Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Tufas of Mono Lake

By Monday, May 22, we’d decided to head back to Lee Vining, California, higher up in the mountains, because the weather was way better and we’d be able to get in and out easily now that the temperature was in the 70s.  Yahoo.  There was a lake calling to us there. 

So, back we went, again covering some of the roads we’d already ridden.  But they were beautiful roads with some awesome twisties and gorgeous mountains and rock formations. 
More postcard shots.  The colors were vivid and it was hard to leave this spot.
We stopped at a pullout at the top of a canyon and walked about taking photos of flowers and mountains.  The noise was deafening and there they came.  We were treated to fighter jets whizzing by, up and around and through the canyon lying in front of us.   

The jet is about the middle of the photo, flying away.  What a cool thing to see.  The Panamint, Saline and Eureka Valley portions of Death Valley National Park remain military training areas.  The region is used for low-level flight training, but is not allowed in other areas of the park.

This looks like multiple flowers, all in one.  It's a Desert Five Spot.
It was a great day of traveling and riding.  And by the way, this time I killed that pass – the 8,036-foot one that killed me last time.  I was wearing just jeans and a shirt.  Yep, shirtsleeves all the way, baby.  Take that, Deadman Pass.

The cut of the road added to the beauty of the area, in my mind anyway.
We got to our motel and when I went to charge my battery for going to the lake the next day, I discovered my charger and my backup battery were gone.  Then I remembered … I’d forgotten it, left it behind at the Beatty motel.  Crap.  I called the Atomic Inn, and they said they’d look.  There was someone in the room we’d stayed in, so I was kind of figuring I might not see it again.  It’s a good thing Stef and I have the same camera so I could use her charger.

We walked around Lee Vining, at 6,761 feet and with an excellent temperature, and we found the Upside Down House.  Is this Dorothy's?  Nellie Bly O'Bryan built this tourist attraction in 1956.  It was inspired by two children's tales, "Upside Down Land," which Nellie recalled after seeing a tipped over miner's cabin, and "The Upsidedownians."  It was originally located along Highway 395, but moved here in 2000.  O'Bryan was Hollywood's first female projectionist and appeared in several of Charlie Chaplin's silent movies.
When we got up it looked like snow all around the bikes.  Cottonwood trees ... ugh!!!
We got up Tuesday morning, May 23, and got ready to head to Mono Lake.  We’d been here a few days earlier, but had decided we wanted to do it right, spending time walking around through all the tufas.  My only thought was that I didn’t like the nearly mile of gravel you had to travel to get to it, not hard-packed, but a bit deep and rolling about like marbles.
We got there and parked in the lot.  There weren't many people around yet, which was pretty nice.  This path leads you down to the tufas, and I was looking forward to walking around through all of them.
These cream-colored rock towers are called tufas.  The towers reveal where springs once emerged beneath Mono Lake.  As the lake level dropped the tufa towers were exposed and the springs that formed them dried up.

Mono Lake's mineral-rich water is much denser than fresh water, or even the ocean.  This means objects float higher than normal.  Gulls have a difficult time keeping their feet in the water when they paddle, although we didn't notice that.  Perhaps we weren't looking.  Fully-loaded canoes float as if empty, and swimmers find it hard to sink.  We did not test that.

The lake water feels slippery.  We tested that.  It has a salty and bitter taste.  We did not try it.  The taste is caused by minerals washed into the lake by streams and springs.  Two key ingredients are sodium chloride (table salt) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).  These make the lake 2.5 times saltier than the ocean and 100 times as alkaline.

Mono Lake is too alkaline for fish, although it is full of other creatures ... we only saw some birds and bugs.

The tufas are all over, and have some incredible shapes.

It's like a forest of tufas has sprung up out of nowhere.
I couldn't stop taking photos of the lovely things.

Each place you looked the tufas were there, in the water, out of the water, and I expect there are no two alike.  The lake is often described as an oasis in the desert.  Up two million birds, including 100 different species, use the lake as a stopover on their north/south migrations.  The waterfowl have drastically declined with the loss of wetland as the lake levels have dropped, but efforts are being made to restore these in the hopes that the migratory bird numbers will increase.

The mountains provide a nice backdrop for many of them.

I also had to try a black and white ... this looks like a little city on the ground, complete with skyscrapers.

I couldn't help taking so many photos of the tufas while we were here as they were truly fascinating.  Plus, it was great fun to walk all around the place and parts of the lake and beaches.
After visiting Mono Lake we still had plenty of daylight left and decided to take a run around the June Lake Loop.  There are a number of little lakes, a town, and even a place for lunch. 
Even the dogs get into fishing around here.

This was one of the most incredible waterfalls I've ever seen.
While there I got a phone message saying my battery and charger had been found and I could send a self-addressed box and they’d drop it in the mail for me.  I called them and told them I’d be by to pick it up … after all, Beatty was kind of on the way back to Phoenix. 
It's some beautiful country around here.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Escape from the Intense Heat

The next day, Friday, May 19, we headed to Bridgeport, California, and then we’ll go to Death Valley.  We’ll hang out there a bit and then try to get to Lee Vining again in better weather.  No more snow.  

Anyway, we stopped in Truckee, and found snow again, but it wasn’t snowing; it was just up in the hills.  I was sure glad of that. 
I always like a good mural on the side of a building.
We rode around a part of Lake Tahoe, and some of the colors reminded me of what we’d seen in the Polynesian Islands … clear waters with turquoise-green water. 
The water and the snow-capped mountains were beautiful and the snow was just where I wanted to see it.  Up high.
There's a pull-out where people launch boats and such and some of the big rocks seemed to have been dropped
willy-nilly, here and there. 
All-in-all, it was a beautiful day of riding, and we had a meal at the Bridgeport Inn in this small town that was awesome.  Who’d a thought? 

A walk finished our evening, and we were happy to retire to blogging, reading and sleeping.
More snow, far away.  Yay. 

Our walk-a-bout lead us to this, one of a couple of good-looking wagons.
The following morning (Saturday, May 20), we took off for Death Valley, and Beatty, Nevada, where we’d spend a few nights.  We wanted to wander around a little bit here and go up and visit the charcoal kilns. 

It wasn’t a long ride, and we didn’t rush as there’s always something to see along the road.  We arrived in Beatty by late afternoon, had a bite to eat and made our plan for the next day. 

Sunday, May 21, was another beautiful day, and we set off to visit the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. 
Corkscrew Peak is just before we started to drop into the valley, and the  heat.

In the distance I could see where we'd be riding into the heat of the day, even though it was still early.  I was hoping we'd get through the desert floor and up the other side before it got into the hundred-degree mark.
The road leading up to the kilns has two miles of dirt at the end, and is more like a mule trail than anything, with some larger rocks, washboard and gravel, but nothing like what we’d gone through for a short visit to Mono Lake a few days before.  (More on that later.)
This is the good part of the road, at the end near the parking.
The kilns are a bit off the path, 37 miles from Stove Pipe Wells, at an elevation of about 6,800-feet, so there wasn’t a crowd of people there, which was nice.  There are ten beehive-shaped kilns, each about 25-feet-in-heighth and about 30-feet in circumference.  The kilns would hold four cords of pinyon pine logs and, after burning for a week, would produce 2,000 bushels of charcoal.  They are beautiful, real works-of-art, and are thought to be the best-known surviving example of this type of kiln in the United States. 

The kilns were restored by a Navajo restoration team in 1971.
We walked up the hill across the road from the kilns, looking for the perfect shot.

We pretty much had the whole place to ourselves.
They were engineered by the Swiss for George Hearst’s (yes, father of William Randolph Hearst, newspaperman), Modock Consolidated Mining Company and built by Chinese labor.  The charcoal produced by the kilns was to be used as fuel for two silver-lead smelters that Hearst had built 25 miles to the west.  They operated only for a short time, until the summer of 1878, when the mines closed down. 
Up on the hill we found these beautiful flowers.

The process of turning pinyon logs into charcoal took up to two weeks.  The burning which reduced the wood to charcoal took 6-to-8 days, and the cooling took another five days.
It was a beautiful spot with a postcard quality, and a LOT of bugs that ate us up as we later discovered as we scratched our way through the next few days.  They apparently loved the bug dope we used, thinking of it as a wonderful-tasting spice on their meals.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

I Can Drive a Locomotive

We got up and excitement was running high that Thursday, May 18.  We were off to the Western Pacific Railroad Museum to drive a big, yellow locomotive. 

A great logo for a great museum.
We were scheduled for 11:30 a.m., but we got there about 10, beside ourselves to get up into the cab of that engine.  We went inside and there were some of the workers there, volunteers mostly, that work on trains for their real jobs and then volunteer here during their off time.  We got all the waivers signed, and then our instructor and we headed out to the tracks.
Our locomotive, the Southern Pacific 2873 GP9, was built in 1956 and her operating weight is 247,600 pounds.  The Southern Pacific and Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe railroads attempted a merger in 1983, and while it was denied in 1986 and 1987, the railroads had been confident enough that the merger would happen and began repainting the locomotives into a new unified paint scheme, which our locomotive sports.  While the railroads began repainting back to the original paint schemes, some were sold with the merger paint scheme.  The SP 2873 was found in a scrap yard in Richmond, California, and came to this museum in 1992.
Driving a locomotive weighing thousands of pounds is pretty exciting stuff after riding an 8-900-pound motorcycle.

Our instructor, Charlie, getting us up-to-speed on running this big machine.

We patched out in horn-blowing.
I'm thinking now that the best view from a train is from inside the cab.

What's not to like about driving a locomotive ...
These are very dedicated people who work and volunteer and as we were quite curious about the problem that might have prevented us doing our drive, so we got the skinny on what turned out to be a derailment.

They were moving some cars and with all the rain they had had, the ground was soft, and when the cars went over the rails, the rails moved, with some of the wheels coming off the track and hitting the ground.  It was going to take at least a few weeks to get them all back on the tracks, and the locomotive rentals going again.

We were very fortunate that we were so persistent the previous day, so we got do to our train driving.  What a thrill … a big locomotive going down the track, tons of metal doing what you asked it to do.  But maybe the best part was blowing the horn … multiple times.  We were like kids in a candy store, but this was even better than candy.  Woo woo.  Here we come. 

After we finished our driving we spent a few hours wandering around, looking at all the different trains there … and it’s quite a collection.  We were fascinated with how many are here, and what great restoration has been done on some.
There were so many railcars and locomotives it was hard to see everything, but we made an attempt.
Always a personal favorite, a rotary snow blower.

This little engine was totally captivating.  She was built in 1939 by the Electro-Motive Corporation (a division of General Motors), and weighed in at 201,000 pounds with a a top speed of 45 mph.  The WP 501 was the Western Pacific's first diesel-electric locomotive.  It went west in 1939 to demonstrate the virtues of diesel power and was liked so much the WP purchased this one (with an original cost of $64,525) and two others, marking the beginning of the company's push to eliminate the steam locomotives.  Less than 14 years later the WP became the first large western railroad to be completely dieselized.  In 1965 she and one of her sisters were transferred to Sacramento Northern and renumbered.  She became a "hangar queen," a locomotive from which parts are stripped to keep others running, and many believed she would never run again.  In 1980 she and her sister were repaired, eventually came to the museum and were restored to their original
Western Pacific appearance.   

This little beauty was used as a Sacramento shop switcher.  And what I like about this museum is that so many of these machines are operational ... yep, she is.  Built in 1950, she was donated to the museum by the Sierra Pacific and is perhaps the only surviving Model TR6A. 
My favorite logo, with the Feather River Route.

Stef was up and down all over these locomotives.  The WP 805-A type was called a "covered wagon" and was purchased to power the Western Pacific's California Zephyr passenger train.  It hauled the train between Oakland, California, and Salt Lake City, Utah from 1950 to 1970.  It was then put into freight service. The Feather River Rail Society wanted this locomotive for its Western Pacific collection as it was the last WP California Zephyr locomotive in existence.  It was purchased in 1987 and cosmetically restored by 1995.  In 2000 money was raised for a complete mechanical restoration. 
Another snow mover, a wedge plow ... zebra stripes rock.  This plow was built in 1949, and looks like it needs a little work yet, but sure is a cool looking machine.
It was time for a short break so we went back into the diesel shop, that is a working railroad shop.  It was constructed in 1953 to repair and service the locomotives and cars for the Western Pacific Railroad.  When the museum folks arrives, every pane of glass was broken, the plumbing disconnected and half of the track broken or missing.  What a job to rebuild all of this and make it into a working shop with grease, locomotive parts and tools around.  It was fascinating.

One thing in the shop was this old railroad light ... that still works.
We wandered down the track until we found the derailed cars and wandered around them.  Some were leaning quite badly, so we decided if the ground gave way it might not be a good place for us to be.  It’s going to be quite a job to get them back up onto the tracks as we could see where the track had moved as the cars had gone over them.  You could just picture what had happened. 

The name apparently fits.  Some of the derailed cars in the background.

You can see where the track moved from and to.

On the ground.
We finally figured we'd seen everything and we headed back to the lodge for a bite to eat, and a dip in the pool and hot tub.  What a great way to end a day.