Ambling around Bishop and Lone Pine

Current location: Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley, California; Current temperature: 101 degrees F Hi 102F Lo 70F
We are at the Furnace Creek Ranch RV Park hiding in the MoHo shelter with the air going full blast.  It isn’t very cool in here, but it is a good place to be at the moment, and lots better than outside.  The swimming pool is great as well.
desert peach in the SierrasWednesday morning May 1 in Bishop, CA
It is great to wake up in the morning after a good night’s sleep to know we have absolutely nowhere to be at any time at all.  We are hanging out in Bishop, a town we have traveled through often, but never really stopped to visit.  We knew that a few things were on the list, including a visit to a famous bakery and a drive into the mountains.  The rest of the day would be fleshed out after we checked out the lovely visitor center directly across the street from the previously mentioned bakery.
Day 4 Bishop_013DSC_0015The visitor center didn’t open until ten, and since it was only 9:30 we had no choice but to spend time in Schat’s Bakkery.  Awww…too bad.  even though the place was established in 1904, it is clear that now it caters to the tremendous tourist industry that plies the road between LA and Reno.  There is no way a tiny town of under 4,000 people could begin to support a bakery of this size and quality.  They are famous for their sheepherder bread, but the rest of the choices are fun as well.  We had a great pastry and sipped perfect coffees while we watched the tourists come and go with their big bags of bread and pastries.  I left with a bag of bread as well.
Day 4 a day in BishopMo parked at the visitor center, adjacent to the city park, with a large sign once again proclaiming “No Dogs”.  We keep seeing these signs in most of the small city parks along this route and it is a bit discouraging.  Mo waited in the car while I picked the brains of a very informative young woman, a local resident for her entire life.  She told us about some of the places to go, but more important she knew the history of the little Rovada Village that we had seen yesterday afternoon.  It was built by the owners of the Tungsten Mine up Pine Canyon, now closed because even though it was the largest tungsten mine in the US, it is cheaper to mine tungsten in China.  The village is a leftover, and consists of old, somewhat poorly kept rentals.  The young woman lived there until very recently, and didn’t think it was nearly as charming as it appeared to us yesterday as we drove through.  On our list today: drive the canyon to the tungsten mine.
great Bishop Dog ParkFirst things first, however.  We needed an Abby place, and just around the corner from the visitor center and city park we found a wonderful dog park.  There were even toys lying around, lots of doggie bags, grass and trees for shade.  Another young woman there with her dog told us that the locals all take their dogs on the road on either side of the canal, just 1/4 mile east of the park, where there are old cow wallows that are perfect for doggie swims.  Hmmm.  Maybe not today, but good to know.
galen-rowell-0By the time Abby had played to her heart’s content, it was time for the opening of the Mountain Light gallery down on Main Street.  No one except maybe Ansel Adams has photographed the Sierran light the way that Galen Rowell did.  His images are breathtaking, and the gallery was incredibly beautiful.  I have wanted his book, Mountain Light, since forever, and a 25th anniversary edition was right there in front of me.  Yes, I bought it.  Galen and his wife were killed sadly in small plane crash right here at the Bishop airport in 2002, but his legacy lives on, not only for the Sierra, but for all the other magical mountains in the world that he climbed and photographed.  I stayed in the gallery a long time while Mo waited patiently with Abby in the car and read brochures about more things to do in the area.
Round ValleyMid day we went back to the campground to enjoy the beautiful sunshine and rustling breezes before wandering off in the  opposite direction north of town to find Pine Canyon and the tungsten mine.  Bishop has a long history in cattle and mining, and the valley was once magnificent with the waters of the Owens River.  Now that river has been diverted for the thirsty developers in Los Angeles, and the valley looks nothing like it did before the 1920’s when the LA water district bought up all the water rights.  Our helpful history woman at the info center told us that Round Valley, on a narrow road west of 395, still was naturally sub irrigated, and looked like it did when her family ranched there 4 generations previous. 
Rovana village built by the mining companyWe drove through Rovada again with different eyes.  Yesterday we came through the town trying to find our campground, but that was just a little mistake.  Today it was on purpose.  Pine Canyon was beautiful, with huge glacial boulders strewn on the canyon floor and the steep crest of the eastern Sierra directly above us.  The natural stream has been diverted by the mining company, and according to our local resident, there is something in the soil, left over from mining, that interferes with growing veggies to any decent size. 
found a place where she could get in at least a little bitWe looked for a place to let Abby go swimming, and took some bumpy hidden old dirt paths that looked like they went to the river.  Once down there, we found some perfect spots, except they were completely taken over by large groups of campers.  Not RV types, but more like the kind of campers who might be living there permanently.  So much for a swim, Abby.  Near the diversion gate we did finally find a little place where she could at least get her feet wet, but the water was much too fast to let her get even knee deep.
desert peach on the east side of the SierrasThroughout the canyon we saw desert peach in full bloom.  Somehow I knew nothing of this common eastern Sierra shrub, in the prunus family, that has a bitter small fruit and blooms all over the hillsides in spring.  It stands out because it is so rare to get desert flowers that are this shade of pink.
Home in the afternoon to chicken quesadillas at our picnic table with cards and wine and more beautiful breezes.  I loved this little wayside park and am so glad that we decided to stay here more than just overnight.
Thursday morning we knew our travels to Death Valley would be less than 150 miles so we decided it was a good day to see some of the sites along Highway 395 we never seem to have time for.  Sabrina Canyon was first on the list, but after missing the turn in Bishop we ended up driving out to Keogh Hot Springs Campground and Resort.  A drive around was enough, and  I don’t think we really need to think about staying here.  The pool is developed from the spring and the place didn’t look very clean.  I would much rather have a natural spring or a really clean pool, no in between for me, I guess.
the cemetery at ManzanarA few more miles south and we passed the small town of Big Pine and then arrived at Manzanar.  This was our day to actually stop and go to the visitor center and drive the grounds.  The story is daunting, and the visitor center is filled with eloquent words and evocative photos and exhibits.
Day 4 D Valley_009DSC_0070There were ten “relocation centers” for American citizens who happened to be Japanese, and the largest of them was near where we live now in Tulelake.  Can you imagine having to suddenly leave your home and business with only what you could carry?  The homes and businesses were almost completely gone years later when the people were allowed to return after the war. Much to think about as we viewed the center and drove the now empty sites. 
Continuing south to our beloved Alabama Hills, we finally made the stop at the Film Museum in Lone Pine. The Hills are a primo boondocking site, and lots of RV folks have written about them, but once again, the museum was something we just hadn’t made time for in the past.  We parked in the nearly empty huge parking lot, in the shade of some big cottonwoods, and paid our 5. entrance fee to see the museum.
Day 5 Manzanar and into Death ValleyThe short movie about the area was fascinating.  As we went in and Mo saw all the huge movie posters, she was skeptical that there were really THAT many movies made in this area.  But there were.  Literally hundreds of them, especially in the heyday of the B westerns and then the TV era that was so dominated by western series.  My first radio memory was The Lone Ranger, and then TV brought old black and white films of Hopalong Cassidy, the Cisco Kid, and so many more.  It would be fun to have a list of all the movies made in the hills, but I didn’t actually see that anywhere amid the displays of posters and old cars and gun belts and sequined outfits that belonged to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.  An era long gone, I am afraid.  It was a fun stop, but the only photos I took were of the murals on the outside walls.descent into the valley
The afternoon was waning and it was time to head east from Lone Pine on Highway 136 toward Death Valley.  Tonight, Stovepipe Wells and hopefully a site with hookups.  Reservations are not taken after April 30 at this park, but a phone call assured us that only 1 or 2 of the 14 available hookup sites were taken. 
We are ready for a few days in the beautiful valley of death, or as the Paiute’s and Shoshone’s called it, the Valley of Life.

What day is it?

Current Location: Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley, California

Current temperature: 94.  High today 104 Low tonight 75 Sunny

We are beginning our third day in Death Valley and I am working on photos and blog posts.  There is WiFi only in the lodge here at Stovepipe Wells where we are camped with full hookups, including sewer, for 8 bucks a night.  Yeah you read that right.  But that is a story for another post.  In the mean time…

highway 50Tuesday April 30. We laughed this morning, wondering what day it was.  Finally decided it was Tuesday.  Hmmm.  Must be Belgium?  No, not Belgium, instead, it is time to drive over the mighty Sierras and find the beautiful high desert country of 395.  We also noticed that a couple of clocks had different times.  Maybe half an hour apart.  Did it matter? no.  Vacation time. 

time to check the hookupsGetting on Highway 50 going east was a matter of a few minutes from our campground, and the road was reasonably quiet on this Tuesday morning.  The light was brilliant in that way that seems to be found only in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Mo and I both have traveled 50 many times, but once again it all seemed new.  Neither of us remember how closely the road followed the American River, and the river was wild and full with the spring snowmelt. 

perfect rest stop along the road for AbbyWe stopped along the way for a doggie break and when I stepped out of the rig I was overpowered with the intense scent of dry pine and incense cedar.  I live in the forest, Oregon is covered with beautiful forests, many of them the same species, and yet here and only here in the Sierra Nevada Mountains have I smelled this particularly unique fragrance.  I have no idea why other forests don’t smell like this.  I took deep, deep breaths while we walked around a bit and listened to the sound of logging down below us along the river.

Lake Tahoe from highway 50A few more miles along the river and we were up on the crest, and rounding a big curve the blue beauty of Lake Tahoe lay before us.  I also didn’t remember Highway 50 being this steep and narrow.  It is a LONG way down and of course I was in the passenger seat looking down at a very long drop to the bottom.  We knew that the highway 50 route to Carson City would have been a bit easier, but the faster and shorter route was through Markleeville along Highway 88 and a turn south on Highway 89, intersecting 395 just south of Topaz.

concentrationMonitor Pass is narrow and very steep, with a few hairpin turns but the vistas across the east slope of the mountains down into the desert are magnificent.  I am not sure I would like to drive it in a bigger motorhome, but in our 26 footer we do just fine, even towing the Tracker.  Slow and Easy does it.  Traffic was light and the downshift feature in our Ford chassis worked great as usual, although the lowest gear wasn’t really quite low enough and Mo had to use the brakes more often then she liked.

Monitor Pass vistasOnce off the pass and onto 395, the landscape opened up to the dry sage high desert that is the beauty of the Eastern Sierra. Not far down the Walker River we found a great day use area, that looked as though it had been worked on a bit since we passed here last.  In the warm sunshine, the Jeffrey pines were exuding the scent of vanilla, or some think of it as butterscotch. 

gentle Jeffreys, prickly Ponderosa.  This one is gentleMo had never smelled it before and was surprised at how strong it was.  She also learned the “Gentle Jeffrey, Prickly Ponderosa” saying that helps identify the two trees by their cones.  No prickles on this beautiful cone.  The river was full and beautiful as well, and we enjoyed the interpretive signs that talked of the magnificent Walker River Trout, now a quarter of its once historic size. We enjoyed our lunch in the sheltering coziness of the MoHo, and appreciated the nice RV turn around area and parking.  What a great lunch spot right along the road!

smell that vanilla!The rest of the afternoon led us along the eastern slope of the Sierras, where the snow seemed quite thin for the last day in April. Passing the road to Bodie where we spent happy times wandering the high desert, and then passing our road to the Virginia Lakes trails brought back lots of great memories of times we have spent in this, one of our most favorite parts of the world.

Mono LakeWe pulled a long hill and then rounded a big curve to see Mono Lake stretching out before us, a strange and very different shade of green than I have ever seen.  At the rest area overlooking the lake were some more interesting interpretive signs telling the story of this lake like no other in the world.  Farther down in the landscape we found more signs with the story of the geologic hot spot in the area, the Long Valley Caldera.  I had been explaining this particular phenomena to Mo as we traveled along and it was great to find a picture of the extent of the explosion right there along the highway.

Day 3 395 Bishop_130DSC_0130Pulling into Brown’s Millpond just north of Bishop in early afternoon was perfect, and we snagged a nice little site.  Looking at each other and the blue skies and leafed out locust and cottonwood trees, I said, “What about just staying here two nights?”.  A site was available, and we were really glad to know that tomorrow would be a leisurely day exploring around Bishop and just hanging out a bit and enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

Day 3 395 Bishop_115DSC_0115Brown’s Millpond is a great little campground, one not on our radar until Russ mentioned it in a comment and we decided to check it out.  The six miles into Bishop is an easy trip, and unlike the other campgrounds in town, it is off the road and quiet, with the Sierras as a backdrop and shaded by beautiful cottonwoods and locusts now in bloom.  The camp hostess, Stacy, is a granddaughter in the extensive Brown clan, folks who have been in the Bishop area for several generations.  She was a sweet and delightful young woman, full of talk and stories, and so helpful.  She even lent us a DVD player!  Ours in the MoHo has been broken for awhile and we have avoided trying to replace it since we discovered that it is hardwired into the rig.  Funny thing, there is an input for “video game” and Mo thought, why wouldn’t that work for a DVD?!  Sure enough, it did, and we got to try it out without having to buy one just yet.

Browns Millpond campgroundWe watched “Lincoln”, trying once again to actually get through the movie without falling asleep.  I have no idea what to say about this movie.  It was so highly acclaimed, and parts of it were amazing, with good performances and yet it still very nearly put me to sleep.  I am glad we got through it, glad we watched it, if only to know we watched it and to not have to wonder what we missed.  As I said, parts were really good.  A test of a good movie is if you are sorry it is ending or if you are glad it is finally over, do you think?

escape!Before we settled into the movie, though, we decided to walk the campground.  On the west boundary, there was an open gate, and who can resist an open gate leading out into the desert!  It was a great, quiet, off leash place to get a good leg stretch for us and for Abby, and while the sunset wasn’t very colorful, the light was still beautiful. I am so glad to once again be in this part of the world, watching the light change on the mountains and smelling the incredible air, listening to the cottonwoods rustle.

Day 3 395 Bishop_158DSC_0158Before I go, I have to mention that THIS is why I read blogs.  hike into Antelope CanyonAs many years as I have traveled the canyons of Southern Utah, I have never managed to get to Antelope Canyon.  Diane’s post made me cry, and made me remember how top this is on my bucket list.  Time to schedule a Utah canyon trip.  So many places, so little time….

The same thing happened this morning while reading Sherry’s review of Grayson State Park on the western edge of Florida.  Yes, I love Utah, and yes, I love Florida.  Then of course, I read Nina’s beautiful post about gnats while camping on Antelope Island.  I now know for sure when NOT to camp there.

What a great day, what a great life.

Shingle Springs to Nevada City, and Friends!

the beautiful American River near ColomaThere is nothing quite like a morning in the Mother Lode, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, on a warm spring day.  Waking to sunshine and temps in the mid 70’s with an expected high of 84 or so is just about perfect.  Light breezes and low humidity make it even better.  This time of year, the grasses are still somewhat green, and on a Tuesday morning the traffic was even minimal.

Day 3 395 Bishop_003DSC_0003Our site at the Elk’s Lodge in Shingle Springs is just a jump off Highway 50, and there are several ways to get north to Nevada City, but we wanted to take the most scenic route, following North Shingle Road to intersect with the famous gold road, Highway 49 near Coloma.  The destination was Nevada City and meeting our new and old friends, (well most of us aren’t exactly new), at Nickie and Jimmie’s home there. 

We hadn’t yet met in person, but I wasn’t the least bit concerned about it.  I am not sure why this is, but somehow the essence of people comes through in their blogs in ways that always seem to be just right.  Most of the time, I know if I will “click” with someone, and it amazes me that people turn out to be exactly as I thought they would.  Nickie and Jimmie were no exception, except I think they were even nicer than I imagined.  What truly lovely people! 

probably wouldn't enjoy driving the MoHo on 49 south of AuburnThe route north was wonderful, and winding through the hills on the curvy roads reminded me so much of the years I lived in Sonora and drove these roads for work.  I also marveled at how lovely the landscape looked when I didn’t have to imagine slogging up those hot, brushy slopes with a pack and shovels!  I could once again see the charm of the foothills and why people love it so. 

history in ColomaWe left early enough to take a short side trip to Coloma, but it was too early to visit the visitor center and once again my visit was just an overview.  This is the site of gold discovery on the American River, and there are interpretive signs everywhere and old buildings that have a story to tell.  We stopped long enough for a walk along the river with Abby, but returned to the road north fairly quickly so we wouldn’t miss our meet and greet time with Laurie and Odel at Nickie and Jimmie’s place.

working on a bridge on I-80, viewed from the America River south of AuburnThe American River is a story itself, and we saw lots of hikers and raft companies that ply the wild waters of that river.  It is a great place for recreation, with an old bridge walk that crosses the river in the canyon just below Auburn.  We thought we might walk it on our way back, but by late afternoon when we drove the return route, the parking area was packed and it was hot and there were way too many people for us to attempt it.  As beautiful as it is, there seems to be a lot of people pressure on the beautiful places around the Mother Lode.

Once we were through the old town portion of Auburn, Highway 49 is a 4 lane freeway all the way to Grass Valley and in no time we were exiting the road to Nevada City.  We were a bit early, so decided to amble through town before finding Nickie and Jimmie’s home up the hill.  I hadn’t been to Nevada City in years, but I was reminded on this sunny morning of just why it is such a popular place for so many.  My eldest daughter dreamed of living here, as I once did.  It is nestled into the pine covered hills, with steep winding streets filled with gorgeous restored Victorians and a Craftsman or two here and there, and lush spring flowers.  The dogwoods were in full bloom and magnificent!  We decided that after our little meeting we would come back and walk the town.  Of course, at that time we didn’t know we would have the perfect guides who provided ice cream!

Hi, Nickie!lovely welcome to their lovely homeUp the hill to their home was a beautiful drive as well, winding up through Sierran Mixed Conifer forest, thick and lush with Ponderosa Pine, Incense Cedar, and White Fir.  At over 3200 feet on deep old soils, the trees are growing beautifully, and the homes lining the road were quite lush as well.  It was beautiful.

Our welcome was as delightful as expected, but their home was even more lovely than I imagined, and Nickie’s warm and open southern California personality warmed  and mellowed even more by her time in the South and her sweet Southern husband combined to make a truly amazing combination.  I loved both of them almost instantly.  We laughed and talked as if we actually knew each other (which we did!!) and enjoyed seeing all their work on the yard, the new hot tub, and their beautiful home.  Laurie and Odel arrived just after we did, and since the four of them were already acquainted, the talking and laughter was ongoing.

Nickie and Jimmie ran lots of races and this quilt proves itA special treat was seeing a special quilt made from some of the great collection of runner’s tee shirts that Nickie and Jimmie had collected over the years of short runs and long ones, including marathons! Gorgeous! 

lovely lunch at Lefty's Grill in Nevada CityOf course we had to do the RV Blogger get together thing and go find someplace wonderful to eat.  Our Nevada City hosts recommended a great spot in town, Lefty’s Grill, and we dined on the sheltered patio to the sounds of the bubbling creek.  Wonderful food, and a sweet waiter who told me that definitely dogs were not allowed on the patio, but that if he didn’t know it, I could probably bring Abby.  This was the perfect solution, since it was warm and even in the shade, it would have been worrisome to leave Abby in the car.  Of course, the waiter smiled and said, “Please don ‘t bring your dog if you come back again, but she can stay for now”.  Abby helped by being her quiet sweet and calm self, lying under the table quietly while we ate.

Nickie and Jimmie will always be able to find each other in the darkblackberry cabernet sorbet for me.  Doesn't that look like a jewel?Laurie and Odel had lots of remodeling to continue, so declined to walk the town with us, but we were really happy to have Nickie and Jimmie lead us to good parking (.25 cents for two hours) and show us some of the finer spots in the lovely tiny historic city.  Nickie said later that we only saw a tiny bit of it, but after a couple of hours we didn’t mind leaving and saving the rest for later.  Something tells me we will return to this great little place again. 

There is so much to do around here, lots of parades, and art, and festivals, good weather, beautiful mountains, rivers, so much to do and all sorts of recreational activities in abundance.  It is a nice place.  However, as we drove home, we remembered again that nice places usually attract lots and lots of people.  Once again we drove the winding roads with lots of company.  Mo used to love her little sports cars, and as she pushed the Tracker up the steep hills she wished for a clutch and some gears! As fast as she was going, however, there were often many cars right behind her trying to push her up the hill.  A surprising number of turnouts along the route at least made it tolerable.  Most people waved when she pulled over.  Except for all the folks on cell phones, including one woman in a big SUV who almost obliterated us in Auburn, people in California are pretty good drivers.Day 2 Nevada City

It was such a great day!  Thanks to the internet, and blogging, and RV’ing, we discovered some new friends and explored a place we might not have done without that little extra push of having someone who lived there.