mountains and rivers – part 2   7 comments

Posted at 2:54 pm in california,history,rivers

The next leg of my eastward trek crossed the landscape of cinder cones and volcanic rock debris leading into Lassen National Forest. Under better weather conditions, I would have lingered at Mt. Lassen. Unfortunately, my timing was off as, for the second time in two years, my plans for a visit were scrapped due to somewhat hostile weather. On this occasion, the roadway was lined with low snowbanks and the entire area looked deserted. I made some brief calculations of time and distance and decided that a side trip into the park was probably a nice but bad idea. This day’s plan, hatched the previous evening at my friends’ house, was to travel east to Susanville, then turn south, roughly heading for Carson City while looking for a park or campground along the way. Unfortunately, that turned out to be something of a fool’s errand as the weather was much colder than anticipated – even to this canuck who is known to have little respect for the cold. As I traveled south, the snow-topped peaks of the sierras to the west reminded me that it was getting a little late in the season to consider camping, even in this region.

Eventually, I broke down and decided to find a motel room in Carson City, Nevada. That night, shortly after dark, Sabrina insisted on going out for a walk. Other than the busy boulevard, there was no nearby place to walk other than in a desolate lot — the kind you seem to find next to almost every urban motel across North America. While attempting to avoid countless shards of broken glass and very nasty stickers, I managed to drop one of the two keys to my van which I had, thus far, worn like a sacred talisman on a sturdy cord about my neck. The next morning, after discovering this grave loss (for so it seemed), I spent a good half hour wandering around in the lot trying to find my key before checking out of the motel. Alas, despite searching almost every square foot of that depressing area, during which time I discovered such delightful objects as empty whisky bottles, a number of condom wrappers, and no less than three empty packages of deer urine “guaranteed to attract a big buck”, my key remained MIA. I wondered if there might be some lurid connection between the found objects noted above, but decided that was far too bizarre to contemplate.

Feeling a bit shaken up by my stupidity at having lost one of my precious van keys (for once I had pocketed it rather than putting the cord over my neck), I finished loading the van and stopped by the office to check out. On the off chance that someone might have turned in my key, I asked the clerk if he had seen a key like the one in my hand. He looked puzzled and mumbled something that led me to realize that he couldn’t speak much english. I then pointed to the cord on my travel wallet, and held my hands apart to show how long the cords was, then pointed to my key once more. Comprehending my meaning, he broke into a happy grin and pulled my key on its cord out of a drawer beneath the counter, and cheerfully handed it to me. Although he was unable to tell me the story of how it was found, my best guess is that some fine soul, probably a fellow wayfarer attempting to walk his dog through the broken glass and stickers, must have discovered my key and turned it in at the motel office. As I got into the van, I told Sabrina that maybe, just maybe, our luck was changing — hopefully for the better.

From Carson City, we continued south on 395, crossing back into California by Topaz Lake in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest region. We stopped to stretch our legs at a picnic area along the Walker River (above photo), once a place renowned for its population of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout (see top photo of interpretive sign – click on it for a larger view). As on so many occasions along the way, we had the place to ourselves — one of the positive aspects of traveling a little off the beaten path so late in the season.

From the outset of this entire journey, I had it in my mind to try to visit Bodie, a ghost town up in the mountains about 50 miles north of Mammoth Lakes. Passing several signs announcing snow closures of roads through certain mountain passes, I realized that there was a good possibility that the road up to Bodie would also be closed for the winter. In truth, due to the time wasted searching for my lost key, and then the route taking longer than expected — a fact of life that I was now getting used to — stopping to wander around at Bodie was beginning to seem like a side trip that I should probably leave for another time.

However, when we reached the Bodie turn-off, there were no closure signs at the highway and the gates were open a mile or two up the access road. I checked the time and decided to give myself two hours to drive up to and tour the town before resuming our southward trek. Thinking ahead, I had made reservations at a motel in Ridgecrest, which looked to be a comfortable day’s driving distance allowing for the side trip to Bodie (wrong!). A sign on Bodie Road noted that the pavement ended some 9 miles further along, and that it was rough road beyond. Once again, my time calculations went out the window as we hit the dirt section and found that it was like a washboard. Sabrina has a great dislike for those kinds of roads and has a very unique way of letting me know. If I don’t respond to her decidedly sad face, ears held to the sides with tips drooping (how in heck does she do that?!), she resorts to poking her head over the console between the front seats, then repeatedly lifting and dropping my right arm with her long nose. She was doing that steadily up the last 3 or 4 miles of Bodie Road. Somewhere along the way, I stopped to snap a photo of the Bodie Range (see below). At this altitude, somewhere around 8400 feet, there were remnants of a recent snowfall. I wondered if this might be one of the last days before the access road would be closed for the season.

(coming up next — photos of Bodie).

Written by bev on January 25th, 2009

7 Responses to 'mountains and rivers – part 2'

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  1. I love seeing the eastern side of the Sierra range. It’s so starkly different from the west. Roger and I have driven 395 a few times between Mammoth Lakes and places south of Lone Pine. It’s so dry and beautiful there. Never been to Bodie, so I’m looking forward to the next installment of this story.

    Glad you got your key back.

    robin andrea

    25 Jan 09 at 8:26 pm

  2. I am enjoying these pictures. Back in the 70’s I lived for about a year and a half at Lake Tahoe, and visited Carson a few times. I also drove back east along the eastern slopes of the Sierras, probably on some of the same roads you were on. I looked at Lassen on the map a lot of times while I was out there, but I never made the trip. That seems like at least one lifetime ago and a lot more than 2500 miles from here.


    26 Jan 09 at 4:23 pm

  3. robin – This was my first time driving the eastern side of the Sierras. You’re right, it is so different and sparsely populated. In places, it very much reminded me of the areas of Oregon that share much of the same kind of geography. A lot of dry, open rangeland and rock-strewn shallow rivers. I’m just finishing up editing the Bodie photos, so should have them up pretty soon.

    Mark – I will bet that you did drive many of the same roads that I traveled on this trip. I’m still hoping to visit Lassen – I’m not sure when, but I’ll probably be spending a lot more time camping and traveling around over the next while, so it may be sooner rather than later.


    27 Jan 09 at 10:05 am

  4. Oh boy. The cruddy vacant lot, the lost key, the washboard road, all the decisions you had to make – alone.

    Throw in some pretty bleak, challenging landscape . . .

    I remind myself there were also friends and a smiling clerk . . . still . . .

    I am looking forward to the pictures of the ghost town.

    I think. (kidding;0) I really am.

    Cathy Wilson

    27 Jan 09 at 10:48 pm

  5. Hey, Bev!

    I’ve finally caught up with you! Today after having been successful at finishing a small oil of a neighbours house that burned down this past fall, driving to Gatineau to pick up a load of Corey’s stuff as he’s moving back home, framing the still wet painting, then packing it up wet and sending by expresspost to a printer in Kingston, driving home, making & eating supper, and then going with Fred into Kemptville to the “Faith & Science” discussion group, this time on the life & philosophy of Julian Jaynes……. I have a little free time, even though it’s nearly midnight.

    I am sad that you and Sabrina are traveling without Don. I wish I were with you, to help decide where to go, help navigate, help make meals, help admire the landscape, and even paint a little here and there. Maybe I will someday.

    If you return through California, be sure to stop and rest at my sister Karen’s place near Placerville (Sacramento area). They have a peaceful house up among Garry Oaks, with graceful red-barked Manzanitas. Karen has a couple of my paintings on her walls, and loves to take photos, sketch, and write journal – the best I can do to keep you company from here.

    Love, Aleta

    Aleta Karstad

    28 Jan 09 at 12:51 am

  6. Wow, Bev – lots of good stuff here. The entry on the Lassen area has some amazing history to it, and the travails of the cutthroat trout populations are very interesting ecologically.

    The Walker River looks like it must flood periodically. I’m afraid if I were there your van would be full of rocks. Certainly better than collections from the parking lot.

    As Robin said, quite a different appearance in that Nevada-California area as compared to your previous post. Look forward to the Bodie post.


    28 Jan 09 at 9:18 am

  7. Cathy – Those landscapes can look quite bleak, but I’ve also grown to love being in them because they are often so expansive, devoid of humans, and home to hawks, antelope, and other creatures (I’m particularly thinking of times when I’ve been in the high desert). Wanting to be there grows on you over time. You’re quite right about all the decision-making and uncertainty. My trip was filled with a lot of that. That’s another part of my life that I’m becoming accustomed too. More on some of that coming up in my blog pretty soon. I should have the Bodie photos up in another day or two. I promise that they’ll be interesting! (-:

    Aleta – It sounds as though you have been as busy as always! I will probably spend much of the rest of my life traveling around as I have this winter, so there should be plenty of opportunities to join me for awhile. I would love to visit Karen – it may not happen on this trip, but perhaps one of the next times I’m through California. It would be terrific to meet her.

    Wayne – I’m sure the Walker would flood at times. As mentioned in my reply to the comment you left on the previous post, many of these mountain rivers run shallow over rocks, but most are also prone to flash-flooding after heavy rains (I’m thinking of rivers such as the Illinois, Chetco and the Smith in Oregon and California). As far as rocks are concerned, I used to collect a lot of rocks too. About 10 years ago, I actually packaged up quite a lot of beautiful stones collected over a month and had them shipped back home and I do still enjoy them to this day. They are in water in ceramic bowls made by some of my favourite potters. These days, I don’t tend to collect much in the way of rocks or anything else – perhaps the odd twig, cone, leaf or stone which I keep on the dashboard while I’m traveling. Instead, I take a lot of photos of stone in situ. Real eye candy to me. On Bodie, I think you’ll get quite a kick out of the photos once I get them up. It’s a pretty neat place!


    29 Jan 09 at 10:25 am

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