Mammoth Lakes, Bodie Ghost Town and Yosemite
You know that feeling when you just want to get away? It sets in about 8:00am every morning for me and usually can be set at bay with a little daydreaming (and completely obliterated by the time I get to work) or temporarily satisfied with a bike ride or a good book. But every now and then it’s more urgent and demands attention. Like when I really wanted to get away….far away from the sweltering heat of a Florida summer. Plane tickets, hotel, car rental and food can be a prettycostly spur-of-the-moment whim for a family vacation but the internet can be a wonderful thing when you don’t have any particular destination in mind.
Summertime in Florida makes even a thin-blooded person like myself gasp for a breath of fresh air – of any air! I wanted to go someplace where I could step outside without feeling like a dragon was sitting on my chest breathing fire into my face. Someplace where I could go indoors after a swim in the pool and not flash-freeze in the artificial coolness of air conditioning that runs non-stop from April through November.
Tap, tap, tap on my keyboard and there it was, a place that I had never heard of before but that instantly conjured up images of pine forests with granite peaks, a rugged old west, and refreshing mountain streams – Mammoth Lakes. It seemed as far away and foreign as the dark side of the moon.
After landing in Reno, Nevada we hit the winding road and headed west into California – lured by ghosts from the gold rush over a hundred years earlier to the historic settlement of Bodie. This is a must-see destination for anyone interested in U.S. history. Honestly, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be absolutely amazed by this place unless they are the type of person whose idea of a great vacation is never leaving the resort unless it’s to go to the mall. My husband – who really isn’t into this type of thing at all – was like a kid in a treehouse factory – running from one precarious building to the next to peer through the dusty windows at some bygone era. This place is truly incredible and you can easily spend the entire day roaming the streets and peeking into the past.
Although famous for its ski slopes, the area around Mammoth Lakes is brimming with natural beauty to be enjoyed in the warm weather and ranked as one of the best vacations we ever had. Because we went in the off-season, airfare and lodging was cheaper. We stayed in a little, no-frills motel with a huge fireplace in the lobby and ate at some really good restaurants – each one served “Mammoth-sized” portions! So big, in fact, that every time we saw a car with one of those white storage containers strapped to its roof we laughed: “There goes another Mammoth Lakes to-go box!” Our favorite breakfast place was Blondie’s with pancakes that barely fit on the plates. Another restaurant served my 9-year-old a quesadilla that was bigger than a large pizza!
Mono Lake, just north of Mammoth Lakes, is an other-worldly experience of its own. Erie tufa formations rise from the still waters and the lake is rimmed with clouds of black flies that gather at the water’s edge. They aren’t the least bit bothersome and are rather mesmerizing as they disperse and regroup with each footfall. Walk along the trails and let your imagination run wild in this “Lost in Space” landscape dotted with beautiful yellow flowers. Without shade, the mid-day sun is hot but that didn’t deter my son who was mesmerized skipping stones in this mirror-like lake. For the most dramatic photos, go early in the morning or late afternoon.
From the history-rich settlement of Bodie to the futuristic images of Mono Lake, we then headed on to Devil’s Postpile – a symmetrical collection of 60-foot high columns whose tops form a floor of octagonal tiles that, prior to scientific explanations, could have been believed to be the work of aliens!
Yosemite is a day trip from Mammoth Lakes but beware of Tioga Pass – a white-knuckle road that makes the Road to Hana seem like a walk in the park! This road has no guard rails, no shoulder and a steep drop on one side and sheer cliffs going straight up on the other. Once you approach the park entrance, after about 10 miles of holding your breath, and feel the blood returning to your fingers, you’re handed helpful pamphlets on what to do if you see a mountain lion and another one on what to do if you’re approached by bear! Sadly, the instructions are vastly different so don’t mix them up.
Take a gondola ride to the top of Mammoth Mountain, strap on some gear and zip along the wire at the base of the mountain, take a drive to the hot springs or enjoy a perfect picnic at June Lake skipping stones and chasing butterflies.
I will always cherish the memories of our trip to Mammoth Lakes.