Closer To The Sun – Mammoth Lakes, CA
We awake to the sound of a woodpecker hammering in the distance and the soft rush of wind rippling through the pine trees. The sun is just barely cresting the tops of the forest, and the first warmth of its rays is teasing after a night of solid chill. There are only 2 other rigs in the entire area, making it feel like we’re practically solo. Doggie and us take a walk along the stream, following its curves until the vista opens up to the jagged, white-tipped peaks of Mammoth. We stop and take a moment to breathe in the dry air and savor the view.
Damn, it’s gorgeous here!
Free Camping, Hot Springs & Brews
We are on the Eastern side of Sierra Nevada Mountains, and although we’re playing Russian Roulette with the weather we couldn’t help but stop here. This late in the season it is blissfully quiet, even at the popular free ATV campground just north of town (fear not, a review is coming), and it is a pretty amazing place.
The pine trees here are so thick and tall that we practice our very own form of beastly “stealth camping” = the art of placing a beast within even greater natural beastliness (ingeniously stealthy is it not?). To the West the mountains dwarf us even further, towering 11,053 ft (3,369 m) high in a series of staggeringly jagged peaks, and beneath them a stark, dry high desert valley floor stretches out to the edge of the horizon in the East.
This contrasting geology dates back to a series of eruptions that ended 57,000 years ago, and the remenants of that fiery time still live on with black obsidian craters, spectacular lava formations, and hidden hot springs. We discovered the latter last year (which, by the by, is the post that has the one and only truly naked picture in my entire blog ::), and we loved them so much we had to bring our buddies to see the springs our very first evening here.
As soon as we had set-up in camp, Chris & Cherie put together a picnic basket of cheese, crackers and beer, and we motored over to Wild Willy’s where we joined 6 or so other (mostly local) cars for a sunset dip. The springs here are free and clothing optional, although most folks do suit up and this year (given the “crowds”), we decided to keep it PG ourselves. As luck would have it we even met one of the brewers at Mammoth Brewing Co who gave us the impetus to go there the very next day for a flight of their fine, local brews. Free camping, hot springs and brews….doesn’t get much better than that, does it?
And Stronger Sun?
The other thing I love about the mountains is the way altitude and chill changes your experience. Not only does everything cook slower, but your solar experience is different too. Anyone who’s ever hiked in the mountains knows that the sun feels stronger up high, and many folks assume it’s because you’re closer to the sun. In actual fact the piddly 7,500 feet or so elevation we’re at is less than a flea of a speck closer to the bright orb that warms our planet from over 96 million miles away. It’s not the height, but the atmosphere that makes the difference. Light gets scattered & absorbed as it moves through the atmosphere meaning less solar flux as you get closer to sea level. So, as you go higher you get more sun, solely because there is less atmosphere.
Being the geeks that we are this little tidbit intrigued us and we got to wondering if our solar panels actually generate more here in Mammoth. A little Google magic reveals a simplified equation that shows ~8% more flux at ~7,500 feet than at sea level, all things other equivalent. Add to that a slight increase in efficiency as our panels get colder, as well as low humidity levels (also an improvement to flux) and we do end up getting a little boost from the sun*. All in all, good enough to explain the slighter better input we’ve been seeing here. Pretty cool, eh?
Of course any improvement we get in solar is completely negated at night by the loss of capacity in our lead-acid batteries. So, as tempting as it might be to stay at altitude purely for the solar flux, our battery losses pretty much wipe them out. Fun stuff to keep us geeks occupied in the boonies, but likely completely useless info for the rest of the populous 🙂
*Note/ If you then go ahead and tilt your panels, you get a much more significant solar boost -> something I’ve written about in previous blog posts.
While we’ve been basking in a mini heat-wave, colder temps (and even a hint of a snow-storm) lie lurking around the corner which means we need to be moving on down out of the peaks to lower elevations. So earlier today we raised our jacks and caravaned south. It may only have been a brief stop in the pines, but it was a worthy one and we’ll be just around the same distance from the sun at our next one. See ya there…:)
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