Monday, July 8, 2013

Hwy 395 Independence Day Road Trip!!

On Wednesday, July 3rd Josh and I ducked out of work early and started our Independence Day road trip up Hwy 395. We packed up the truck with snacks and camera gear and headed for Crestline to spend the night at my Parents cabin. When we arrived we did a little bug hunting. We were lucky to see this giant Watermelon beetle on the screen. We chased an unidentified bird around which had a call similar to the sounds of baby raccoon.

The next morning we woke up early and ran out the door. We stopped for coffee at a little cafe in Crestline with some interesting characters. We were excited as we wound our way down the mountain and to a moderately crowded I-15. Finally on the 395, the two lane hwy was crowded and slow but we were excited to be on a new adventure!

We made our way through the desert and the topography started to change. The mountains became craggy and large towering above the ancient lava fields below. We laughed as we read signs that said "Really Good Jerky only 200 miles ahead!" Distance is relative in the desert where, as my mom says, you can watch your dog run away for days.

I think this is the same contractor who built Sponge Bob's house.

We entered the town of Lone Pine and stopped at a gas station to take in the new mountain landscape.  There was a corral with a few interesting farm animals including this goat with tiny little legs. Low rider corgi goat! I loved him!

The sky began to darken and rain seemed imminent as we continued through Lone Pine and headed up the grade to Whitney Portal. Whitney Portal is the Southern terminus for the John Muir Trail which runs 211 miles through the High Sierra from the Yosemite Valley to the top of Mount Whitney. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet. Many people do this ascent in one day making a brutal 22 mile round trip with an elevation gain/loss of 6,100 feet. That's a barf-o-rama hike I say.

The Pacific Crest Trial and the John Muir Trail are one in the same in this section of the Sierra. They divert from each other at Mount Whitney and down into Yosemite Valley. On our through hike next year Josh and I plan to take the side trips to complete the John Muir Trail as we walk to Canada. Might as well since you've got your hiker legs on.

Once in the portal we traded our sandals for hiking shoes and hiked around the falls and creeks. The rain started to come down and was joined by a great show of thunder. Josh took photos of a group of people heading up Whitney for a few days. No one was phased by the warm rain shower, it even seemed to draw folks out. The colors became more and more vibrant and we tried to soak them in.

We jumped back in the truck and headed down the grade surveying the rain showers on the desert floor. 
Bidding Whitney Portal farewell we set out for Independence to share in their 4th of July celebrations. We watched a large electrical storm hit the base of the mountains as we drove.

We arrived in Independence around noon and found a small cafe to have lunch at. There were many PCT through hikers eating and chatting and Josh almost had stars in his eyes for them. Next year he will be one of those dirty hiker trash people and will be happy to look back at this day.
Independence was a cute town and full to the brim with holiday travelers. We decided to head up the 395 into the town of Big Pine to find lodging and partake in holiday festivities.

Big Pine is a fantastic place. Just at the base of the Sierra to the west and the White Mountains to the east it has a little bit of everything topographically speaking. The Palisades Glacier which is the southern most glacier in the United States, is visible on the mountain side. It is amazing to see such a large slab of ancient ice when you're standing on the hot valley floor.

We secured a room at the Bristlecone motel which is a very cozy and clean dive motel. As we were settling in we heard an old air raid siren scream three times and wondered if the end had come! We set out to see what was going on and asked a member of the hotel staff what the siren was for. She told us it is the volunteer fire department calling in the crew to an emergency! I guess Big Pine doesn't do two way radios or cell phones. Cool to be in a town that kicks it so old school. 

We walked the main drag three or four times playing the alphabet game. Our first round went like this:
"I'm going on a trip and I'm bringing...
an Apple
a Baseball
a Cat
a Dog
a Firetruck 
High tops
an Igloo
a Kiss
a Limousine
a Nest
an Office
a Purse
a Steamer
a Tent
an Umbrella
a Vice
a Xylophone
and a Zippo.'

Yay for the Alphabet game. :-)
We happened upon an abandoned art gallery and took some photos.

We rode the swings at the elementary school while continuing the alphabet game. We are nerds, no doubt about it. 

Finally we were hungry! We heard the volunteer fire department puts on a barbecue at the park so we walked down to check it out. As we approached we heard the air raid siren again and saw a handful of men with napkins in their shirts and barbecue in hand running for their fire trucks to respond to the call. Even in all the rush they still waved or tipped their hats to us as we walked down the road. I love small towns!

After we ate we walked further down the road passed a large horse corral. The horses loved Josh and some of them had very interesting coat patterns like the pony with the white face.

We turned down a back street and looked at the beautifully landscaped homes. All of them had small creeks running though the yards which were remnants of irrigation canals from long ago. We headed back to the hotel and called it a night watching silly T.V. shows which was a treat for us as we don't have cable or watch much T.V. in our daily lives.

The next morning we woke up bright and early, packed up and headed east into the White Mountains to visit the Ancient Bristlcone Pine Forest, the home of the Methusela Tree which is one of the oldest living non-colonial organisms. The Methusela tree, which is not identified to protect it from being vandalized, is upwards of  4,800 years old.
We stopped at a look out point on our way to the grove and surveyed the Sierra mountains. We could see many major passes and the Palisades Glacier. I tried my hand and catching some lizards but they were warmed up and too fast for me.

We continued up the mountain and the terrain changed dramatically. There were large groves of pines standing in what looked like barren desert sand and rock. The Bristlecones grow in dolomite soil which is very inhospitable to other plants.

At the visitors center we paid our fees, ate some lunch, slapped on sunscreen and headed out on the five mile Methuselah Trail to one of the oldest groves of Bristlecone pines. The wildlife posed for Josh and we grabbed the guide book to learn all about these amazing trees.

Right off the bat the trees did not disappoint. The knots in the bark told stories of a different time and ages gone by. Some of these trees were around when the pyramids were being built. Now that boggles the mind!

The Bristlecones are amazingly adapted; if one limb is damaged or diseased it will shut it off from the rest of the tree to save the whole, leading to the amazing gnarled wood pattern. There were some trees who fell and continued to grow on the ground having only one root still intact. The male trees have yellow pollen that floats in the wind binding with the female cones bristled end coated in sap. The famed Methusela tree is still breeding new seedlings even at her ripe old age. 

The area had a vibe that was palpable. I felt as if the trees slithered around the mountain side at night with only the stars as witnesses. There was definitely some magic going on here.

We came to an information point on the trail where a downed tree was laying on the hill side and read the corresponding guide entry. The tree was pictured in the booklet and a section of the trees rings were highlighted. We found the corresponding ring and read the description...this is where Christ was born. The rings in the tree pre-date the birth of Christ. [insert head explosion here]. Simply amazing.

With our minds sufficiently blown, we headed down the mountain and up the 395 to the town of Bishop. While in Big Pine we had seen ads for Schats Bakery and though it was a must do, if not for the silly name alone.

We arrived at the bakery and knew it must be good with the sheer number of people pouring in and out of it. Walking in it was decorated in old style decor and smelled tremendous! Bread EVERYWHERE! Us being low carbers threw caution to the wind and bought some cookies.

Happy with our purchases we continued on toward Mammoth intending to stop and see The Devil's Postpile. Once arrived in Mammoth the streets were uncomfortably packed with mountain bikers and tourists. We drove up the hill to the entrance for the Devil's Postpile monument but were turned around and instructed to take the shuttle. Josh and I are somewhat socially awkward and don't dig on crowds so we skipped the event vowing to see the postpile on our PCT trip next year. We did stop at the Mammoth police station and picked up the obligatory 'Mammoth, don't feed our bears' sticker. 

Out of Mammoth we continued north and witnessed a fire in the distance. We crested a hill and all of Mono lake was in our view. It was a beautiful lake in a stark desert landscape. We came to the Mobil Station just above the lake which houses the amazing Whoa Nellie Deli. We stopped in, got some grub and perused the store.

Davy Crockett's got nothing on me. 

We tried to find a hotel room in Lee Vining at the entrance to the Tioga pass that we planned to take to Yosemite the following day. All the rooms were booked but one hotel which had no A/C. It was about 90 degrees at 4pm and I was not having it. One of the innkeepers referred us to another hotel in June Lake which was 11 miles south of Lee Vining. We took it. Once we arrived, the hotel was another winner on our dive hotel list but it was clean and cool. There was no A/C in that room as well but being tucked in the mountains the air was significantly cooler. We did, however, get eaten up a bit by mosquitoes. June Lake area has multiple lakes and is worth visiting. It is amazingly beautiful.

We woke up bright and early and had the complementary coffee in our room before heading north again bound for Mono Lake and the Tioga Pass. The south bound detour yesterday meant we got to stop off at the Whoa Nellie Deli again and have some much needed coffee! Lucky us!

We turned into the Mono Lake visitors center and walked around reading and learning about the Lake. Mono lake is a terminal lake which means water comes in but doesn't go out making it alkali and overly salinated. In the distance we could see large monoliths called tufas which are stalagmites of carbonate material rising out of the lake bed. Even more interesting was the fauna on and around the visitors center with a variety of birds and lizards. Mono lake was spared the fate of the Owens Lake (which is now completely dry) through conservation efforts that stopped damage from the Los Angeles Aqueduct. It is imperative that we continue these efforts to maintain this amazing habitat for so many migratory birds and their food source.

We left Mono Lake and turned up the Tioga Pass bound for Yosemite. Neither Josh nor I had ever been and we were excited to see the terrain and some of our resupply points for next years PCT hike.
We hadn't even entered the park and already the scenery was amazing. We parked and hiked out to a huge waterfall used by Southern California Edison.

Once inside the park we oohed and awed at the beauty stopping at the Toulumne Meadows store where we saw lots of hiker trash enjoying the food. We browsed the store and continued on to the visitors center where Josh threw the ranger for a loop when he asked for a copy of their 'how to poop in the wilderness' information sheet.

Let me be the one to tell you here: YOU NEED TO PACK OUT YOUR TOILET PAPER IN SO. CAL. I can't stress this enough. I don't care what kind of shovel you have, you cannot dig a cat hole deep enough in the rocky soil that is Southern California. It's not that gross, far less gross to pack out your own paper than encounter someone else's blowing in the wind after an animal digs it up. 
Robert Rael...this means you too. ;-)

I hit a dragon fly with the truck. There were many suicidal bugs on the way. Sorry dude. Along the road there are signs with an outline in red of a bear and the saying "A red bear is a dead bear". Everywhere that these signs are posted is the location of a bears death due to a speeding driver. Sad, but a good reminder to slow down and be courteous of nature.

We passed huge granite faces and notice there were people on them! They were so small we had to get out the binoculars! It really put the areas size into perspective.

Josh was happy to be reunited with his old Mineral King pal, 'Mike the Marmot'.

Never have I seen such beautiful scenery, crystal lakes and cobalt skies, it is truly breathtaking.

Here's an image that is truly Reddit worthy...a bus in denial.

We made the turn towards the valley and the traffic became almost ridiculous. Folks hanging out of their cars taking pictures, RV's trying to pull  u-turns, it was nuts but oh so beautiful!! We parked and walked around looking at El Capitan and Bridal Veil Falls with the binoculars.

We got back into the truck and drove in to Curry Village. We thought about getting a 'room' in one of the river campgrounds which are really only three walls and a curtain, but realized we weren't really prepared for such a stay. We walked around the campground anyway and took in the sights. Squirrels running around and all manner of people in bathing suits tubing down the Toulumne river. It was blazing hot and we decided we need to get into the river too.

We drove out of the mayhem a bit to the edge of the valley and found a good spot to jump in. We spent an hour or so walking up the river and riding it down on our hands. Josh did a back flip off a rock and we chatted with some folks.

Now cooled off, we had a snack and continued out the way we came through the Tioga Pass. The landscape was equally breathtaking on the way back. 

We saw this granite hill on our way in earlier in the day and planned to hike it on the way out. We stopped, put on our wet hiking shoes and headed toward the trail. Once at the base of the rock we could see how slick the granite was. This smoothness is the result of glacial ice receding over the rock polishing it as it went. We found a rough quartz vein and followed it up to the crest.

Standing below these boulders, I could see the rock face was scrapped and gouged in a path that lead to where they still stand. This is also due to the glacier receding and carrying the giant rocks to their final resting place, leaving a scar from its travels eons ago. 

Cracks in the granite line up with the trial making it seem like they are one path.

After exploring the rocks for a while we dropped back into the meadow and watched the ground dwellers. The big male would run and jump on the tiny ones who would let out a disagreeable 'beep!'

This is a Mormon Fritillary Butterfly. Did you know that many species of butterfly can taste with their feet! If the flower is yummy they will consider placing their chrysalis there.

We watched as a ranger ran around the edge of the meadow trying to get people to take the trail as opposed to bombing right through the sensitive meadow habitat. Come on the signs! There are even signs with pictures if you don't read English!

Back on the road we headed out of the pass bound for Bishop. There were awesome Cumulus clouds and virga in the distance over death valley.

We found a great little dive on a side street in Bishop and packed in for the night.

The next morning we decided to throw caution completely to the wind and went back to Schats Bakery where we ordered a smorgasbord of donuts, pastries and coffee. We watched one of the bus boys help an old man to his feet after he ate his breakfast and the care and concern the employee had for this gentleman warmed our hearts. We chatted with the employee for a while and were inspired by his expressions of how much he enjoyed his job. If you're in the Owens Valley I really do recommend this joint, the staff is awesome and I still dream about the apple fritters. nom nom nom.

We headed south toward home and vowed to eat ALL THE JERKY! We stopped at the "really good jerky" hole in the wall and picked out some mediocre, super salty jerky. There was a little cat catching giant roaches, which grossed some visitors out. I could care less about a giant roach in a desert shanty. Live a little people.

As the terrain changed you could see amazing lava fields in the distance surrounded by mountains that were obviously active volcanoes at one time. We turned off into the Fossil Falls scenic area and jumped out of the truck to walk a midst the ancient pyroclastic flow.

After a quarter mile stroll in the blazing heat we came to the site of the old waterfall, now a slot canyon of smoothed basalt rock. The formations were amazing.

In the distance Josh spotted a lizard that looked like he was pieced together from left over parts of evolution. He had long frog legs, a rats tail, a snake's neck and a wide diamond shaped lizard head! Amazing! We chased him around a bit and he did a sort of hop/run under the rocks. I've now identified him as a collard lizard.

We continued on a long rutted dirt road to see a lake that was supposed to be hiding in the desert. I don't think these folks found it...

But we did.

Finally back on asphalt we continued south on the 395 taking a turn west toward Kennedy Meadows to scope out our first Sierra resupply point on the PCT. Once there, we grabbed a chair on the patio where Josh had a pop and I ate a hot dog. In one of my PCT videos called "Walking West With Freedom" By Lion King aka Michael Daniel, we saw the beginning of this beer cap table top started by a hiker named Feral and the tradition continues it seems. 

Using my Guthook's PCT guide app on my phone, we tracked the road crossing waypoints we are soon to take. I cannot wait! It makes it seem more real and somehow, more and less daunting at the same time, when we do these recon missions.

Time to wrap up our trip, we drove the 9 mile road back to the 395.

In Mojave the road narrows to two lanes and traffic got really bad. We were hoping it was not Vegas traffic and going to be a long drive the rest of the way. I, jokingly say if this is an accident I want to see some carnage! I instantly regret it as we pass this totaled van in the desert. May they be without suffering and all its causes. Good luck dudes.

In conclusion...I've decided I need to be independently wealthy, as work gets in the way of my life. LOL. It is hard to adjust to the day to day after such awesome expeditions. I can only imagine how bad it will be to adjust after PCT. If you decide to do the 395 trip I highly recommend you check out the local businesses like Schats Bakery and The Whoa Nellie Deli as well as the small towns like Big Pine. This is where the heart of the eastern sierra is. 

Happy travels everyone.

Here's the links to the places we stayed and ate. Check em out!!

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