Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Eastern Sierra . . .

¶ . . . I returned Friday morning from a quick yet wide-ranging excursion on the Sierran eastside, Tom's Place to Bridgeport/Twin Lakes. Prior to my arrival to Mammoth Lakes I journeyed up the well maintained Rock Creek road, a fine asphalt elevator to 10,000-plus feet elevation and the Little Lakes Valley Trailhead. This bears a return trip as a conversation with the ranger revealed it is a very easy day-hike to the backcountry, with evidence I had read about before of . . .mining activity! In fact, apparently, as i discovered later, Union Carbide still has a tungsten operation in the area.
    . . . The "Volcanic Auto Tour" served as the outline for Thursday's expedition. The tour guide, a small but informative pamphlet, is available at the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center on State Highway 203.
    . . . The first stop, at the 203/US 395 junction, is the marker for Casa Diablo and is near the geothermal powerplant; it's said it supplies a third of the electrical requirement to the town of Mammoth Lakes. Continuing north, you encounter some interesting sites: Lookout Mountain (my favorite), Obsidian Dome, the Mono Craters, Panum Crater, and others. Some lightweight off-roading was required, the toughest being Lookout Mountain, but my '99 Saturn SL served well! I began early in the AM, so everywhere I went, excepting Panum Crater (a few hikers), I was alone.
    . . . "Good, by God, I'm going to Bodie!" (my preferred rendition of the famous quote!) I thought as I headed off east on the CA 270/ Bodie Rd. turn-off. It was actually quite pleasant for the middle of July, low 80's/ high 90's. I arrived at the perfect time to take in the tour of the Standard Stamp Mill, a twenty-stamper, and of course, I ate it all up. I even "got a job" as an electrician in the mill at $5.00 a day (miners got $4.00). VileBill highly recommends this side trip, whether you're a ghost town/mining buff or not. Bring water and a lunch and get the excellent self guided tour brochure at the ranger kiosk. The thirteen mile road to the townsite is paved but for the last three miles, but the "washboard attributes" have been smoothed-out since I was last there in '97. I seem to remember on a visit as a youngster the whole stretch was a washboard. Even people with trailers were up there this time. There had to be about two hundred people at the site on this visit.
    . . . Next, up to Twin Lakes, thirteen miles southwest out of Bridgeport. These are two quite large Sierran lakes, tarns I think, and are true jewels in the crown. At the upper lake you can even park next to the shore and fish from right next to your car. Another VileBill recommendation!
    . . . Though the Saturn has served me well and, continues to do so, it is a real dog on steep grades, again experienced on the next stop: Saddlebag Lake via CA 120/ Tioga Pass. Word was that the lake, at 10,000 feet plus, was still iced over; not so, but it sure was complete mosquito-ville here and at Lee Vining Creek, site of Bennettville, an old mining town. I should have hiked up to it; Ghost shows structures there, but after reading the marker I got the impression it was wiped out. Next time!!
    . . . In only a two-night stay I completed a one-day, two hundred mile-plus tour of this East Sierra area, backroads, too, and came away with some good memories and only a few mosquito bites. What John Muir called the "Range of Light" is truly God-blessed and I'm grateful for it. There's nothing like it elsewhere on this Earth. Don't miss it!!

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