Bishop is a gate town marking the beginning (or end depending on your direction) of the Eastern Sierras visual extravaganza offered along Highway 395 which runs North and South in California, east of Sierras, but not quite to Nevada.
If you go somewhere at 395, you are likely to pass through Bishop. This is a city that marks a change of scenery from a dry, barren desert in the south to the rich and rugged Sierra in the north. Remember a stop at EriK Schat Bakery in the city center, the only intersection with a stop light. One could spend almost a full day here enjoying the delicious treats in this special oven. In addition to the usual cakes, there are apparently dozens of different styles of bread. This is a "remember" when traveling through Bishop
Continuing north you will find further Mammoth Lakes. This shelter for the removal of Los Angelean from the big city has turned what was once a sleepy mountain getaway into a favorable community. The small town I knew a dozen years ago is now hiding behind end-of-year shopping, condos, a high school, and a hospital. Getting out of town to Lake Mary is still very enjoyable and walking towards the devils behind the popular pile. This year-round resort town has a ski hill with a chair lift in the middle of town, along with two golf courses that are the greens to disperse downtown making it a little confusing for the first visitor. Enter the village above the city with the lakes and push, that's great.
Off the beaten path and away from the hordes that seem to have grown up around Mammoth is the Devil's Post Office Cluster. We love the scenery and this strange geological attraction is worth seeing. The hike from Post Pile to Rainbow Falls is also worth it, about 3 miles, lots of descents and some steep sections.
Leaving Mammoth, heading north into the quiet villages of June Lake, which always seems to be ready for a glimpse of some Field and Stream magazine sports booths and shirtless sneakers galore . The June 14-mile Loop Loop pulls you back along the base of the mountains where you can find a small ski hill, a great for families. The northernmost lake, Grant Lake is a reservoir lake and while there is fishing, it lacks the usual coastline that makes the lakes so beautiful. The other lakes, Silver and June are both natural and Aspen driven for fantastic autumn color photography.
The next stop along the way is Lee Vining, a Gate to Yosemite and where Highway 120 intersects Highway 395. A left turn here will soon bring you to Yosemite National Park in Tioga Pass. But let's visit some of the highlights of the Eastern Sierra before returning here.
Lee Vining has a wonderful interactive visitor and information center that focuses on "lunar-esque" Lake Mono. In recent years the lake has been the center of attention regarding water use rights. Nearly drained by Los Angeles in the 1980s to feed their massive water needs, locals, along with the help of several national agencies, gathered and sued to bring back their water. Mono Lake is now quite full and lively with shrimp, birds and all sorts of small criteria. The Lee Vining Visitor Center is a wealth of information, photos, history and learning opportunities related to this unique bit of California. Note: Low water levels previously in the lake allowed for extreme views of common rock figures across the lake that are now largely covered again.
As you head north, away from the lake, look back and see that it goes much farther than you would think from your first view of the lake. Now heading towards Bodie, watch carefully as there is only one often missing sign indicating Bodie's return and it is a proper turn and then 12 miles. Once on the road to Bodie, civilization soon falls away and the road eventually spreads with gravel. Look for Shepard and the hillside meadow on the right, very European! Once on top of Bodie for the museum. This is where you will pick your passes for the Mill Mill Stamping Tour. Only a few bucks, but worth a mint in history, local colors and interesting information over a long age. Tours are between 11:00 and 1:00 pm daily. If you can't take a tour, take a moment to look for one of the doctors or teachers, they have a depth of knowledge and they seem to really enjoy sharing it!
Here we have to decide which way to go after Bodie, again in the direction of Yosemite or upwards to Lake Tahoe. As soon as the weather changes and the snow starts to fall, probably in late October or early November, the Tioga Pass will approach through traffic by the end of May or early June of the following year. The next closest intersection that gets cleared all winter is Highway 88, somewhat north of us, but another beautiful ride! If you have planned your trip when the crossing closes, after Bodie, stay at 395 toward Tahoe, where you will have some opportunities to continue your explorations, whether east and Nevada or west and California.
If you travel in the summer months with the open permit, we follow a little. After Bodie turn onto Highway 395 and again south on Highway 120 to Lee Vining and turn right for Yosemite. Make a dining stop at the Mobile Gas Station on the left. This is the Whoa Nelly Deli, the signature posted on "Restaurant" and is a great and quick stop for a full gourmet lunch, lunch or dinner … always delicious and reasonably priced. Whoa Nelly Deli is only open while Tioga crossing is open. Favorite outfits would be outside at a picnic table overlooking Lake Mono.
Climbing up the "hill," you'll soon reach the summit, Tioga Pass. Stopping along the way to see the photo shoot is highly recommended, as you are enjoying a few days in the park. http://www.nps.gov/yose is the official website for Yosemite National Park and can provide travelers with a bunch of travel planning tools.
Leaving the park if you are in San Francisco will be on Highway 120 again, cross the Crane Flat and the Big Oak Entrance, or exit in this case. Your next stop should be the Gold Rush town of Groveland. Interesting places here include the museum at the intersection of 120th & Ferretti Road, open daily from 1-4pm. The Iron Door Salon is a step back in time and Mountain Sage is a destination in itself, a wonderful coffee stop, gardens and nurseries, hammock garden, arts, crafts, books and sitting nooks. Another day may pass. They also have wireless here if you need an internet connection.
If Groveland is a sleeper on site, http://www.StayNearYosemite.com can provide a varied selection of accommodation choices in the area, and http://www.groveland.org can provide a preview of dining choices.