Escaping the Heat

Owens Dry Lake South of Lone Pine with Its Toxic Dust

South of Bishop, the Owens Valley can make you feel as if you were in a hot oven. Although the area is considered as high desert, it is not all that high. The elevations from south to north vary only by some 500 feet (152 meters). Here is the data in both feet and meters:

  • Olancha – 3,658 feet (1,115 meters)
  • Lone Pine – 3,727 feet (1,1136 meters)
  • Independence – 3,930 feet (1,198 meters)
  • Big Pine – 3,989 feet (1,216 meters)
  • Bishop – 4,150 feet (1,254 meters)

When we were in Big Pine two weeks ago, it was 95º Fahrenheit (35º Celsius), and we were sweltering. After eating lunch, we headed up into the White Mountains to visit the Schulman Grove of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest at an elevation of over 10,100 feet (3,078 meters). In some 30 miles (48 km) we were to climb some 6,000 feet (1,829 meters).

In my 2018 Subaru Forester, there is a display showing the current outside temperature. After our hot morning on the floor of the valley, we saw the temperature decline by some 20º Fahrenheit and become downright cool by the time we reached the piñon pine zone.

In the Piñon Pine Zone: The Sierra Nevada in the Background and the White Mountains in the Foreground

By the time we got to the Schulman Grove, we were perfectly comfortable. There is a backpacker rule of thumb that the temperature drops by 3.5-5.0º Fahrenheit per 1,000 feet, depending on a fairly large number of variables.

In the past, Martine developed a headache when we got to 8,000 feet elevation at Chama, NM and Mesa Verde, CO. This time we both felt great at 10,100 feet. Was the difference that we drank a whole lot more water? Could be.