Up 395 and over Yosemite to Family Time

Wednesday (Oct 30)

In the morning it’s still too windy to be outside, and there’s no point in hanging out in this forlorn parking lot, so I drove 50 yards across the road for a final morning soak. Before hitting the highway, I drove another 60 yards over to the community center to soak up some of their public wifi. I loaded up on yesterday’s podcasts for today’s long drive. As it turns out I didn’t need to do this, since the diner in Shoshone 15 miles away has wifi from the town museum next door, but I didn’t know that yet and I really wanted to have the latest Niner talk and MSNBC outrages for the long drive through Death Valley (which I didn’t even need anyway because i listened to music! :).

On to Shoshone at the Crowbar Cafe and Saloon. As always, too late for breakfast, but the enchilada special turned out to be quite good! I was sure this place sucked from some long ago visit, but today it was just what I needed!  I think there were motorcyclers here last time. Groups of smug-ass Harley riders strutting around using their outside voices will ruin a place for me about as quickly as anything.

From Shoshone it’s north on Cal 127 up the Amargosa Valley to Death Valley Junction. The Amargosa Valley is very pretty, and there’s something about strangeness of the Amargosa River that I’m really attracted to. Keep going at the junction drive past the famous Opera House, then turn left on Cal 190 through Death Valley. No sightseeing stops today except for a quickie at the Visitor Center to gaze at the relief map, which I of course adored.

My old cracked and nearly destroyed iPhone 4S, which I still use for playing podcasts in the van had one of its occasional freak outs and decided to play music when I got back in the van. The song it played suited my mood (a very old Rev Gary Davis gospel blues as I recall) so I kept listening. The shuffle selections kept being good, and before you know it, I had gone most of the 100-odd miles to Lone Pine listening to music instead of words! I hadn’t done that for quite a while, and it fun. Kind of emotional in a way, some of the songs moved me on that particular day.

By the time I got to US 395 I’m running out of daylight. I’d planned to drive on up to Big Pine and try out Taboose Campground for the first time, but that’s another 40 minutes, so I just pull off at good ole Independence Creek and call it a day.

Independence Creek Campground:  

Real good find! I thought these county parks were spendy, but $10 seems like a pretty good deal to me right now! On one of those little "creeks" LADWP sculpted out to constrain "their" water. Wide open sagebrush on one side, a column of willows and cottonwoods following the creek on the other. Very quiet and pretty today.

tonight:

I'm surprised I've ended up here three times and the two parks further north 0 times. That said, it is very nice here, although it's hard to find a level parking spot.

wonderful Sierras from Independence Campground

This is such a lovely, quiet (in the off-season) place. It’s only a couple of miles off 395, I can see the edge of town from my campsite. I can see 395 in the distance for that matter…

North side of the campground is pretty low tech.

The campground is stretched out along the line of cottonwood trees and willows that follows Independence Creek as it flows straight out of the foothills. The access road approaches on the south side of the creek. The orderly, well-graded part of the campground is here. There is a little bridge over the little creek, to the north side. It’s more random and the parking spots aren’t very level, but it has a much more open feel.You’re not in the trees so much, so the mountains are right there! Needless to say I always stay on the north side.

I’m super happy to be here, I love my little creek and my mountain view! I make a valiant effort to plant myself in my blue chair and do my laptop thing outside looking at the moiuntains, but it’s getting SO fucking cold so quick! I bundle up in five (six?) layers. My core is warm enough, but I have to keep my fingers naked to type or browse the iPhone, so just didn’t work out. Back inside the van, sigh …

Thursday 

Independence Creek in the morning
Looking across the creek at the more orderly south side.

I gotta say, I am OVER this winter camping thing. It’s October, so it isn’t really supposed to be winter … but it is. The days are shorter, and my extra detour to the south means the driving hours have been longer than planned, so I am spending the warmish, pleasant part of the day driving :(. The days really are nice – clear and 50’s, but by the time I stop near sunset the temp plummets from 50’s to 30’s real quick. Hanging out in 30° weather just ain’t that much fun.

Not much going on in Independence. There are a couple of coffee spots in Big Pine nowadays, but feeling the need for the hipster vibe today so I blast on through to Bishop and Black Sheep Coffee. After I’m situated with coffee and goodie, the first job is to figure out where to end up tonight. Forecast is for 15° tonight (sigh again …). I just don’t have the stomach for that, so no June Lake, or Convict Lake, or even Whitmore Tubs. I reserve a room at the Mammoth Motel 6. I am comforted by the fact that there’s a Niners game tonight. :)

mighty fine asada plate at El Ranchito

I brought all my Utah, Idaho, Oregon maps, but for some stupid reason I removed my van-resident California maps. So I had an excuse to visit the very funky old AAA office in downtown Bishop which happily still exists, a block away from Black Sheep. I walked over and got a Central California map for my somewhat complicated drive across the state tomorrow and Saturday. Then, all in that same block and a half I walked back to the El Ranchito, my go to diner in Bishop where I had a very yummy carne asada plate. Drive to the north end of town and pick up some stuff at Vons and I’m ready to roll! Bishop is very user-friendly for me :).

Kids at Shepherd Hot Springs wishing I'd go away. Same to ya kids! :)

I drive more or less straight to Whitmore Tubs, The first tub, the one I’ve been to before is apparently only lukewarm nowadays, so I press on a few more bumpy miles to the tub called Shepherd Hot Spring. There was a young couple camping there, and I kind of rained on their parade a bit by showing up. They vacated the tub when I got there, so I had it to myself for 40 minutes or so. Very nice soaking experience. When I left they got back in. Driving out I passed a fellow going in, so he probably ruined their next magic moment just like I had earlier. Oh well, that’s life at the Tubs…

The plan was to do the June Lake Loop now then drive to the motel around dark. It was a good plan but I ran out of daylight. I got there, drove past June Lake then Gull Lake, and almost made it to Silver Lake.  But it’s almost dark and the bare trees were not particularly scenic today, so I turned back. I confirmed that I have completely, utterly missed the fall color season here. The aspens are leafless. Much as I love the Loop, there is no particular reason to come back this way tomorrow.

Motel 6:  

A very nice price point for staying in Mammoth.

Interior is very stylish and well laid out - plenty of electrical outlets in convenient places, nice table and shelves.

On the negative side, no refrigerator and microwave, as I have come to expect in my cheap motels.

tonight:

My room is around the corner facing the covered-up swimming pool.

Quiet as can be on Halloween!

My relatively nice room in the Mammoth Motel 6.

Happy Halloween!

Motel 6 is up on the uphill side of Main St. From the edge of the parking lot you have a nice view of the commercial strip on the valley side of the road far below. Yelp tells me there are a couple of bars right down where I’m looking. Any self-respecting party animal would go over there and see what’s going on one of the biggest party night of the year. I wasn’t feeling it however. I guess age 71 is time to turn on my party animal card. :-/

The room is quite nice. A modern budget motel much nicer than the usual old, decaying budget motels I’m used to. The things that matter to me are good lighting, handy light switches and convenient outlets (and a good cable TV plan) and I had all these tonight.

The football game was good, the wifi was slow. Anverall a good time was had by all … one of me.

Friday 

Looking back towards Mono Lake on the Tioga Road.

Out the door at 11 am, down the hill and take a left to the Looney Bean a half mile away. They have exceptional pastries and you can get your own refills, so I went there even though I didn’t particularly need their wifi today. One of my favorite coffee shops anywhere.

I should also lunch in Mammoth, because there’s only one good restaurant for two hours going where I’m going, and it’s twice as pricy as it should be. So even though I’m pretty full from the yummy Looney Bean bear claw I drive a mile to the Delicious Cafe (breakfast all day!). I ordered a build-it-yourself chorizo/cheese/spinach omelet, which was huge – I could barely eat a third. I always need emergency meals at Martha’s, so taking a giant hunk of omelet along is a good thing.

Time to embark on my eventful day of driving. Up 395, past the June Lake Loop, left on 120, past the very expensive diner at the corner, past Lower Lee Vining Campground, where I might’ve stayed last night if the weather wasn’t so fucking brutal, then up, up, up the Tioga Road.

The Tioga Road was spectacular as always. The upper campgrounds were closed and the lakes were pristine. There was a short line to get into the park. I was pretty excited about making the crossing this late in the year, but the ranger lady said it’s usually open til the middle of November. That’s ok, I’m excited anyway!

The Toulumne Meadows Store is closed for season, but I stopped there anyway to chill for a while – stretch the ole legs and soak up the beauty of Toulumne Meadows for a few minutes, then onward to Olmsted Point, where I always stop. So spectacular there. There’s a little bit more scenic driving after the Point, coming down off the high mountains, then the rest of the drive across the Sierras is pretty boring, just another two lane road through the pine trees.

I thought I might find lunch in Groveland, but nothing looked good, so I ended up at the good ole Priest Canyon Diner which was excellent as always. It’s pretty late in the day, so I didn’t enjoy loitering on the deck watching the traffic below as much as I would’e liked, but my burger was very, very good. When I left I was smack dab in the middle of Gold Country rush hour such as it is. There were a couple of annoying backups in Jamestown, on 49 and then the cut-off to Tuttletown, but I got to my campground with a little daylight left, which was all I wanted.

Manzanita Campground:  

One of three large campgrounds on the south side of New Melones Lake. I've also been to Big Oak on the northern side.

tonight:

THe check-in credit card machine tricked me, and spit out my ticket without asking about my Senior Pass. Should be $11. :<

I am on the uppermost loop. It's quiet and has a great sunset view.. It's possible to be all the way down by the water, but why would I want to be near all those noisy boats?

New Melones Lake from my part of the campground.

This is a Army Corp campground, which means registering will probably be an adventure. Why they don’t just have a stack of envelopes and a paybox like other federal campgrounds is beyond me. Anyway, they got me for an extra $11 tonight. The credit card only machine led me through the steps, and then the next step was supposed to be entering my Senior Card number, it said “Done”!  I am pretty annoyed, but doing my best to let it go, because the BLM has been SO good to me over the years. Amazing campgrounds that cost something like $9, which means they are $4.50 for me. Just ridiculously cheap prices. So if I gave them $11 extra at tonight, then I shouldn’t sweat it.

The weather feels like Costa Rica after enduring all the intense cold and blowing snow of the last two weeks. Buy the time I got settled it was dark. I walk down the hill and around the corner to the only bathroom with showers, … to find that they are pay showers. I did not bring quarters. Oh well! It was a good thing to stretch my legs anyway, and it was kind of fun making my way in the dark and watching other latecomers get their giant RVs settled in the dark.

Saturday 

Coffee at the Angel’s Camp Starbucks. I have a general policy against going to Starbucks, but really, they are often at least as good as the local coffee places. After that I got on Route 4 and followed it all the way across California. Past the strangely named and just plain strange town of Copperopolis, over the bouncing hills and valleys of Gold Country, across the flat plains east of Stockton, across the levees and backwaters west of Stockton, to a point south of Pittsburg where it turns from a little 2-lane road to a six lane commuter freeway.

My route takes me through Antioch, so I got off on 160 and took the next exit to the Bridgehead Cafe in Pittsburgh. I discovered this place a couple of years ago on the way home and I really, really like it. It was excellent as always.

Finish off the drive and pull into the driveway at the family abode just in time for a spaghetti dinner and a night of playing with the kids.  That’s what it’s all about.

Sunday – Tuesday 

Real nice visit with the family. Sunday we all piled into the family van and drove to San Rafael. My ex’s sister, who I’ve known since high school, is visiting and I want to see her. They surprise me with a birthday eve cake! Yummy chocolate cake with chocolate icing.

Happy Birthday me! Damn that was a good cake.

Monday is my real birthday (71 years old – yikes!). They take me out to lunch at the fancy Italian restaurant in downtown Petaluma, then we have a second birthday cake (super yummy marzipan).

Tuesday they got back into their routine so I had a day mostly to myself around the house.

Left in Wednesday and drove back top Reno in one day. This is the norm for everyone else, but I like to take two or three nights to do it. But I if I did that I would miss my beloved First Thursday Museum Party, so got my game face on and blasted straight through.