Fall Scenery - Eastern Sierra

Autumn Glimmer

Story and photos by Lara Hartley all images copyright Lara Hartley

A dirt road makes its way past undulating aspens in fall foliage on the way to a beaver pond and Lundy Lake. Lundy Lake is located 45 miles north of Mammoth Lakes and is a favorite spot for photographers.


Standing in the golden corridor of Lundy Lake Road, a tunnel of crooked aspens with dancing yellow leaves leads me toward the lake. Dark mountains skirted with fall color are reflected in the polished surface and a hint of woodsmoke is further proof that it is indeed fall.

Autumn speaks in joyous warm tones full of life. But the musty smell of decaying leaves bespeaks of winter and the death of the year.


Grand golden landscapes are part of the scene as one drives down Highway 395 north of Lee Vining.


Curved aspen trunks seem to wave in the shade in the Eastern Sierra.

We don't have the wild variety of color that the East Coast has, nevertheless the craggy Eastern Sierra during Indian summer is an awesome sight with yellow and gold carpets creeping up to the treeline.

It is getting close to that time of year when photographers descend on the area, wearing strange gear and carrying big tripods. A brief, shining October moment beckons those with large cameras and small, and the air invites others who just want to breathe deeply and take in the light gleaming through the leaves.

The area is big enough that you can find secret places in the mountains - far from the lumbering, aluminum RVs - to photographically explore your unique vision of fall.

Beauty and solitude can be yours on some of the longer hikes, especially during the week.

A dirt road follows a line of cottonwoods and more aspens cloaked in golden gowns up McGee Creek Canyon, where small creeks tumble over boulders dressed with a smattering of iridescent leaves. The restored McGee Creek Lodge, built in 1929, is conveniently located on Highway 395 at the junction of McGee Creek Road.

Nearby Convict Lake offers trout fishing, boating and more hikes, the best being around the lake. Orange and yellow trees contrast with the inky color of the water.

Mono Lake, with its desolate salty shores, wheeling seabirds and tufa towers, is a popular photo destination no matter what time of year. On fall weekends, lone photographers and workshop participants jockey for the best position along the lake.

They wait for the sun to go down, the moon to come up and hope for magic light. Occasionally, no matter the crowds, art is created.


Members of a group of photographers called the Western Gathering peer inside one of the many historical buildings in Bodie. The group has been shooting together more than 10 years; meeting once or twice a year in different locations to photograph and talk.


During the week, Bodie Ghost Town State Park is almost deserted, adding to its ghostly air.

Folks on the Internet are talking of where to stay and when by early September - even though peak color is not expected for another few weeks.

“When will the color be right?”

“Who is going?”

“What are the road conditions going to be like?”

“Anybody going to Bodie?”

Bodie. A ghost town where folks just upped and left - utensils on the table, books on the floor, ghosts in the hall.

If you enjoy the camaraderie of others who enjoy desolate sights of weathered buildings and red-rusting cars, then visit on the weekends.

But if you are seeking a moment of aloneness when the sky is achingly blue and you can feel the melancholy of fall, then come to the ghostly town during the week, or pick a different month. A colder one perhaps, before the snow sets in and the road heading up the mountain closes.

Fall Colors in the Eastern Sierra

Where to Go, How to Get There and Where to Stay


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