Monday, October 20, 2008

Monitor Pass

Aries is on vacation for two weeks. He always takes vacation time in October, ever since our honeymoon (it was our 19th anniversary, earlier this month). We usually get a hard freeze by mid-October, so he helps clean up the garden for the season, makes compost, and does all the household maintenance chores before winter sets in - clean the chimney, roof and gutter repairs, vehicle maintenance, drain the irrigation system, lots of little honey-do's. But we also make time for little daytrip outings too. Autumn is such a nice time of year here. The nights are chilly, but the days quite often are blue skies and moderate temperatures.

A couple of days ago, we decided to take a drive over Monitor Pass. We headed south out of town, crossing the California state line in the Carson Valley, through the little hamlet of Woodfords, and continued south through the tiny town of Markleeville. We continued south along the east fork of the Carson River, where the cottonwoods and willows were just starting to turn to gold. We left the river and turned east, climbing up over Monitor Pass.

Monitor Pass is one of the higher passes in the area, at 8,300 feet, and usually closed November to April by snow. On top is a big grove of aspen trees, that can be stunning this time of year. We turned off the paved road and drove up into the aspen grove. Unfortunately, a dry winter last year, and an early snow this year, left the colors dulled and some of the leaves already down. But it was a nice day to get out, let the dog run, and wander about the grove, crunching over the snow still lingering in the shady spots.

Basque sheepherders have been scratching and carving the smooth white bark of aspen trees in the West since the 1860's. Many of the carvings are names and dates - an "I was here" marking. Some are a bit more artistic - perhaps the shape or face of a loved one back home. Still others are even more graphic about what was on these lonely shepherds' minds - some to the point of being considered pornography. I'll only post some of the more G-rated ones here.

After a while, we get back in the truck and start down the eastern side of the Pass. As the road switchbacks down, the change in vegetation, from the evergreen forests of the Sierra to the piƱon pines and chaparral of the Great Basin, is obvious. The Great Basin is the high-desert between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. This vast area isn't flat - it's wrinkled and rippled, like the inside part of a sheet of corrugated cardboard, range after mountain range alternating with little valleys across all of Nevada and most of Utah. It's called a Basin because none of the water flowing here ever reaches an ocean - the snow melts into rivers that either just disappear into the sand, or flow into lakes, like the Great Salt Lake, and are lost to evaporation. At the bottom of the pass, we turn north, crossing the state line back into Nevada at Topaz Lake, and a 45-minute drive back home. (The two photos directly above almost fit together as a panorama - the dark hill in the middle distance on the extreme right of the lower photo is the same one on the left side of the upper photo; the snow-covered peaks, right side of the upper photo are the Sierra Nevada range in California, the ones in the lower photo are looking east across two smaller Nevada ranges.)


Jenny, said...

I am so glad I stummbled upon your blog.I live near Modesto,CA and love taking a drive to all the places you were talking about. My most favorite place in the high sierras is Bodie.

Kathi D said...

Thank you for that lovely narration and the photos! Such history! We have been in that vicinity a few times with our Shelties and always make the same joke about letting them out with the sheep to see what they would do.

Nancy M. said...

What a nice trip! Beautiful pictures! I can't remember if I told you Happy Anniversary or not. If not, Happy Anniversary! A little late.

Sadge said...

Thank you, all. Bodie is a great place - a real ghost town, frozen in time. It's an old mining town, now a California State Park, preserved in a state of "arrested decay". One of my favorite spots in this area is Grover Hot Springs, just 5 miles west from Markleeville. There's a wonderful hot soaking pool, a cooler swimming pool, a beautiful meadow, campground, and hiking trails (including a short one up to a small waterfall/swimming hole in the creek).