Thursday, July 23, 2020


One of the awesome things about living in San Francisco is that you can get in the car after breakfast and be in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest before dinner. It's a long drive from the Inner Sunset to the Patriarch Grove, but the only drag is getting out of the Bay Area and crossing the Central Valley. Once you're east of Oakdale, it's a terrific drive.

We couldn't get a reservation to drive through Yosemite, so we went up over Sonora Pass. It was a Sunday, and the amount of traffic on the pass between Kennedy Meadows and I-395 was impressively heavy. I wondered how many of those drivers might have preferred to go over Tioga Pass. I hadn't been up that way in a long time and was glad to find the route newly paved and striped, which made driving a pleasure. The road was so smooth we even saw a guy skateboarding down from Sonora Pass.

The last time we visited the Patriarch Grove I was driving a Jeep Cherokee, and I wasn't sure my Mazda 3 would be able to handle the gravel road above the Schulman Grove, especially the last maybe quarter-mile, which I remembered being pretty rough. There's even a sign at the beginning of the route warning that it costs at least $1,000 if you need a tow truck to come get you.

I took it easy, never really going faster than 18 mph up the 12-mile section, and the last quarter mile was improved enough to be able to get through all right. A Volkswagen sedan had also made it, as well as a Ford Transit-type van and a full-on Mercedes Class C motor home.

Even a Fiat 500 made it, and I was surprised on the way out when I had to pull over to let it fly past us, eating up that gravel road like a champ. I did not care to push my luck to try to keep up. A lady up at the Patriarch Grove had told us she punctured her oil pan one time, and she added that they had a long wait before very expensive help arrived.

Although we'd spent a long day driving, we couldn't resist waiting for nightfall and the chance to see Comet Neowise.

We couldn't find the comet despite having binoculars, so I amused myself by trying some night photography. The guy with the Class C motor home was with several other experienced and well-equipped astrophotographers (including the Fiat 500 folks) who were smart and dedicated enough to stake out their Milky Way vantage points while it was still light out (some of their lighting shows up in the background above). 

I poked around in the new-moon darkness as best I could but did not manage to get a worthwhile Milky Way shot, even with my ISO pushed to 3200 and exposing for 20 seconds (with a 16mm lens @ f/4). Unlike me, this guy knows what he's doing! 

It was funny how we'd originally been looking for Comet Neowise with our binoculars, picking a star in the sky and looking for a tail. When the comet finally came into view after some clouds cleared up, it was a cinch to see with our naked eyes. I made this shot with a 105mm (ISO 3200, 10 sec. @ f/2.8) as the comet soared above the mountain ridge to the north.

Buckwheat & Bristlecones

Apparently climate change is enabling young bristlecone pines to move farther up the mountain, but the skeleton field already there hints that it has been tried before with limited success.

Silhouette & Mountain Ridges

Tiny White Flowers With Pink Anthers

I tried to look these up on CalPhotos and found a possible match, only to see that I had posted the match myself (Eremogone kingii). I don't recall if anyone verified the ID for me, but this is the closest match I can come up with.

Bristlecone Husk

Counting tree rings in dead bristlecone pines, scientists have a continuous record of growing seasons going back 11,500 years.

I ran a time lapse while I was sitting with this lovely V-shaped snag. This is the shot I made after I stopped running the time lapse so I could quickly pack up my bag before the rain was upon me.

Here's the time lapse (view at YouTube).

Although we didn't see any during the daytime this trip (probably too many people around), a trail camera picked up a white-tailed jackrabbit in this three-frame composite.

We left the bristlecones to spend a couple of nights camping near Sonora Pass.

Unfortunately, we drove home with all the firewood we'd left with due to fire restrictions in the Sierra. However, if we'd had a fire, this small badger would almost certainly not have ventured so close to our camp.

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