The first true entry into the blog, so here goes nothing…
A couple weekends ago a buddy of mine and his brother were heading up to Mammoth to do some snowboarding. Now I don’t snowboard, but I love that area and the drive to it, so I took up their offer to go up and hang out for a couple days. I was only somewhat recently exposed to that stretch of US-395, but from the get go I loved it and keep telling myself I want to explore the region a little more closely. Although I haven’t quite done that yet, my last couple drives up there I’ve managed to check out some places that I said I would.
Unfortunately, a post “National Cocktail Day” hangover prevented me from heading up Friday morning like I originally wanted to, and instead drove up Saturday and returned on Sunday. With no real plan in place, I hit the road around 7:45, much later than my overly ambitious 6:00 plan.
Traffic wasn’t too bad, though the first lengthy stretch of 395 can be a frustrating 2-lane road when you’re stuck behind a truck, which happened to me a couple times. Merging with CA-14 is always a sweet reprieve. It’s open from there, and that’s when it really feels like a trip.
Although I didn’t have a plan, some of the places I wanted to check out were the Alabama Hills, Manzanar, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and Mono Lake. I hoped to hit those by just winging it, so as I was driving through Lone Pine I more or less made a last second decision to make the left at Whitney Portal. Since I hadn’t really stopped yet, I had to make some sort of move, and wanting to get a closer picture of Mt Whitney seemed like good enough of an excuse.
Driving through the section of the Alabama Hills was almost otherworldly for a moment, which is probably why they filmed things like Galaxy Quest there, though that area is noted more for it’s numerous Westerns. With limited time available, I was pretty limited to just pulling off the side of the road and admiring for a few minutes, though I’ll definitely be coming back, maybe to camp. I kept up the road where I got some closer views of Mt Whitney. One of these days I’d like to try and hike that.
After getting my fill of views, I meandered back down to town, stopping along the way for more pics before making the left, and ultimately heading north some more. Just north of Lone Pine you hit Manzanar, which at this point almost feels like that relative I keep saying I’ll visit, but never actually get around to seeing. I keeping saying I want to stop by and check it out, but I make excuses and today was no different. Tomorrow on my way back I tell myself.
I continue north and drive through Independence, passing Jenny’s Cafe with what looked like a “closed” sign over the name. I wasn’t planning on stopping on the way up, but was it really closed? I’d stopped twice before on other trips, and hoped to do so again. I’d have to investigate on the way back. A little further I hit Big Pine, and pulled off the road to the information booth for the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. I did a little reading up there and realized it was 45 minutes up into the mountains. The afternoon was starting to wane, and I told my buddy I’d be up to Mammoth around 3:00, so this was another “I’ll have to stop by tomorrow” places. That list was really starting to get long.
In Bishop I stop for some jerky at Mahogany Smoked Meats. It’s become a tradition of sorts. With $50 of jerky in hand and a free ham steak for purchasing that much, I head up the mountain to Mammoth. Mono Lake was on my list to re-visit, since I’d gone up there once before, but with my limited time I added yet another place to the “tomorrow” list.
Timing worked out pretty well since I made it to Mammoth to meet up with my buddy and his brother after they finished snowboarding for the day. Sitting around for a bit we got to talking about what my plans were and I mentioned Mono Lake, which, to be honest, I didn’t think they would have any interest in going to. Without anything on the agenda for the afternoon, I was surprised that they were keen on the idea, so around 4:30 we piled in the car and headed north. Great! One less thing for my “tomorrow list!
My buddy and his brother have been to Mammoth numerous times, but have never gone a foot further north on US-395, so having been up that stretch of road once or twice before I became the de facto tour guide on this stretch. It was kind of fun having that role actually, despite only having limited knowledge of the area.
We started off driving past the lake, getting some nice views, and going through the tiny town of Lee Vining before heading up the mountain to a really nice vista point that I stopped at on my trip to Bodie before. Great view, nice sky. After taking in the view for a bit (I could probably sit in a place like that all day), we headed back down to the closed visitor’s center for a few minutes, and then eventually to South Tufa to get up close with the lake.
The afternoon was giving way to sunset, which makes my two visits to Mono Lake at around sunset, and neither one disappointed. Mono Lake, for those that have never been, is a really beautiful and unique place. I hate to overuse a word like “otherworldly” (that makes twice now), but it really does feel like that. The tufas just have this look to them like they’re from the moon or something. Though I was a tad disappointed that I didn’t see any of the alkali flies this time, since I wanted to show them how they scatter when you walk up to them. I chalked up their absence to winter, whether or not that was actually the case.
We started the loop trail and got to the water where we examined the tufas up close, took a bunch of pictures, and took part in some contraband I “smuggled” in. Not really, but it sounds better than we had a couple of warm, shaken up Bud Lights that I put in my backpack. Having a nice chair to sit and relax along the shore of Mono Lake was about all that was missing. Perhaps not giving my friends enough credit to start off, but I was pleasantly surprised that they were enjoying themselves.
A little hungry, and thirsty for more than warm Bud Light, we decided to hit the road south before letting darkness set in. We wanted to get to June Lake Brewing before they closed at 9:00, and it was around 7:30. Luckily we made it there quickly, as the last bit of light was in the sky. Unluckily, we got there and they only had beer. Ordinarily I’m okay with the liquid diet, but I was pretty hungry, so no food was a bummer. That didn’t stop us from having a couple. For a Saturday night it wasn’t crowded at all, but the workers were nice, and the dogs that came in were friendly. Literal dogs. Seems like a hangout for the locals on their evening dog walks. With empty stomachs we headed back to Mammoth.
Unfortunately Mammoth has some qualities of a sleepy little town (even more so was June Lake which seemed pretty much shut down and dark by 9) so when we got their our dinner options were limited. Pretty long day and we all more or less crashed after eating.
So… what’s the consensus? My first post, and I can already tell I got more wordy than I had hoped. This was a two day trip that I was planning on having as one post, but as I kept going I could see this was turning into a two-parter. Brevity has never been my strong suit. If it’s too wordy let me know and I’ll try to slim these down a bit. We’ll see how the rest of these go.