Monday, July 3, 2006
A trip of firsts
Camping only lasted 5 days, 4 nights at Calaveras Big Trees. We got chased out of the campsite by thunderstorms, and we headed east and south instead of going home, staying at Mammoth Lakes for 2 nights and then continuing south along Highway 395, eventually getting to Bakersfield (staying one night) before heading on home. All in all, Eric covered over 1500 miles on this trip, mostly new stretches of highway, along with revisits to some past favorites.
I could not have experienced or seen as much as I did without Eric. I navigate while he pilots. And he's an excellent pilot.
Our poor Soobee (our green Impreza Subaru wagon) is covered in bug slime and dirt and I can't wait for him to get all cleaned up again. It was hot this year, reaching over 100 degrees in the surrounding Sierra Foothills.
Some highlights - Ebbett's, Monitor & Sonora Passes (first time through Sonora Pass) in one day was awesome. The town of Dardanelle officially had a population of 2 according to the town's sign. Pickle Meadow, with the West Walker River running through it seemed like an idyllic place for cows in the high country. Then we saw Marines training in the MCWTC - Marine Corps Warfare Training Center as we approached Sonora Pass. Watching clouds form and turn a perfectly blue sky into one filled with grey thunderheads was kinda scary and intriguing at the same time.
Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park turned out to be a great sidetrip. Photos (of which I have yet to develop) just don't capture the enormous rock with more than 1300 grinding holes, used by Miwok Indians for grinding acorns and other seeds into meal.
Uncomfortable and interrupted sleep due to wild animals (a yipping fox, a heavy breathing stag) wandering around camp along with the sound of giant pinecones crashing through branches before hitting the ground really hard was something I don't remember ever happening before. Twisted Oak Winery has a great view surrounding area (and a great sense of humor). Columbia State Historic Park was nice and relatively empty, as we visited on a Monday. But damn, it was hot. Yummy candies to be had at Nelson's candy shop.
Onto Mammoth Lakes we continued. The high mountain meadows between the East & West Walker Rivers was unexpected, with grazing cows no less. The drive was awesome along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada as the mountains seemed to get sharper and taller. Definitely have to explore that area again, as we only got a glimpse of a few lakes and did 1 hike. The hike through Devil's Postile National Monument, from the Postpile to Rainbow Falls was hot and tiring for my out-of-shape self but well worth it. The road for the shuttle buses going in and out of the Reds Meadow Road has just been cleared 2 days before our visit. Apparently 2005/2006 was the heaviest year for snow on Mammoth Mountain - over 50 feet of snow! Best guacamole I've ever tasted - Gomez's. Biggest biscuits I've ever seen with a biscuits & gravy breakfast was at the Breakfast Club cafe - 2 hand sized biscuits with a bowl of gravy on the side. Next time, I'll just have half an order.
How the scenery changes (or doesn't) going south on 395 was surreal and made me feel really small, riding through the Owens River Valley, surrounded by the wall that is the Eastern Sierras on the left and more distant mountains on the right. Stopping at Manzanar National Historical Site was so emotional, it was hard to fight the tears as I went through the interpretive center.
With so much highway covered, I don't think I've ever seen so much roadkill. Ever. I lost count as animals became unidentifiable, some just smears. We joked that we could give directions using roadkill markers instead of signs.
We finally made it to Bakersfield (via Hwy 14, then 58). As we were resting and watching TV in the hotel room, we heard a loud crunch and immediately made our way onto the balcony, which happened to face an on-ramp to Hwy 99. It was the first time we'd seen a car catch on fire. My theory - a red pickup truck hit the silver car near the gas tank as it was making it's way onto the freeway and the impact caused it to spin toward on-coming traffic. The passengers quickly got out as the left rear of the car burned quickly. Tires popped. The horn wailed until it died. The fire grew larger until the whole thing was engulfed in flames. CHP showed up and then a fire truck came and 3 firefighters took turns hosing the car down.
Other surprises in Bakersfield? Home of the Drillers (Bakersfield High) - apparently Bakersfield is the 4th largest producer of oil in the US and oil pumps were interspersed on bare hillsides and agriculture fields.
From Bakersfield, we continued on what seems like a very less-traveled Hwy 58. We passed through towns that we'd only seen signs for off Interstate 5 - like McKittrick & Buttonwillow. I always wanted to visit the Carrizo Plain because of the crazy shows of wildflowers in spring. But it's summer now and hot rocks, brown grass, oak trees and oil pumps and pipes welcomed Soobee into the winding road through the Temblor Range onto the Plain.
The wildlife seemed bored, as we drove by squirrels on the opposite side of the road sitting on the asphalt. Ravens had to be chased off the road (nearly hit one) and alas, the first road runner I've ever seen (first one for Eric in California) became a fatality, along with a squirrel. It was heartbreaking but there was no way to avoid them, especially with a speedy Porsche (that's been on and off our tail since Bakersfield, and passed us 2x) right behind us.
And so Hwy 58 ended at Santa Margarita and we connected onto Hwy 101, and then home.
Now, if I only had a map that I can trace our journey on and include here. All in all, it was a great trip, one I won't soon forget.