On our road trip to Overland Expo in May, we were fortunate enough (smart enough?) to take the road less traveled, i.e, scenic Hwy 395. This, mostly two lane, highway runs from the Canadian Border in Washington, through Oregon, and as far south in California as Kramer Junction, even dipping briefly into Nevada at Reno. Having never driven through the Sierra Nevada’s previously, we were game for scenic wonder, little traffic, and some new sites along the way. We couldn’t have chosen a better route.
Leaving La Pine, Oregon, we took Highway 31, better knows as “Oregon’s Outback Scenic Byway, to connect into Highway 395. From there, it was all southward bound. We marveled at the beauty of the surrounding countryside as we wound our way through South-Central Oregon before heading over the border into California. Small towns, ghost towns in some cases, were an occasional distraction from the stunning scenery. We took advantage of free BLM camping at Ramhorn Spring not far from Susanville, Ca. With a full moon lighting the small campground, we breathed a sigh of relief, feeling as though our vacation was truly beginning. Happy hour was taken inside by an unexpected, and brief, snowstorm, covering us in enormous, fluffy flakes. Spring in the high country!
We might have enjoyed staying longer, but the road south beckoned. Farmland eventually turned into city as we reached Reno and were immediately turned off by the four-lane freeway, fast food restaurants and malls. We could only be bothered to stop long enough to fill the tanks before heading on in search of the wild places.
Mono Lake had been high on our “to see” list, and for good reason. While the lake, itself, was fascinating, it was the story of the environmental win that has saved it that won my heart. In 1941, the city of Los Angeles started diverting water from Mono Lakes tribututary streams, 350 miles to the south, to meet the growing demands for water in the city. As the supply of fresh water was dimished, the volume halved, while salinity doubled. By 1962 the level of the lake had dropped 25 feet and eco-systems were failing. A committee was formed, and litigation dealt with and in 1994 the California Water Bureau decided to allow the lake to rise to a healthy level of 6392 feet above sea level. The tufas were, indeed interesting, but after a quick walk out the boardwalk to see the different levels of the water, we headed towards camp.
Mammoth Lakes. Nearly everyone who has ever heard of Ansel Adams, John Muir, or the Sierra Nevada’s is familiar with the name. We were looking for the quieter side of camping the region, and veered off onto the scenic June Lake Loop, and scenic it was! Although five campgrounds exist on the relatively short scenic loop, Silver Lake was our choice. Set in a fantastic meadow, with the Sierra’s rising all around us and a short walk to the lake, Silver Lake was across the street from an RV park featuring a store, boat rental and cabins. We settled in at the north end of the campground, thrilled for the solitude, but most of all, drinking in the 360degree vision of high mountain majesty.
Although nights drove the temperature down below freezing, the days proved sunny and brisk, perfect for hiking and fishing the lake.
The road less traveled is the road where the magic happens, not just on a literal freeway, but in all things in life. Traveling scenic Highway 395 was simply another reminder that getting off the fast track equals MORE. More adventure, more scenery, more magical moments.