Bodie to Mono Lake

A Road Trip of History and Beauty

548.5 Miles, 4 Days, and a Trusty Camera

 

 I set out with 15 pages of printouts from every source I could find on the Sierras. My route was somewhat structured by available rooms, since I waited until the last minute to book. And given the mileage I was aiming for, and the intent NOT to spend every day, all day in the car, I decided to leave the Southern Tahoe, Carson City area to another trip. But the Eastern Sierras and Highway 395, touted as an area not to miss, were beckoning me.

 

Sutters Creek to Mono Lake via Hwys 108 and 395

I woke up early to catch the light. I had heard around town that Mel’s diner is the place to go- AND it is open at 0’dark thirty. Indeed, it alone is worth the trip. The husky voice of the gal who has been here since 4 and yes, seriously, called me “hon”, won me over immediately. “You are required to stop here”, she says. The slick counter, napkin-rolled flatware, open kitchen, big green booths make it road-trip-America at its best. Ate a rough and tumble all-American breakfast before getting a nod from the guys in NRA hats on way out door. My regret is missing the burgers at lunch.

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A quick turn off the road to check out Mozelumne Hill. If the Union House had been open I would have waited for lunch- an outdoor, vine covered patio with wooden tables was so welcoming. I loved, too, the outdoor library, the old saloon, the quaint home gardens on this one road, teeny off the beaten path street.

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Highway 49 is miles and miles and miles of rolling hills, grass, cows, rust-colored barns, wooden fence posts, and more grass. In contrast, highway 108 is pole after pole of sunlight through the pines. Nestled within them, Twain Harte feels like the real deal, a deep-woods town and cabins, though I didn’t stay to explore. Roll down your windows to smell of vanilla sap, dirt and campfire. Every now and again I get a glimpse dark blue hills, and one “ginormous” rock looks like the mountain from of “Close Encounters”. Donnell damn and overlook reveal glacier cut rocks, neon moss trees, and boulders of unbelievable size.

 

As the land began to level out, on the other side of the Sierras, the cud-chewing herds of cows cover the pastel fields on my right. I had been happily photographing cows against the mountain backdrop when I noticed two people in fatigues and a huge dome, with military jeeps in long, neat lines…. I couldn’t take my eyes off of this enormous installation, which seems so out of place: a marine corps campus. But onward, where, for the next few miles, listening to an NPR bit about the art scene in Venice, I happily reminisce about cows, bells and Switzerland, to which this whole scene transports me.

 

The route to Bodie involves several miles of dust and very bumpy, dirt road. {There are two ways in; take one in, the other out. The south road is longer, but there are fewer cars and trailers!} Bodie is special; don’t let the number of cars deter you. Let the road take you back in time.

 

At one point, the town grew to be 10,000 pop. at its height. It grew famous for its lawlessness, hence its wild west reputation. It has been well-preserved, including tattered lace windows. There is still a mine shaft lift, a bar full of bottles, a barber shop and a school house, all covered with dust at least an inch thick.

 

I was impressed that people are still allowed to roam and peek in windows. I counted at least five languages while I roamed, most of which was German, interestingly. While it was serious fun to shoot town as whole, I was most enthralled with the roofs’ dark, ochre colors set against cool blue tin, supported by wooden striations.

My first glimpse of Mono Lake is of a bland expanse, save for one large mound in middle and a salt crust around edge, visible even from up high. The pastels of the scenery stick with me even now: the bushes are a mix of pale yellow, almost a rose next to sage brushes, the water is a light turquoise, the sand is a light tan and pink, the hills a deeper tan, and the only dark elements are the “poofy”, little, dark green trees that dot the hills.

 

Lee Vining is infinitely skippable… four motels, Bogie Mike’ss BBQ, Nicely’s diner, and a couple of kitsch shops. That’s it. But if you are there to shoot the lake, it’s really the only place to be. The Lake View Lodge was a quintessential motel: I felt the need to pull back the cover on the bed before I sat on it, the water ran luke warm at best. I suppose I expected a bit more for $140. (The June lake loop and town just south are cuter). Getting there: just over 1 mile south of Lake View Lodge is a turn off to Test Site road… it’s dirt, but the views in and out are stunning as you drive along the lake and finally see tufa (I never did learn the plural: tufae??).

© 2004 by Jody Holman Webster

jody @ holmanphotography.com    • 650.430.5225     •Based in Pacifica, CA   

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