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Go West Young Man! Day 4

Day 4: Tuolumne Meadows and Bodie

No Bears!

Sadly no bears visited our campsite in Mammoth Lakes during the night.  I really liked Mammoth Lakes and Howard said he could see me retiring there after teaching.  It’d be perfect. I could ski all winter(season pass is about $1000), and run and hike (and fish)all summer.

Several US Olympians train there: Meb Keflezighi, who finished 4th in the men’s marathon in London, Deena Kastor, won bronze in 2004 in the women’s marathon, Amy Hastings, earned an 11th place finish in the 10,000 meters, and Morgan Uceny, was knocked down by a fellow competitor and failed to make the medal round in the 1500 meters.

Never mind that the place was expensive, remote, and touristy.  I can dream, right?

Well, hit the road before the sun was fully up.  We had some hiking to do!

Tuolumne Meadows

We headed north on Rt. 395 and hung an left into Yosemite Park.  Due to the early hour we didn’t have to stop to pay the $20 entrance fee.  “Ranger Dan,” as Howard called him, must have been still in bed and put out a sign telling us to pay on the way out.  Suited us just fine.

Dawn over Tioga Pass on our way into Yosemite National Park

The road wound its way through the Tioga Pass, a 9,943ft. pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  We had the road nearly to ourselves and made good time.  Howard had feared the road would have been choked with giant RV’s crawling up the mountain roads.  Some of the mountains still had a little snow on them.

Snow in the shadows in Tioga Pass

We planned to do a 1/2 day hike in the Tuolumne Meadows area.  The “Meadows” is a nice little subalpine area with some neat granite domes within easy hiking distance.  Tuolumne Meadows looked a bit rough even in the half-light in the shadows of the mountains.  The drought must have been quite severe to hit even here.  The spring and snow-fed streams looked low and lethargic.

The goal for Howard and I was the Lembert Dome and Dog Lake.  A nice 4 mile hike.  We parked at the Tuolumne Meadows lodge and headed up the trail.  And I do mean up.  The first mile was a steady climb with several switchbacks thrown in, but the path was clear and well maintained.

Our peaceful forested path

The “domes” in Yosemite are granite plutons.  This means they are igneous rock, volcanic, and were formed deep underground.  Then when the entire area was thrust upward to create the Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The rock that was on top of the granite was softer and eroded away to expose the domes.  Glaciation also played a part in shaping the domes and the valleys between even more so.

We emerge from the Ponderosa Pine and Incense-Cedar stand to bare granite stretching up to Dog Dome further still to Lembert Dome.  Lembert gets its name from an 1880’s homesteader who lived in the Tuolumne Meadows.

Looking at Lembert Dome from Dog Dome

The day was warming quickly, and we had to shed a layer.

The view east, Howard losing a layer.  Perfect blue skies!

There were a few hearty things living on the granite.  The lichen, a mix of algae and fungi working in cooperation, covered almost everything.  But there was also some tough little trees growing in cracks in the granite.

Possibly a Bristlecone Pine(?) on Lembert Dome

The Bristlecone Pine and Lembert Dome

It was a little difficult scrambling up the granite, but the view from the summit of Lembert Dome was spectacular.  At 9450ft. Lembert Dome is over 800ft above Tuolumne Meadows.

The view from the summit of Lembert Dome

Tuolumne Meadows from Lembert Dome

There were also several cairns on the dome.  They didn’t seem to have any particular purpose… save looking cool.

Cairn on Lembert Dome

To the south we could see Johnson and Tresidder Peaks.  To the west was Polly Dome and Tuolumne Peak.  After about 10 minutes at the summit we scrambled back down, but not before I snapped one of my favorite pictures from the trip.

A lone pine and Tuolumne Peak(10,845ft.) in the distance

Back in the cool shade of the forest, we spotted a fallen tree.  I was curious and the rings were quite easy to see… so I started counting them.  This was a moderately sized tree for the area at about 2 1/2 to 3 feet across.

A 250 year old tree, a baby in this part of the forest!

A little further along the trail we spotted a golden-mantled ground squirrel just off the side of the trail.  He didn’t seem to pay us any mind, but was quite focused on the grass.  The little guy went from leaf to leaf bending each down to his mouth.  He was drinking the dew!

Our thirsty little forest friend, a golden-mantled ground squirrel

We left him to his morning drink and headed up to Dog Lake.  Dog Lake got its name in 1898.  Robert Marshall of the US Geological Survey visited and found an abandoned sheepdog with a litter of puppies.  The name stuck.  It was a fairly easy, but steady uphill hike to the lake.  Along the way we passed a Ranger doing a trail use study(but she must not have liked the way we look because we didn’t get a GPS tag to help out).

Picturesque Dog Lake

After enjoying the view(and an apple), we headed back down the path.  Thankfully the hike was a moderately easy one (although I still felt a bit sore and lethargic).  Our original plan had been to try to camp at Tuolumne Meadows, but the line was already a dozen deep when we passed the ranger station at 6:45(and it didn’t open until 8:30!).  So we had to wing it.

We got back to the car and headed back out the Tioga Pass toward Lee Vining.  We’d read about a ghost town to the north east.  On the way out I snapped a picture of Lembert Dome from below.

Tuolumne Meadow with Lembert Dome behind

After eating at a forgettable diner in Lee Vining(pop. 220), we followed the GPS directions right off the beaten path.

Off the Beaten Path

We circled the northern boundary of Mono Lake, a saline terminal lake.  There’s no outlet so all the water that ends up here just sits and slowly evaporates leaving behind all the minerals.  They estimate that the lake and its bed contain 280 million tons of salts!

I remembered Mono Lake from the album art for Pink Floyd’s 1975 Wish You Were Here album.  In college I think we had this as a poster in our apartment.  The “diver” is actually a yoga instructor doing a handstand until the ripples dissipated a bit.  Not a pleasant assignment as the very salty water can be very harsh on the skin and eyes.

Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd, 1975

Mono Lake

Another thing I noticed is how straight the roads can be.  In Pennsylvania the roads often predated cars, so they wander around farms that have long since been chopped up into suburbs or around hills to save the horses.  In California the roads were drawn by an engineer with a ruler.  Lot’s of right angles.

Now that’s a straight road…

So the GPS took us straight east on Rt. 167 nearly into Nevada, then left onto a dirt road.  We were entering a kind of no-man’s land.  There was nothing out there.  No reason to live there.  No farming, no ranching, nothing.  The only reason to live there was to get away from everyone.  If we’d have been in Appalachia, I think I would have said, “Drive faster, I think I hear banjos!”

Along the way we saw a sorry looking mule deer doe wandering through the dry scrub.  She looked a bit pathetic and lethargic.  With the drought(they said it was the worst it’s been since the 1930s), the poor thing probably didn’t have much to eat/drink.

Our thirsty friend, the mule deer

Bodie, pop. 0

After 16 miles of rough roads, we found Bodie.  It turned out that my GPS took us in the “back way.”  Ah well.  The back way made us appreciate the lengths to which mankind will go to get rich.  Little water, a brutally harsh climate, for what?  A mineral.  Money.  A dream.

Bodie was a former gold mining town.  It had peaked at a population of about 10,000, but only briefly.  By the time it was abandoned during WWII, the various companies had pulled out $34 million in gold.  Howard pointed out that little of it stayed in town as there was only one brick building.  Clearly the mine owners(who likely lived in San Francisco) pocketed as much as they could investing only what was necessary to keep the town producing.

The ghost town of Bodie

The town is littered with equipment and well, litter.  This hulking piece of machinery is part a hydroelectric power generator.  It was one of the first in the world to use electricity generated elsewhere(in this case about 13 miles away) and used to power machinery.  It was a model for other industrial towns.

A hydroelectric generator

Detail of the generator

Many of the buildings appear nearly intact.  It is as if you could just clear up the mess inside and go on living in the homes.

At one time 65 saloons lined Main Street.
Guess mining is thirsty work!

We could see inside some of the homes easily.

A radio(?), some furniture and work pants…
All where they were left some 70+ years ago.

Outside we wandered along the streets and found some equipment for cutting up lumber.

A belt-driven saw.
Note the lack of guards and safety equipment…

Behind the saw I found the motor that did the work.  It was a little one cylinder machine.

This ol’ motor needs a little more than oil to get going again…

Some gnarly looking teeth on this saw
The saw blade was about 3 1/2 feet across

In Bodie’s history the town burned twice, once almost every building in town burned.  So much of what was is gone.  Chinatown, once home to 2-600 Chinese brought in to work the mines, is now just a grassy patch.  Their habit of constructing their homes (read: shacks) very close together didn’t mix well with fire.

Most of Bodie is actually gone…

Further along the self-guided walking tour we found the bank.  Well, what’s left of it.

The bank vault

The vault is pre-1932 and likely from the 1880s
Look how bright the paint still is!

On the hill, behind security fence because the buildings are unsafe, is the main mine works: the stamp mill, assay office, and other buildings.

The Standard Mill and associated buildings
This area was off-limits except for Ranger guided tours

The mines did continue to producing into the 1930s and that meant gasoline power!  There were several automobiles in various states of decay around the town.  This 1927 Graham looked like it just needed a full tank of gas to get her fired up.

1927 Dodge Graham
These went for about $1500 new, a bargain!

The garage looks stocked up

The Boone Store and Warehouse had many goods out and visible through the windows.  Harvey Boone, a direct descendent of Daniel Boone(who was born about 15 miles from where I grew up), opened his doors for business in 1879.  On the shelves were containers for Queen’s Extra Choicest English Breakfast Tea, Ghirardelli’s Ground Chocolate, Taylor’s Vanilla, University Sweets, Mission Coffee, Venaro’s Mustard, and much more.  Notice the lightbulb is still on.

The Boone Store

Everything had to be hauled into town.  Fuel(firewood, coal, gasoline), food, luxuries, lumber… so they used everything.  The side of the Boone Store was sided with flattened coffee tins.  This helped keep out the howling winds and winter chill as well as the dust.

Make, make do, or do without
Coffee tin siding on the Boone Store in Bodie

Not far from the Boone Store was the school.  The first one was burned down by a student who had gotten in trouble(think of the hiding he got!).  This one, built in 1879, was originally a lodging house, but was converted to be the school.  The town was abandoned so abruptly that anything heavy or not immediately useful was left behind.  Books, a hard-baked globe, desks, maps, and more…

Inside the schoolhouse

Another abandoned car caught my eye.  I wasn’t able to identify the make, however.

Great old car

We wandered into the main museum on our way out.  Inside they had hundreds and hundreds of artifacts from the town.

Daily Free Press
Thursday Morning, March 16, 1882

According to Larry & Carole Meeker, “Fluting irons are one of the most interesting types of antique pressing irons ever invented, and were designed to crimp, ruffle and press little pleats into starched fabric.  Fluters were used for collars, cuffs, etc. and these vintage tools were an invention that saw their heyday in America from the 1860’s through the 1880’s.”

A fluting iron
Probably pre-1900

In the corner I spotted an old hearse.  Does it make you think of a movie?

The hearse

Now being a movie buff… I instantly thought of The Magnificent Seven and this scene: Boot Hill Scene.

Well the heat(over 90) was starting to take its toll, so I snapped one more picture before we hit the road.

The Boom and Bust of Bodie

We still hadn’t figured out where we would spend the night.  Thank goodness for the internet and a smart phone!  I quickly booked us a room back in Mammoth Lakes.

Our second night in Mammoth Lakes was mostly uneventful.  Dinner at a surf and turf place that cost almost more than our room for the night(What?  We deserved it!).  No bears, again… although every trash receptacle in town was bear-proofed.

The only notable thing that evening occurred when we checked into our motel.  We(well, Howard mostly) had an, um, encounter with a lady who should have closed her blinds.  (Fill this moment with your own imaginings…but aim for the awkward end of the spectrum, but not quite all the way to “Eeew!”)


About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...


2 thoughts on “Go West Young Man! Day 4

  1. I love ghost towns. they are so neat to me. I have been to one besides Centralia and that was Marble,CO.

    Posted by Chad Hibshman | August 17, 2012, 11:54 pm
  2. Those were some crazy good photographs, and I loved the virtual tour you gave. Such a strange thing to have an abandoned town so intact after so many years. I also loved that you stopped to figure out that squirrel was drinking the dew off the leaves–so cute.

    Posted by Brianna Crowley | August 18, 2012, 3:06 am

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