Laura and Lee's Mammoth Madness

Our friends Walt and Barb (who joined us for our Autumn Adventure, and our Walt Disney World vacation) flew out to California to share another vacation experience with us. We spent Labor Day weekend and several days the following week back in the Eastern and Western Sierra - we really love it up there.

Walt and Barb arrived Thursday night from Massachussetts. The cats seemed happy to see them, and swarmed all over their luggage when we brought it in the house - or maybe they just smelled the catnip mice that were inside. :-)

We didn't get a particularly early start on Friday. Lee, the Master Packer, managed to fit all of our luggage into the trunk of the Saturn.

We made several brief stops, including a stop in Bishop at Schat's Bakery to stock up on bread and cookies, etc.

We arrived at the Wistful Vista Inn about 6:00, and had time to relax and unwind before a nice dinner. The Inn is a wonderful place for a vacation - be sure and check out the web page!

Saturday morning we slept in, and woke up to a clear, blue sky day. We drove up to Mammoth Lakes to visit the annual Labor Day craft festival. There didn't seem to be as many vendors there this year, and I think this is the first year we ever came away without buying anything. Still, it was fun to look. We stopped at the grocery store to pick up some things, and had planned to do some hiking around the Mammoth area, but the afternoon lazies had crept in, so we opted to spend the rest of the day lounging around and reading.

There was a beautiful sunset that night - something that we don't often see up there because those perfect high sierra days normally have cloudless evenings, too.

On Sunday we actually left the Sierra Nevada mountains for a while and drove over to the White Mountains to see the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. The Bristlecone Pines are the world's oldest living trees - the Methuselah tree, which is still living, is over 4,700 years old.

The trees grow in a very inhospitable environment on the windswept White Mountains, at an elevation of about 9-11,000 feet. The area looks more like a barren moonscape than a forest. The trees' growing season is only about 45 days out of the entire year.

The Latin name for the trees is Pinus longaeva, which does not mean "well-hung pine" :-) - it means "long-lived pine". The oldest trees are actually the stunted ones that look more dead than alive - some people have said that the odd thing about bristlecones is not how long they live, but how long it takes them to die.

We toured the Schulman Grove, named for Dr. Edmund Schulman, who discovered the age of the trees in 1953. The grove has a very nice new visitor center that was built a couple of years ago. We went on a ranger walk of part of the grove and learned more about the trees.

Scientists have been able to assemble a tree growth ring record that goes back nearly 10,000 years - this is possible because the cold, dry climate in the White Mountains keeps the dead wood from decomposing. Tree growth ring patterns are consistent across trees, and scientists match patterns in dead wood with the growth patterns in living trees to construct the tree history. The trees are called the trees that rewrote history, because they have made it possible to correct errors in the carbon 14 dating process. This has shown that some human artifacts are 1000 years older than previously thought.

We walked the 4 mile Methuselah Trail, which wanders past an entire hillside full of 3,000 and 4,000+ year old trees, including the oldest known tree, which is called Methuselah. To protect the tree from vandals, the tree is not identified.

The White Mountains are across Owens Valley from the Sierra Nevada Mountains - and you get a wonderful view of the Sierras from there. Owens Valley is called the "Deepest Valley", since it is flanked on both sides by 14,000 foot mountain ranges.

We were treated to another beautiful sunset that night.

We did one of our favorite day hikes on Monday - Little Lakes Valley, at the end of the Rock Creek Lake road. The trailhead starts at 10,300, and then climbs gently past a number of beautiful lakes. There's also gorgeous views of the mountains.

We took Naomi, my brother's dog, with us - she had a wonderful time, though she was disappointed that we wouldn't let her off-leash to go chase squirrels and other critters.

The weather was a little cool and windy, but we found a nice sheltered spot at a lake about 1/4 mile off the main trail. We ate lunch and napped and read for a while before heading back.

Walt and Laura share the same birthday (though Walt is a year older), and that evening we held an early birthday celebration. Barb took over the kitchen and made an amazing chocolate souffle-mousse-cake for dessert - it was terrific.

There was another spectactular sunset that evening.

The weather report for Tuesday predicted a day of "high vorticity". As it turned out, that meant rain showers off and on all day.

In the morning we went to visit a llama farm, owned by a friend of Laura's parents. Joe was kind enough to talk to us for over an hour, and let us meet his llamas up close and personal. In this photo, Barb is holding a one week old llama, who weighed about 16 pounds. The llamas were beautiful, and came in all sorts of colors.

We also got a llama biology lesson... :-) The results will be visible in about 11 months...

Wednesday morning we said goodbye to the wonderful folks at Wistful Vista, and headed over into Yosemite National Park via Tioga Pass. Things had dried up a lot since we were there two months ago - but the high country around Tenaya Lake is still beautiful.

The trip to Yosemite was spur-of-the-moment, and Walt and Barb treated us to a night in the Ahwhanee Hotel - we were lucky and got the last available room. The hotel is just beautiful - lots of wood and stone. It opened in 1927. During WWII it was turned into a Navy Hospital and R&R facility. Our room was on the 4th floor, and had a wonderful view of Half Dome.

"Ahwahnee" is a Miwok word, and means "Place of a Gaping Mouth", which is what the Miwok called Yosemite Valley. They called themselves the Ahwahneechee.

This late in the season there wasn't much water coming down the waterfalls. We learned from one of the shuttle bus drivers that Yosemite Falls had been completely dry before the rain the day before, which had started a small stream coming down again. He told us he'd told a tourist a couple days earlier that because of budget cuts they just couldn't afford to turn on the water to Yosemite Falls any more - and the guy offered to contribute some money. :-)

We went over to the Happy Isles trailhead and hiked the Mist Trail up to Vernal Fall. Vernal Fall was pretty dry, too, but there was still a beautiful rainbow.

The dining room at the Ahwahnee has a dress code for dinner - coat and tie required - and we certainly weren't dressed for that. We went over to Yosemite Lodge and had a wonderful dinner in the Mountain Room restaurant. They had a great dessert called "Chocolate Spoon Cake" - chocolate cake with two different chocolate fillings, chocolate icing, and raspberry sauce.

When we returned to the Ahwahnee we went out on the deck and laid on the chaise lounges and star-watched for a while. It was a beautiful, clear, warm, night, and the sky was full of stars. We also saw some shooting stars, and evidently the weather was still a little unsettled because we saw some lightning flashes, too.

When we returned to our room we found that the maid had been in to do the nightly turn-down service - and had tucked Tigger into bed for the night.

The next morning we took a nice walk over to Mirror Lake - though it's more like "Mirror Sand Spit" right now. There's one pool left, though. We saw very few other people on our walk, and it was a lovely morning.

We had a wonderful breakfast at the Ahwahnee - no dress code for breakfast! :-)

Our next stop was the Mariposa Grove of sequoia trees, one of two sequoia groves in Yosemite National Park. More detailed information on sequoia trees can be found in Laura and Lee's Sequoia Sojourn. (Shameless plug, right? :-)

We still enjoyed walking through the grove, even though none of these are quite as big and impressive as those in Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. And we had to go through the "walk through" tree. :-)

We stopped in Visalia after leaving Yosemite, for dinner and a short visit with Lee's family before completing the drive to San Diego. One nice thing about our late start is that we didn't hit the L.A. area until after 8:00, and we didn't have any traffic.

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Text and photographs copyright © 1997, by Laura Gilbreath. Feel free to link to this document, but you may not redistribute it in any form without the express written consent of the copyright holder.

Laura Gilbreath, email: lgil at lgil dot net
Last updated 9/14/97