After hanging around Mammoth Lakes for the past week, we can see why some of the locals we met arrived years ago to do the same. But they just never left.
We’re at higher elevations here and the views and our activities have changed. We replaced desert with forest, rocks with lakes, and museums with hot springs. But those snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains continue to be our constant companions.
Boondocking in Inyo National Forest
We’re camping for free every night. This week we spent 6 nights in the Inyo National Forest and one on BLM land.
And virtually all our waking hours have been outdoors with beautiful daytime temperatures. We even lucked into four evening campfires.
We don’t have room to carry firewood but we take full advantage when previous campers leave it behind.
This beautiful lake is tucked into the mountains, only two miles in but not visible from Hwy 395. We spent the day here, paddled our kayak around the lake but still didn’t get enough. We also hiked the three-mile trail.
On the hiking trail, we met a young man hiking back. He wore ski-boots and was carrying ski poles. His downhill skis were strapped to his back. It’s not the first time we’ve met such extreme sportsmen and women here. Back-country downhill skiing requires a lot of work. There’s no lift; they walk up the mountainside (with skins on their skis) to get one run down. Wow!
Hot Creek Geologic Site
We marveled at geology in action on the east side of Hwy 395, off Hot Creek Fish Hatchery Road.
The seemingly innocent creek bed opens into a gorge where visitors marvel at boiling water, fumaroles, mud pots, and periodic geyser eruptions. We followed the walking trail – always keeping a safe distance, of course.
We considered this sort of a preview for Yellowstone National Park, which we hope to visit next month on our way home.
We found camping just outside the restricted area – in the National Forest overlooking the gorge.
Here we witnessed another strange phenomena. Just after sundown each night, eleven egrets flew in to roost in the tree directly above the steam from the boiling waters.
Hot Springs Social Time
Not far away, we soaked in similar mineral waters (but at much more tolerable temperatures). We visited four tubs and soaked in three of them. Each time offered a new social encounter.
I went back in the morning to take the above photo of our favorite tub. But imagine it the night before, when there were 8 of us in the tub from sundown until the stars came out. A 40-year old French Canadian tourist, a young man from South Lake Tahoe on his way to San Diego, two local men in the Construction business (they were close to our age), and a young couple from Colorado who freely passed around what they can now legally purchase in their state.
I like Randy’s phrase to describe what you learn in these type of conversations with strangers: “Hot tub wisdom”.
Almost everyone we met this week is very much into outdoor sports. Or, if they’re older, like us, they used to be. Our hiking and paddling stories seem pretty tame when the talk goes from skiing to snow boarding, snowshoeing, snow tubing, river rafting, rock climbing, and mountain biking. Nevertheless, we loved being included in these always polite and sometimes amusing conversations.
June Lake Loop
Just a few miles north, we left Hwy 395 to drive a scenic detour: the June Lake Loop.
Tonight we’re camped near the end of that scenic drive – on the south shore of Grant Lake. It’s the northern-most lake on the loop. Once again, we’re boondocking courtesy of Inyo National Forest. The big fire ring and free firewood are courtesy of whoever was here last.
Grateful? You bet we are! Every minute of every beautiful day!
We’ll continue north from here. After all, we can’t go west; the mountain passes won’t be open until much later than usual this year.
If we stand a chance at finding a campsite at Lake Tahoe, we don’t want to arrive during the Memorial Day weekend so we’ll continue on – but slowly. And we’ll have those Sierra Nevada Mountains within sight for a few days yet.
Darn it, though, they’re blocking the view 😉
Days on the road at time of posting: 76
Total camping costs to date: $62