Saturday, August 13, 2016

EASTERN & CENTRAL SIERRAS: Summer Vacation July 5, 2016 (Day 4: Grant Lake - June Lake Loop - Parker Bench - Convict Lake)

Day four of our Eastern Sierra vacation summer was just as fantabulous as the previous three days. Weather was perfect - sunny and mild (mid to upper 60s in the montane areas) and the fur babies were generally well behaved (that is, until we got back to Convict Lake -will explain later). On the agenda today was June Lake Loop to Parker Bench. 

June Lake Loop (Hwy. 158) was a short 20 mile drive from Convict Lake via Hwy. 395N. Btw, trip note: No wifi at all along this section of 395, but the made-to-order chile verde breakfast burritos at the June Lake Junction Shell station were deeelicious! Diet food it ain't, but who's counting calories when you're trekking around?


Enroute to Parker Bench, we passed by June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake, and finally, Grant Lake. A serendipitous stop at Grant Lake Overlook brought us to an interesting expanse of grassy fields adjacent to Rush Creek, which flows into Grant  Lake. Of course, when we first saw the creek overhead from Grant Lake Overlook, I had no idea that it was Rush Creek. Google is da bomb!


Rush Creek, which runs a little over 27 miles, is the largest creek in the Mono Basin that eventually feeds into Mono Lake. It's part of the long, contentious history of water diversions by the LADWP in the Eastern Sierras, but after lawsuits by Audubon, Mono Lake Committee, and other concerned parties, a lot of the habitat is now slowly being restored. 


Next stop, Parker Bench. I'd never heard of Parker Bench until I came across it in the Bureau of Land Management's publication Wildflower Hotspots of the Eastern Sierra. Here's the description:



Parker Bench area is situated between the beautiful June Lake Loop and the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area. One of the more stunning aspects of this area is the stark contrast between adjacent landscapes. To the west is the Sierra Nevada, with its massive rocky peaks with scattered aspen groves over an ever-changing scene as they progress from summer green to autumn gold to silver-black against the winter snow. Creeks flowing out from the canyon mouths are lined with lodgepole and Jeffrey pine, aspen, and willows, tracing a line through the sagebrush slopes and valleys. They follow the base of the glacial moraines, piles of rubble left behind as the glaciers retreated thousands of years ago.

Turn to the east and you are faced with another land—some say more lunar in appearance. The light-colored Mono Craters stand tall above the sagebrush basin, lined up as if sinking into or rising out of the lake. Note the stark contrast of Paoha and Negit islands in Mono Lake: Paoha with its glaring-white alkali soils, Negit with its dark volcanic rock. Add the changing hues and gemlike quality of the lake itself, and it is a landscape unlike any other.


Living History

Take some time to wander through one of the many quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) stands in the area. Feel the smooth white bark of the aspen trees. Its smooth bark made an excellent carving surface for Basque sheepherders that herded in this area beginning in the late 1800s. The names, dates, poetry, and images of these “arborglyphs” help us understand the history of these people and their summer wanderings in the Eastern Sierra. This record is now disappearing, as aspen trees typically live only up to 100 years. Basque carvings were done carefully to prevent injury to the tree. 

I have to say that I was a bit disappointed that the blooms were not as prolific here as I'd hoped they'd be and/or they were past prime. July is usually primo time for wildflower viewing in the high Sierras, but I think because the ersatz, so-called Godzilla El Nino of 2015-2016 didn't quite materialize throughout California as promised and prognosticated by many of our celebrity TV meteorologists, the bonanza I had been hoping for was just meh. Nonetheless, it was fun four-wheeling it up Parker Lake Road. We initially missed the turnoff as we headed north on June Lake Loop from Grant Lake, but after passing the Mono Craters marker, I knew something was amiss. After consulting our trusty map, we u-turned back down the road and eventually found the sign for Parker Lake Road. Parker Lake Road is unpaved and, although slightly washboardy, is quite passable for a conventional 2WD vehicle, as long as you don't drive like you're on a NASCAR track. After a leisurely 3-mile drive, we reached the road end at Parker Lake Trailhead. The views here were stunning and endless: snow-capped Sierra peaks on one side, and Mono Lake on the other. We wandered around a bit near the trailhead but opted not to hike to Parker Lake this time, especially with our very furry fur babies in tow,  since it was warming up and there was no shade in sight. We'll be back one day, though, to do the trek.

We arrived back at Convict Lake around 6pm and decided to walk the dogs around the lake, as we hadn't ventured out there at all since checking in the day before. I thought the babies would be calm, zen, and all pooped out after a day of adventuring. But, NOOOO - Sasha got some weird hair up her fluffy butt and decided she wanted to bark at everyone and anything that passed us by on the trail around the lake. Then Addy decided he wanted to join in - so now we had two akitas STEREO BARKING!!! Bad bad! Anyhoo and needless to say, we cut the walk short and drove back to the cabin. Highlight of the evening was seeing a deer outside of our cabin around 7:15pm. We saw a deer, probably the same one, earlier this morning at 7:30am, which triggered a volley of barking from the Sasha meister. But since it was her first deer sighting, I decided to cut her some slack. Addy, as usual, couldn't care less...



Heading out from Convict Lake at 8:00am to June Lake Loop (Hwy. 158), about 20 miles from the resort. 
A beautiful, clear, comfy 64F this morning. 


Charming village of June Lake. 

Continuing NW on Hwy. 158 (June Lake Loop) towards Grant Lake.

This stop was not on the itinerary, but very cool. We pulled off on Grant Lake Overlook and saw
below us a large field of billowy grasses near a sizable creek flowing towards Grant Lake. 
Gil found a dirt track that seemed to lead down towards the creek, (Rush Creek, according to the map) 
so we four-wheeled a short distance to that location. Surprising, there were a couple RV's parked nearby and, 
despite the rather  monochromatic expanse of grasses in the area, there were actually quite a few 
flowers blooming, with the showiest being being Silvery Lupine and Hooker's Evening Primrose. 


Hooker's Evening Primrose (Oenothera elata ssp. hirsutissima)
Near Rush Creek below Grant Lake Overlook

Silvery Lupine (Lupinus argenteus var. heteranthus)
Near Rush Creek below Grant Lake Overlook

Silvery Lupine (Lupinus argenteus var. heteranthus)
Near Rush Creek below Grant Lake Overlook

Addy, the Michael Phelps of Akitas, staring wistfully at Rush Creek.






Rush Creek below Grant Lake Overlook

Grasses aren't my thing, so I'm not sure what these guys are - who knows if they're even native. 
It's kinda like trying to ID immature gulls (which all look the same to me) or DYCs (those damned yellow composites) 


Rush Creek below Grant Lake Overlook

Hooker's Evening Primrose (Oenothera elata ssp. hirsutissima)
Near Rush Creek below Grant Lake Overlook


Tansyleaf Evening Primrose (Oenothera tanacetifolia)
Near Rush Creek below Grant Lake Overlook

Cushion Cryptantha (Cryptantha circumscissa)
Near Rush Creek below Grant Lake Overlook

Creeping Sibbaldia (Sibbaldia procumbens)
Near Rush Creek below Grant Lake Overlook

Grant Lake Overlook off Hwy. 158 (June Lake Loop)


Grant Lake

Grant Lake


Mono Craters marker off June Lake Loop north of Grant Lake 

View of Mono Craters off June Lake Loop


June Lake Loop

Parker Lake Road turnoff from June Lake Loop


Parker Lake Road is unpaved but not too rutty, so you don't need a high clearance 4WD vehicle to drive it

Prickly Poppy (Argemone munita)
Parker Lake Road


View from Parker Lake Road

Riparian areas along Parker Lake Road host stands of Quaking Aspens ("arborglyphs" have been carved into some of the Aspen trees by Basque sheepherders in the late 19th century, but we didn't spend enough time here to find them - next time!)
Thickets of Wood's Rose (Rosa woodsii) are also abundant in these moist areas.  


Bog Mallow (Sidalcea oregana ssp. spicata)
Riparian area, Parker Lake Road


Parker Lake Road

Parker Lake Trailhead at 7,780' elevation, at the end of Parker Lake Road

The fur babies were rearin' to go, but it was too hot to hike with them by now.
Parker Lake Trailhead

Parker Lake Trailhead

The ubiquitous Antelope Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) and Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)
Parker Lake Trailhead


Parker Lake Trailhead

Sulfur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum)
Parker Lake Trailhead

Parker Lake Trailhead

Branching Phacelia (Phacelia ramosissima)
Parker Lake Trailhead


Mule Ears (Wyethia mollis)
Parker Lake Trailhead


Descending Parker Lake Road with a view of Mono Lake 
(Pahoa Island is on the right and the smaller volcanic Negit Island is on the left)


Slender Cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis)
Riparian area off Parker Lake Road

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Riparian area off Parker Lake Road

Meadow Arnica (Arnica chamissonis)
Riparian area off Parker Lake Road

Mountain Snowberry (Symphoricarpos rotundifolius)
Convict Lake

Bitter Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)
Convict Lake

Bitter Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)
Convict Lake


Convict Lake

Convict Lake

Even after an exhausting day in the great outdoors, Addy and Sasha were a little too rambunctious during our late afternoon walk along Convict Lake. Sasha wanted to voice her opinion (i.e., bark) at everyone who walked by, and Addy wanted to take his dad for a walk (not vice versa)


Gil finally had to exert some "stern" control over these enfants terribles!

Ok...that's better

That was exhausting

A breezy, almost chilly dusk along Convict Lake

Convict Lake

Sasha up for a better view (or maybe she can read - ya never know with this girl)

Convict Lake

Convict Lake



Back at the cabin getting ready for dinner



Sunset view of Mt. Morrison and Mt. Laurel behind our cabin

Spotted a deer outside our cabin at 7:15pm - how cool is that?

Eye-scratching with a hoof is an inimitable skill 
America's Got Talent?





Peek-a-boo



Off into the sunset!

Not quite dark yet, but Addy was already ready for bed.

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