High Mountains & Deep Valleys
While California holds many treasures, none are so precious as the Eastern Sierra. Every time I visit I come away wondering why I don’t spend more time here.
In the middle of May I joined a trip with friends that was intended to be a Death valley motorcycle tour. When we entered into the Eureka Valley from the North, a sand storm forced us back out to higher ground. A forecast of temperatures into the 100s made us reconsider our Death Valley tour, but this part of the world has much to offer, so we did not suffer.
First on tap was the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forrest, a park I have desperately wanted to visit for a decade. Finally, the snow pack and other factors complied and my neighbor justin and I rode 12 miles of gorgeous dirt road to visit the Patriarch Grove where the oldest living trees on earth grow. The Bristlecone Pine Forrest is a unique ecosystem at an altitude of 11,000 ft. Conditions are dry and cold and the gnarly trunks of the trees tell the story of what it takes to reach 4,600 years of age.
We had planned for 100º weather so when snow started falling on our camp, much fire and whiskey was required to raise our spirits, but the natural beauty of the surrounding made up for it all.
To warm up a bit, we moved over to the Alabama Hills OHV area and set up camp. I usually try to avoid OHV areas like the plague, but, hey, we were the plague this time, so why not. In fact, we were the only OHV group in the park and enjoyed an amazing expanse of rock formations with the backdrop of Whitney Portal, gateway to the tallest mountain on the lower 48.
Being the only ones in the group with ADV bikes, Justin and I took a side trip on a tip from the gift store keeper at Whitney Portal (who also rides). We set out for the ghost town of Cerro Gordo, a former lead-silver mine in the White Mountains.
We climbed high above the Owens Valley to get to town. The unique thing about Cerro Gordo compared to other ghost towns (I am told), is that Cerro Gordo has a ground keeper so you can visit the inside of the buildings.
Our host, Robert, was the character you might expect to find at the end of a 7 mile dirt road, 8000 ft climb. Robert described being snowed in for six weeks two winters prior before he dug out. Author of three books on the mine, he knew the detailed history of the place, the gunfights, brothels, and, being a miner and certified blaster himself, the mechanics and hardships of the mining. This was the wild west for real.
Homeward bound over Sonora Pass, the Sierra views take our breath away. Over our first non-oatmeal breakfast in a week we all vow to return soon.