Thursday, July 1, 2010
South on Highway 395
We've made this trip dozens of times now.
Out of the heavenly mountains and down, down, down the spine of California. From ski vacation to home. From lake vacation to home. From stunning alpine vistas through well-watered plains, past tiny towns with shady trees, past eerie desert moonscapes, and back into so-called civilization.
We've made this trip so many times.
We know exactly how far it is to the first gas stop. We know what time we'll hit the beef jerky place. The lunch place. The second gas stop.
The drive south on California's Highway 395 has its own beauty. It reveals it slowly, as we go from heaven back to earth. From carefree days to the workaday world.
So Highway 395, I salute you.
When we first leave the mountains around the California side of Lake Tahoe, we briefly drop down into Nevada onto the beautiful, flat meadows of Carson Valley. It is an area of prosperous-looking farm houses and barns, flower-spangled fields shot through with little brooks, and green pastures dotted with horses and cows:
You know that ad campaign, "Happy Cows Come from California"? They must also come from Nevada--specifically, from this place:
It's enough to make me want to be a cow. Or maybe a dairy rancher. Raising organic cows on organic grass in organic meadows. That's my fantasy, and I'm stickin' to it.
On this lush plain is the very cute little town of Gardnerville, Nevada. (Most town names around here end with "ville.") Just opposite where we get gas for the first time is this adorable house from 1881, now a coffee and pastry place.
Maybe I won't be a dairy-cow rancher. I'll run this place, instead.
As we gas up, we get our last, fond look back at the mountains we love so much:
Goodbye, mountains! Promise you'll be there for us next year?
The mountains recede, and an empty but lovely land of gently rolling hills takes over:
This is the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, although it doesn't have the big trees most people associate with the word "forest."
Then we cross the state line back into California, and climb into the Mammoth Lakes area of the Sierra Nevada. The mountains around the Mammoth and June Lake ski resorts were blessed with a good snowfall last winter, so the skiing season will officially extend to July 4. Imagine!
Here is the Sierra Nevada near Mammoth:
We pass by Mammoth and drop down into the town of Bishop, not far from this vista:
We stop at the famous Erik Schat's Bakery every year for lunch and to load up on their amazing sourdough bread. This time we crammed 10 loaves in a car already filled with two adults, two giant teenagers, and a week's worth of our clothes and gear!
The bakery is fussy about people taking pictures inside, so this is the only shot I was able to get before being admonished (very nicely) by a pretty young woman behind the counter. It is a jumble of plastic spoons, set out for people who order the store's delicious gelato:
Outside the bakery, we saw this crazy vehicle in the parking lot:
I don't think it had anything to do with the store, but who knows for sure?
The Boy bought a selection of truffles from the bakery, to share with us on the ride:
The High Sierra continues to keep us company off the right side of the car as we travel farther south, with the green grassland slowly giving way...
...to arid, more forbidding territory. This is the area of Ansel Adam's "Range of Light" photographs, and of Manzanar, the prison camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.
In the midst of the dry land, oases of green pop up: Tiny towns like Independence, Lone Pine, and Big Pine, with populations less than 2,000. Their main streets sport the most adorable signage. Can you tell which sign is the object of my desire?
Oh, okay, I'd also love to have this one:
They remind me of my trout-fishing, backpacking dad.
On our right lurks Mt. Whitney, at 14,505 feet the highest point in the Lower 48 states. It's tricky to pick out exactly which one it is from a car moving 65 mph...
But it's in this area.
I climbed to its peak when I was 50. Don't know if I'll do that again, but you never know.
From the top of Mt. Whitney, you can look down and see Highway 395, right where our car is now. You can pick out the cars moving on its divided highway, like tiny seed beads on a strand of floss. I would so much rather be there, than here, right now!
As we drop lower and lower in altitude, the mountains give way to odd, dried-up lakes like Owens Lake:
There's an abandoned mine at the edge of the lake's dry shores. They used to mine soda here:
The lake's dry bed is huge...
Up and down Highway 395, you can spot camper vans and Airstream trailers. These silver beauties always remind me of pillbugs, or "roly-polys," which we called them when I was a child:
The road stretches endlessly southward under blazing skies:
Joshua Trees sizzle in the heat. Green pastures are just a distant memory, now:
And the road runs on, relentlessly:
Sometimes I stop looking at it as a road and landscape and notice the beautiful pastel colors. I'd love a dress in the colors of those distant mountains:
The dark-red mountain to the right of center is a cinder cone, a reminder that this entire area was once the scene of violent volcanic activity:
And now there isn't even a cinder cone or a Joshua Tree to punctuate the endlessness:
A mirage shimmers in the heat rising off the tarmac:
On and on...
Another patch of Joshua Trees to break up the monotony:
In the distance, three different colors of mountains crowd together, like three flavors of ice cream piled on a plate:
The uplifted rock of Red Rock Canyon looms around us:
A rare turn in the road, prompting one to wonder for a moment what's around the corner:
The usual way to deal with hills around here: Cut right through 'em:
And carry on:
Almost mirage-like, a ghost airport of mothballed jets pops up in the distance:
And the incessant trains rocketing through the charmless town of Mojave...
...where we stop for a fillup and a chance to stretch...
remind us that the days of beauty are over.
And back into ugliness and reality we are dropped.
Until next year, when the mountains come alive in front of our eyes once more.
Until next summer, mountains! We'll be back. I promise.