Pacific Southwest Region Viewing Area
LOCATION and PHOTOS
Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). Photo by Gary Milano.
Sego lily (Calochortus bruneaunis). Photo by Kathleen Nelson.
Sulfur flower buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum). Photo by Kathleen Nelson.
Forest: Inyo National Forest
District: Mono Lake Ranger District
Description: The Parker Bench area is situated between the beautiful June Lake loop and the Mono Basin Scenic Area. The rolling sagebrush hills are accentuated by scattered stands of quaking aspen, and framed by the towering backdrop of the high Sierra crest. The area attracts visitors from around the world, who are drawn to the unique landscape of the Mono Basin, and the nearby lakes, streams, forests, and peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Recreational opportunities abound, including hiking, camping, fishing, backpacking, skiing, horseback riding, and more. The weather is typically warm and sunny in the summer months, with occasional thundershowers, though snow is a possibility at the higher elevations, even in summer.
Viewing Information: Though wildflowers can be found anytime from May through August, visitors will generally be greeted by the most colorful display of wildflowers from late May through June. Find a safe spot to park, and enjoy a saunter through the adjacent gentle hills. These hills are glacial moraines, piles of rubble left behind as the glaciers retreated thousands of years ago.
The first thing you will notice is the ubiquitous silver grey shrub, sagebrush, with its distinctive aroma. The scent is especially strong following a good rainstorm, but if you’re there in a dry spell, rub a few leaves between your fingers and you’ll get a good whiff of this plant that blankets much of the Great Basin area to the east. Bitterbrush, an important food for deer, is the other common shrub in this area. It has 3 lobes at the tips of the leaves, similar to sagebrush, but is a darker green in color.
Adding variety to this sea of shrubs are numerous wildflowers, including arrowleaf balsamroot, Indian paintbrush, sego lily, phlox species, sulfur flower buckwheat, various species of lupine, and more. Take your time - the slower you go, the more you’ll see.
If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, you may want to proceed to the Parker Lake trailhead and hike the 2 miles to the lake. You will see some of the same flowers along the way, with the added bonus of a nice lunch spot, in the shade of the aspen and lodgepole pine, accompanied by a spectacular view of Parker Lake and the surrounding peaks.
If you’re traveling through later in the year, don’t despair. The vibrant aspen displays are stunning in late September and early October, and will make up for the flowers you may have missed.
Safety First: As with any outing into the mountainous regions, it is important to be prepared for a variety of weather conditions. Days can be quite warm, with sunscreen and hats recommended. Remember to drink plenty of water. When thunderstorms arrive on the scene, the temperature may drop quickly, and you’ll want to have a jacket and raingear handy. Nighttime temperatures can reach the freezing mark, even in the summer.
Be sure to park in wide spots or turnouts, safely off the main travel way.
Directions: Approximately 5 miles south of Lee Vining, turn west from Highway 395 onto Highway 158 towards Grant Lake, at the northern end of the June Lake Loop. Proceed for approximately 1½ miles, and turn right onto the graded dirt Parker Lake road. If you wish to go to the Parker Lake trailhead, where there is ample parking, follow this road for approximately 2½ miles, not turning off onto intersecting roads along the way. If you want to stop sooner, just find a safe spot to park where the views suit you, and enjoy the show.
Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Inyo National Forest; and, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Closest Town: Lee Vining, California.
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