Day 10 – 1st September 2008 – Labor Day – Mammoth Lakes
Got ourselves up at 5:30am this morning – I am convinced today we will see a fabulous sunrise. Goodness it’s still as hot this morning as it was yesterday afternoon – this heat is relentless.
I was right the sunrise was to die for – ok the heat is not quite as blistering as it was yesterday afternoon so I decide that I will try and walk to the dunes to get a better photograph. Drive the car to the nearest point and start to walk over the parched earth, being very careful not to disturb anything that may be home to a rattlesnake or scorpion. I know this is not very masculine but I am petrified of snakes and I’m not that partial to scorpions either. The Dunes are further than I thought – everything in Death Valley is further than you think. I set up the camera some distance from the Dunes and take some reasonable pictures but the sand is still being blown about and prevents me photographing anything that will eventually make the album.
I eventually accept defeat and return to our lodge. The cost of our accommodation includes breakfast, which we took after which we had got ready and re packed the car – I have to say again the food and service at Stove Pipe Wells was first class – could not be faulted.
After just one day in Death Valley it was time to be on our way – we both loved this place for it rawness and severity – it will certainly remain a long time in my memory and I will never forget the first time I walked out into its heat at Hell’s Gate – what a place.
We set off for Mammoth Lakes about 9:30am and make the superb drive through the Paramint Mountains – we had to turn off the air conditioning in the car for about 20 miles which made the drive extremely uncomfortable – but infinitely better than breaking down. We stop a couple of times on the way out of the Valley to take pictures of the salt flats and at the vista point at the Paramint Mountains but it was too hot to wander from the car to do any meaningful sightseeing.
We did have a bit of a moment when we were coming down the other side of the Paramint Mountains which I must share with you. We had made a stop on a fairly steep down hill section of the Mountain to take a picture from one of the many vista points. Now Lyn normally stays in the car if I am just popping out quickly to take a photograph but asks that I leave the music and the air conditioning on – as I have forgotten on a couple of occasions and when I’ve returned to the car I’ve had to throw a bucket of water over her and strap her to an oxygen mask in order to revive her. However, as the drivers amongst us know, when it comes to starting the car again you have to turn the keys in the ignition back to the ‘off’ position and only then will the car start when you turn the key back the other way. Well, I forgot this simple rule and didn’t turn the keys back to the off position and just turned them as I would normally to start the engine - what with the music on and the air conditioning on at full blast I couldn’t actually hear if the engine had started but had assumed that it had – which of course it hadn’t – when I released the hand brake I moved away as expected and for the first 20 yards or so still had brakes until all of the brake fluid drained from the brakes and they no longer worked. By this time we were hurtling down a steep mountainside studded with a series of extremely tight switchbacks and no brakes. Not a recommended way to travel down any mountainside no less the impressive Paramint Mountain.
I must admit to a mild form of panic when I first needed the brakes and they didn’t respond - luckily I had a good idea of the problem and yanked as hard as I dare on the handbrake to bring us to halt without executing a neat handbrake turn before we ran out of road. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the driver that was behind us at the time who must have been 1) confused and 2) irritated at this idiot in front who at one point was driving his car down this mountainside as if being chased by a park ranger and then for no apparent reason bringing it to a halt in the middle of the road – without using his brakes. I thought I would get out and explain that “I am British you know” but I’m not sure that he would have seen the funny side.
Ok were still alive aren’t we – what’s the problem – let’s crack on (flippin’ ‘eck). I avoid eye contact with Lyn for the next few miles.
We eventually reach Lone Pine and get our first glimpse of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks framed by the Sierra Nevada Range – the landscapes just get better and better. We stop here for a comfort break and take some time to stretch our legs. Hopalong Cassidy fans will be interested to know that Lone Pines was the location for this series and many other western movies and TV series – just thought you might be interested. This is the start of Ansel Adams country and you can see why – it is gorgeous. Mount Whitney(15,000 feet) sits as a ghostly apparition as a backdrop to the town – must just have been the light that day – very special lighting effect.
Had we had the time we could have driven to the Mt Whitney Portal, which is a short distance off the 395 where you can experience a panoramic view of the valley. This is the actual location of many of your favourite westerns – including 3 of my favourite TV series - The Lone Ranger, Bonanza, and Wagon Train – ah they don’t make them like that anymore.
Ok, head ‘um up and move ‘em out (oh no that was Rawhide – where was that shot then). We drive onto Bishop and once more fill with gas $40 (£21) – have lunch at a very nice pavement type café and drive onto Mammoth Lakes – weather is now much cooler and just about perfect.
The GPS once more behaves impeccably and takes us to the door of the Holiday Inn. The Holiday Inn was as you would expect of all Holiday Inns – good clean standard rooms - nothing to get too excited about but nothing to complain about.
We explore the town of Mammoth Lakes –I buy myself a new pair of Reef shorts and flip flops – I needed something that wasn’t going to rub on my blisters – did I mention that I rubbed a few blister on my Narrows walk – yes ok I know - I’ll say no more about them….. for now (still looking for sympathy). In the shop we got talking to 2 American guys – we talked about all sorts of things and eventually explained that as from tomorrow we were off to Yosemite for 3 days – well that was it – they must have spent the next 45 minutes explaining to us every trail and viewpoint in Yosemite and what we must make sure we see – they we fantastic and so enthusiastic – we tried to remember as many references as we could but we probably forgot a lot more than we remembered – great guys – thanks for your advice.
We fancy a short walk and ask at Reception if they have any suggestions – they recommend Lake McLeod – we drive to Horseshoe Lake and park the car in the large parking lot. The car park is ringed by trees that look as though they have all simultaneously taken a lightening strike – very peculiar but striking in appearance.
The walk is no more than a mile but uphill most of the way – when you eventually arrive at the lake you are rewarded with the most prettiest of locations – the lake is fairly large (you could probably walk around it in less than an hour) – it is surrounded by trees and you have the crest of Mammoth Mountain as a backdrop.
All bar one other person we had the lake to ourselves – this was heaven! Lyn found a cosy log to lay back on and I of course went off snapping – the photo count by now was well over 1,000 – well it’s not my fault that every time I move there’s another photo opportunity!
The only other person at the Lake eventually makes his way over to where we are and we strike up a conversation – he was American and a lovely man – he saw that I was photographing the dead trees and asked if I had an interest in the Bristlecone Pines – In truth I had no idea that it was a Bristlecone Pine. Well this gentleman proceeded to provided us with a complete and detailed history of this tree – some of which I must share with you – apparently Bristlecone Pines are a small group of pine trees that are thought to reach an age far greater than that of any other single living organism known on the planet – some are thought to be up to nearly 5,000 years. Our new friend also suggest that if we want to see more Bristlecone Pine we could drive back down the 395 to Big Pine to the Ancient Bristle Pine Forest – however, as this was a 120 mile round trip we declined (Americans have a very different perception of distance than we Brits – I suppose its because we live on such a small island). Anyway, something for others to consider when making this drive.
We end up talking about all sorts of various topics – he was great fun and very interesting – but the Bristlecone Pines information was fascinating. Lovely person.
After completely de-stressing at McLeod Lake we make our way back down to the car park and drive back to The Holiday Inn – I discover that the arm on my new (but female) reading glasses have now broken. Lyn Uses the Pool and I sneak off into town to find a drug (chemist) store to see if I can buy yet another pair of reading glasses. Glasses are definitely becoming a theme of this holiday.
Anyway, they have a grand selection and this time I am able to buy a sensible pair designed for men – goodness I almost look sensible in these – I don’t immediately tell Lyn as I know she will give me one of those withering looks.
When I get back she is still in the pool – well the Jacuzzi actually – and having a great time. We eventually return to our room and Lyn thinks that this is a good opportunity to use the laundrette. Later we walk into town and eat a the local Italian Restaurant – very pleasant indeed. Amazing tonight we need a jumper as it is on the cool side.
We return back to the Holiday Inn about 9:30/10:00pm for an early night in preparation for tomorrow’s grand adventure – the start of Yosemite!!