After a great few days in Lone Pine (click here to read about them) we headed north to Bishop.
We were following the weather north. “What is he talking about?” For the three days we spent in Lone Pine the great weather – magical clouds, wind and rain – was on top of us and extended north from there. This made for some exhilarating photography. But when the weather petered out in Lone Pine and moved farther north, that was when we were planning on heading north anyway. So we couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions.
Now Bishop is the “big city” in the Owens Valley with a population of nearly 4000. One of the main attractions for landscape photographers is the Mountain Light Gallery. This is Galen and Barbara Rowell’s gallery and a kind of Mecca for nature photographers.
There are a number of really interesting places to photograph around Bishop.
For example, once we got settled in to our hotel rooms we headed north of town to photograph the Owens River. It still runs free in the Bishop area; that is, LA hasn’t diverted most of the water into the California Aqueduct. We drove out the Five Bridges Road off of US 6 to where it crosses the river. We got out and walked to the west along the river bank. The river runs through an open pasture with grazing cattle so you need to be careful where you step. But between the fishermen that frequent the river and the cattle, there are plenty of good trails.
The sunset was happing to the north so we found a location to shoot from that had a bit of a reflection of the clouds in the water. The river comes around a sharp bend here, almost 180 degrees, so there is a lot of upwelling of the water that creates a constantly changing texture on the surface. This was where I knelt down on the muddy bank to get the camera low to the water and maximize the reflection. It was only after shooting for a while that I noticed the smell – cow pee. Well, you do what you have to do to get the shot – right?
Above Bishop in the Sierra are three lakes you can drive to – North Lake, Lake Sabrina and South Lake. The plan for the following morning was to drive up to North Lake for sunrise. We got up at 3:00 AM to make the drive up. But when we got there the road was still closed. Spring is coming really late to the Sierra this year and the snow melt hasn’t really gotten underway yet. That was a disappointment because North Lake is exquisite and they drain Lake Sabrina and South Lake during the winter so that when the spring melt does come the lakes have enough capacity to hold the runoff. Otherwise there would be uncontrolled flooding downstream. But that means there are no photographic opportunities at either of those lakes.
But there is a really excellent plan B in the area – the South Fork of Bishop Creek. You could tell from the aspens that grow in groves along the creek where spring was. At the high elevations of South Lake the aspens hadn’t started to bud yet. But as we traveled down the creek to increasingly lower elevations we first noticed buds, then sprouts and then full blown leaves.
The place along the road where we stopped to photograph was where the aspens and willows both were just in the sprouting stage. We photographed the mountain side in open shade which combined with the fresh green and red colors of the emerging aspen and willow leaves to produce a very soft, delicate effect. This is what keeps pulling be back to the Sierra at this time of year.
From Bishop we’re about an hour and a half drive from the ancient bristlecone pines. These are the oldest living trees on the planet. It is a humbling experience to even be in their presence. You realize that not only have countless generations of humans come and gone in their 4500+ years of existence but entire civilizations and empires have done the same.
But this year we couldn’t get to the bristlecones, again because of the late spring. The road was not open to my favorite tree. But along the part of the road that was open is a magnificent viewpoint that looks across the Owens Valley to one of the most rugged sections of the Sierra Crest – the Palisades. So with thunder storms all around we drove up there to experience this view under some truly remarkable conditions.
While the weather conditions were really exciting, this is still a difficult shot because of the great distances involved. So I rendered the photographs in black and white to fully emphasize the incredible excitement and power we felt as we watched the weather unfold.
The folks fortunate enough to live in the Eastern Sierra talk about God Beams or God Light. Well, as you can see they were streaming down all around Mount Tom and the town of Bishop. You know, you’re up there and see this kind of light go on for literally hours and you get kinda giddy. It’s difficult to put the excitement and joy you feel into words.
Shortly after the 8:15 sunset we headed back to the hotel in Bishop. It was close to 10:00 when we got back to our rooms – a very long day. And the following morning was going to be another 3:00 AM wake up call. But you really don’t mind. The energy you get from being in these beautiful places keeps you going. You can always sleep when you get home.
There’s one more leg to our workshop, the Lee Vining, Mono Lake leg that I’ll share with you in the next post.
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To see more of my photographs click here.