I’ve managed to get quite a few photos of Mono Lake over the years without ever actually going there to take photos. I just took them on the way by. In fact, I’ve never gone anywhere to take photos – I’ve always just taken pictures where I happen to be. Until this trip.
I’ve wanted to go to Mono Lake in the winter for a few years, but the weather should be good enough to fly but cloudy enough for good photos. Cold enough for clear air, yet not too much snow. And it has to fit into the family schedule. Everything finally came together when I realized I could stop in Lee Vining for the night after I flew my daughter back to college in San Luis Obispo after the new year. A weak storm system was moving through which would bring some nice clouds although I was a bit worried about wind.
It turned out to be a fun trip. I flew Belyn to SLO and used the crew car to shop, then run her up to her apartment (and fix her printer), but then I realized I didn’t have that much time left because of the short winter days. It took a little over an hour to fly across the Central Valley over Fresno, then over the Sierra Nevada. I flew through Mammoth Pass, then dropped the gear and pulled off most of the power in order to maintain a slower airspeed for turbulence on descent. Then I turned left 90 degrees and dropped steeply down into Lee Vining. There was a slight crosswind on landing, but nothing like the 20 knots or so I had through Mammoth Pass.
I landed about 4:00 pm so I really hustled it down to Mono lake in order to get there for sunset photos. It takes about an hour to hike and bushwack through sagebrush and thorns to get to the lake and I barely got there in time. Fortunately for me although the sun had already set, the red glow of the darkening sky had just begun! It was fantastic.
I hiked back up to the plane in the dark and quickly decided I would rather be warm in the plane rather than try to cook up some food outside in the 20 degree night air (I don’t want to use a stove inside because it would be disappointing to burn my plane up), so I ate a bagel, apple and some cold pre-cooked rice mix for dinner. Honestly, It was nice and warm in a down bag and I had a decent book so it wasn’t bad. (for those interested in the mechanics, if I take the seats out on one side of the plane it’s perfect for one person to lay down. If it isn’t going to rain I just leave the seat or seats under the plane until morning). I got up at 5:00 am and hiked back down to the lake for the sunrise. I have to admit that when the alarm went off I was thinking that the sunset was pretty nice and perhaps I didn’t need any sunrise photos… But I finally got myself to step outside and start hiking.
This time I had plenty of time, which was good because it is definitely harder to find your way to the section of the lake that has some nice tufa formations by headlamp. The sunset was nice, but the best photo of the morning came when I turned around to leave and the warm morning light produced vivid colors on the tufa and sage. I was rather hungry so after the hike back up I rode my folding bike the mile into Lee Vining for breakfast and hot coffee. To top off an excellent trip, Lee Vining has great cell phone coverage so I was able to get some calls and emails done without feeling too guilty about missing much work.
The photos are arranged chronologically, from the trip across the Sierras, the sunset and then the sunrise.