A recent four-day photo trip over Tioga Pass to the east side of the Sierra Nevada reminded me again of what an amazing area this is for landscape photography.
Using the small town of Lee Vining and the Mono Vista RV Park as a base camp, I was able to make some nice images of the surrounding area during the last full moon.
Lee Vining sits at the bottom of the pass where Highway 120 intersects Highway 395. The biggest problem with photographing around Lee Vining and the eastern Sierra is deciding what great area to photograph during a short four-day trip.
The 31/2-hour drive to Lee Vining from Merced takes you to Yosemite on Highway 140. Once in Yosemite Valley take the Big Oak Flat Road north to Crane Flat, where you will turn right on Highway 120 through Tuolumne Meadows and over Tioga Pass to Lee Vining. The area between Tuolumne Meadows and the top of the pass is spectacular and affords many photo opportunities.
If you are lucky enough to be in the Meadows around sunset with a clearing afternoon summer thunderstorm, you will be treated to some amazing sunset colors.
Tioga Pass is one of the highest car roads in the country at 9,950 feet elevation, but it is a good road down to Highway 395. It is steep, but not very curving.
Once over the pass the terrain changes dramatically. The gradual western slope of the Sierra is in sharp contrast to the sheer 3,000- to 5,000-foot drop to the high desert on the eastern slope. This dramatic change in elevation makes for some great photos.
Try photographing the crest from the desert at sunrise, the first rays of sunlight striking the high peaks is not to be missed.
Some other can't-miss photo spots close to Lee Vining include Lundy Canyon, which is just a few miles north of Lee Vining off of Highway 395. This beautiful high mountain canyon is home to wildflowers and a thick forest of aspen trees, whose leaves turn beautiful colors in late September and early October.
The ghost town of Bodie is just 13 miles from town. This state park, which is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, is a photographer's dream, especially if you like buildings from the late 1890s.
There is a lot to shoot here so be prepared to spend the day. Make sure to pack a lunch and fluids, as there are no services in Bodie. Also, be forewarned that the last three miles are on a very rough dirt road. Almost any vehicle can make it, you just have to go slow.
I have saved the best for last -- Mono Lake. It's spectacular. A photographer could spend a week shooting around this large, arid, saltwater lake and see something new each time.
The light on the lake is ever changing, especially at sunrise and sunset. Mix in some cool cloud formations and it just can't be beat as a photo destination. There are many access points around the lake to photograph from but you need to have the south Tufa area as a must-do on your shooting list. These strange towers of limestone were formed under the surface of the lake and emerged as the lake level dropped years ago.
The best time to photograph the Tufa is at sunrise and sunset. One tip: keep shooting well after the sun has set. I promise you some amazing results. Just make sure to pack your tripod.
To reach the south Tufa area travel south on Highway 395 to 120 east and follow the signs. Allow about 20 minutes of travel time from town. There is a short, level walk from the parking area to the lake and Tufa area.
I have two interesting workshops coming up. The first is the weekend of Aug. 18-19 at Moss Landing on Monterey Bay. The second is to the Lee Vining area on Sept. 22-23. For more information, contact me at email@example.com.
Check out some of my recent images from the east side of the Sierra at www.jaysousaphotography.com; go to galleries and the Rangefinder.