Of course, I have a particular bias toward Yosemite, but California is full of amazing places, and many of these amazing places are very close to Yosemite.

I was lucky while in college to take several geology, geography, and biology field trips to the Owens Valley/Mono Basin/eastern Sierra, east of Yosemite. (OK, I didn’t so much enjoy the geology field trips–those were hard work… I almost changed my  major from geology because of those trips!) But, since then, I’ve only spent a little sporadic bits of time on the east side. But, I took four days off in a row over July 4th weekend and spent some time wandering the area.

Here are some highlights:

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Because I worked in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias for a few summers, I might be a little biased toward sequoias, but while they can get a few thousand years old (and really big), the bristlecone pines can live up to around 5,000 years old. There are living bristlecones that were alive probably around 3,000 BC! The ironic thing about these trees is that the oldest trees are the ones that live in the harshest environments. Plant a bristlecone pine in a nice mild place and it won’t live anywhere near 5,000 years. Plant it on a harsh, frigid, windy mountainside at 10,000 feet and it might well live for thousands of years. Perhaps we can learn a lesson about life from these trees. (“According to the difficulty is the reward.” -Talmud)

Since I hadn’t visited these trees in about 15 years, I’d forgotten about the view from around the grove. The views of the Sierra are amazing! I think I actually enjoyed the view more than I enjoyed the trees.

Sierra crest from near the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Sierra crest from near the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Bristlecone Pine and the Sierra

Bristlecone Pine and the Sierra

Bristlecone Pines and the Sierra

Bristlecone Pines and the Sierra


Mono Lake

Perhaps the most famous attraction on the east side is Mono Lake. It’s a great place for birding, for relaxing, for photographing, for canoeing/kayaking, and for seeing sunset.

Mono Lake, tufa, and the Sierra at sunset

Mono Lake, tufa, and the Sierra at sunset

While both Mono Lake and the Bristlecone Pine Forest could easily be national monuments–they’re both nationally significant for both scenic and scientific reasons–the fact that they’re not means they’re not quite as visited.

Moving on to the cultural realm…


Bodie State Historic Park

Bodie is a ghost town unlike most–what you see is what actually existed at the time of the town’s demise. California State Parks maintains the buildings (and the buildings’ interiors) in a state of arrested decay. What you see is how it was left, not how someone wants you to see it. What’s left is less than 10 percent of the mining town that once had around 10,000 residents.

Church and other buildings at Bodie

Church and other buildings at Bodie

Note: Bodie and a portion of Mono Lake are state parks threatened with closure by California’s budget woes. (Learn more…)

These are just a few of many, many wonderful places in the eastern Sierra. Get a map. Take a drive (and a hike).

Advertisements