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Travel [1403.20]

California-Nevada Loop 2011

(this article first appeared in our 2011 holiday newsletter)

After exotic travels in recent years (Easter Island, Tibet, Mongolia, etc.), we stayed totally within the United States in 2011. A trip in October took us in a huge loop through much of California and a bit of western Nevada. The trip had a hodge-podge of objectives, so it was quite interesting, albeit hectic.

First was a drive up US395, which runs along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This part of the trip actually brought back a lot of memories for us, as we were avid winter mountaineers back in our youth. Looking at us now, itís hard to believe we did a winter climb of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States, some (mumble mumble) years ago. The small towns along the way havenít changed much, considering. Of course, the mountains havenít changed at all, and we were able to pick out the eastern face of Mt Whitney in the Sierra skyline without any problems.

We made so many photo stops along the way that by the time we got to our hotel room in Lee Vining it was close to midnight. We were up again at 4am to go to nearby Mono Lake for some nighttime and sunrise photography.

Being a new moon, it was very, very dark, which was problematic as we had no idea where we were going! Somehow we managed to get to the right parking lot and down the right trails to get to the waterís edge.

It was also very, very, very cold. Dave did much of the packing for us since I was working. I said I hoped my long kendo jacket would be warm enough for the trip, and somehow he took that to mean "donít pack my really warm coat." In cold weather there is nothing more enjoyable than being toasty warm , and nothing more miserable than being improperly clothed. I ended up draping a sleeping bag over my shoulders, which made it really hard to take photos, or in fact do much except shiver. But it was all worth it to see the spectacular sunrise, with the sunís rays lighting the limestone column tufas and surrounding hills like a huge orange-pink spotlight.

It was still cold when we finally got back to the hotel. Walking from the diner, we were amazed to see thousands of stalks of tiny ice balls along the path. On closer inspection, we realized that the sprinklers had been misting all night, forming balls of ice around the blades of grass and foliage. Some of the balls were crystal clear and about an inch long. Others formed opaque strings like pearls. It was quite magical.

The next leg of the journey took us to Nevada to scope out possible observing sites for next Mayís annular eclipse. In an annular eclipse, the moon is farther from the earth and not quite large enough to totally eclipse the sun. Instead, the sun is visible as a ring around the moon, and it doesnít get dark as it does with a total eclipse. The centerline of the May 20th eclipse will hit the California coast a bit south of Oregon, go near Mt. Lassen and Fallon Nevada, and finally end at sunset in northern Texas.

Expecting better weather farther from the coastline, we decided to check out the area east of Reno. Since the eclipse will occur late afternoon, we wanted to find a flat area where we could see down to 10 degrees above the horizon. It turns out that pretty much describes all of the region!

After spending the night in Sparks, by Reno, we headed off to Mt. Lassen National Park. Although the eclipse passes through here, in May the roads will be impassable due to snow, so this was just a side trip to take a whirlwind tour through the park. We circled the peak, taking many photos of the breathtaking views.

From Mt. Lassen we headed down to the final objective of our odyssey, visiting the TechShops in the Bay area.

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