My birthday occurs on Bastille Day. If you are French, that's significant, if not, you'll have to settle for my birthday occurring significantly during the Tour de France every summer. This year however, I also realized that my birthday occurred right around the running of The World's Toughest Footrace - the Badwater Ultramarathon. Every summer some VERY strong people run from the lowest point in the U.S: Badwater Basin in Death Valley, to the start of the highest point in the continental U.S.: Mount Whitney Portal, for a total of 135 miles with a total elevation gain of some 13,000 feet. In July. Our first clue was this vehicle in a parking lot in Lone Pine:
At first we applauded the vehicle's owner for creative entitlement, but soon realized this was a support vehicle for all those sweaty runners on the 395. We left the Big Pine Creek campground on my birthday and headed north to Lundy Canyon for two more days of camping. Stopping over in Bishop for a superb sandwich lunch at Raymond's Deli, I celebrated my French birthday heritage with a Cuban sandwich (1000 Island Cuban) while Ted consumed an Angry Cow. We also discovered Death Valley Pale Ale.
Raymond's rocked. Especially the rye bread on my Cuban. The hippest deli in town, Raymond's staff was not overly impressed with their inherent hipness, which made for great service in addition to great food. We'll be back to try the rest of the menu as soon as we can. After resupplying in Bishop for more great camp meals, we cruised the 395 to Lundy Canyon just north of Lee Vining and Mono Lake. Lundy Canyon is home to Lundy Lake and the Lundy Lake Lake Resort, but we were camping at the county-operated Mill Creek Campground. Though the campground does not take reservations, there were plenty of sites to choose from on a Thursday, and we found our place at site #5 near the creek with great Sierra views and plenty of wildflowers.
Lundy Canyon is filled with Aspen trees and must be a marvelous sight in the autumn when the leaves turn from green to gold. The canyons and foothills of the Eastern Sierra was home to a significant Basque sheepherder population during the gold rush days in California. Sheepherding is a lonely occupation, and the Basque men who had relocated from Europe without family and friends used a unique method to communicate with each other over long distances by carving symbols into Aspen trees, known as arborglyphs. Many carvers perfected their craft by choosing trees and symbols that would not become distorted as the trees grow and are easily recognizable 150 years later. Unfortunately, others have been inspired to mark the trees with simple grafitti, but the original markings are another reminder of the range of cultures that actually comprise the American West. To learn more about the Basque arborglyphs, check out Speaking Through Aspens: Basque Tree Carvings in California and Nevada by Joseph Mallea-Olaetxe. The Lundy Lake Resort, a rustic fishing camp with boat rentals and cabins serving visitors to the lake, is an easy run a few miles up the roadfrom the campground where the store stocks ice.
The fishing access to Mill Creek and Lundy Lake was somewhat disappointing for us, as the creek was still so high from snow runoff and the lake is really a reservoir for boats. When Ted spotted a beaver pond in the creek with limited access, he devised a method of access involving an air mattress and layers of clothing to fish in the cold water. There weren't many keepers but he returned with this:
We made fine meals despite the lack of trout, including Eggs in Hell for breakfast, another brilliant recipe from Mario Batali. If you have an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch, there's an app for that. I made my own birthday dinner - Pasta Salad with Grilled Sausages and Peppers - that came out quite nicely. Though my version was more of a pasta dish vs. salad and required prep at home before camping, this recipe from Food & Wine magazine is a winner at home and in the great outdoors.
Fortifed with food, we made ready for a visit to one of California's most popular state parks, Bodie State Historic Park in the Bodie Hills near the Nevada border. Bodie is a ghost town preserved in a state of "arrested decay" left over from the gold rush in the late 1800s. As authentic of an Old West experience as you're likely to get, Bodie is a great place to explore in the middle of nowhere and being a state park, Fleabag was welcome to explore with us. Bodie still contains over 100 buildings with many of the original furnishings. Several buildings are open for your perusal, and the visitor center is housed in one of the historic buildings with a bookstore operated by the Bodie Foundation. Inside, we found a copy of Roughing It by Mark Twain which chronicles his younger days in the Wild West, including mining in Nevada. Hilarious and very entertaining, Roughing It proves that we all need more Mark Twain in our lives. Evidence of the mining still exists on the hills all around Bodie, where residents reaped the financial rewards of all that gold. They even ran 13 miles of copper wire from Green Creek to power the stamp mill in 1892, providing early hydroelectric power to the middle of nowhere.
My greatest sense of Old West authenticity in Bodie came from the sheer amount of dust. There are no services in Bodie - though the visitor center sells bottled water and the park provides restrooms - so we became parched after our stroll through town. Seven miles north of the turnoff for Bodie on the 395, you'll find the town of Bridgeport with it's small town charm and horrendous price gouging. We lucked into the Jolly Kone (and Massage?) burger and ice cream stand and tucked into some righteous burger and fries.
After a week of Eastern Sierra glory, it was time to go back home to Yosemite. But first, a mandatory stop at Mono Lake. Two and a half times saltier than the sea, Mono Lake's water doesn't support much wildlife though many, many migratory birds nest here. Formed almost a million years ago, the lake has no natural outlet, so between that and the fact that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power diverts all the freshwater tributaries that normally flow into the lake into the lawns of LA, the lake's salinity has doubled in recent years. This doesn't seem to bother the lake's most unique denizens - brine shrimp and alkali flies. The brine shrimp relish the salty envirnment and the flies feed on lake algae. Visitors to the lake spend time stooped over the shoreline looking at shrimp and swarms of flies. The flies are peculiar in that they absolutely will not bother humans - you can wave a hand through a swarm and they will move and regroup around you.
This trip we visited the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve and the adjacent Mono Lake County Park. The county park is a green oasis in the dry Eastern Sierra with manicured lawns, picnic area and play structures. Access to the lake via the state reserve boardwalk provides a panoramic view of tufa towers and bird habitat. California's state parks are in crisis and this reserve is slated for closure in 2012 - one of 70 state parks to close due to California's budget woes. Though the beautiful county park will remain open, you will no longer be able to access the lake from here by next year. The California State Parks Foundation sponsors the Save Our State Parks campaign to help raise funds for parks.
My fellow Californians, please go visit your local state park and encourage others to do the same. Consider buying an annual pass, or even better, join the California State Parks Foundation and receive an annual pass as a benefit of the Frequent Visitor donor level. Who doesn't need more opportunity to go outside and play?
Raymond's Deli: Junk in the Trunk!
Jolly Kone: Junk-O-Rama