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Winter is Coming | Owens Valley #4

I only woke up once in the middle of the night. I was mostly toasty under the comforters, but the top of my head was a bit chilly, so I put on my knit hat as I took a peek through the tent doors to see if it'd snowed yet. To my surprise, not only was there no snow on the ground, but the sky was crystal clear! And so, it was with happy thoughts that I drifted back to sleep - my alarm now set for early-o'clock, having hatched a new plan for sunrise!

Of course, my happy plan was a little less so when the alarm actually did go off - my quick weather check alerting me to the fact that it was just a little cooler than the day before.

Let me get this straight, if feels like 8°F? Hmm, not shorts weather.

Still, I struggled into my freezing clothes and gathered up the camera gear. Given my camping location, I had a bit of a hike and some climbing in front of me in order to achieve my morning's goal: capturing the sun as it came up over the White Mountains, illuminated the Sierras, and hopefully, framing ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  Petroglyphs with an amazing orange glow.

Looking out to the east, I wasn't sure I was going to make it!

I quickened my pace, hopping over rocks, jogging through the Tablelands. At least I knew were I was going. Not only that, I had the best possible countdown clock in the world - rays of the morning sun creeping down the Sierras, my goal to reach ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  by the time the entire mountain was bathed in light.

Just a few more minutes before I'm too late!

My blood pumping, I covered the ground from my camp area in record time. It was a nice feeling - to be warm again, even in the freezing conditions. Of course, I knew it meant quite the slog back to the truck when it was all over - the adrenaline of the hunt likely worn off by that point! But that didn't matter for now, as I raced over the final stretch of ground: I'd made it, and just in the nick of time!

I couldn't believe my good fortune. I'd gone to bed thinking that ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  - named because of its horizontal orientation, somewhat rare in the world of petroglyphs - would be covered in snow and not even worth visiting. Yet, the morning was turning out to be gloriously sunny and bright - I couldn't ask for anything more!

In less of a rush at this point, I took a few minutes to visit ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  Petroglyphs again, its location close enough - if you know where to look - to warrant a visit.

13 circles, each one representing one cycle of the moon, each year.

Neil Armstrong eat your heart out. This guy walked on the moon long before 1969.

Many moons, but a single sun.

And then, I set out back towards the Tacoma. I was surprise how far away it really was. I must not be getting too slow in my old age to have covered the distance so quickly! The return trip took significantly longer - it seemed I was stopping every few minutes to capture the sun as it illuminated everything around me.

Eventually, I did make it back to the truck, still shrouded in shade. I'd nearly hit my step count for the day, and it wasn't even 8:00am yet. #winning

One of the things about the Volcanic Tablelands - given its relatively high elevation, and reasonable proximity to Bishop, and civilization - is that sprinkled here and there are pockets of cell reception. And, while I had no reception in my immediate camp, climbing up on the rocks behind the truck gave me three bars of LTE. Still a little hyped up on the awesome morning I was having, I gave @mrs.turbodb and @mini.turbodb a call to tell them all about it. Let's just say that @mini was - as any child her age should be - less than impressed.

After catching up on the situation at the home front for a few minutes, we said our goodbyes and I ate a breakfast of rock hard granola bars, having used up the milk I'd brought the previous morning. Then, I got the tent put away and set out for what was essentially a bonus day of adventure!

As had been the case the evening before, I was - at this point - on a series of roads that I'd not mapped at all prior to setting off on this adventure. Normally one to plan my routes carefully, I found this method of travel invigorating, and I took the opportunity to drive several side roads, just wandering. Several times I even got out of the truck to just hike across the plateau to piles of rocks that caught my fancy.

The entire time, the Sierras to the west, and the White Mountains to the east - each glistening with new snow from the day before - rose up in all their glory against the blue sky.

I meandered for two hours amongst the volcanic landscape, and by the time I was back on my planned route, the sky wasn't quite as clear as it'd been at the start of the day. Yes, I'd cheated the weather for a few hours, but winter was coming.

Headed north now, my goal was to explore some of the upper Tablelands - if they are even part of the Tablelands - around Casa Diablo Mountain. At elevations nearly 2500' above the lower plateau, the landscape here is strikingly different - Pinon Pines covering the hillsides, granite boulders rising up into the sky.

Well, I'd had such a great time on my ad-hoc routes, that upon reaching the higher elevations, I immediately dove off of the road I'd mapped and onto a side shoot that appeared to go to the top of the mountain. I had no idea where it'd come out, but I knew I'd enjoy the journey.

Turns out it led up the hill to an amazing camp site. A place I hope to return when the weather is just a tad warmer!

Making my way back down, I took another spur, working my way around Casa Diablo, several old tailings piles visible on the side of what was clearly an old mining road. Patchy snow covered the road in places, and I marked a few more worth camp sites before the road rejoined the main drag through the uplands.

Back on a main thoroughfare - now Chidago Canyon Road - I had a decision to make: continue up into the mountains, or make a quick run down to Red Canyon - a beautifully narrow and twisty canyon that we'd travelled through on our previous trip.

Deciding I was in no real rush - except that I wanted to be off of the Tablelands before the snow hit - I opted for the side trip, turning the truck east and coasting down the hill towards my destination.

Yep, I made the right choice to come this way.

Definitely the right choice.

Having seen the entirety of the canyon the last time we'd been through, the snow on the White Mountains added a whole new dimension, and I was glad I'd decided not to rush towards the new - proving once again that it's important to stay centered in the "now," because even the familiar may be different, and it's worth enjoying!

As I headed back up the way I'd come, I got another view - this time in the side mirrors - that made the whole thing worthwhile.

Back on track now, my next stop was at mine I'd found as I was looking through satellite images of the area - the Lone Star Mine. Worked for gold, silver, and lead, a vertical 2-compartment shaft plunged 125 feet below the still-standing headframe, and apparently then continues for another 185 feet at an 80° incline, with three horizontal tunnels at various depths.

Some 5,000 tons of material were mined, at reasonably rich values -  17% lead, 26oz silver/ton, and $10 - $20 gold/ton.

In addition to the headframe, an old - but newer than the mine - Datsun sat deteriorating below the mine, and an old mining cabin had seen much better days.

By now it was getting on 2:00pm, and I knew from a few checks of the weather forecast that I didn't have much more time before clouds - and snow - moved into the area. In fact, there were already chain-or-snow-tire restrictions on US-395 to the north, the direction I was heading. So, with a couple hours still to go before I could even get to the highway, I decided to start making my way that direction - following a road that I hoped would take me there.

For a while, the road - FS-03S99 - climbed higher an higher. In the end, reaching nearly 8,000 feet before heading back down the other side. The views here were far-reaching and spectacular, all of the Tablelands stretched out below me.

And then, as I made my way down the north side and towards my exit at Benton Crossing Road, I caught a flash of movement to my right. A deer. I wondered to myself - if I stopped the truck, could I approach for a photo or two?

It was amazing how close I ultimately got - moving slowly and keeping downwind of the three-deer family. The two parents seemed alert, but relatively unphased by my presence, while the youngster was going completely crazy, running from one parent to the other, bounding off and then back again, curious.

Well, hello there.

A few more miles through patchy snow were all that was left between me and airing up, and those miles rolled quickly under my tires. It'd been a great day - different, and better, than I'd hoped - exploring somewhat randomly through an area I'd never visited before. As I reached pavement, the great views were behind me, so I simply turned the Tacoma around to enjoy them while I aired up and transferred the fuel from the Jerry cans in order to avoid another pricey California fill-up.

And then, as I pulled away, a break in the clouds.

What a parting view!

If my day exploring was better than I could have hoped given my expectations, the drive home was exactly the opposite. Winter was most definitely coming. That snow storm that I'd expected the night before had apparently stalled over the Sierras, and I drove through white-out conditions between Reno and Mt. Shasta.

The going was slow, but I must admit that it was beautiful.

Averaging less than 35mph, it took me several extra hours to reach my pit stop at Castle Crags state park, and boy - I was exhausted when I got there. Still, the trip had been a huge success, and as always, I can't wait to go back!


The Whole Story


Love Owens Valley? Check out
Owens Valley
for all the amazing places I've been in and around this special place over the years.



  1. Brandon
    Brandon March 9, 2021

    A nice write-up and excellent photos. I am doing lots of catchup maintenance on my Tacoma and a few upgrades too. Hopefully, I can do some exploring in my SoCal area. Have you checked your fan clutch? I saw my engine/coolant temps in the 190-205 degree range via my UltraGauge MX.1.4 version. I was like that appears to be a wee bit high. I installed a new Denso radiator, fresh Toyota coolant, new hoses, and a new radiator cap. I did the fan clutch test and my fan clutch is going out. Dang, it! I did some research on fan clutches and they can easily be rebuilt by adding in fresh silicon fluid see YouTube. You can see the two different Toyota part numbers for fan clutches. 16210-62030 without tow package and 08921-04950 with tow package. What's odd is that I have the orange-colored mount fan clutch but I have a trailer hitch and harness on my 2002 Tacoma. I don't know the difference in the fan clutches unless it has to do with the CST silicon oil viscosity inside the clutches. I read that Aussies routinely replace the silicon fluid in their LandCruiser's fan clutches with 10,000 weight CST Silicon fluid.

    • turbodb
      turbodb March 9, 2021

      Hey Brandon, I haven't checked my fan clutch - mostly because everything seems to be working correctly from a cooling point of view. My coolant temps vary from 189-190 once the truck warms up, so a pretty small range, LOL. Eventually I'll probably take a look at it - maybe the next time I change the timing belt!

  2. Brandon
    Brandon March 9, 2021

    Thanks for the quick reply. Your coolant temps are in excellent range. A spoke with another first-gen Tacoma 4x4 owner and his coolant temps were 188-190 degree range. It appears to be where my coolant temps should be in the 188-190 degree range. I will see if I can get the heavy-duty fan clutch with the green mounting flange as my worn-out standard duty fan clutch has an orange mounting flange. I am glad I installed the UltraGauge on my Tacoma. I averted a potential disaster. This will be an easy fix and gives me a reason to buy some tools. LOL!

  3. Keith U.
    Keith U. March 19, 2021

    Another great write up and photo story. Even though I live along the front range of the Rockies, I love the mix of desert and mountains you guys have way out west.

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