Sleeping in Sagebrush

What with a canoe ride on Lake Merritt for the 4th of July holiday, diving in the Monterey Bay the second weekend, and going to Big Sur with my mother for her birthday the weekend after that, it's been a really fun July. Yes, I have been buying a lot more gas than usual, but it's been a lot of fun, and I am super tan! What's really topped it off was an amazingly beautiful trip that Eric and I took for our (13th!) anniversary last weekend, up to the eastern Sierra.

Of course, being us, we did not really leave as early as we should have. There is always the dilemma, when leaving the Bay Area -- is it worth it to leave town at 6:00 pm, or will I just be sitting there in traffic and not get there any sooner than if I left at 7:00 pm? Consequently we left a little bit after 7:30 pm and did not arrive at our campsite, on June Lake, until nearly 1:00 am, and then of course had to set up camp before going to sleep.

The campsite had very little shade, and the temperature inside the tent became unbearable, even for me, around 7:30 am. When I climbed out of the tent, I discovered why the campsite was called Oh! Ridge. I really looked out, saw the lake, and said, "Oh!" It was a beautiful spot, if too sunny. We pulled our mattress out of the tent and lay in the shade of the tent for awhile. The entire Mammoth Lakes area is full of sagebrush, and my head ended up right near some of the brush, smelling the sage. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to sleep very well. Of course it was well after noon before we left the site.

Our priority for the day was seeing one of the area's hot springs, hopefully a relatively secluded one. Trying to find someplace like this took a significant amount of time. I tried to do some research ahead of time, but most everything you see on the web says that if you want real seclusion, you have to ask the locals where to go. Of course, they don't want to tell you. The US Forest Service in particular, apparently, is afraid of people having heart attacks in hot springs and wants everyone to go to one particular crowded one. We were able to find out from them, however, that what you're supposed to do is get a particular book called "Hot Springs of the Eastern Sierra" and that you could buy it at gas stations.

By the time we had gone to all of this trouble, we decided there wasn't enough time to go see the Devil's Postpile, even though it's supposed to be nice. Plus, we were ready for a late lunch. We had a picnic in a park along an earthquake fault, where you could look at a very obvious fissure.

Then we did a short hike out to the Inyo Craters. These are craters formed by thermal venting of steam coming into contact with snow and just blowing a huge hole. It was quite impressive. If you're really intersted in the fine geologic details, see Long Valley Caldera and Mono-Inyo Craters Volcanic Field, California.

The hot spring book recommended going to hot springs around 4:00 or 5:00 pm for the most seclusion, but by the time we got through seeing the Inyo Craters, it was after 5:00. We went off driving around various dirt roads off of US 395 trying to follow the book's directions. They were not bad, but not really quite detailed enough. It took us an hour or so to find the hot spring we were looking for (the furthest one from 395), down a deeply pitted and rutted hill road. Although we did not see anyone else on the road, when we got to the spring, there were several people. So, all our search for seclusion really got us was a very dirty car. But the people were interesting. A lot of them were divers, and we talked about diving. There was one man who spoke quite fluent Brooklynese, both with his hands and his mouth, particularly when discussing his employer. We found out that the tubs are built and maintained by local volunteers. It was a beautiful spot and a nice soak, if not exactly what we were looking for.

We couldn't resist taking a picture of this sign.

Saturday night we got to sleep a little earlier, but still had to do some sleeping outside of the tent Sunday morning. By the time we packed up all of our dirty camping gear (I hadn't staked the tent down well enough Saturday, and it had started to blow away), it was around 1:00. The plan for the day was to see the tufa at Mono Lake and do some canoeing in the Weeble. For those of you who don't know, tufa are calcium carbonate formations that rise from the bottom of salty lakes like stalagmites. Mono Lake is somewhat unique in that some of its tufa are exposed. In the 1950's the LA Water Department diverted the freshwater stream that had fed Mono Lake. The lake resultantly became much saltier, and the water level dropped precipitously, exposing many of the tufa. It took environmentalists some 15 years of litigation before the courts declared that the state's resources belonged to everyone and not just one county. A settlement has been reached whereby the stream has been partially diverted back into Mono Lake, and, while the water level will not be restored to its original levels, it will be raised substantially over the next few decades. For now, however, you can go there and see a very alien-looking landscape. (Eric wants you to know that *he* took this picture.) We took a bouyant little dip in the very salty lake. Unfortunately, after the experience of being in wetsuits, the bouyancy of a salt lake wasn't as impressive as it used to be. Sagebrush was everywhere, with its strong aroma.

We did lose about half an hour at Mono Lake to a struggle to latch the trunk lid. After spraying it with WD-40 and poking at it with keys and the like for awhile, we finally decided that we had to remove some of our not insubstantial piles of camping gear, canoeing gear, car repair gear and miscellaneous other debris from the trunk and the back seat so that I could watch the trunk lid coming down from inside as Eric closed it. I was able to see that the latch was pointing too far towards the front of the car and was missing the piece that it it supposed to hook onto. I had once told Eric that there was no need to carry a hammer in the car, as a hammer was not an implement customarily employed in emergency automobile repair. He insisted on it, however, and it turns out he was right, because the hammer was the correct tool for this job. He got a great deal of satisfaction out of banging the stupid latch back into place.

At this point, it was starting to get late, and sensible people probably would have headed home, but I really wanted to get into the Weeble, and Eric really wanted to get into some freshwater and get the salt off of his skin. We thought about going back to June Lake by the campsite, but Eric thought we should take the opportunity to see yet another lake. Some people we'd met at the earthquake fault had recommended Convict Lake, so we headed there, even though it was about 30 miles in the wrong direction from home.

Convict Lake was absolutely gorgeous! Clear blue water and steep cliffs coming right up to the lake. We had a wonderful little paddle and a nice dip in the water to get rinsed off. It's really fun being out in the boat, although wind is always something of a problem. We had to carry the Weeble up a steep slope in order to get it back to the car. A man in his 30's remarked that we were pretty tough to be able to do that! It actually wasn't that bad, except that I started having a horrible allergic reaction and broke out in a bunch of hives. Fortunately, I had some lidocaine lotion in the first aid kit.

By now it was after 6:00 pm and was high time to hit the road. So we headed for the Tioga Pass and found Autumn's recommendation for dinner: Tioga Toomey's Whoa Nellie Deli. This was one of the most, if not the most, unique restaurants I have ever seen. It doesn't really look like a restaurant -- it just looks like a gas station. The only sign outside just says "Mobil Restaurant." But there is outdoor seating with live music and a gorgeous view of Mono Lake from up on the hill. Inside the station, it doesn't look like anything fancy -- it's just a take-out counter. But the food was something else! I had Autumn's recommendation: the Legendary Lobster Taquitos, and Eric had a salmon salad. The food was excellent. We also had a kahlua cheesecake with a wonderful raspberry sauce for dessert. Next time you are in Yosemite, it will be worth the drive over to the eastern side for the Whoa Nellie Deli. Thanks, Autumn, for the recommendation!

Of course we stopped on the way home in Yosemite to take a few pictures, but we didn't have enough light to get very good ones. Of course we got home very late, I was tired. But it was a wonderful little trip!

By Beth Zuckerman. Last updated: 08/05/04 by Eric and Beth Zuckerman

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