~2800' to ~8300' elevation
DH took Thursday, July 3rd off work so we could avoid the heaviest holiday-weekend traffic on Hwy 395. Since we play live music on Wednesday nights, we didn't start packing the van until Thursday morning. After a stop at our local one-butt-aisle store for some road munchies, we were headed out of town by noon or so.
Smoke from the Piute Mtns fire above Lake Isabella was billowing high in the sky and chimneying right up the Owens Valley. Two more fires were burning in areas surrounding our destination, so visibility was down (comparatively speaking) from all the smoke. We were definitely looking forward to getting above both the desert heat and the wildfire smoke!
Smoke from the Piute Mountains fire above Lake Isabella drifts toward the Owens Valley.
Lava ridge along Hwy 395.
We arrived at the Visitor Center at the south end of Lone Pine well before closing time to pick up our permits. Staff there was very friendly and helpful, and gave us some good tips on where to camp at Trail Camp. Sadly, those were the last flushing toilets we'd be seeing for awhile!
We drove west from Lone Pine to the Whitney Portal. As we had never visited there, we drove around and got the layout. The Whitney Portal Store (WPS) and the nearby fishpond looked so inviting that we had to tarry. We ordered the cheeseburger and fries special at the WPS (excellent food and REAL potato fries cooked crispy the way we like them!), then sat on a huge granite boulder overlooking the fishpond while we ate it. BTW, the WPS people are really nice and VERY helpful!
Portal fishpond from atop the boulder: eight photographs.
Not unexpectedly, all the Portal campgrounds were reserved or taken and the Campground Host could not be found; so we headed back down the hill to the Lone Pine Campground (down in the hot flatlands). We found a campsite there that was somewhat shaded and paid our overnight fee; but by then I was starting to figure out the “reserved” campground signs better, so I suggested we check at the Portal campgrounds again for a site.
This time, we were able to find one lone campground that was not reserved for the 3rd and did not have anyone in it. Woo hoo! We snagged it quickly, gladly paying the second overnight fee. We stashed our food and other smelly items (sunscreen, lip balm, etc) in the bear locker but skipped setting up the tent. Mosquitoes were already out and hungry, and it was easier just to sleep in the van on our air mattress. I was so tired that I fell asleep reading my newspaper before it was even really dark.