Up 395 and over to Lake Tahoe

Saturday Afternoon in Bishop

My reservation at Benton Hot Springs is for tomorrow night (woo!). So what to do with tonight? I’m still a little fragile, so the easiest is to hang around Bishop today and camp up the hill tonight – simple! I get a sandwich for tonight, walk around town a bit. The the best idea, drive over to the city park to chill out and read by Bishop Creek (very pleasant). Did the best I could to get back into happy vacation mode, but overall, this day has kinda sucked. My nerves are jangled, and I got no patience for anybody. I don’t like it.

Bitterbrush Campground:  

The first (lowest altitude) of the string of Inyo campgrounds on CA 168 west of Bishop. Almost exactly like Silver Lake CG on the June Lake Loop, i.e. exposed, no-shade sites, pleasant and flat and quiet with a little stream running along the far edge.

tonight:

Site 0 was the camp host site, so it's pretty deluxe.

Bishop Creek at Bitterbrush

Studying the camping app last night reminded me that there is a string of Forest Service campgrounds 8-10 miles up the mountain from Big Pine. If I’d had my wits about me I would have gone to the closest one of those instead of the nightmare on the flats. I decided to do a version of that tonight and stay at the closest of the string of Forest Service campgrounds 8-10 miles up the mountain from Bishop. Good choice! I am typing this now in perfect serenity at Bitterbrush Campground, enjoying the quiet and the privacy.

As mentioned in the inset, I am enjoying Site 0. If these campgrounds were run by the Forest Service this site would be occupied by a camp host. It would provide a job and a place to live for some retired couple. But corporations gotta make their profit, so they eliminated the host for this campground. You must go to the next campground up the hill for firewood, and their camp host has the same meager pay and twice as much work – efficiency! I am not a fan of campground privatization.

Sunday (Jun 2) 

Cool clouds and busy campers Bitterbrush Campground

Beautiful morning, enjoyed watching the weather in the peaks till noon-ish then headed down the mountain. My plan was to treat myself to a slightly fancy Sunday brunch at Whiskey Creek, but was sadly disappointed. No brunch, just regular lunch, and it wasn’t vert good and certainly not fancy. The food was average and service indifferent. Nice idea, but FAIL. Whiskey Creek is a nice building but not a very good restaurant.

I can’t check into my hot spring till three, so I go back to Bishop Park and take a nap in the shade. I thought I slept well, but I’m very tired, and I don’t know why.

Benton Hot Springs:  

Tub 1 seems to always be booked. Tubs 2 and 3 are the lower priced tubs most likely to be open. I did T2 because it looked cozier in the picture. I like it better I think, but in T3 you can kick back and look at the hills which is cool.

tonight:

My site, T2 has a redwood tub (old school). Next to me, T3 has a concrete tub, much more like a backyard jacuzzi - i.e.probably more comfortable to kick back in. I'm very happy with my site though.

Pretty sure my hot tub is the original - closest to the house and the only redwood tub.

As I’m driving up US 6 there is a pretty dark-looking storm in the distance – not to the left, not to the right, but dead ahead. I have the amusing thought that maybe it’s happening at my hot spring. When I got there it was no longer amusing. It was raining pretty hard when I dashed into the office to register, and when I drove around back and had to get out to open the cattle gate and get out again to shut it. I got pretty wet. It was all good though, because I was sittin’ in the hot tub ten minutes later. Still raining, but I’ve always thought it was kind of fun to be in the hot water in the cold rain.

Hot Tub 2 is a beautiful spot, looking west towards Mammoth.

This place is the coolest place ever!

Even after my soak many of my neighbors haven’t arrived, so I take a tour of the grounds, checking out some of the other tubs. I get the impression my spot is hte original tub out back of the house. It’s an old school redwood tub, and there’s a little building that is now a changing room I guess, but was clearly an outhouse back in the day.

Most of the other tubs are nearly identical poured concrete ziggurat-looking things that aren’t much to look at but very comfortable to sit in. The differences are in which direction they face and thus what you are looking at when you’re soaking. We are on the east side of a little hill so you can’t see the Sierras to the west, but the views of the snow-capped White Mountains to the east are quite nice from some sites. Eventually the place fills up for the night.

Hot Tub 1

I made a fire tonight! My neighbor had a fire, which caused me to notice what some enterprising person had totally staged a ready-to-go fire in my firepit. Logs, big sticks, little sticks, twigs and some paper, just add a match! I normally don’t bother with a fire, but this turned out to be a perfect night for it. There had been another little rain squall about 1/2 hour ago, so the small stuff was pretty wet. But I shredded up some magazine pages and stuck them under the existing assembly and voila, I got it going! It’s in the male DNA to KNOW that you’re better at fires than everyone else, but in my case it’s really true :-  Realistically though, I’d say this was 60% the excellent assembly I was given and 40% my skill at dropping the right twig in the right place to sustain it. I kept it going 2-3 hours, even sat in the tub and watched it for a while – very fun.

Monday 

One of the bigger sites in the morning. I think the poles are to rig up an awning.

Pro tip: If you hang out until 11 am, most of the hardworking city folk around you have already left for the long drive back to their cities, so you can hop around and try out other hot tubs!

Looking back at Benton Hot Springs on the way to Mammoth. The campsites are in the line of trees in the middle.
The first 20 miles of the drive to Mammoth is nondescript hills, but the last 15 miles are quite pretty and interesting. You come over the last rise in the hills east of the Owens River, and there is Lake Crowley framed by the snow-covered High Sierras. Drive on a while and there is a quite busy RV Park. Seemingly just rows of hookups in a graded gravel parking lot in the middle of nowhere. But it’s not nowhere, it’s right on the Owens River, which around here is a world class fly fishing stream. Then you notice dudes in waders decked out in all their gear along the river as far as you can see. So it’s a campground for hard core fly fishing dudes. Good for them!

Straight to Looney Bean – coffee and their last bear claw – yay! Then to my new favorite lunch spot – Delicious Cafe. Breakfast all day. I got a chorizo omelet with spinach and cheese, and was quite happy about it. Rained very hard again while I was inside. Some poor dude had left the window down on his truck.

395 is so dense with places that I love to go that I drove past a weeks worth of excellent overnights in my less than two hour drive. I drove the June Lake Loop because it’s always beautiful, past the Tioga Pass turnout (the pass is still very closed by deep snow), past beautiful Mono Lake, through Bridgeport, to my happy little campground at Chris Flat.

Chris Flat Campground:  

Nestled between too-busy US 395 and the West Walker River. Everybody is either a fishermen or folks bombing down 395. The first nice federal campground coming south from Reno.

This place should be open more days of the year - closes too early in the fall, opens too late in the summer.

tonight:

Today there is substantial little creek rushing past Sites 2 and 3. It has a name - Grouse Creek - but I am pretty sure it was either dry or nearly so on my other visits. At site 2 my open van door is 15 feet from the water and the sound is wonderful. Also masks the road noise! :)

Sign, creek and van in the late evening

As noted above, a rollicking little stream has appeared out of nowhere next to campsite 3, so that is course is where I stay. I plunk my good ole lawn char down on  level spot as close to the creek as I possible and spend most of the rest of the remaining daylight there. The West Walker River is running very high. There are no evident fishermen here, even though it should be prime fishing season.

I slept with the vent window in my door open so I can hear Grouse Creek all night.

Tuesday 

Grouse Creek tumbling out of the fire-damaged forest

I parked at a good angle to shadow the morning sun, but the van still gets pretty hot. I’m lazing around with the door open, when a damn chipmunk hops into the van. I shoo him away, but a few minutes later I hear a rustling, and there it is tugging at a piece of paper on the floor. It seems determined to come inside. I’m 3 feet away, but nothing I can do about it except shut the door and sweat. Off-pissing.

I believe I found your water supply, on Grouse Creek.

In my brief exploration last night I noted a little road across the highway that appears to follow Grouse Creek up the hill. I followed it this morning, and after a fwe hundred yards found what I think is our water supply.

I left my idyllic little spot at checkout time, 1 pm-ish. Thence to steak & eggs at Topaz Casino of course!  Diesel in Minden was $.41 cheaper than Mammoth ($.41 x 20 – $8.20!). Pick up a steak sando to go at Minden Meats. It turns out to be a real cool place. Butcher shop, restaurant, deli, bar, and wifi – it’s got it all! I managed to download a few podcasts and even grab a few Warriors articles while waiting for my sandwich … so productive! They did not have cold sandwiches, and my bbq beef sando was not tasty later cold. I know this, that fatty meals served hot are often yucky cold, but I seem to need to keep re-learning it.

Straight west from Minden towards Kingsbury Grade.

Anyway, after filling the tank and acquiring dinner such as it is, I stop heading due north, as I have been for a couple of days, and head due west, out of Minden, across the wide valley and up, up, up the Kingsbury Grade. It’s been a while since I did this. It’s would be really spectacular to do this as a passenger, but there are absolutely no pull-offs on the scenic part, so you only get hurried glimpses of the amazing view as a driver. I caught a quick glimpse of Walley’s Hot Spring. I wish they had camping there.

Not much to say about South Lake today, except it’s always a pain in the ass to drive through. The summer crowds are in full swing, even though it’s early June. I made the intentional decision to get my to go food before I got here, so there’s no reason to stop. Once you get past the intersection where US 50 heads southeast, following CA 89 northeast becomes a nice drive.  That knife edge drive where Fallen Leaf Lake is on one side and Emerald Bay is on the other is one of the most spectacular stretches of road anywhere.

Meeks Bay:  

On the lake side of 89, a little harbor and campground next to the Native American-owned resort next door. The marina is closed because of the lake level.

The highway to the south curves around the campground, so you are closer to the noisy trucks and fleets of motorcycles than you would at first think - not a good thing.

tonight:

It's after Memorial Day, so the check-in gate was manned. As always, dealing with a check-in person makes 'getting settled' significantly longer and more of a pain in the ass.

Cell phone reception is worse this time, road noise is still omnipresent.

Cool place though!

Looking towards the resort at Meeks Bay

The check-in lady at Meeks Bay was very nice, but fussy and bad with the computer … but eventually we got me settled into a nice campsite. Many sites are in pairs – a parking area for two cars, with a table and fire pit for each on either side. #23 was one of these where I could park facing away into a fairly private copse of trees. The trees may have muffled the road noise a bit also. No one used my other parking spot, so it was great.

feet at the edge of Lake Tahoe

I think yesterday’s little squall in Mammoth is the end of Spring weather, summer starts now. Here on lovely Meeks Bay it’s quite warm and nearly cloudless. Three layers of shirts yesterday, bust out the sleeveless tee for the first time today.

Walk down to the beach, come back and eat, then walk back down there again for the last light of the day.

Wednesday 

Nice cloud across the lake at Meeks Bay
Map of Silver Creek Campground

Everybody’s gone in the morning! I’m kinda surprised, this has the feel of a “come for the week” kind of place. I’ve decided I’m going home today, so I’m in no hurry. Hang out till checkout time (1 pm) then start my way up the west side of Lake Tahoe. I drive until I get phone bars, then determine that the Tahoe House Bakery is the place for me get coffee and wifi. It’s obviously a local institution, lots of business, pretty crowded, and very good.

Stop at Silver Creek to check out where I’ll be camping in two weeks. Then back to Reno – hit the Library, get dinner at the Hawaiian BBQ (gosh they give you a lot of food), milk and such at the Safeway, then home!