The Digital Photo Guy

Trip to Eastern Sierras

by on Nov.26, 2013, under Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing

Wow! It’s Been a Zoo-y Two Months

We left for the Eastern Sierras on Oct 25th and arrived in the Ancient Bristlecone Pines Forest on Sunday, October 27. Just getting there was an adventure. First, the right brake light on our toad (towed,) a Geo Tracker, didn’t work. I immediately diagnosed the problem but no one had the part or knew where to buy one. Assuming we could find the part along the way, we departed for our first overnight layover in Beatty, NV. We never found the part nor even anyone who knew what I was talking about.

Along the way, we stopped at REI in Las Vegas to buy Mary’s birthday presents (it was the xxth anniversary of her 29th birthday!) Since Mary is an avid hiker, we got her a Magellan handheld GPS and my favorite, an ACR Electronics ResQLink 406, aka, personal locator beacon. In theory, it signals the nearest sheriff/police/SAR (search & rescue) office via satellite in the event of an emergency in the back country. Hopefully, she’ll never need to deploy it but it makes me feel better knowing that Mary has it.

We got to Beatty late Saturday night and found the town has banned all overnight RV parking except at RV parks charging exorbitant prices for a place to sleep for 6 hours. Rather than submit to their extortion racket, we pressed on to Lida Junction where US 95 and US 266 intersect. There, we simply pulled off the highway, deployed the slide and spent a quiet night.


The next morning, we drove into California to the intersection of US 266 and CA 168 where we unhooked the toad for the ascent up the White Mountains. That’s when we realized the toad had about 2 gallons of gas and Big Pine, the next gas station, was 38 miles away. The toad gets 18mpg on the flats so climbing a 6800 ft summit seemed a bit dicey but we didn’t have a choice since the 5 cylinder diesel in the RV wasn’t going to be able to tow up 7 and 8 percent grades. The toad made it into Big Pine with less than 1/10 of a gallon in the tank.

We saw the above tree on the way into Big Pine. We went back the next day and made the photo. FYI, you’d think making a photo of a tree would be a slam-dunk but I have about a dozen other photos to prove otherwise. The tree is beside CA 168, about 2 miles outside Big Pine. While trying to keep an eye on drivers who were gawking at the tree, I made several photos that, when straightened and cropped, didn’t leave space between the tree and one side of the frame. Others were ruined because I wasn’t watching the sun angle and more were culled due to plain bad composition.

AncientBP-5   AncientBP-6   AncientBP-2

AncientBP-3   AncientBP-4     

We had originally planned to camp at Grandview campground, about 5 miles from the Ancient Bristlecone Pines Visitors’ Center, but the weather looked iffy so we stayed at a nice county park in Big Pine. That turned out to be prescient because that night, the wind was so strong, we thought it was raining when falling leaves pelted the RV. I can’t imagine what the winds must have been like at 10,000 feet.

The reason I went so late in the season was to, hopefully, make photos of bristlecone pines in snow. Well, it had snowed about two weeks earlier but no new snow was forecast. I had hoped to hike the 4 mile Methuselah Trail in search of its namesake tree, the oldest certified bristlecone pine but it started to snow. The first photo is Mary and me about a mile into Methuselah Trail.When it started snowing, Mary, who is a much more experienced hiker than me, decided it was too sketchy to do the entire 4 miles so we cut off onto what was supposed to be a shortcut back to the trail head. It was shorter but steeper. After about 6 or 7 switchbacks that became increasingly steeper, we finally crested the ridge to find the sun coming out, bummer.

The second photo is my favorite from this session. I titled it, “Squaw Among Bristlecones.” I know the word “squaw” has fallen out of favor with the PC police but I felt it had the right connotation for this photo. Besides, the word is thought to be derived from an Algonquin word. In any case, I saw the pattern in the tree and thought it would translate well in HDR and I think it has. The other three photos are just random samples of various trees I saw. As you can see, I went a bit overboard with HDR this trip.


I often noticed Manzanar on my trips up and down US 395. As an American of Japanese descent, I had heard of Manzanar but never paid much attention. The Japanese ethos of “shigataga-nai” (can’t be helped or, in the vernacular, “sh*t happens”) kept it blocked off as just one of those bad things that happen. Two years ago, I stopped for a brief visit but didn’t see much as it was closing time and I wasn’t really that interested.

This time, we took two hours to view the museum and drive around the remains of the camp. The 20 minute video was very well done, narrated in the words of actual internees (prisoners.) I saw the whole event, not so much as a shameful period of American history but, as a teachable moment. I felt a detached curiosity as I viewed the exhibits. Afterwards, we drove around the camp and came across the old cemetery. Most of the remains were moved to cemeteries closer to home when the camp closed. Only five graves remain. As I walked among remaining graves, the one below caught my eye.


In a moment, my detachment disappeared and I was overcome with sadness as I thought about Baby Jerry Ogata, an American citizen, born and dying in a concentration camp run by his fellow countrymen, buried in a grave and left behind by his family. I wish I knew more about Baby Jerry Ogata.

More Photos to Come

I caught a bug during this trip and have been laid up for nearly a month. I still have about 450 frames to cull and process. On top of everything else, setting up my new laptop has proven to be a challenge. At this point, I’d like to severely beat the guy who came up with Windows 8 with my tripod.

All these photos were made with either a Canon 7D or Canon 5D MkII with either the 17-40/4L or 24-105/4L and processed in Adobe Lightroom 4. HDR photos were processed in Photomatix Photo Essentials. I also used Topaz Labs Adjust 5 on some.

As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.



9 Comments for this entry

  • Doug Gill

    Hi Lee, nice photos of the Eastern Sierras. I made it up to Mammoth in October for the first time and also had car problems. I was scheduled for 4 days but was there 5 and had to return with a rental car. It took 6+ weeks to have the Explorer fixed. Anyway had a great time shooting in Lundy canyon, Bodie, Mono Lake, June Lake Loop, and Convict lake. It had snowed earlier in the week before we got there and then had a light snow the morning we were shooting in Lundy canyon. I plan to go back up there next October. Joanie wants to go the weekend they have the film festival in Lone Pine and stay there a few days before heading up to Mammoth. If you are up there next Oct, i will try to meet you somewhere.

    • Lee

      Hi Doug,
      Sorry about your car problems. Hope all is well at this point.

      Next year, We’ll be in the Eastern Sierras from late Sep thru late Oct. Read my next post (early next week) about some of the cool things I’ve discovered and hope to verify while we’re there in May 2014 for Bishop Mule Days. Thanks for commenting and I hope our paths cross next year.

  • Karen

    I meant to mention your visit to the internment camp and the sad encounter with the baby’s grave. Have you given a thought to making it a research project and trying to follow up any possible relatives who might have survived? It might prove to be a rewarding and interesting journey even if you don’t find any more info on baby Jerry. I find the baby graves in all the country cemeteries grab at my heartstrings and feel for their mothers (many of whom died in childbirth after 10 or 11 children…including my great-great grandma) What a tough life they had…another thing we can be thankful for in this modern day (that we can decide how large our families should be). Thanks for your info on LR5.

    • Lee

      Hi Karen,
      I made a few Google searches and discovered quite a few photos of that marker. It would appear that I’m not the first to be drawn to Baby Jerry. If I lived closer, I would do more research but, being 8 hours away, I’m going to limit myself to what I can Google. Next year, I’ll try to learn more from the rangers and docents.

      Kids aren’t my favorite critters (except goats) but I find the human condition as it affects kids to be fascinating and impactful. Some of my most poignant images are the small, baby-sized caskets inside the mortuary at Bodie. Emotionally, I couldn’t spend too much time in there.

    • Lee

      Hi Karen,
      I did more digging and learned that Baby Jerry Ogata’s grave is actually a cenotaph (literally “empty grave”.) Baby Jerry Ogata (Toshiro Gerald Ogata) died at Manzanar of congenital heart defect. To add insult to injury, his original memorial was stolen in the ’80s. A group from LA raised money to have the new memorial installed. I guess it’s not too surprising that the original memorial was stolen since, as late as 2007, the Lone Pine Drugstore carried a book that denied anyone had been kept at Manzanar against their will and refuting the notion that armed guard towers ringed the camp. Amazing.

  • Karen

    I enjoyed seeing your images of this trip…an especially nice photo of you and Mary…and your golden leaved tree photo is fantastic! I have finally come to terms with the workings of Windows 8 after about 9 months of using it. I well remember how frustrated I was with it at first. I see you are using LR 4…any thoughts about LR 5…is it worth updating? So far, I’ve decided to save my money and keep working with 4. I find it still has some annoying bugs and it is frustrating to me that they can’t perfect the previous product before moving on…yes, I know…it’s all a matter of money! Well, Happy Thanksgiving to you!

    • Lee

      Hi Karen,
      Thanks for the comments. That tree was a favorite. We noticed several people photographing it over the 3 days we were in Big Pine.

      As for LR5, I asked George Jardine about it and he was non-committal. For a LR fan like George to be ambivalent spoke volumes. I decided to stick with my usual every-other-version update schedule. For another slant, here’s an article by Julieanne Kost, Adobe’s Goddess of Geek. I thought some of the features were nice-to-have but not things for which I had a burning desire. Hope that helps. Have a great Thanksgiving.

  • Juan Ramirez

    Amazing photos. The colors of the trees are magnificent.

    • Lee

      Thanks Juan,
      I try to be judicious in tweaking colors so most of the colors are pretty close to what I saw. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed more people are toning down their post-processing including HDR to get away from the garish, over-the-top look that was once so popular.

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