HWY 395 Road Trip – Mono Lake to Death Valley

What a spectacular drive. I timed this trip perfectly, in order to photograph the eastern Sierra fall colors. While I have plenty more autumn-themed galleries, this one focuses more on my travel-related 395 road trip photos.

"Movie Road" in the Alabama Hills - HWY 395 Road Trip
“Movie Road” in the Alabama Hills

I actually drove Sonora Pass to reach Highway 395 initially. While the photo of Mono Lake below is beautiful, it is a bit misleading. It gives the impression I arrived at 395 from Tioga Road (120).

Mono Lake View from the Road
Mono Lake View from the Road

In any case, soon after joining 395, I turned onto Lobdell Lake Road – my first stop along the way. It felt like I was on this bumpy dirt road for an eternity…but ultimately the reward was worth it.

Lobdell Lake Rd Aspens

October Aspen Tree Forest - Lobdell Lake Road
October Aspen Tree Forest

Like a hawk, I had watched for updates on the eastern Sierra fall color reports. It paid off. I recommend checking my Lobdell Lake Rd album when you have a chance. Out of nowhere in this sparse, bland canyon, suddenly there’s an explosion of color coming from these yellow and orange aspen trees. It’s really quite surreal!

Stormy filtered light on the eastern sierra mountain peaks along 395
“Fairytale Mountains” in the eastern Sierra

Getting back on the road, I noticed some moody storm clouds rolling in overhead. In fact, the eastern Sierra peaks were so beautifully dramatic, I had to pull over and take this pic from the roadside. A friend later noted it looks like a scene from Mordor or something.

My main destination on this trip was the Panamint Dunes in Death Valley National Park. I continued traveling south on 395 until I hit the town of Lone Pine, and the cutoff for HWY 190.

Panamint Dunes – 395 Road Trip

I reached the park that evening, spent the night, and woke up bright and early the next day to hit the road. There is a sort of unexplainable magic in the vastness of these deserts. It’s a great place to clear your mind.

Panamint Valley and the wash leading to "Big Hill" - HWY 395 Road Trip

Here’s a black and white shot of the Panamint Dunes from a distance. Being particular about having clouds overhead in my shots, I couldn’t have asked for a better day.

Panamint Sand Dunes B & W desert landscape
Sand Dune Landscape

These dunes are not quite as famous as the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes further into the park. However, I’ve been coming to this area for years…and I enjoy the lack of tourists.

Black and White high contrast on the Panamint Dunes- HWY 395 Road Trip
Dramatic afternoon lighting on the dunes

If you want to visit the Panamint Dunes, you need drive your car a few miles down what locals refer to as “Big Hill Road”. You are not allowed to drive (or ride a dirt bike) off road, so all you can do is park and hike approximately 4 miles out to the dunes.

Warm afternoon light + shadows on sand dunes - Death Valley National Park
Warm afternoon light + shadows

Lucky for me, October’s weather was warm, but not hot. In truth, I didn’t even hike out to the dunes on this trip. I just cheated with my zoom lens, though I’m not complaining about the results.

I’ve done the trek out there countless times, and though the soft sand can make long distance travel exhausting, I can’t recommend it enough. I especially enjoyed it on a moonlight summer night.

Panamint Springs Resort

Rooms @ Panamint Springs Resort - HWY 395 Road Trip
Rooms @ Panamint Springs Resort

Speaking of places I’ve been coming for years, Panamint Springs Resort is another one. It’s a rustic stop along the highway, made famous by bikers passing through to browse their massive selection of craft beer. While the vast majority of them are bottled, PSR offers a surprising amount of beer on tap.

When you get out here and realize how truly remote this location is (they have to produce their own power with a full-time generator), you realize what an incredible feat this beer menu is. Haha. Now that’s my idea of a real desert oasis.

Black and white contrast ridges in Panamint range mountains, near Telescope Peak.
Relief drama

Anyway, the next day I decided to continue driving south on 395. On the way, I made it a point to snap a photo of this dramatic lighting in the Panamint Range, near Telescope Peak.

Alabama Hills – HWY 395 Road Trip

My friends Aaron and Alexis invited me to their place near the Alabama Hills, an area made famous by countless movies over the years. Most notably, I suppose, is Star Wars. After a good visit with the two of them, I hit the sack and woke up early to follow their directions to iconic “Movie Road”.

“Movie Road”

Truck parked with rock formation at "Movie Road" in the Alabama Hills - Lone Pine, California
Driving on Mars

Well, these otherworldly rock sculptures made this excursion entirely worth it! I had to brave the sunrise traffic of all the Instagram warriors, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

Mt. Whitney Sunrise

After all these years, I finally got to see California’s highest peak (and at sunrise, no less). Actually, I’m pretty sure this is the highest peak in the contiguous United States.

Parked on Dirt Road with Mt. Whitney Sunrise - Lone Pine
An excellent ending to an excellent journey

Well that about wraps up my Highway 395 road trip. I highly recommend it…you could even add countless other destinations to the journey. Mammoth Lakes, June Lake…etc. It’s really an incredibly diverse and scenic north-to-south route.

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About My Photos

The images on this website are available for licensing and/or sale as framed prints. If you’d like to purchase them for a blog, news article, or gift, feel free to contact me with the specifics. This way you’re supporting photographers such as me directly (as opposed to buying from a faceless stock photo corporation).

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– Nathan Allen

About Me

Photographer Nathan Allen

I’m Nathan Allen, photographer / creator of YosemiteParkPhotos.com (Yosemite Photos) and international travel site I Dreamed Of This. In truth, I lived in San Francisco, New York, & Singapore…but nothing compares to life in the mountains. I share my experiences HERE.