Jay Sousa: Highway 395 offers great photo opportunities

jay.sousa@sbcglobal.netJune 21, 2013 

>Highway 395 is one of the most scenic and photogenic roadways in  America.

It starts in the Mojave Desert at Interstate 15 and continues north through California, Oregon and Washington before ending at the Canadian border.

The most scenic part of 395 stretches from the almost nonexistent town of Olancha in the south, home of Crystal Geyser bottled water, to Bridgeport to the north. These 170 miles of 395 will take you through some of the most dramatic scenery in the United States.

This is a land of contrast, both geological and cultural.

You will drive through high, arid, open desert but a few miles later you have climbed back into cool alpine terrain. You will find pine forest and aspen groves just a few miles from vast stretches of tumbleweed. You will find luxury condos to stay in around the upscale ski town of Mammoth Lakes and you will find small, rustic cabins at the many old family run resorts that operate the length of 395. You will encounter grizzled ranchers and wealthy Southern Californians who have million-dollar vacation homes.

Above all else you will find an area that has so many great photo opportunities that you will not know which one to point your camera at first.

My wife and I just returned from a 12-day RV trip up 395 starting in the south and working our way as far north as the Carson Valley, just to the east of Lake Tahoe. In this and the next two columns, I will write about some of the best places to photograph along this magnificent stretch of road.

Olancha is at the southern end of the Sierra, where this mighty mountain range begins to thrust upward into the high granite ridge that will be your constant companion to your left as you head north on 395.

There is not much in the way of high mountain scenery to photograph here, but that does not mean that the area should be overlooked as a photo stop. There are many old, abandoned buildings in the area with tons of character just screaming to be photographed.

Continuing north, the next great photo destination is Lone Pine. Lone Pine is the first sizable community on your journey north and is home to the Alabama Hills and Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states.

The Alabama hills are a small mountain range just west of 395. Many movies have been filmed here and for good reason. The moonlike setting of weird rock formations makes it a great place to make some interesting images, especially at sunrise.

The Whitney Portal road, which heads west out of Lone Pine, is a beautiful 13-mile drive that takes you from the high desert to the Sierra in a short period of time. This steep, winding road has some amazing vistas as it winds its way to the high country and the starting point for those attempting to hike to the top of Mount Whitney.

For the photographer, the end of the road at Whitney Portal offers some amazing high mountain scenery to photograph.

As you travel through the small town of Independence, you can head up into the Sierra for some great images by taking a left at Onion Valley Road.

Just past Independence on the left, you will find the Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery. This is one of the oldest hatcheries in California and a very pretty spot for photography. The building, which resembles a European castle, and the trout ponds around it are beautiful to photograph.

In my next column, we will continue our travel up 395 and visit the Bishop and Mammoth Lakes areas.

On a side note, I still have space available in my July 20 night photography workshop in Yosemite Valley. Please email me at jay.sousa@sbcglobal.net.

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