After leaving Lone Pine, CA, we headed 150 miles north along U.S. 395, which is in the best shape of any highways we’ve traveled in a long time! On the way, we stopped in Bishop to grab lunch and bread at Erick Schatz’s Bakery (thanks, Amy, for another great recommendation!). The town of Bishop has a parking lot big enough for RVs right behind the park across the street from the bakery, so it’s a perfect place to stop for lunch. Then we drove further north and stopped at a vista point near Lake Crowley to enjoy a glorious view while we ate our lunch.
The rest of the drive took us past Mammoth Lakes and the June Lake Loop (which we’ll hit on the way back), on a bright sunny day with no snow on the mountains. After passing Mono Lake and Lee Vining, and heading over Conway Summit (8,138 feet high, the highest point on U.S. 395), we camped in Bridgeport, next to the Bridgeport Reservoir, and enjoyed sightings of a hummingbird moth, Canada geese, quail, blackbirds, and cottontail rabbits.
What a difference a day makes! During our first night in Bridgeport, we had lots of rain and woke up to quite a bit of snow on the surrounding mountain peaks, where there had been none the day before. On the first day of fall, there was a definite chill in the air.
We know from camping in Yellowstone and Grand Teton that the day after it snows is the day to get out and take photos, assuming the roads are clear. So, we hopped in the car, drove back down U.S. 395 to the Tioga Road in Lee Vining, and entered Yosemite National Park at Tioga Pass, elevation 9,945 feet. (You now need reservations to drive into the park, but Hank had made that reservation before we left home, so we were good to go. Others were turned away at the entrance ☹. We have our Senior National Park passes, so it doesn’t cost us anything to enter the park 😊.)
We spent several hours just enjoying the beauty of the high country of Yosemite, with its freshly-fallen snow (down below 9,000 feet) and iconic granite domes and rocks.
Though we couldn’t see Half Dome from Olmstead Point (our turnaround spot) because of the fog, we could see Tenaya Lake (where we ate lunch) and Tuolumne Meadows, plus a few deer, chipmunks, and a Steller’s jay who ventured out into the cold.
No hiking today (too cold and wet), just a lovely scenic drive in and around the high country of Yosemite.
Since we were staying in the Bridgeport area for several days, we had time to explore this part of Mono County where neither of us had ever spent any time. Day 2 started with a pretty drive to Twin Lakes, two small lakes which are great for fishing and boating in a lovely setting beneath the Sawtooth Ridge.
We went on to Bodie State Historic Park ($8.00 per adult) to see a well-preserved ghost town from the gold rush of the late 1800s (founded in 1859 with its heyday in the 1870s and 80s). The dirt road to get there is well-maintained, and the views along the way are beautiful. This place is so isolated that you wonder how they ever found gold there in the first place, but it was once a thriving mining town of 10,000 people, and it produced $35 million worth of gold and silver.
The town was abandoned in 1942, but over 200 buildings remain and the California State Parks maintain and preserve the ruins in an arrested state of decay. Walking around the town was interesting (buy the $3.00 guidebook!) and informative—viewing the church, schoolhouse, general stores, homes, and the mining operation—and imagining life in this very harsh climate.
Though we haven’t seen much wildlife on this trip, we spotted a few pronghorn after we left Bodie. We have only seen pronghorn in Wyoming and the Dakotas, so this was an unexpected treat.
Lunch afterwards was at the Virginia Creek Settlement Restaurant, the #1 place to eat in Bridgeport, according to TripAdvisor. It was pretty good pub and Italian food, in a very pretty spot by the creek. They even have their own fish hatchery!
Day 3 took us down to Lee Vining and the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center, where we watched an informative video about the geography and natural history of this part of the Eastern Sierra. Mono Lake has a few rivers and creeks that feed into it, but no outlets, so the water builds up a high level of salt (three times saltier than the Pacific Ocean). While Mark Twain called it “California’s Dead Sea,” it isn’t completely dead. Alkali flies lay their eggs there, and the larvae are born under water. Brine shrimp also live in the water, eating the algae that grows there, and both the shrimp and flies are food for the thousands of birds that live or migrate through here.
The hike to the lake is short and easy, and on this 60-degree day, not hot at all, which was good, since there’s no shade. The tufas are calcium carbonate formations (i.e., limestone), the same stuff that makes up stalactites in caves and Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. The tufas formed underwater, but the lake level has dropped a lot (partly a natural phenomenon, and partly because Los Angeles has siphoned off a lot of the river water that feeds the lake ☹).
Eared grebes arrive in the thousands at this time of year, though we probably only saw hundreds. 85 percent of California gulls nest in Mono Lake as well! (Who knew?)
This tufa exploration was a definite highlight of the area—the tufas are so unique (and huge) and are striking against the bluish-green water of Mono Lake and the surrounding mountains. We had driven by the lake before but never stopped to really investigate—definitely worth spending a few hours here if you drive U.S. Highway 395.
We also visited Panum Crater, a volcanic cinder cone that last erupted about 640 years ago. Though the 1-mile unpaved road to get there was lousy, the hike to the crater rim was not too steep and provided beautiful views of the lake and the Sierra Nevada (with just a little bit of snow left from three nights ago). There are lots of obsidian and pumice pieces all over the rim trail (we didn’t hike into the middle of the crater), so geologists would especially enjoy this hike.
Another scenic drive to Lundy Lake ended our exploration on this day. There are lots of lakes in the area, but not that many suitable day hikes, so we did more looking from the car than from the trail on this leg of our trip.
On our last full day in this northernmost part of our Eastern Sierra trip, we enjoyed lunch (and beer) at the Big Meadow Brewing Company in Bridgeport where they were celebrating a Half Marathon to raise money for the local school. Across the street was the historic Mono County Courthouse, built in 1880.
We ended our time in the Bridgeport/Lee Vining area by soaking in the Travertine Hot Springs, a set of three small natural hot pools set among rock formations (which apparently attract a weird set of visitors). This was followed by a round of s’mores, our first of the trip (but possibly not our last).
Till next post, thanks for reading!