Can’t escape the wildfire smoke

Saturday (Oct 17) 

I half woke up at 9:30-ish. I surveyed the area from my comfortable bed and the place was a hive of activity. The RV with busy kids in front of me, the quiet young couple in their hatchback to the left of me, and a morning bonus – a scruffy hippy doing pushups in the shade of his pickup behind me (really!).  By the time I really woke up at 10:30 they were all gone and I had the place to myself, just the way I like it.

I had just enough phone bars last night to carefully research my morning in Bridgeport:

  • For a meal, the new Mexican place that replaced the old “country cookin'” place in the building all by itself right before the bridge.
  • For just coffee, the downtown bakery with the charming pictures on Yelp. The newer coffee place seems to have gone out of business. Not surprised, they were kind of a mess.
  • If those options fail, there’s alway the burger stand.

All squared away and ready to go!
In classic Bridgeport fashion, they all FAILed, as things so often do for me here. The Mexican place was closed, the bakery was closed, and the burger stand had a full parking lot with a line of 8-10 cranky-looking, masked city folks slouching in the sun waiting to order. Ah Bridgeport … please change.

But the research did remind me that there is another option, the Virginia Creek Settlement, nestled a few miles south in the canyon between Bridgeport and the Bodie turnoff.  I have driven past innumerable times but have never stopped. They are alleged to have breakfast and wifi, so today is the day I will see what is up with them!

All the aspen colors!

Worked out great! I even caught the tail end of breakfast, so I’m still on a roll! I get the best outside table, looking out on green grass and the creek and their little amateur fish hatchery – very cool! The busboy dude was great. My waitress was an airhead, but the dude kept things shipshape in spite of her and the total experience was quite nice.

I’ve got a whole afternoon to kill, and not very far to go, so I spend close to an hour hanging out at the prime fall color spot immediately north of Virginia Lakes Road. The groves were pretty near peak!

Lower Lee Vining Campground:  

In the style of Inyo Forest campgrounds(*), this one is hard to find(**) and kind of shabby and rough, but it's in a really beautiful location.

This one is on Lee Vining Creek, in the aspen/pine forest on top of the glacial till. It's the first campground on CA 120 west of Mono Lake heading up to spectacular Tioga Pass.

It's pretty cool. It's very popular with fishermen.

(*) Except the Inyo campgrounds around June Lake/Mammoth. They are run by a concessionare. They are a little nicer, cost twice as much, and have three times as many rules.

(**) There is an arrow for "camping", but you must turn off the road to see the "Lower Lee Vining"sign.


Rolled in at 2:30, so I had my pick of the spots even though it's a busy Saturday night. There's a main area, almost a plaza, with a row of nice sites (13, 12, 11, 10) on the river side.

Site 13 is the most private, but tonight there's a busy-looking RV next to it, and I like the look of 12 better. So here I am!

I should note that the creek is much farther away than you'd think from these sites. It's much closer to the sites on the labyrinthine web of roads off the plaza.

My hangout spot at Lower Lee Vining

I have a LOT of trouble really slowing down on a trip. I rarely stay two nights in the same place, which enforces a certain “press onward” rigor I guess. Anyway, since I’m pulling into my campsite at 2:30, I seem to have succeeded in doing that today. So far I’m pretty fucking pleased with it! It’s really nice to spend a few hours just hanging around in a pretty place, doing not much.

I toured the campground, then followed the fisherman trails along the creek for a while and walked out into the open valley for a while. Lovely place. As busy as one might expect on Saturday night.


Back in the trees at Lower Lee Vining

As it turns out, this campsite is a practically perfect spot to immerse myself in fall aspen wonder! And since I have nowhere particular to go today I stayed in my happy spot till 12:50. Check-out time is 1pm.

Since it’s Saturday, I won’t even try to stay at Silver Lake tonight. I’ll go to Convict Lake if it’s not too crowded, or dispersed camping around Whitmore Tubs or boring but always available Glass Creek. But first I am looking forward to an afternoon in Mammoth! For me this means coffee+goodie+wifi at Looney Beans, groceries at Von’s and a tasty meal at Delicious Cafe – my little dose of (nearly) urban life in the middle of a bunch of nights in the woods.

That whole plan blew up in my face as soon as I crossed Deadman’s Summit. The air started getting smoky and foul and stayed that way until I came back this way in defeat after three hours.

Mammoth ain’t what it used to be :(  Quarantine plus three months of crappy air have hit the town pretty hard. I checked often before the trip, and there was always an ugly dark red reading (very bad) at Mammoth, amid a sea of generally green and yellow readings (good and ok). I didn’t worry about it too much, but it’s all true! The Creek Fire has been burning for weeks and the prevailing winds carry the smoke right into the Mammoth Basin.

  • Looney Beans was just sad. Almost no pastries. For-here cups are not allowed, therefore no refills, Their formerly great wifi barely worked. It was kind of a downer. The barrista says the air has been foul for three months! You could tell by the beaten-down feel of the place.
  • Groceries at Von’s – Von’s is still Von’s. This at least worked just fine. I got enough food to last me the rest of the trip.
  • Delicious Cafe – Gone without a trace. There’s a shabby sushi place where it used to be. That was quick, I ate there last spring and it was thriving. That sucks.

Well crap, that’s enough Mammoth downer energy for this trip. I went south on 395, and by the time I got to the turnoff for Convict Lake I had seen enough of this whole polluted valley. All of my possibilities for tonight – Convict, Whitmore Tubs, Glass Creek – are in this huge smoke-filled valley, so they will all have the same foul air, so fuck this whole place! I’m heading back north to the other side of Deadman’s Summit.

For lack of anything better to do I turned into the June Lake Loop. The Silver Lake Campground was full, but the nice camp hostess said it’s ok to overnight in the decaying picnic area down the road. It has the cool name of Airie Crag, but I think of it as Silver Lake overflow. I’m stoked!

Airie Crag Picnic Area:  

When Silver Lake Campground is full, this parking area a few miles down the road is open for camping. It's just parking and a few [picnic tables, but it's quite scenic.


Fishing season plus prime fall colors = Silver Lake CG is perma-full.

Overflow camping at Airie Crag

I’ve driven past this place a million times, and now I’m here for the night! It’s quite pleasant. The solitude and feeling of space makes it more comfortable for me that the actual campground in many ways.


Mountains behind the cafe and store

Well, I can cross the Silver Lake Grill off my bucket list. Actually I didn’t know it existed until I joined a June Lake Facebook group this summer. I was gobsmacked to discover that there was a much beloved breakfast place 200 yards from where I’ve camped many times. In my usual way, I managed to miss breakfast, but the turkey/ham cheese melt sando I had was greasy enough to be breakfast, so it worked out very well.

Silver Lake boat launch in the haze

The wind must’ve shifted a bit overnight, because the crappy air has followed me, which is really disappointing, The vibrant yellow of the aspens isn’t quite so vibrant filtered through a layer of brown haze. Nonetheless I hung around the lake for a while and took pictures and enjoyed the family fun scene. Took a little nap in the van and drove back to the town of June Lake to park outside the closed June Lake Library and use their wifi. Shockingly, the June Lake Library is on the shores of Gull Lake! In particular I wanted to collect the Monday sports pods talking about the Niners big win at LA last night.

I in a good enough mood to enjoy a beer at the June Lake Brewery so I return to Silver Lake. I pulled into last night’s spot and got out and decided … even though the air is clearer, it’s still pretty crappy and I can do better. So back in the van and back to Lower Lee Vining.

Lower Lee Vining Campground:  

In the style of Inyo Forest campgrounds(*), this one is hard to find(**) and kind of shabby and rough, but it's in a really beautiful location.

This one is on Lee Vining Creek, in the aspen/pine forest on top of the glacial till. It's the first campground on CA 120 west of Mono Lake heading up to spectacular Tioga Pass.

It's pretty cool. It's very popular with fishermen.

(*) Except the Inyo campgrounds around June Lake/Mammoth. They are run by a concessionare. They are a little nicer, cost twice as much, and have three times as many rules.

(**) There is an arrow for "camping", but you must turn off the road to see the "Lower Lee Vining"sign.


Rolled in around 5:30, but still had my pick of the spots because it's Monday night!

Site 12 still looks the best to me.

Planned to be at Silver Lake tonight, but the air is terrible down there.

It IS better here. Because of all that dawdling at Airie Crag there is less than an hour of daylight left, but it’s really pleasant here in the clean air and shade of the big trees and I’m glad I came back.


Tucked away in the van for the night I smelled smoke for a few hours, but the smell was gone by morning, I also heard close-sounding small engine planes multiple times in the night, which I took to be firefighting assistance.

Amazing what a difference three days makes. Friday night this place was hoppin, full I think. Now, Tuesday morning there appear to be exactly two occupied campsites!

Hung around till 1 again, took a little walk upriver to see if I could get to the beautiful upland area I climbed to on Friday evening. It was a nice walk, but I ran out of time and oxygen. My COPD is not awesome right now. That shit really makes me feel old and decrepit like nothing else does.

Encore photo op at Virginia Creek

I only stopped briefly at my beloved aspen grove west of 395 and north of Conway Summit. Driving north I am on the wrong side of the road, I really need my coffee, and the colors have noticeably moved past peak since three days ago.

perfect on the road meal!

Onward to my new favorite dining destination on this part of 395 (as of three days ago) – Virginia Creek Settlement. It came through again. I am now two for two here! I got there just after the lunchtime rush. The nice lady (owner I think) sanitized my favorite table and made a fresh pot o’ coffee just for me, so life is good.

At Bridgeport I take my new favorite way home, bearing right of Bridgeport Lake to follow the very scenic West Walker River into the wilds of central Nevada. CA 182 becomes NV 338, which heads north through a whole lot of nothing to a farming area called Smith Valley. There NV 338 ends at NV 208, which zigs east through dramatic Wilson Canyon then north through Mason Valley to Yerington and Alt US 95, the main Reno-Las Vegas drag which I’ve travelled many times.

I’ve identified a couple of camping areas up there – a BLM area listed on Allstays, and a Nevada Wildlife Area I discovered by googling for the BLM area.The BLM area comes first, right at the mouth of the aforementioned Wilson Canyon. The Wildlife area is 40-50 miles further on. This roadside rest area looked perfect, so I go no further.

Wilson Canyon Roadside Rest:  

Beautiful, idyllic spot on NV 208 right on the West Walker River. In the shade of a row of stately old cottonwoods, it's quite spacious and has at least four really nice RV spots right in the river.


I was aiming for the Wilson Canyon BLM OHV turnoff a few miles on, when I saw this enticing roadside rest area! It's right across the river from here.

I was probably going to hate the dust and noise of the OHVs anyway, so I am very happy with this!

There are three other campers, one nice RV and two ramshackle affairs that appear to be old dudes living out of their vans.

There but for the grace of god go I.

My neighbor's trailer does not look road-worthy

It’s about a mile before the turnoff for the BLM/OHV area. I looked over and there are vans by the river! I had passed the first turn-off, but braked hard enough to make the second entrance. This is a really beautiful spot right on the river, but it has a kind of sketchy feel to it. Sunset was gorgeous.

The OHV area is right across the little river. A couple of off-road vehicles blatted past. This might not be the spot for me on a busy summer weekend.


Welcome to Wilson Canyon

There are quite a few loud-assed big trucks with poor mufflers out here in these hills. I could hear them roaring past all night. I slept well enough though, and had no negative experiences at all, but the place just felt sketchy.

My spot in the morning. The sad neighbor has left.

My neighbor’s campsite looked like a junkyard last night, and his RV trailer looked like it was dragging the ground. But when I got up this morning he had shoved all that crap back into the trailer and left a clean campsite, and to my amazement that trailer had made it to the end of the parking lot! Something went wrong, because he stopped and hobbled back and was having some kind of issue. He appeared to not be doing well on multiple fronts, and it made me hard for me enjoy being there. I left there by 10-ish.

I got phone reception when I got to greater Yerington (ha ha). Judging from the lack of options on Yelp, Yerington is a food desert. There were two choices for breakfast and wifi. One of them was the inevitable run-down casino in the middle of town, standard for Nevada. So I went to the other one, which was an odd little storefront where I had a great omelet and coffee in a styrofoam cup and a mixed experience. There were a couple of loud-mouthed mask-denying white ladies that stood fifteen feet away yakking the whole time I was eating. I was not amused. It occurred to me that this is Trump country, and he had held a super=spreader rally in Minden last week, and these sorry women were just the sort who would have been there. Now I was not only irritated, but worried about symptoms in a few days.

North of Yerington was the turn-off for the long-anticipated Wildlife Area. Turns out it’s 5-10 miles of gravel road in and out. It looks like a good gravel road, but I ain’t gonna take it today just to see what the place looks like.

I was home by 2!




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