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to Red’s Meadow 13 June 2021

2241 :

Nothing changed, I swear, from last night: all the same people at the same machines, desperately losing their money. Rochelle pointed out that it was “5X Day” at the Casino, meaning for $100 you got $500 worth of scrip. Unless they reset all the slots (bet they can!) that means the house breaks even if they give you $5 for each of your dollars! Let’s gamble!

2242 :

South on US 395, the highway that runs along the eastern base of the Sierras: the eastern ridge of mountains with their last bits of snow – a disappointing snow year, this – and the sage-covered rain shadow foothills the highway winds through. Sunday morning traffic, light, and of a single mind along this graceful road. Valleys between passes, with the Sierras increasingly towering to the west, the Boundary peak massif to our east, and rivers...

2243 : the Walker bursting out of the mountains and chuckling along beside us. An easy drive today...


...and ever changing scenery to pass through...


Past Bodie State Park and the embarrassment of Manzanar...


...Bridgeport in its startlingly green desert valley...


...the gradual climb to Conway summit and the sudden spacious opening of the Mono Basin:

2244 :

2245 :

Like Paris’s bridge of keys, the guard rail at the Basin Overlook is thoroughly covered with stickers of every known kind, with overflow to the sign that says, or means, no stickers. I wish it said “No Lettering.” We wished we had a Caspar sticker. We’ll have to get some and send someone back to render our town immortal, or at least present and accounted for.

2246 :

After a stop for tee shirts, a book on Sierra Geology, and a delicious early noodle lunch at Noodle-ly in the surprisingly yuppified Mammoth Lakes, we headed up the Mammoth Mountain past the ski lodges and to the locked gate at the top end of Devils Postpile Road.

Once across Mammoth Mountain in the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, I read that Long Valley, wherein the town of Mammoth Lakes is situated in a caldera, over a recently collapsed (in geologic terms, fewer than 10,000 years) magma chamber that fueled the area's volcanism. Like Yellowstone and a few other places we have stayed, there's a “sink” feeling to such places – maybe a prescience of impending doom? 

2247 :

The road is not officially open yet, but Reds Meadows is holding a soft opening, and we’re invited. A phone call to D.J., our hostess, and we had the combination to the lock, and quick as a wink, we were on the other side of the gate. Rochelle, having been told that there was twenty miles of steep dirt road ahead, was not looking forward to the descent, and we were well above 8,000 feet there at the top, and oxygen deprivation probably wasn’t helping, either.

Around the corner, suddenly, the Minaret range revealed itself:

2248 :

2249 :

2250 :

The Minarets closer up. My nascent understanding of the geology is that these are the lava cores of much larger mountains from the Sierra’s volcanic period. The cirque, the rounded valley center left, usually has much more snow, and used to be a glacier that did its share of the carving away of the shattered granite that constituted the rest of the mountain. The domes just below the cirque are granitic upthrusts that have been shaped by the glacier flowing. In the valley below, not visible from here, are a chain of lakes, including Thousand Island Lake, at the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. 

2251 :

The road turned out to be paved all the way. Signs advised us, “YIELD TO UPHILL TRAFFIC” – any mountain driver knows that, but when the road is open, you have to account for Angelenos too. Partway down we encountered our only uphill traffic, right where a Forest Service truck was parked. The boys in green adjudicated the pass, no problem, and Rochelle started breathing easier.

Pretty soon we turned south and after awhile passed beautiful little Starkweather Lake, the road to the Devils Postpile visitor center, and finally, Red’s Meadow Resort.

2252 :

If you have been following my quest to return, after 58 years, to Red’s, you’ll know that last year it was closed due to a big wildfire further down the San Joaquin canyon, in steep, heavily wooded, impossible terrain. We wouldn’t have wanted to be here anyway, as the smoke would have been unbearable – even for bears! – but the Forest Service made the decision for us.

This year, despite the fact there’s already been a low humidity high wind scare from here to the east, we made it. We’ll be here for awhile; our hostess, Juliet (better known as D.J.) made us feel like family (she and I have been negotiating this visit for 18 months) assured us that no internet would interrupt our stay, showed us to cabin F, and left us to it.

A few hours later, I may be feeling the altitude a little more than Rochelle – slow heart, never been a great breather – but we both expect to be more acclimated tomorrow. I’ll write more then.

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