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.
Wednesday 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.
The 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.
Mo 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.
First 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.
By 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.
Mid 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.
We 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.
We 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.
Throughout 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.
A 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.
There 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.
The 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.
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.