Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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I woke up bright and early and was out of my hotel room before 7am. Less than two hours later, I had crossed the Sierra Nevada, and was approaching Lake Tahoe. The plan was to take pictures and do a little hiking here in the morning, and then head South on Highway 395 the remainder of the day.

I stopped at Inspiration Point first, a vista point that overlooks Emerald Bay and affords views of the both Vikingsholm Scandinavian Castle that was built on its shore, and Fannette Island in the middle of the bay.

Looking at Emerald Bay and Fannette Island at Lake Tahoe After some individual shots and panoramas at Inspiration point and then at the parking lot a mile down the road (which took up almost an hour of my time), I left the car behind and hiked down to the shore. The hike down was nice and easy, and the view from the shore proved to be at least as nice as the perspective from the higher viewpoints. I walked up and down the sandy shore, looking for more photo opportunities and then walked back up the trail to my car.

It was a weekend day, and as such plenty of people were enjoying the nice weather on a relatively easy trail - I briefly talked to two different pairs of people on their way down. I must have been a funny sight - here's a guy with an eight-pound tripod in his hand and two six-pound cameras hanging on his shoulders, walking up the trail at a pace like he's still trying to catch a bus.

When I arrived back at the car, I re-hydrated, and then headed back to South Lake Tahoe and towards Highway 395.

Around two hours later, I stopped again, at Virginia Lakes, in a small valley up in the Sierra Nevada. It being late November, the sun was already starting to disappear behind the mountains even though it was only 2:30pm. The low sun and short exposure to its warming rays also explains why the lakes were already (mostly) covered in ice. I almost arrived in time to get the perfect shot - nice afternoon colours, perfect contrast between the light and dispersed snow and the black-brown of the mountains... unfortunately, half of the view was already in shadows.

Some snow on the mountains and water that was almost completely covered in ice at Virginia Lakes Still, I was enjoying myself and making the most out of existing conditions; and came away with quite a lot of keepers.

It wasn't far to Mono Lake, and I thought that I might still be lucky enough to find it in sunlight. As such, when I arrived there less than half an hour later, I opted not to head to the west shore, but instead drive out to Black Point, a place I hadn't been to before. The drive there seemed to drag on, and the unpaved road was quite sandy in spots, albeit not to the extend of there being a risk to get the car stuck.

Black Point didn't turn out to be an inspiring spot for me though, and pretty soon I drove back to the main highway. The sun had already gone down before 5pm, but I was still lucky enough to get a few pictures of the after-sunset glow in the sky (and its reflection in the lake) from the west shore.

My initial plan was to spend the night somewhere around Mono Lake, but then I realized it wasn't even 5pm and since there was no way I'd be able to sleep that soon, I opted to use my remaining waking hours to drive down to Death Valley already. I'd drive down Highway 395, and then use the same northerly approach to Eureka Sand Dunes that I had already done three times before. The weather conditions were good, none of the roads I intended to drive had been reported to be closed or in a bad shape the day before, so I thought that the drive wouldn't be a problem. (It wouldn't be.)

The paved road ran out after I entered Death Valley, and pretty soon I had grown weary of driving over miles and miles of washboard in the dark. (Which requires even more concentration, and lower speeds.) I was certainly glad to finally see the road veer left in my approach to the (invisible in the dark) Eureka sand dunes. I knew from experience that I had arrived at the base of the dunes, where I parked my car and proceeded to get comfortable in the back of the Jeep, where I'd spend the night. As far as I could see in the dark, there was one car nearby, although I'd see the next morning that two or three more cars were scattered around the mile or two near the base of the dunes.

Miles driven: 373mi (600km)

Campground Accommodation: Eureka Sand Dunes (Death Valley National Park): $0

Written June 10th 2006 in Luxembourg