Thursday, July 14, and Friday, July 15
After spending the morning visiting the Yosemite Valley museum, we drive back up to the high country a good 50 miles or so to the Tioga Pass, which is at an altitude of almost 10,000 feet and is the eastern gateway to the park. (Jessica and the grandchildren departed for San Francisco very early.) Vestiges of snow decorate the peaks, most above 12,000 feet. The road beyond the park is much easier and permits breathtaking views as we descend to the arid valley below. Another dramatic change in eco systems. Mono Lake, a huge salt water lake, sits at the bottom with sparkling blue water surrounded by a vast desert. In the Sierras of California, if you don’t like the scenery, just drive another 20 miles.
We are on our way to Mammoth Lakes. Who ever heard of Mammoth Lakes? The reason we are stopping there is because it is about half the way to Death Valley, our next destination, and was recommended by our California friends as “not a bad place to stop.” This was an understatement. Nestled on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, this little town of around 5,000 people turns out to be a world class resort area with dozens of ski trails, resort hotels, and at this time of year mountain biking trails. Serious hikers and mountain bikers are everywhere, carrying their bikes with them on ski lifts and whizzing downhill on the gentler slopes. There is nothing distasteful anywhere in this town—no garish signs, no in-your-face billboards. Even Burger King looks kind of nice. Once again we are impressed with how some towns in California have avoided the utter degradation of the landscape and wonder if it has to do with state laws and regulations or just blind luck.
We are thrilled to be here, probably the biggest surprise of the trip so far! Our reservation puts us in the nicest hotel, looking up at Mammoth Mountain, and only a short walk to the ski lifts. Unfortunately at the check-in counter we discover that we actually do not have a reservation and that this hotel—and apparently all others—are fully booked. It seems that some kind of classical music festival is underway. Embry feverishly searches her emails and confirms that we do in fact have a valid reservation and have already paid for the room. Unfortunately, the date for the reservation is for a date two weeks earlier. (Not an unusual computer screw up since that was the day we made the reservation, not when we needed it.)
Have I mentioned that Mammoth Lakes is basically in the wilderness with 50 miles to the next town?
So what do you do when all hotels are full and there do not appear to be a lot of other options? Plan B—back to the internet. Hotels are full, but there is one available apartment in a condo development, and it is about the same price as the hotel room. Embry books it, and we charge off, arriving at five minutes to five, the appointed time for the office to close for the evening. Nice to know Embry’s guardian angel is alive and well.
It turns out that our reservation is for a one-bedroom unit, but the only unit available is for a two-bedroom plus a loft unit, and it is the choice apartment of the entire condominium complex with stunning views of the mountains and an adjacent meadow. The manager—a slightly pudgy lady with a nice smile, probably in her 60s– gives it to us for the same price. The apartment is spacious, tastefully decorated with a Southwest/outdoorsy theme, has both a wood burning fireplace and a small balcony, and does in fact provide splendid views from every window and the balcony. We end up staying two nights and one full day using the time for doing laundry, shopping for food and preparing six home cooked meals, the first we have had for some time. It also provides a brief respite for two weary, but continually amazed travelers.