Timing is everything when doing a seasonal tour and sometimes pushing the limits does not pay off. This is especially true during early winter in places where snow is not usually expected till sometime later in the season. The low elevations east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is a prime example of a place where it can be a long wait for the first snowfall and the odds of a very early season blizzard are rather slim. As I discovered during my trip to the Bishop, California region, the early winter weather can truly be an unlucky roll of the dice when an unexpected snow storm rolls on through, especially when expecting chilly dry conditions prior to arrival.
After chatting with a few locals during a stop along Highway 395 it was plain to see that an early season snowstorm is not a regular occurrence in the Owens Valley. They mentioned that the first snow occurred much later in winter for several years prior, which is what I was expecting, but such was not the case during my trip. At the first sign of freezing temperatures the warm weather destinations are closed and the winter attractions high up in the mountains start to advertise goods and services. It was evident that I showed up a day late, which is the same as being a dollar short.
The original plan was to tour Bodie Ghost Town, Mono Lake and go west through Yosemite National Park before heading back to the desert. The early season snow storm changed all that, because I did not pack a hot tent or wood burning camp stove for the trip. I ended up doing a Mono Basin day tour before making a hasty exit and just took a quick look at Crowley Lake along the way.
Crowley Lake is a reservoir that was constructed as a water reserve for the city of Los Angeles back in the 1940s. The reservoir was named after Father Crowley, who is famous for being local hero in this part of California. There is a long story about an Owens Valley water rights dispute concerning the reservoir and the resulting rise of tourism in the Bishop region that is associated with Father Crowley, which is well worth looking into.
Crowley Lake is most famous for the column rock formations along the eastern shoreline. Apparently shortly after the reservoir was completed, the lake water revealed hundreds of vertical rock cylinders. Trying to figure out how the stone pillars were created is even more perplexing and the explanation is quite lengthy, so this is another topic that is best researched on one's own time. The factors necessary for the formation of the round tall stone cylinders include volcanic tuff deposits, geothermal springs, mineralization, snow melt and lake water saturation. This is all mute for one good reason because for most visitors the Crowley Lake Columns are simply a marvel to see in person.
Unfortunately, Crowley Lake is closed for the winter and as mentioned earlier, I arrived a couple days too late after the first early snow storm. All that could be done was to take a few snapshots of the snow blanketed scenery and plan a return for a later date. The views of the snow frosted Sierra Nevada Mountains from Crowley Lake certainly are spectacular to see early in the morning, so all was not lost. Besides, this is one of the top Lake Trout fishing destinations in the entire west, which is always worth remembering!
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