"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Thursday, October 9, 2014

South on 395 Through the Eastern Sierras: Part One

Our journey through the Eastern Sierra Nevadas really started in Lake Tahoe, but connectivity has been sketchy, so we're starting here now, with high hopes of being able to continue a series.

Here on the eastern side of the Sierras, it looks much like Nevada - a dry, near desert landscape with various mountain ranges surrounding the wide valleys that makes up the Great Basin.

Early morning on Golden Gate Rd., Walker, CA

At the moment, "here" is Lee Vining, California, the town closest to Mono Lake. "Then," a couple of days ago, was Coleville/Walker, CA. I'll just take this post to revisit our travels based out of there. We parked at the Meadowcliff KOA, right between Coleville and Walker, in beautiful Antelope Valley. The campground and motel have just recently joined the KOA gang, so you know what that means about the price. But the owners are taking great care of the place, doing much landscaping and rearranging. Everything is very clean and pleasant. It's nestled at the foot of a massive cliff that provides much appreciated late afternoon shade, and catches the early morning light too.

It's a sparsely populated area, devoted mostly to ranching and fishing on the Walker River, renown for its trout.  Both towns are kind of spread out through the valley, so you get very little sense of them being "towns," but there are a few good solid restaurants to recommend. The one right at the Meadowcliff KOA is great for breakfast and lunch (try the cinnamon rolls), and the Mountain View BBQ is a friendly hangout that serves up some yummy BBQ, coleslaw and local Mammoth beer at dinner time. Say Hi to Jeff for us if you stop by. Also the Walker Burger is a classic. All three are very homey and seem to be run by people who care a lot about the quality of their establishments, food and service.

We were in Walker for a little over a week and made a bunch of day trips.  On the first morning I was up at dawn to explore the area. After checking out Mill Canyon and Golden Gate Roads in Walker, I ended up at the Topaz Lake Recreation Area where there is a campground, a boat launch and a few trails to hike.

Topaz Lake

One day we drove Monitor Pass/Rt. 89 from Topaz Lake over to Markleeville...

View from Monitor Pass

...and on to the Grover Hot Springs State Park. The hot springs are channeled into two concrete pools, one hot and one not. There are showers, restrooms, dressing rooms, and a small admission fee. After a quick soak we drove to Gardnervile and Minden, NV, the closest cities with grocery stores, car washes, barber shops and hardware stores to do errands. 

(Side note: Every time you cross back into California from any other state, you have to pass through these check points where they are supposedly looking for produce that might carry pests from other states. But we can't figure out what they're really looking for. Sometimes they ask where you're coming from, sometimes not. Sometimes they ask if you have any produce, but when we showed them a list of the produce we had in the RV fridge, they said "What's this?" and acted like they had no interest in our fresh produce at all. Another time they asked if we had any houseplants. Honestly, I have no idea what they're after.) 

Another day, we travelled south to the ghost town of Bodie State Historic Park and enjoyed a very different kind of photographic experience for us. Bright midday sun threatened to bleach out everything, but the colors of the aged wood, rusted metal, tin roofs and siding, and the bright blue sky came through anyway.

One day we drove the high and dramatic Sonora Pass/Rt. 108 from Bridgeport to Dardenelle. What amazing scenery.

Looking east toward the Sweetwater Mountains

"Columns of the Giants" lava formations
 Once you get up into the mountains, and cross over the passes, you leave the Great Basin and the terrain changes to support large evergreens such as sugar pines, Jeffrey and ponderosa pines. The landscape is crisscrossed with streams and dotted with mountain lakes. This is the classic rocks, trees and water triumvirate of the Sierras.

Sardine Falls it the distant center (I think)

Walker River, above Leavitt Falls

Stanislaus River

I topped off our week with a hike to Roosevelt and Lane Lakes via Leavitt Meadow Trail (off of Sonoma Pass/Rt. 108). Sometimes I do these longer hikes alone and take along my Personal Locator Beacon. I got lucky this time and met a nice guy named Kevin who I walked with almost all the way to the lakes.  Often these chance meetings work out well. For the most part, I think hikers are friendly, interesting, and interested people, who are happy for company even if they start out hiking alone (like me!). 

Leavitt Meadow Trail

The trail starts at Leavitt Meadows, and then ascends up through the typical large rounded rocks and evergreens of the Sierras. The scattered groves of willows and aspens had just turned bright gold this week. Eventually there are at least four lakes along or near that trail: Roosevelt,  Lane, Secret and Fremont. Lots of hikers go up to camp and fish for several days. I just went about 4 miles to the second lake, which I think was Lane Lake.

Roosevelt Lake

I had the lakes pretty much to myself once I got there. 

Lane Lake

Perfect place for a picnic lunch before heading back down. 

Roosevelt Lake

So, now we've caught up to Lee Vining, where we have easy access to Mono Lake, and the grandest pass of them all: Tioga Pass/ Rt. 120.  For my next post...


  1. We are at Topaz Lake right now. Heading for Lee Vining in a couple of days. (And yes, we have Verizon!)

    The Leavitt Meadow trail looks wonderful, nice fall colors.

  2. Oh! I hope you take the Tioga Pass drive to Yosemite. It is just spectacular.

  3. This is a trip we are looking forward to taking soon...maybe next fall. I read through the five posts backwards. Now I'll comment forward:) We love hiking to these beautiful lakes. Your photos are just beautiful. Hiking alone sometimes, you'll have to get good at selfies:)

    1. Thanks guys. I'm terribly camera shy, so selfies are probably not in the future of this blog. Rick can sometimes get a picture of me, and I'll try to put more of him in. Thanks for the encouragement. Traveling 395 is sure an interesting experience. It's so remote at times, and the services are so minimal. But it's also a popular hikers destination. Internet and phone reception is really spotty. Especially AT&T.


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