We have been on the road for some 26 months and have found that virtually everywhere we have visited has some redeeming features. In Advance, NC, we found a place called the “Bull Hole” which was an abandoned textile facility which left a big masonry dam and some great lagoons full of turtles. In Lake Medina, TX, we could easily drive to San Antonio and go to the River Walk and the fascinating downtown area around the Alamo. In Canon City, CO, we could take the frightening Skyline Drive and see magnificent views.
Now we are in Hesperia, CA, and it may be the only place we have visited in the last 70,000 miles that possesses absolutely no redeeming features. The town merchants have decided mini-malls are the only place to do business so there is no real downtown area. The area around town is a brown wasteland with a bit of sagebrush and some immature Joshua trees but little else. Traffic is bad although I cannot fathom why there would be a lot of cars here. This place is downright unattractive. The RV park where we are staying has a good number of shade trees and may be the garden spot of the entire area.
The closest thing we may wish to see is Big Bear which is 60 miles distant. Lake Arrowhead, another southern California former hotspot, is a mere 50 miles away. Considering the wonders of this place, I am surprised it is not called Despairea or Hysteria because those titles would be more appropriate. Fortunately, we leave this Mecca of Nothingness tomorrow. There are no pictures.
Today was a travel day. We departed Boulder Creek RV Park in Lone Pine and continued our travel south. Right outside the park, we turned south on US-395 and dropped down into the desert. Most of the road down into the desert has great scenery of desert between two impressive mountain ranges. From Lone Pine south to Inyokern the highway is great; two lanes each way, relatively flat and well paved. From Inyokern south to Adelanto the road is single lane each way, no divider, substantial uphill grades, slow unpassable trucks and rotten paving.
We continued on 395 all the way to Hesperia which is a foreign word meaning Bleak Wasteland. There was not much to see on the way to Desert Willow RV Resort, our RV spot for tonight and tomorrow. The park has a pool, many RV spaces, full hookups including cable TV, wi-fi and good roads. There was a problem with the cable TV once I got it hooked up.
It was over 90 degrees when we were setting up but I took the time out in the inferno to hook my cable to their connection and went inside to set up the TV. I input commands to use the cable TV signal as the source and to program all available channels. The TV started chugging along, programming channels and after a while I noticed that it had programmed 486 digital TV channels and two cable channels. Then the TV went through a long sequence of removing all the scrambled channels from the programming. Finally, after about 20 minutes, the TV put up a dialog box that stated the TV had finished and we had 2 cable and 1 digital TV channels. One of the cable channels was a green screen. The other was a purple screen. The digital channel was an actual TV picture but it was very tiny, filling up about 1/8 of my TV’s screen. I went back into Hell outside and hooked up the Dish.
The Alabama Hills, with their fabulous rock formations, beckoned us again today. This time we took a road called Turtle Creek into the Hills and were rewarded with more spectacular views of terrain apparently perfect for western movies. Many bad guys could have hidden in the rocks here, only to descend for nefarious purposes. The rock formations have subtle changes as you pass through each canyon; one will have spherical boulders that resemble mushrooms while another will exhibit nothing but cubic boulders that resemble giant stacks of Legos. It is pretty amazing. Roads are okay if you are not in a hurry.
After our cruise through the Hills, we headed south on US-395 toward Olancha which is Spanish for nothing. We spotted a giant bottling facility for Crystal Geyser water along the road. We have no idea where they get their water because there certainly ain’t any around here. In Olancha we turned northeast on CA-190 around Owens Dry Lake. Before the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power arrived, there was a lake here. Unfortunately for locals, DWP acquired all the water rights and a substantial portion of the land in the Owens Valley, diverted the available water into their aqueduct which zings the water to the thirsty landscaping in the Los Angeles basin. As we drove along the edge of the non-lake, white dust was being propelled across the road at sandblasting speeds as it migrated from one part of the pan to another.
The scenery as we went around the lake was outstanding. The mountains on the east side of the Owens Valley offer a more rounded and quite colorful alternative to the jagged granite of the Sierras on the west side. From the east side of the non-lake, the Sierras and Mount Whitney are the horizon features, the Alabama Hills fill the middle of the picture and the dry lake makes up the foreground. The contrast between the dead-flat lake bottom down at 4,000′ to the top of Whitney at 14,450′ is stark.
We circled the former lake and ended up headed back toward Lone Pine and our RV park. We spotted considerable evidence of surface and hard rock mining in the mountains east of the dry pan. Nobody is mining much around here now although we did pass a sulfate production facility. I was a failure at chemistry in school many years ago so I have no idea what sulfate is used for other than confusing science students.
We got some Alabama Hills and Owens Lake pictures that you can see if you click here
By about noon today we quit being layabouts and took off for an excursion around the Lone Pine area. The western horizon is filled up with the Sierras and Mount Whitney is front and center. Whitney is hard to ignore.
We crossed US-395 from our RV park and drove up Whitney Portal Road which ascends from about 4000′ elevation to 8200′. Anybody that wants to go higher will be walking. Driving all the way to the top of the road confirms my theory that the closer you get to a mountain, the less you will see. The drive up and back is a bit exhilarating because the road is steep and curvy along the edge of the massive rock mountains but the views of the mountains and the valley far below are fantastic. This is not a good road for impaired driving; errors will be fatal.
We drove most of the way down from the Whitney Portal trailhead and turned north through an area called the Alabama Hills. This is an area with fantastic rock formations that must look real Western-Movieish because scores of western movies were filmed in these rocks. Strangely, the movie Gunga Din was also filmed here but I thought that flick was supposed to take place in India. The road is washboard gravel through the Hills but we were going to go slowly anyway because the scenery is terrific here.
We eventually found our way out of the Alabama Hills, despite the complete lack of dirt road signs anywhere west of 395. We turned north and went to Manzanar National Historic Site a few miles away. They have a good visitor center there where almost all Americans can learn about being xenophobic zealots and putting all the people of a certain race into concentration camps. In 1942, Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order empowering the Army to round up all those of Japanese ancestry, including U.S.citizens, and to imprison them without trial or compensation for lost assets due to internment. Nobody put in the camps had done anything wrong other than to have Japanese ancestors. Although WWII was fought against the Russians, Germans and Italians in addition to the Japanese, only those with Japanese ancestry were imprisoned. No person in Manzanar was ever charged or convicted of treason. Plenty of German-Americans were spies but free to operate with abandon.
Manzanar housed 10,000 people on one square mile in crummy buildings without heat or water. It is very hot here in the summer and below freezing in the winter. Very windy and dusty conditions prevail. Despite the miserable conditions, folks from the camp made the place better by installing Oriental gardens, a Kendo dogo, hospitals, schools, assembly buildings and shops throughout the camp. They worked on the production of U.S. war material while imprisoned in this shithole.
I think of those in the U.S. who believe that putting whole segments of the population in concentration camps while “extreme vetting” or Homeland Security trial backlogs delay them on their way to deportation. Eleven million Mexican citizens? All the Muslims? Syrians?
We should know better and if we don’t, those that advocate imprisonment of U.S. residents without trial should visit Manzanar.
We took some photos in the Whitney area, the Alabama Hills and at Manzanar. You can see some of ’em if you click here
We continued our trip to the south and warmer weather. From McGee Creek RV we got on US-395 and started the long descent into the lower Owens River Valley. At McGee Creek, we were at around 7000′ elevation but we dropped quite substantially such that we were at about 4500′ in Bishop and down to about 4000′ at our new stopping point at Boulder Creek RV Resort a few miles south of Lone Pine.
We were quite successful finding warmer weather. Up at McGee Creek it was windy and about 50 during the day, 34 at night. Down here in the lower reaches, it is around 80 during the day and 60 at night. Very little wind.
There must be a substantial area near Lone Pine where folks can use their off-road vehicles because I see a lot of them in the RV park. The park also has full hookups, restrooms and showers for those tenting, a hot tub and a pool, crummy cable TV and slow wi-fi. There must be over a hundred spaces here but the space we were assigned is a big one and we have plenty of elbow room. We also have an absolutely spectacular view of Mount Whitney (el. 14,495′), the tallest mountain in the 48. We are 10,000 feet below the summit but not many miles horizontally from the peak. It is a monster.
We got set up in the park and Peggy became extremely altruistic by hauling our duds to the laundry facility and rendering them clean again. I am glad she is with me for this retirement stuff.
There’s a couple shots of the horizon as we drove that can be seen by clicking here
Today we had a chance to do some aimless exploring or exploring without any clear destination. We started out the drive with a cruise up McGee Creek. We went up this same road yesterday but the weather was pretty foul so some of the mountaintops were obscured and the wind was moving at about 40. Yesterday we observed massive sections of gray rock that make up the eastern slope of this section of the Sierra Range. Today, though, the weather was crystal-clear but the wind was still pretty stiff.
There is only a sign indicating the way to turn off US-395 to access McGee Creek Road. There is no sign saying “Gorgeous Valley – that way” and there should be. Traveling up the initial, steep, paved section of the road offers great views of Lake Crowley in the valley floor and another range of the Sierras as the backdrop. As the road flattens out near the portal to the giant rock mountains, there is a Forest Service campground with great views. With a Federal access pass, it costs $10.50 to occupy a spot overnight. The road continues on to an equestrian trailhead but the scenery alongside is gorgeous and stopping to look becomes almost constant. The views from this skinny little road as it follows the creek are spectacular; the surrounding mountains jut up some 4000 feet and being a human makes one feel insignificant next to the terrain.
We eventually exited McGee Creek and took another spin to nearby Convict Lake. The lake was named for 3 bad guys who escaped from jail in Carson City and were cornered here by a posse. One convict was returned to jail but the other two were hanged in the nearby community of Bishop. The lake is quite beautiful and fills a canyon between some more majestic bluffs on the sides of the dark blue water. We were here taking pictures yesterday but the place looked very different in today’s brilliant sunshine.
From Convict Lake we drove a bit up US-395 to a road leading east through a geothermal area. We soon found a place where folks enjoy the benefits of having a thermal geyser erupting in the middle of a stream of freezing cold glacial meltwater. Near the geyser, the mixed water is hot, further away somewhat cooler. The water has turned the area near the stream white but the pools of hot water are light blue.
Soon we returned to 395, drove a few miles south and exited onto Benton Crossing Road which runs mostly east around the north end of Lake Crowley, a big body of water filling the bottom of the Owens River Valley. We continued eastbound until crossing the Owens River right about where it enters Lake Crowley. We continued on the paved road down the east side of Lake Crowley and eventually turned east on Chidago Canyon Road, a gravel road with some washboard sections, narrow passages, steep climbs and descents and no cell phone service.
This is where the road got interesting. After considerable slow-motion driving, we entered Red Canyon, a section of rock formations unlike any we have seen before. There is a designation on our California Gazetteer map that says there are petroglyphs here but we did not see any of those. Instead, the road snaked through some very tight passages between pink rocks that have eroded in some unexplainable ways resulting in amazing shapes, holes and gouges. Our truck is about 20 feet long so we traveled very slowly through this amazing maze to make sure we were not scraping the paint off the door panels.
After many bumps and even more gorgeous views, we finally emerged onto US-6 which took us south to Bishop. A diesel stop and a tobacco stop at an Indian Casino and we were on our way back north on 395 and the McGee Creek RV Park. We leave this area tomorrow and we are both regretting it. We will have to see all the other gorgeous stuff around here on our next pass.
We got a few pictures along today’s sort of aimless excursion. To see some of them, click here
Since we are camped right at the edge of the Sierras, we elected to take a spin into the eastern portion of this impressive, jagged range. We decided to try to drive to Devil’s Postpile National Monument. The Monument is located near Red’s Meadow which is west of the Mammoth Mountain ski area.
We started by driving north on US-395 a few miles before turning west on CA-203 up to the ski resort. We turned in Mammoth and continued uphill until we passed over a pass at about 9200 feet before descending about 1700 feet down a mostly one-lane road to near the Devil’s Postpile Ranger Station parking lot.
I am in probably what would be defined as grossly out-of-shape and I don’t really enjoy strolling around at 7500 feet elevation. From the parking lot there is a trail that runs mostly downhill about 1/2 a mile to the lower, unused parking lot near the Ranger Station. We slowly wandered down this trail, making pretty good time for old people. We emerged at the Ranger Station (closed, of course) and got onto the trail from there to the Postpile. The trail from the Ranger Station to the Postpile is mostly flat with a few small hills. It passes through some magnificent mountain terrain with abundant Jeffery pine trees and babbling brooks along the path.
After nearly dying from lack of oxygen, we arrived at Devil’s Postpile which is an enormous formation of volcanic rock which pooled and then cooled, cracking is such a way that the result is a collection of hexagonal basalt columns a couple hundred feet high. Some of the columns are not plumb, curved by unknown forces but still possessing the same hexagonal attributes.
After a period of heavy panting, we started back toward the Ranger Station and the parking lot in a light rain. The wind came up and mixed with the rain, dropping the temperatures considerably. Gasping, we struggled to the Ranger Station where the nasty climb to the parking lot awaited us. Once we started up the hill, we started getting passed by almost everybody, most of whom were healthier, much fitter and completely annoying in their fitness zeal.
We drove back up toward the pass before dropping into Mammoth and it was along this skinny road up past 8000, then 9000 foot elevation that I found this is a particularly heady place to smoke a medical joint. On the way down from the pass to Mammoth, the road passes directly over an earthquake fault which is plainly visible from the highway. Stopping in Mammoth Mountain, we found there really isn’t an official visitor center for the national monument although we did find a gift shop at the Forest Service headquarters in town.
We had some additional daylight left after our trip to Devil’s Postpile NM so we got back on US-395 southbound passing a large geothermal power plant and a Forest Service Air Attack Base before turning off into the mountains at both Convict Lake and McGee Creek. These little side trips were just chock full of extraordinary scenery and were well worth the time to drive up the access roads.
There are some pictures of today’s stuff that you can see if you click here
Today was a travel day. We pulled up stakes at Minden and continued south on US-395 back into California. We were at about 5200 foot elevation in Minden but the road south wanders up and down some hilly terrain, crossing some passes at elevations above 7200 feet. Charlotte pulled our 12,000 pound fifth wheel up each pass without hardly any speeds under 55 mph.
We passed by Mono Lake with its strange tufa formations. We shot through Lee Vining, about where the road starts to descend toward June and Mammoth Lakes. We pulled into the McGee Creek RV Park (elevation 7000′) which shows its address in Mammoth Mountain but is really in a town called Crowley Lake. From our site we can look across a giant valley of grass on one side and the rather abrupt Sierra Range out the other. It is very pretty here.
We got a few pictures during the drive today. See some of them by clicking here
Today our exploration took us west from the Carson City area. We got on US-50 from town and started up the long hill to Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is the highest alpine lake in North America with many streams feeding it but only the Truckee River draining it. The lake level is 6229 feet at the surface. It is quite clear with beautiful aquamarine water along the shallow edges. It is also pretty big – 22 miles by 12 miles and 1645 feet deep. Surrounding it are very expensive lakeside residences of truly astonishing magnitude, casinos (on the Nevada side of the lake), stands of pine and cedar trees and a road that is supposed to go all the way around the lake.
We turned north on NV-28 from US-50 and tried to circle the lake going counterclockwise. We passed through Incline Village in Nevada but right after that we entered California. We continued on 28 until we got to Tahoe City where the road south becomes CA-89. We continued south down the west shore of the lake until we got to Emerald Bay State Park where the highway was closed. We were not going to be able to continue on into South Lake Tahoe and complete today’s loop. However, there is a magnificent view from the Emerald Bay Overlook where visitors can look down into Emerald Bay where the only island in the lake, Fannette Island, pops up through the dark blue lake water. Beyond Emerald Bay you can see the main part of Lake Tahoe and the resorts and casinos of South Lake Tahoe at the south shore.
We had to return to our RV park in Minden by the same route we arrived by due to the closed US-89 but the drive along the lake is just as magnificent going the other way. There are many terrific vistas along the shoreline. This area is also quite crowded; there has been substantial development around the lake and there are very few spots where you will not see a house. Gas and diesel is quite pricey here so fill up before you go.
We took a few pix along the way and you can see them if you click here
Peggy and I have passed through the Carson City, Nevada, area but it was many years ago. We do not remember visiting any of the available attractions here during previous visits. Now we have nothing but time on our hands, we started our exploration today by going to Bodine’s Casino and getting chicken fried steak for me and a veggie omelet for Peg. Their chicken fried steak is a good deal for the cost but certainly no match for Dean’s in Clackamas.
After breakfast, we escaped from the casino with our wallets intact and drove the 15 miles or so to Virginia City. I remember always seeing the dot designating the location of Virginia City on the map that would catch fire during the title sequence at the beginning of the TV western serial, Bonanza.
Virginia City is a strange assortment of old mining community, upscale shops in old buildings, old houses with fabulous architecture and wild horses wandering around downtown. There was no parking available on the main drag due to many aimlessly wandering tourists saturating the area but ample parking can be had a block or two away.
Despite some of the magnificent architecture, the foundations of the buildings in town are predominantly crap and I am surprised the structures continue to cling to the sides of the very steep hill where the town is situated. We spotted a few tall structures with what is referred to in the slang as an “Irish Door,” which is a door covering an opening in a lofty part of the outside wall of a building that does not have the required stairs on the exterior. The first step out the door would be fatal. The big retaining walls required to hold up a community of this size should have been massive, robust structures but they were actually quite flimsy-looking and not plumb. I am glad we do not live beneath any of them.
Wild horses were wandering around on the back streets, nibbling at apples and grasses in the spaces between the houses. The big stallion that was shepherding a big harem of mares would develop a fifth lag anytime anyone approached his stuff. The horses looked very healthy.
There is a lot of interesting Americana on the roads leading in and out of Virginia City. Old vehicles dot some sections of the landscape. On the way back into Carson City from Virginia City, we stopped to look at a few of the abundance of whorehouses. They don’t look too good on the outside but I suppose all the interesting stuff goes on indoors.
We finished up our exploring for today by driving through Carson City to get a look at some of the gorgeous residential and municipal architecture. The Comstock Mine, one of the biggest producers of precious metal in the world, is nearby and some of the affluent early inhabitants built magnificent wood and stone buildings that still stand.
Some pictures of Virginia City and Carson City stuff can be seen if you click here