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Eastern Sierra Fall 2012

Day 4 of 4

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Monday, October 8th
McGee Canyon, Virginia Lakes, drive home via Sonora Pass

Monday morning, it was bright and clear, so we wouldn't have to race across the Sierra to beat oncoming rain or snow. This meant we could visit a few places in search of fall color at our relative leisure.

After packing up, we left our rental house a bit after 10:30am. Driving north on highway 395, our first stop was McGee Canyon. I'd forgotten the last mile of the road is unpaved, but it's easily driven. When we reached the end of the road, we parked and briefly checked out the area. We'd been here before for a hike, but this time we were just looking.

There's not much to see from the trailhead. Well, there is a decent view of the mountains to the west, but having been on the hike before, and knowing the views are better on the trail, it didn't interest me much. There were a few spots of yellow next to the parking lot, next to the creek, but I knew there were better spots further back along the road.

McGee Canyon

So we drove back a bit, then stopped in a gravel turnout just a bit before the road becomes paved again. From here, there are views west to the aspens in front of the trailhead and below the mountains. There are also nice views of the aspens to the south, next to the creek. There's also a little path down to the creek. We took it, and enjoyed a few nice scenes along the creek.

Mountains over McGee Creek aspens

Aspens and McGee Canyon

McGee Creek

Back in the car, we drove back along the road and stopped at a lookout over the valley. From here we had nice views of Crowley Lake, but not much in the way of color. We continued north along Highway 395, stopping at Whoa Nellie Deli for some lunch. Afterwards, I drove up to the viewpoint at the end of the short road past the gas station. From here there are decent views of Mono Lake, but the vantage point is not high enough for a compelling view.

Crowley Lake

Crowley Lake

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Then it was back onto 395 north. I decided not to take Tioga Pass Road back home for 3 basic reasons: (1) I figured there might be a wait to get through the Yosemite entrance, (2) I wanted to view Sonora Pass Road, and (3) I wanted to stop at Virgnia Lakes.

So we drove north a bit more before turning left toward Virginia Lakes. We followed the easily driven paved road past some nice colorful aspen displays at Conway Summit. In retrospect maybe I should have stopped on the way up for some pictures, since it's harder to stop on the way down (most of the best pullouts are on the right going up). In any case, there were yellows, oranges, and even some reds visible on the slopes to the right. Further along the road, some trees were almost completely bare.

After about 6 miles, we reached the end of the pavement, and shortly after that the end of the road at Virginia Lakes. We parked and spent some time at the lake, enjoying the view and taking pictures. There were people fishing along the shores. Aspens and bright yellow bushes dotted the shore, as well as the slopes of the mountain above the lake. There's a trailhead here, so I should research some hikes in the area; it looks like a nice place to start a hike.

Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Virginia Lake

Now it was time to head back. We returned to Highway 395, then continued north. There was a major repaving project in/near Bridgeport, which delayed us for about 10-15 minutes. Eventually we got through and turned left onto Highway 108 (Sonora Pass Road).

We could see Marines from the Mountain Warfare Training Center out and about. Some going on runs, some milling about near the roadside. After we passed the training center, we started to see some color along the road. There weren't convenient places to stop along the road, but it was a pretty drive. We continued on up and over Sonora Pass, then started the descent.

We rounded a corner and then I suddenly found myself looking at a gorgeous view of a line of aspens in an impressive granite valley, blue sky and a few small clouds clearly visible in the open V directly behind it. I slowed down, eyed a dirt pullout on the left, waited for an oncoming car to pass by, and stopped on the left. If I had been going in the opposite direction, I might not have noticed the view. Since I was stopped there by the side of the road taking pictures, a couple other people stopped next to me and took pictures, as well.

Aspens next to Sonora Pass Road

Unfortunately while I was there, passing clouds blocked the sun most of the time. Still, it was a great view. I was just about to leave when the sun started popping back out, setting the aspens on fire. I quickly got back out of the car and took even more pictures.

Sun lighting up aspens near Sonora Pass Road

Aspens near Sonora Pass Road

Aspens near Sonora Pass Road

Aspens near Sonora Pass Road

Finally I was done, and we continued the drive back home. We only stopped once more, at a farm stand outside Escalon, before arriving back in the Bay Area around 6:30pm.


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