After leaving San Francisco we wanted to see Yosemite National Park, so we booked a stay in nearby Oakhurst, California, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Sometimes it’ll happen that we’ll be driving along and the landscape will change suddenly (such as when we crossed the Manitoba border and abruptly met the prairies). Here, we were rambling past fruit orchards and somehow, as if instantly transported, we found ourselves surrounded by golden, grassy fields and hills, dried out from sunshine, with the mountain range rising behind them.
While in Oakhurst we visited the small Mono County Museum that had native-animal and handwoven-basket displays, and showed a film about traditional Mono (a Native American tribe) baby carriers, which I found very interesting. We also went to Bass Lake, the bottom of which sparkled with tiny fragments of pyrite (fool’s gold).
We left Oakhurst and went through Yosemite on a very busy but sunny day. We spent a few hours driving from the east entrance to the west exit, stopping several times to take photos of this huge and wonderful park. I noticed that the climate changed as we went across, from moderately dry forests to a more desert-like feel.
The narrow road took us as high as 9900 feet above sea level, and often I’d look out my window to see a sheer drop beside me, something I’d experienced many times before on our travels but never quite got used to. Once we made it to the other side of the park, we went on to Mammoth Lakes (named after the Mammoth Mining Company), a ski-resort town that sits at an elevation of about 8000 feet.
We stayed in Mammoth Lakes for four nights, and I tell you, there’s something to the old story about wise philosophers living at the tops of mountains. It must have something to do with the lower oxygen levels at higher elevations, but I felt unusually calm and introspective while we were there, and it seemed like all of us were nicer than usual to each other. Who knows, but keeping hydrated was very important, as we got thirsty and tired very quickly when we went for a hike in the Reds Meadow Valley to see Rainbow Falls. That dry heat was something else, but it marked the beginning of my infatuation with the California desert.
We left Mammoth Lakes and headed south-east on Route 395, descending through the valley between the Sierra Nevada and the Death Valley ranges. The landscape was brown and desolate, and the heat intensified the further we drove. One thing Eric and I worried about, having never driven through the desert before, was the car overheating and breaking down on the highway. We kept an eye on the engine’s temperature gauge, which fortunately remained at a moderate level, replenished the coolant as needed, and packed several litres of water.Move left and right for full view of Independence, CA
As I’ve said before, that dry heat was really something else, and felt like it could get into your bones (like Canadian winters sometimes do). But I found it fascinating, and when we turned off the 395 and drove along a very quiet state highway that curved around sandy hills and past Joshua trees, I was smitten. We ended our trip near Weldon, at a KOA campsite where we had reserved a large tent.
Our camp stay introduced us to the beauty that is the desert sunset, which tints the sky and nearby mountains hues of pink and purple. At night, with the moon directly above, everything was so brightly lit that we didn’t need a flashlight when walking around outside. It was all so completely different from anywhere we’d ever been, and the wildness of it was both inspiring and grounding to me.Move left and right for full view of Weldon, CA
During our stay near Weldon we visited our first ghost town… more on that coming up next!