And back into light pollution of the Nevada desert we begrudgingly went. It was a perfect travel day; the air was cool with no wind and well-worn roads were empty of truck and RV convoys. We made an early departure well before sunrise and began our next adventure in our quest for darker skies. Our desert workshops attracted some wonderful participants and we both truly enjoyed being here, but I must admit…I’m so excited to get back up to the mountains! That budding morning we drove past hills of freshly fallen snow casting a striking contrast to the deep orange glow of red rock reflecting the sun’s rise. It was to be our best part of the day, because the Las Vegas valley temperatures were already climbing to 100 degrees. Living in an RV makes us acutely aware of extremes and sometimes it’s a challenge to keep the balance. From snow in the AM, to blistering heat during cocktail hour, the hot desert gave us the motivation to keep on…movin’ on.
Our next stop, Lone Pine, CA. Rich in its own history, this one-road town was founded during the 1860’s, providing supplies for those mining local gold and silver. Towering granite views of several “14ers” (peaks that are over 14000 feet in elevation), including the tallest mountain in the continental US, Mt. Whitney, took our breath away every morning because they create their own storms each day and fresh snow covered their jagged vertical peaks. To the west of this small tourist stop, we scouted around the Alabama Hills with its rounded rock formations which are in extreme contrast to the glacially chiseled ridges of the Sierra Nevada’s, offering a unique backdrop for our Eastern Sierra workshop participants. I decided to treat Brad to lunch, so we headed up to the Whitney Portal, a 13 mile drive to a much cooler elevation of 8000 feet, home of the trailhead to Mt. Whitney, and awesome burgers and pancakes at the Portal Store. We ate lunch with weary hiker trash and a towering waterfall among forested trees. Bears frequent the area, but we had no luck today catching a too tamed wild animal attempt to break into someone’s car because they left a Snickers Bar on the console.
It’s time to head up to our new home in Mammoth Lakes for conducting our next 5-day course. A reoccurring theme I’m finding is that if I request a quiet space, away from traffic, we are assigned a spot closest to the main road. This is normally not such a big deal, but when Brad is teaching or out shooting all night, he of course needs to sleep during the day when everyone else is active. We ended up negotiating two spots and will need to move but everything worked itself out. The best part was building a campfire each day during morning coffee time or wine-thirty and watching the wildlife try to expertly pilfer any remaining crumbs left by rolling travelers. I know… we are easily amused and also eternally grateful when Mother Nature cooperates with us during a workshop. Our students came prepared for the Bristlecone Forest segment in cold high altitude and were rewarded with a starry night among 5000 year old gnarly trees. They ended the week at Mono Lake, tired but full of newfound knowledge for capturing the night sky against various terrains. There were many miles to cover during this workshop, so thanks to a great group; you guys are troopers and made the week a great success!
Before leaving the mountains of Southern California, we decided to take our last weekend and backpack into the wilderness. Weather reports indicated only a 20 percent chance of rain the first day, and zero probability the next, so we loaded our packs and set out for a grueling hike above 11,000 feet to a magical place deep within the High Sierra Nevada Range. According to the Park Service, we were the only applicants with permits to hike the area and that’s just the way we like it. After a couple of snafu’s and a late start, we gingerly began the uphill battle, about 2000 vertical feet in 5 miles of deep forest, countless switchbacks, and various degrees of snow melted rivers and streams to carefully cross. Our views became more magnificent the higher we climbed as we inched ourselves closer to the tree line that clearly defined the habitable from the inhabitable. Each jagged granite peak made for an inhospitable backdrop against blue azure sky. Minutes turned to hours and as the day wore on, we soon spotted clouds slowly peaking over the tips of each pinnacle, seemingly as if they would suddenly spill over the edge like a ladle full of milk. We welcomed a cool breeze on our faces and necks, but in our minds we suspected that something must be brewing, because at this high altitude, the smallest indicators can easily turn into a threatening event. By late afternoon, more and more clouds began to show themselves and what began as a few white fluff balls, quickly turned to bruised looking storm clouds. With just two miles to our intended destination, we decided it was wise to set up camp and hunker down for the evening under a protective canopy of trees, next to a small waterfall and lake stream. No sooner had we set up our tent and set the water to boil for a meal, there came a loud low rumble echoing through the mountains from overcast skies above. A cold wind swept through the trees and a strong scent of rain filled the air. Before we could throw our gear into the tent, a brilliant white flash and a loud CRACK sent us into warp speed! I had enough boiled water for one meal so we quickly dove into our strategically placed home. The wind picked up its intensity, the temperature dropped significantly, and soon marble sized hail began to litter the ground around us. We’ve learned from months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail that using your natural surroundings to your advantage, coupled with the right kind of gear, gives you an added sense of safety and security during tumultuous weather shifts. This however does not mean we enjoyed our experience of being rained, hailed, and sleeted upon. Nor does it take away the ringing in our delicate ears or soothe the eyes from white flashes when lightening is striking less than a mile above you. We quickly shared dinner that night and huddled in our warm sleeping bags, reading or watching happy episodes on our iPod to await the passing of the apocalypse. Like being in the eye of a tornado, storm turned to calm, then rose up again for another round, followed by darkness and more wind. The best we could do was stay calm, fill our bellies, keep warm, and try to get some sleep. Yea, right!
I’m not the kind of girl that is much into fashion, but I think I’m pretty creative. So when we awoke the next morning to dry blue skies, birdies chirping in delight, and the faint soothing sounds of nature’s waterfalls, we were elated to get to our destination just a couple of short miles away. Instead, a visionary reminder of our hellacious night exploded out of my hat in the form of the craziest morning hairdo my partner has ever had the privilege of enjoying. Our fears from the previous night turned into laughter, and after a hardy breakfast and strong coffee, we set out for the top of the mountain. All the hard work hiking and tiredness from a sleepless night faded away as we arrived to one of the most beautiful places Brad and I have ever had the opportunity of finding. Waterfall after waterfall spilled onto each other forming delicate freshwater pools, which formed meandering streams across a small green valley under towering granite walls. In the middle, a small quiet lake surrounded by beaches and filled with fish, reflected deep blue hues of our morning sky. We had this paradise to ourselves and all we wanted to do was play. While searching for a place to camp, the wind started to pick up again, and what do we see creeping their way over the mountain tops? Yes, dark clouds rapidly pushing their way over our mountains and casting dark shadows over our Garden of Eden. By our calculations, they were making an appearance much earlier than the day before and today, we were much closer to the very areas of lightning strikes the solid walls had endured the night before.
Saddened, we had to abandon our plans of photographing this amazing place under the stars and me therapeutically sunbathing on warm granite rocks next to sparkling pools of magic water. Reluctantly, we started back down the mountain, because personal safety is always our priority. Our hope was to at least spend an additional night at our previous campsite, but by the time we arrived, a light drizzle was coming down so we made the decision to eat lunch by the lake stream we had enjoyed morning coffee just a few short hours ago, and hike back down to the trailhead. We were not about to spend another night in a high altitude storm that seemed like it was building up quicker and at a more intense level than the night before. Always having an exit strategy is vital when sharing high altitude wilderness destinations and experiences with Mother Nature, you know why? She is unquestionably more powerful, intensely magnificent, and insanely unpredictable the higher you go. She seemed to be flirtatiously chasing us as we quickly made our way down slick stairs of steep rock trails, winding switchbacks, gorging streams, and blustery rock ridges. With only a few precious photos and heightened memories, we felt as if we were ejected from Avalon, because ominous clouds engulfed the mountains in a foggy haze, making them disappear as if they had never existed.
For our next professional adventure, our workshops take us to Crater Lake and the beautiful Cascade Range. We’ll head north towards Reno, NV and then turn left to drive up and over the mountain range into Oregon. Hopefully, we can just stay slightly ahead of the summer heat and give our workshop participants exceptional dark skies among some of the most inspiring locations in the west. Our last two workshops scheduled for this same area in September are already half full, so if you want to learn how to photograph our fading dark skies within pristine wilderness areas, we encourage you to go to https://goldpaintphotography.com/workshops and check us out.
“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and [we take] great pleasure in doing just that.”
― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
Marci & Brad
Good Kharma Kitty Blogging
Somehow I have survived six months in this moving contraption during what my subjects call an “adventure”. Every time we move to another area, my nerves get the best of me and this gives me gas! I’ve come to know the signs of these two thrill seekers nonchalantly packing up and moving to a new sandbox. Let me tell you, I don’t miss a beat. For this, I shall choose not to eat, ignore all baby talk and soothing scratches behind the ears. I will also engage in my advance sulking techniques and go hide under the bed until further notice…or until such time as you bring in the bedroom slide out, which sends me into high alert status and I forget what I was doing in the first place.
“Going to the mountains is going home.”
― John Muir