Summer has arrived and that means it’s road trip season. Northern California has a long list of drive-worthy spots. Along with the Sonoma coast, there’s wine country, and Tahoe. But if you’re in the mood to roll down the windows and try something new, Mammoth Lakes should be on your radar.
Neighbor to well-known Yosemite, this time of year Tioga Pass (Highway 120) is open and you can drive through the park to take in some sights along the way like Half Dome from Olmsted Point. Stretch your legs, enjoy the view, meet a marmot. But know there’s plenty more to see.
Like Bodie. Or the impressive remains of Bodie. At one point this gold-mining ghost town was home to nearly 10-thousand residents. It became a California State Park in 1962. You’ll see houses from the 1870s, gas pumps from the 1920s, and the school that was used up until 1942. Everything’s been left as it was. Books in the schoolhouse are collecting dust, and math problems are still on the chalkboards. Buildings are repaired and stabilized, but nor restored.
The park is northeast of Yosemite, 13 miles east of Highway 395 on Bodie Road (Hwy 270). The last three miles of driving are on a dirt road.
Bodie is open all year. However, because of the high elevation (8375 feet), it can be tough to get to depending on the weather. Sometimes the road closes and it is accessible only by skis, snowshoes or snowmobiles during winter months.
Let’s get to some water, because there’s lots of it to see. Mono Lake is more than 70 square miles, but with water two-and-a-half times saltier than the ocean, there’s no fish, just teeny, tiny brine shrimp and Alkali flies. But you most likely won’t notice either, because you won’t be able to take your eyes off of the tufa towers. The rock is formed when calcium-rich fresh water percolates from underwater springs along the bottom of the lake, and mixes the lake water. They’re essentially calcium carbonate, a type of limestone. Follow the trail in the South Tufa area, and you’ll feel like you’re exploring another planet.
And, that’s kind of a theme in Mammoth Lakes. This is the Hot Creek Geological Site. Volcanic vents make this beautiful blue water boil.. but it’s a whole different story in the nearby lower or middle stretch of the river.
If you’ve never been fly fishing, this catch and release spot is where you give it a go. I spent the morning with a local guide named Scott Flint. I learned about fish, and apparently the ones here are very, very smart. I also learned more than I ever imagined about the bugs these fish love to eat. With lots of guidance, even I had success. But truthfully, it doesn’t matter if you catch anything, just being there, taking in the scenery is a win. And this isn’t a wading river, you stand on shore, so you won’t even get wet.
Mammoth Lakes offers more than a dozen miles of paved bike trails, making cycling a great way to see the sights. The Lakes Basin Path is loaded with scenery, especially this time of year. The lakes are coming back to life after the winter. Waterfalls are flowing. You can hop on the path in town and it’ll lead you up and into the scenery. And, yes, I did say up. There are some hills. If you’re looking for less of a workout, no worries. We cheated and rented electric bikes from Wave Rave, a local shop in town. There’s also a free trolley that you and your bike can use for the trip up.
If you’re hesitant to explore on your own, Mammoth All Weather Shuttle runs a number of tours that cover spots like Mono Lake and Bodie.
Dana’s trip was hosted by Mammoth Lakes, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.