Heading off to cross the southern part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (the northern bits still being too cold) there were only a couple of passes open. Luckily for us one of the most convenient to our location and destination of Lee Vining, CA was State Hwy 108 crossing the Stanislus National Forest over the Sonora Pass. Even though this is the 2nd highest pass it was open and we happily started off at a leisurely rate stopping along the way to do two short hikes to see the views and the rare formation, “Columns of the Giants”.
After driving sixty miles over four hours and approximately eight miles from the end we came to a sign warning of an upcoming 26% grade!! As our son Kevin said…”that’s damn near straight up!” It’s not but it is incredibly steep and the most we’d ever done was 14%, but we decided to give it a go. The RV went slower and slower and was not downshifting. Ed thinks it wouldn’t let go of the gear long enough to downshift and so at a narrow pull-off we stopped. Not knowing if that was or was not the 26% or how much more there might be (after quietly sitting a while and being really irritated) we did a careful about-face and headed back out. If any of you gentle readers have any sway with the Cal Trans Highway folks, please tell them to post the warning signs at the BEGINNING of these mountain pass roads!!
After spending the night dry camping at the Jackson Rancheria Casino in Jackson and having a good steak dinner and only losing 84 cents total at the slots we headed for State Hwy 88, over the Carson Pass and then onto Hwy 89 and the Monitor Pass. Turns out the frustration the day before was a blessing, Hwy’s 88 and 89 are gorgeous!! Kit Carson guided wagon trains through much of this country and many things are named for him. The roads run primarily along a ridge and the views of snow covered mountains and valley lakes are wonderful.
Arriving late afternoon in Lee Vining with heavy dark clouds, lightning and rain/almost snow on our heels we settled in for the night at Mono Vista RV Park. Having driven up and across these steep and treacherous mountains, our respect and admiration has grown tremendously for those pioneers who traversed this area in wagons and on foot. I’m not sure any of us can truly understand the drive and determination it took for people to leave all they knew back East to cross this vast country risking everything and everyone they loved, to hopefully achieve a dream in a place they had only heard about. It’s mind-blowing and they came in droves.
The next morning with the sun struggling to make an appearance, we visited Mono Lake ( pronounced Mow-Know Lake) one of the places I have wanted to see for years. Ed’s not quite sure why I’m so enthralled with this terminal saline soda lake, (and the tiny biting flies didn’t help) but I find it interesting and mysteriously beautiful. I suggest it for you MVL, (Must Visit List). The Mono Lake Committee has an excellent visitor center/store where a young man enthusiastically answered all our questions and explained in great detail the agreement reached with the City of Los Angeles who started diverting the lake water back in 1941. We would later learn that LA started buying water rights all over the Owens Valley back in the early nineteen teens which eventually lead to water wars and years of legal battles and a parched, destroyed landscape.
Next stop was Bishop CA. at the top end of the Owens Valley. A wonderful little town with a famous bakery, lots of restaurants and world class rock climbing/bouldering all around. We liked it so much, and found so much to see in the general area that we stayed for a week. We will absolutely be back and highly recommend this town and area for your MVL.