It was cool enough in Bishop that we were glad for electric hookups so that we could take the morning chill off the MoHo with our little electric heater. The big furnace is almost as loud as the air conditioner, and I would much rather use free shore power for a little heat than listen to that thing burn up costly propane. The weather was considerably different than what we had left behind in Death Valley as we continued north on 395.
There is just so much to see in such a short distance, but the fact that the morning was cloudy, chilly, and blustery made the little side roads a bit less inviting. We decided to skip the 6 mile backtrack for another trip to Eric Schat’s Bakkery and packed up and continued on north towards Mammoth Lakes. I had never been into the town itself, the famous ski mountain and summer mountain bike destination is a mecca for all things skiing and biking.
Mammoth Mountain also happens to be the very heart of the Long Valley Caldera, source of that huge volcanic blast that went as far as Nebraska. For years I have followed the USGS monitoring of this site. I was close enough to Mt St Helens when she blew that I was buried in volcanic ash and trapped in Moscow, Idaho for three days. The fact that it was my wedding day and I had a houseful of people made it all that much more exciting. Imagine a honeymoon with all three of my teenaged girls, my foster mother, my best friend, and assorted other friends who couldn’t get out of town because the ash was choking all the auto transmissions.
Volcanoes and earthquakes are fun to study, although maybe not from such close quarters. I also live now in the shadow of Crater Lake, another huge caldera responsible for a massive eruption, and Shasta, the sleeping giant, is visible from the road south of our home. I love following the earthquake and volcano sites and seeing just how restless our earth can be. So traveling around inside the perimeter of the Long Valley Caldera is exciting.
As we approached the city center of Mammoth, we stopped at the big beautiful visitor center. The complex was beautiful with lots of interpretive signs about the caldera, Mammoth Mountain, and Mammoth Lakes, the local flora and fauna, and the restless earth. Inside the center was a live display of current earthquake activity and interesting discussions of the history of movement in the area. There are CO2 emissions from some part of the mountain that are dangerous enough to cause the trees to die off, and to elicit a warning about CO2 poisoning concerns for humans in that area. Magma is rising and the earth is bulging. Cool
Speaking of cool, by the time we found the Earthquake Fault Trail, it was snowing lightly. The trail isn’t officially open, so the signs mentioned on the web site are not yet in place, but with the help of the iPhone, we found what looked like the right road. Amazing that I had a 5 bar LTE signal up there at Mammoth. I guess rich kids with snowboards require good phone reception.
The “fault” isn’t really a fault, but a fissure from fairly recent volcanic activity. Some of the earth failures seemed to be even more recent than the 700 years or so mentioned on the sign because the fence posts had fallen in with some land failure and there was a more recent fence keeping folks away from the edge of the fissure. It was a great little walk, just 1/4 mile or so to the fissure and then some rudimentary steps and a trail around the edge.
We drove up to the main ski lodge at Mammoth Mountain surprised to discover the lifts still operating and people skiing. Amazing. My nose was still in nosebleed mode from 104 temperatures and no humidity. California is truly an amazing state and you can find just about anything you want within a few hours drive.
Back in town we were delighted to discover another Schat’s Bakkery, although this one wasn’t Eric Schats Bakkery, but just Schat’s Bakkery. Either way, the Sheepherder bread was there and the tiny difference was that Eric’s bread had olive oil in it and this bakery did not use oil in their bread. Seems as though the Schat’s had a divorce and this was the wife’s establishment. We had soup and bread in the small eatery attached to the bakery, bought a couple more pastries for the road and another loaf of that famous bread. The soup was utterly fantastic, tomato basil and turkey vegetable. The tomato soup appeared as if it had been made from a luscious medley of roasted veggies and ripe tomatoes. Yum.
It was raining fairly hard when we got back to the MoHo where we left her near the Hot Springs Geologic Site. We didn’t take time to drive out to the springs, but did see the steam from what is now a large geothermal generating plant. At one time Native Americans used these springs, then several different kinds of spas and hotels were there until the geothermal plant took over in 1983. Did I mention magma rising? Yup!
Continuing north along the highway toward our evening destination of Topaz Lake, we were happy that this time the Mono Lake Visitor Center would be open. The center is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, so we had missed it on our way down. This visitor center is an absolute, without a doubt, must see requirement if you are on Highway 395 near Lee Vining. Lee Vining is the tiny town where the Tioga Pass Road climbs the east side of the Sierras into Yosemite, still closed this time of year. The sun even cooperated as Mono Lake came into view, slipping out of the clouds just enough to make the skies interesting.
The building is beautiful from the outside, with beautiful xeriscaping (landscaping using drought tolerant plants), a lovely interpretive nature hike, and beautiful views of the desert and the lake. As I walked through the entrance, the interior took my breath away. The center is architecturally beautiful and the exhibits are truly wonderful. The very best part for me is that I learned something completely new. You have probably seen photos of the amazing tufa pillars at Mono Lake before. There is a certain volcanic rock called “tuff”, and I had no clue that “tufa” and “tuff” are not synonymous. In the center are some informative displays of how tufa is formed under the surface of the extremely alkaline lake water where calcium rich spring waters emerge into the lake. These tufa pillars are then exposed as the lake level has receded. Mono Lake is a must return site, only next time with our kayaks. I really want to paddle around those tufa towers at the southern end of the lake, even if it means getting our boats all salty and in desperate need of a good rinse.
In addition to the natural history of the lake, the center explains the recent human history of the water wars surrounding this magnificently beautiful high desert lake. Once again, water was removed to feed the hungry masses in LA and it was only in the last few decades that a group was formed to try to save Mono Lake from complete ruin. The displays at the visitor center explain this controversy clearly and beautifully, and as yet the problem has not been solved.
Living in the Klamath Basin as I do, where these kinds of water issues are at the heart of our culture, I so wished for a beautiful, informative visitor center like this one for the Basin. The Mono visitor center was an Inyo National Forest facility, but I couldn’t help but wonder how such a state of the art, creative and informative facility was funded. We stayed a long time, perusing every exhibit and taking our time to walk the pathways.
I was shocked to realize that it was 3:30 in the afternoon when we finally left and as yet we hadn’t decided for sure on where we wanted to spend the night. Snow flurries and white on the mountains all around us precluded a boondocking night and instead we decided to forge on north toward Topaz and the Topaz Lake Casino.
We passed the road to Bodie, (which was surprisingly open already), Dogtown, Bridgeport, the beautiful campsites along the Walker River. A little roadside stop in Bridgeport gave us enough internet to do a bit of research and discover that the Topaz Lake Casino had full hookup, pull through sites for $20. per night. Not bad!, and even though the rain was getting heavier and the skies darker all the time, we made it to Topaz. For once, the weather gods weren’t with us, and Mo set up in the pouring rain while I walked in the pouring rain to secure the last pull through site available. We were both pretty wet by the time it got dark, but after a bit of relaxation with 88 tv channels and the heater going, we decided to go to the casino and take advantage of our free drink coupons.
Most of the time we can pass up the gambling, but every now and then we will donate 20 bucks each to whatever tribe is trying to make a living. It took us a few minutes to realize that we were actually in Nevada and weren’t donating to any tribe at all except the rich state of Nevada. Oh well, Nevada has better pavement than just about any state out west, so I guess it is worth it. It was also more fun than usual because I won 50 bucks, leaving the casino with $40 instead of the $20 I had walked in with, including the free drink! There isn’t a level site to be found in that place, but it still is a definite stopover on 395 if you want to save a little money. They have spaghetti for 3.99 and biscuits and gravy for 1.99, neither of which was on our radar at the moment, but still good to know.
By morning, the rain had lifted and the skies were only a bit cloudy as Mo negotiated the urban interface where 395 passes through Minden and east of Carson City, through the Reno interchanges and on north toward Susanville. There is so very much to see on this route as well, but we were ready to be home, and like a couple of barn sour horses, we just drove and drove all the way to Klamath Falls. I was missing my cat big time, and it was with great delight that I picked him up at the vet, where he gave me a good scolding and snuggled up to my chest like glue.
We stopped at the Moore Park RV dump site, which was thankfully open, flushed our tanks and then headed around the beautiful Klamath Lake, over Doak Mountain, and pulled into the driveway at Rocky Point in late afternoon. It was good to be home again in the forest.