2017-07-19&20 Heading Home From The Sierras

Dirty Socks Spring - Scenery

Leaving June Lakes yesterday, I found a road I’d not travelled before. I’d been to Mono Mills on CA-120 East, but never further. The route from US-395 to Benton is about 50 miles. The terrain varies from flat sage at Mono Basin though rolling piney woods further east before turning to open rolling sage. Large mountainous features loom all around as the 14,000 foot Sierra-Nevada overthrust mountains are behind and the 14,000 foot White Mountain of the anticline Inyo Range is before you. To the south, the 11,128 foot Glass Mountain volcano stands prominently at the northeastern boundary of the 11 by 20 mile Long Valley Caldera. Much of my time during these past weeks was spent in or around this caldera, which extends to Mammoth Mountain (7,880 foot) to the southwest. The route I chose skirts the caldera’s northern and eastern boundaries. Cresting at near 8,000 feet, this road may be closed between October and May. Before reaching Benton, the road twisted and wound around the rugged 7,820 foot Trafton Mountains, and through an interesting little development at Benton Hot Springs (5,630 foot elevation). A few miles further and the road (CA-120) ends at US Route 6 in the small community of Benton California (elevation 5387 feet). Route 6 carries travellers north and south past the foot of the Inyo Mountain range’s highest peaks, including White Mountain (elevation 14,252 feet) which looms 9,000 feet above the valley floor.

Leaving Benton and pointing south towards home, the rest of my journey had a downhill trend. At Bishop, 32 miles south I am back on the US-395, but rather than pointing south as planned, I took a turn to the west and drove to Aspendell California, a community 18 miles away and 3,000 feet higher (8,409 feet). Aspendell has in the past delivered me the Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finch and the hope of seeing and photographing this bird again was too much to resist. When I reached the residential neighborhoods in town, I found a house with feeders along the street. Sure enough, there with the chipmunks, cowbirds, and Purple Finches, was a single Rosy-Finch. The Purple Finches approached the feeders by first landing in the Aspen tree from which the feeders hang, allowing for some nicely posed portraits. The Rosy-Finch, on the other hand, landed always on the ground and fed from the seeds pitched from the feeders above. I wished for the snow covered ground like the last time I visited this community.

I knew I wasn’t ready to push all the way home and stopped at Dirty Socks Spring, 5 miles east of US-395 at Olancha. It seemed this would be a nice place to break up my final drive home. During Spring and Fall migrations, this place can be a productive place to find shorebirds and waterfowl. The Fall migration hadn’t started here, so birds were scarce. As the sun was setting a couple of Black-Tailed Jackrabbits (Lepus californicus) came to the water where I was parked and I was able to capture a few images.

Just at dark a pickup drove down, parked next to the same pool as I, and the driver stepped out to make telephone calls. Whether I wanted to or not, I got to listen for almost an hour, as he used his speaker phone to carry on his conversations. The unplanned eavesdropping gave me some insights about the local community I might not have otherwise achieved. I learned early on, this man was a local resident, and was familiar with the spring’s history. His first conversation was with another man who needed some help with a job, to which this fellow assured his friend he’s be there for him. In this way I learned this man was a friend who could be counted on. His second, and longest conversation was with a female friend or relative who he probably grew up with and was also a local resident of the valley. There was a lot of small talk and discussions about jobs he’d done around the valley, and about friends they each shared. There was a genuinely kind quality to the conversation, and I was reminded that there are still good down-to-earth people around (EVEN in California).

Dawn at Dirty Socks Spring was a treat. There were the eastern faces of the Sierra Nevada range being washed with the dawn’s early light. What could be better?

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