2011-Oct-01

Destination: Bishop Creek area lakes

Itinerary: South Lake area, Lake Sabrina, North Lake. (Google Map of my stops: here)

Departure time: 2:10am

Arrival home time: 10:07pm

In the 18 months or so since I’ve been more serious about photography, I’ve only been out to capture the Fall Foliage once, last year in Hope Valley, CA near Sorensen’s.   Since I have another trip schedule to the Eastern Sierra in just over a week to take my parents, it would be a good idea to do some reconnaissance.  The colors are just starting to come in and the hotbed of colors this weekend has been the lakes of Bishop Creek.  Even so, the colors are 50% in at best.

The original plan was to leave the house between 1:30 and 2:00am.  Google Maps had estimated travel time of 4.5 hours going through Yosemite’s Tioga Pass/Hwy 120 and then south on Hwy 395 past Mammoth, through Bishop, and up towards the lakes using West Line St/Hwy 168.  Since I tend to make good time driving, I didn’t worry took much about leaving a few minutes later than intended.  What I didn’t count on was having to drive through a monitored but still active fire near Tamarack Creek on Tioga Pass.  The speed limit was reduced to 25mph due to smoke on the road.  And what I thought were curiously placed Christmas lights was actually trees on fire.  So of course, I had to pause and take a few snapshots.  I really wished I was bold enough to setup my camera and tripod as it’s really a sight to see an entire tree trunk glowing red with occasional flames.

Even with the impromptu slowdown in Yosemite, I arrived in Bishop just after 6:30am.  With sunrise slated for less than 20 minutes away, I knew I had a chance of sunrise hitting the mountain peaks since the lakes are nestled between high slopes.  Driving out of Bishop and heading up the hill, the peaks briefly lit up with sunlight before going dark.  Then suddenly, it was as if the peaks were lit on fire as the sunrise finally hit in earnest.

South Lake Road, Bishop Creek
South Lake Road
South Lake Road
Parchers Resort

First up on the itinerary is South Lake.  I made it to the end of the road got out of the car to realize it was far too windy for decent photos.  Driving back down, I pulled into one of the mini-parking area above Parchers Resort and hiked along the Bishop Creek (South Fork) before making it back to the road right at Parchers.  There was decent color, but green still dominated.  Yellows and reds on the south side of the road with the most pleasing compositions made along the creek from that trail within the Resort.  I stopped at two more locations with color on the drive down the hill, but most of the color is still green with a mix along the cliffside.

Lake Sabrina

Next up was Lake Sabrina.  Decent color along the lake, about 50%.  It was very windy still and there was an equal mix of fishermen and photogs on site.  Most of the time there was waiting for the right light for each composition.  With the sun rather high in the sky, it was a waiting game for the occasional cloud to pass by and mute the light a bit.

North Lake Road

Less than a mile from Lake Sabrina is the turnoff for North Lake.  The road varies from single lane paved and unpaved with turnouts.  From the photos I had seen online from North Lake, I didn’t expect the lake to be so small.  Upon arriving, there are several reasons most photogs arrive early.  One, to catch the good light.  Two, the fishermen in waders and self-contained inner tubes take over later in the day.  I spent most of my time in the grove of aspens on the far side of the lake seen in most of the typical North Lake photos.  The aspens closest to the main parking area have reds but the majority is green or slightly turning yellow.  The rest of my stay was an attempt at photographing the tree shaded road.  This is also where the greatest frustration of the day occurred.  On more than one occasion, other photogs would see my set up for a shot but would literally walk into my shot to take their photos and we’re not talking about walking in, take a few shots, and leave.  It’s walking in without apologizing, setting up a tripod, taking shots, leaving the tripod in place (and in view of me) while going to change lenses.  This scenario occurred 3 consecutive times in one location and in between my wanting to get the sun behind some clouds, I actually stood by the side of the road for an hour without taking a shot.

Around 2pm, I headed back down to Bishop for a late lunch as breakfast bars and coffee didn’t do the trick.  Powering up the GPS, I searched for two well reviewed restaurants, Imperial Chinese Gourmet and Erick Schat’s Bakkery.  Funny thing was as I was about to turn left from W. Line St. to N. Main St., what did I see?  Mountain Light Gallery.

Now I had seen mentions of Mountain Light on various blogs, but didn’t read into the significance of it.  Even walking in and seeing all of those beautiful Galen Rowell prints framed up on the wall, it didn’t hit me.  Even after seeing book upon book of Galen’s, it still didn’t hit me.  It was only after seeing a display of newspaper and magazine articles of and by Galen and seeing his personal affects, did I realize this is Galen and Barbara Rowell’s gallery and where they ran their business until their deaths in a plane crash in 2002.  Being able to see his large photographs up close and being able to read his comments about those photos is really inspirational and uplifting.

Erick Schat Bakkery, Logo
Mule Kick Sandwich

After being re-inspired by Mountain Light, I stopped by Erick Schat Bakkery, a well-known Dutch bakery.  I brought my point-and-shoot camera but was greeted with a no video and photo sign upon entering.  No matter, I was hungry.  I made a beeline to the sandwich counter and ordered a Mule Kick sandwich.  Think roast beef stacked high with sprouts and jalapeno peppers along with the standard fixings.  Delicious.  Once I stopped the hunger, I walked back in to check out the other offerings.  The bakery is divided into two main sections: sweets and all things bread.  Less than $10 later, I had a bag with a container of mini coconut macaroons, a loaf of their famous Sheepherders Bread, and a loaf of their Beer Bread.

Hwy 395, Convict Lake Area

Rejuvenated and inspired, I headed back up Hwy 395 towards Yosemite to catch sunset at Olmsted Point along Tioga Road.  I stopped the car twice along the way, once when I drove up and out of the Owens Valley and saw sunlight filtering through clouds over Basin Mountain creating what’s called God’s fingers and the second time when storm clouds hovered around the mountains surrounding Convict Lake.

Half Dome from Olmsted Point
Half Dome from Olmsted Point

Maybe it was dumb luck or Galen’s spirit giving me a hand, but I made it to Olmsted Point was less than 10 minutes to spare for the sunset show, and boy was it a show.  As I got out of the car, the last direct light was hitting the trees above the parking area and it would have made some good photographs.  By the time I had my gear, the light was gone.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the main reason I was there.  I was there to hopefully catch alpenglow on the face of Half Dome.  The clouds were in the right place, uniform but open to the west.  Half Dome was dark.  Then as if a dimmer were slowly being switched on, an orange glow begins appear at Half Dome’s base.  Over the course of 7 minutes, the entire face of Half Dome is lit with the warm glow usually only seen when the sun is below the horizon but the light is bounced off the clouds.  And then it was gone.  I spent a few more minutes photographing the red-lit clouds in the area – last exposure, 6:54pm.  I finally packed up my gear and headed for home.

Websites used for this trip:

All photos. October 01, 2011. © Copyright 2011 Steven Tze – all rights reserved.

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