Peter and Elizabeth - RTW 2009-11 travel blog

Leaving Yosemite


Getting pretty cold




Even colder!






Old firetruck at Manzanar

Route of film sites at Alabama Rocks

Alabama Rocks

Alabama Rocks

Old neon sign

November 1, 2011

Yosemite had been great and we’d seen some amazing scenery but I was not sorry to be leaving the cold tent. While Elizabeth got ready I started taking some of our bags back to the car as we wouldn’t be physically able to move everything we had in one go. After that I took a quick shower in the overly heated bathroom facilities and rushed back to the tent to dress and get on the road. Despite the seemingly freezing temperatures inside the tent, it didn’t seem anywhere near as cold outside despite the early hour and the lack of sunshine hitting any of the valley yet. We decided to drive across the park this morning and due to the cold weather we had been warned that a major snowfall could shut the main road, Tioga Road, at any time. Thankfully it was still open but as we climbed to the highest point and the Tioga Pass the car temperature gauge dropped to 28F (minus 2C) and we saw our first snow of the trip. I had imagined we’d see snow whilst driving across the US in winter but I hadn’t expected to see it in California! We stopped at a few viewpoints along the way and at one we saw a park ranger covering the information signs getting ready for winter – we really were lucky to be able to drive this road as it seems it wouldn’t be open to the public much longer before the big snowfalls come. Nearer the end of Tioga Road we came across a lovely, open area called Tuolumne Meadows which we’d seen many pictures of whilst in Yosemite Valley and it was great to actually see it ourselves, even if I was shivering a bit when I got out of the car to take some pictures!

As we left the national park on the eastern side, we came across an area called Mono Lakes State Natural Reserve. This lake is considered to be the oldest lake in North America and is thought to be over 1 million years old. It is also 2.5 times saltier than the ocean and has some weird rocky formations known as tufa towers poking out of the water. These formations only develop beneath the surface and so once the water level drops, the tufa towers cease growing. The ones currently visible are around 300 years old but there are still more growing beneath the salty surface! The tufa towers looked almost other worldly and if you ignored the parking lot 200 yards behind you it was easy to imagine being somewhere far, far away!

Our next stop was the town of Mammoth Lakes where I had managed to sniff out a micro-brewery, the appropriately named Mammoth Lakes Brewing Company. We’d seen the beers being sold in the over-priced grocery store in Yosemite so we decided to stop and try some of the offerings. They had specially branded some to be sold in the national park so the names of the beers we tried here were a bit different from what we’d seen before but the girl helping us get drunk told us which ones were which! Before we went in we’d agreed that Elizabeth would drive after lunch but after we’d tried the large number of beers on offer I could see that it was best that Elizabeth didn’t get behind the wheel of a vehicle! Amongst the beers we tried (this is not all of them!) were Floating Rock Hefeweizen, Golden Trout Pilsner, Paranoid Pale Ale, Double Nut Brown (very coffee flavoured and the only one Elizabeth didn’t drink!), Real McCoy Amber, Lake Tahoe Red Ale, Epic IPA, IPA 395 and Hair of the Bear Dopplebock. The IPA395, named after the highway Mammoth Lakes is situated on, had flavours of sage and juniper in it and though the smell of them was strong the flavour was surprisingly good and despite being very hoppy it was not too bitter. A couple of the beers were also quite strong, with the Doppelbock being 9%! They also had a root beer which I don’t like so Elizabeth got to have double helpings of that. We must’ve tried about 10 beers and although the servings weren’t that big it was enough for us to decide we should get some food before we hit the road.

As we’d parked up I’d noticed a place opposite which had bagels and burgers so we thought we would give that a go and when we saw a sign outside which said they had a lunch burger special for just $5 each it was hard to resist! The burgers were really good and really filling and I was glad I felt OK to drive afterwards because Elizabeth freely admitted she felt “a bit tipsy”! We grabbed some bagels to have for breakfast and lunch tomorrow and hit the road again.

We headed next to Devil’s Postpile, a national park which we’d read was closed but according to the road signs was open. Of course, when we arrived there it was in fact closed and we were just pleased we’d only gone a couple of miles off track to find out! We continued south and as we drove through some of the small, isolated towns the winds really picked up and the land surrounding us seemed very barren. It was a distinct change from the delights of Yosemite and even the tumbleweed blowing into the car as we passed through sleepy Bishop was not exactly what we were expecting! Swerving around tumbleweed was still a lot more fun than trying to find a radio station that was playing something other than Christian music! When you think that we aren’t even out of California yet and we’ve had big cities, beaches, fog (or smog!), glorious coastal sunsets, immense forests and amazing scenery, snow and barren deserts you can see the diversity of this state which extends well over 700 miles from north to south.

We passed through the ironically named town of Independence where we found Manzanar, an area which was used as a prison camp for Japanese people living in America during WWII. Many of these people, around 2/3rds, were actually born in America and were American citizens but because of their ancestry they were treated like outsiders after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They were basically treated like Japanese prisoners of war and much of this internment was done by the government under the guise of protecting the Japanese. The government claimed that due to the way they looked they might be turned upon by other people and such a move could help protect them. The propaganda was typical of many of the situations we’ve seen that occurred during wars and in many respects you could see why some Japanese people might accept that. However, as many of them were actually Americans they felt they were having their civil liberties restricted and were being treated like foreigners. Many of them even wanted to fight against the Japanese and protect their homes and businesses but were not allowed to do so. In fact, many of their properties ended up being destroyed by their own nationals, as some Americans did indeed take offense to their ancestry. We watched a film at Manzanar which explained about the plight of the Japanese and why this area, along with about 9 others, had been chosen as good places to house them. Having had to fight against strong winds and dust blowing as we walked from the car to the visitor centre, it was hard to imagine that this would ever have been a nice place to live and one such story cemented that. One Japanese man told how he was pleased at first with the place he had been given to sleep as although it had a hole in the roof he was able to fall asleep as he gazed at the stars. His viewpoint changed by morning though as he awoke to a bed covered in sand with the only clear spot being where his head had rested on his hay-filled pillow. It was quite sad that a country as developed as America could treat its citizens in such a way but at least the government, under Ronald Reagan, had at least tried to apologise and rectify the situation. Unfortunately the views of some Americans haven’t changed as noted by some of the remarks in a comments book. Plenty of idiots had suggested that what happened wasn’t such a bad idea and should be repeated now with those “Taliban people”. It’s hard to imagine coming to such a sensitive and thought-provoking site and hear stories from those who were adversely affected by the imprisonment and still leave thinking such idiotic thoughts. It’s nice to know that some Americans believe that locking up American people will solve America’s security issues. For Manzanar 1942 to 1945, read Guantanamo Bay 2001 to when? I have to admit, this was a part of American history I had no idea about and it was really interesting learning from the displays here.

We continued onwards, through the tumbleweed, to our hotel for the night, the Dow Villa Motel in sleepy Lone Pine. We’d stopped here as we wanted to visit Death Valley tomorrow and we hadn’t expected to have enough time to do it today and get to Las Vegas without setting out stupidly early and making whistle stops everywhere! When we arrived at Lone Pine and checked in we found out about a nearby area known as Alabama Hills where many famous films had been shot, including scenes from the first Iron Man movie as well as many Westerns. We also learnt that many of the rock formations around here resemble certain things so while it was still barely light, we decided to drive around the small loop road to have a look. We managed to spot some of the things that the rocks supposedly resembled but trying to stop along a narrow road was not appreciated by many of the rude locals who were determined to overtake on blind bends and honk at us at every opportunity. Back in Lone Pine itself we had a quick look around one of the few shops still open where I bought a rock (not just a plain rock, obviously) before deciding which one of the multitude of restaurants to choose for dinner. We picked the Pizza Factory and thoroughly enjoyed munching down our spicy, meaty pizza. I think we’re getting to a stage now where every meal has to be spicy and if it isn’t we consider it too bland. We’ve probably destroyed our real taste buds and now just have heat sensors!

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