Sunday, July 15, 2012

JOURNEY: Eastern Sierra, Mammoth
The Eastern Sierra stole my heart long ago.  I'm not sure exactly when it happened, as I have been journeying there since early childhood. Every winter, our family would make the 7 hr. trek from San Diego to Mammoth Mountain to hit the slopes; and several months later, in the summer, we would make it again for a quick overnight on our way to Lake Tahoe. As a kid, it just seemed LONG.  As a teen, I would drive my own car up with a friend...this represented FREEDOM! I think this is when I began to like the drive, blaring U2, my girlfriend and I singing along at the top of our lungs and giggling the way only teenagers can.  I also began noticing the scenery.
After the first 2 hours of smoggy So Cal traffic, it starts to get interesting.  The Mojave Desert is sparse and bland, except for the Joshua trees that are so strange and cool.  It can be 110 in the desert, or more, but this year was a treat, 85 and showers.  Have you ever smelled the desert in the rain?  It will awaken your soul- rich, full of sage and wildness. As you wind your way up to Red Mountain, you wonder where in the world you are.  Strange shacks and abandoned cars, ripped up couches on porches, and void of people.  Honestly, I've never seen a living soul there.  As you continue along highway 395, there's the first glimpse of the Eastern Sierras, dry and brown, the valley below heaped with huge piles of black volcanic rock.  The colors are earthy, umbers, ochres, sienna and grey-green sage.  Lone Pine is next; the tiny town at the base of Mount Whitney, tallest mountain in the continental U.S.  This town, as well as the other bumps in the road along 395 has a vibe of days gone past, old fashioned, western, rugged, yet charming.  As you look up to the west, you see the craggy peaks of "the 3 Sisters" and Mt. Whitney. Amazing.  Traveling along, the road is dotted with old western ranches, cattle of all colors and beautiful horses.  There are so many old abandoned cottages, country stores, old mines, gas stations, made of stone and wood, boarded up and dilapidated, much like the imaginary "Radiator Springs" from the movie "Cars."  They are the fingerprints left behind of a time gone by.  The road is also full of historical markers and sites to visit.  Someday I want to go slow and stop along the way, have lunch at the Ranch House Cafe (that always seems to be busy), stop at the historical sites, walk the streets of the little town of Big Pine, and visit the Ancient Bristlecone Forest.  Someday I will.  
Ahh, Bishop.  This is big time, there is even a Vons grocery here.  Welcomed from the south by the bright red horse with the crazy eyes up 15 feet in the air, I am now 45 minutes from Mammoth.  As I journey further into the Sierras, the scenery is rich, purple glacier formed mountains, deep, rich green trees, large rocks and caves, streams and meadows.  When I finally reach Mammoth and step out of the car, the scent of the pines and the mountain air is overwhelming.  Suddenly, I am 8 years old.  This is all so deeply ingrained in me.  I am awed. 

Have I mentioned that I absolutely love Mammoth?  It is some kind of weird California mix of rustic and glam with its old mountain town feel, juxtaposed to the new up scale Village with its boutiques and restaurants.  We are old school, though.  My Dad has been skiing Mammoth since the 60's.  He and his brother CLIMBED to the top of the cornice, before there was a chair lift, to sign a book encased in a metal box, and then ski down! But that's another story...back to dinner.  We have a tradition- Tamarack.  One word: FANTASTIC!  The old lodge from the 20's sits on the glacier Twin Lakes.  It is amazingly beautiful.  If that weren't enough, the lodge has a tiny dining room overlooking the lake with about 10 tables, and incredible cuisine.  Last night I had white sea bass with saffron, coconut milk and cherries, wonderful wine, and finished with a trio sampling of homemade gelatos.  Memorable.  While I'm sure I will forget the perfect saffron sauce, the memory that will stay with me is that of the three faces at the table with me; my parents, whom I treasure, and my adventurous eight year old boy, who was so very excited to glimpse the waterfall, and the cave outside before settling down to dinner with us.  Beautiful.

 8 yr. old adventures include canoes, waterfalls, and caves
                 Life-like sculpture in the new Village          Tamarack Lodge, Mammoth, CA
  Ancient Beauty

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