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Thursday, 12 October 2017 13:35

California Fall Color Report - October 12

By John Poimiroo

Although high winds had tragic consequences, spreading wildfires across large areas of Northern California, they had little effect on fall color, except at the highest elevations where peaking trees lost their color.

Benton 2 PicmonkeyBenton Crossing Road off US Hwy 395. Photo: Mono Co. Tourism

MONO COUNTY, Calif., (Aug. 8, 2013) – There’s a quiet highway that runs through the Eastern Sierra Nevada with excursions, adventures and treasures around every curve. It’s a drive so spectacular that USA Weekend recently listed it one of the top five road trips in America. U.S. Highway 395 runs from Southern California to the Canadian border, but it’s the terrain through California’s Eastern Sierra that makes the route a must for every road tripper.

The highway’s diverse terrain of high deserts and mountain valleys, lakes and streams includes many charming roadside towns, including Bridgeport and Bodie State Historic Park, one of the West’s most iconic ghost towns. Those who’ve traveled this state-designated scenic byway know that Americana looms large in the communities along 395. A lifestyle immune to the hustle and bustle of modern-day excursions still thrives in destinations like Walker, June Lake, Lee Vining and Benton. It’s a path that ties together the Wild West, Ansel Adams and a little bit of adrenaline. It’s not a thoroughfare. It’s a destination.

The scenic byway was also touted as “California’s grandest road trip… arguably the state’s most spectacular route to ghost towns, granite peaks, and incongruous taquitos,” in the Visit California’s 2010 Official Visitor Guide. The route doesn’t disappoint, leading travelers to the dramatic east entrance to Yosemite National Park, Mammoth Lakes and the mysteriously beautiful Mono Lake. For those with extra time and a bit of wanderlust, it’s the highway’s offshoots and detours that lead to some of the area’s more interesting and picturesque sites.

Highway 120 East (a favorite for motorcyclists) branches off 395 and begins a slow ascent to Sagehen Summit through Mono Craters, before passing Mono Lake. Travelers will pass the ghost town of Mono Mills before reaching Benton, the historic Wells Fargo Stagecoach stop, and Benton Hot Springs. Highway 120 west ascends 12 miles from Lee Vining to Yosemite National Park’s east gateway at the top of breathtaking Tioga Pass. The June Lake Loop (Highway 158) is also worth exploring, particularly in the autumn when brilliant foliage contrasts with views of all four lakes – June, Gull, Silver, and Grant Lakes, as well as the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Outdoor enthusiasts making their way through the area can choose their adventures in winter or summer, from skiing or snowboarding at Mammoth or June Mountain ski areas, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling to countless miles of hiking trails or sunrise fishing on numerous alpine lakes. Convict Lake, Crowley Lake, West Walker River and Bridgeport’s Twin Lakes are a few of the not-to-be missed spots to fish for world-renowned Alpers trout.

Horseback riding trips to view the region’s wild mustangs are organized by Rock Creek Pack Station and Frontier Pack Train in early summer. Actual cowboys and ranch hands live in Bridgeport where the Hunewill Guest Ranch, a working cattle ranch for more than 100 years, welcomes guests for an authentic “hands-on” vacation.

The entire region is steeped in history. A free museum guide directs travelers to 12 museums along 395, including Laws Railroad Museum in Bishop, the Upside Down House and the Old Schoolhouse Museum in Lee Vining. The night sky at Benton Hot Springs is thick with stars and will take visitors back in time.

Food lovers and those with an affinity for the quaint and quirky should plan a stop at Whoa Nellie Deli at the Tioga Gas Mart, where dishes like rajin’ Cajun chicken jambalaya, lobster taquitos and St. Louis BBQ ribs can be enjoyed while listening to live outdoor concerts every Thursday and Sunday. The Restaurant at Convict Lake is located in such a breathtaking spot that it’s one of the area’s most popular wedding spots in the Eastern Sierra. For fine dining with delicious views, there’s the Historic Mono Inn (once a beloved lakeside getaway of famous Yosemite photographer Ansel Adams), or in the winter, visitors can work up an appetite by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing to Rock Creek Lodge for a gourmet meal in the snowy forest. Snowmobile taxi shuttle available.

PONDELLA TOPAZ 0738 P PicmonkeyUS 395 at Topaz.    Photo: PondellaLocated approximately 315 miles north of Los Angeles, and 280 miles east of San Francisco, Mono County accesses the east entrance to Yosemite National Park and beckons visitors in all seasons. The region was listed among the top 10 U.S. destinations to visit in 2013 by Lonely Planet and the region’s major thoroughfare, Highway 395, has been named one of the top five road trips in the country by USA Weekend. From abundant trout fishing, hiking, horseback riding and bird watching in summer, stunning fall foliage in autumn, to wintertime pursuits of skiing and riding at the world-class Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain or snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing – or simply partaking in good old-fashioned fun in the snow – Mono County is a recreation paradise. Whether taking advantage of convenient direct flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH) or arriving by car on the all-weather US Hwy. 395, the Eastern Sierra’s vast playground is an easily reached destination. Mono County’s many unique gems add up to a guaranteed memorable vacation getaway. For more information or to request guides, visit MonoCounty.org.

Drive the 395 Sample Itinerary: June Lake to Walker

Road-trippers with only a day to explore can follow this short excursion. Start at the Hwy. 395 intersection to the June Lake Loop, (a.k.a. State Route 158), where the horseshoe-shaped valley once carved by a glacier is now filled in by creeks, lakes, waterfalls, and sprawling aspen forests. Once back on 395, Mono Lake Tufa State National Reserve is only 15 minutes north. Get out on foot and explore the unique sculpted shoreline of one of the continent’s oldest lakes. Whoa Nellie Deli is nearby and almost a requirement for anyone even slightly hungry, or grab a picnic to go at Mono Market. Head to Bodie Ghost Town before the sun goes down over the vast Sierra horizon. Then keep heading north to Mountain View BBQ or Walker Burger to finish up the excursion with a taste of real western fare.

(Information for this article supplied by TASTE News Service sources.)

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