Sunday, December 11, 2016

December, 2016

The beautiful Inyo Mountains, as seen from Saline Valley Warm Springs

As winter approaches and the days get colder and colder, I'm always looking for a little respite from the chilly air and strong Sierra winds that howl through Reno this time of year.  I'm so lucky to live in an area where, even in the dead of winter, the desert and Death Valley are less than a day's drive away.  

I've felt a very deep connection to Death Valley ever since my first trip there in 2005 and I never tire of the clean, dry air, the crisp light and haunting smells the desert offers up each day.

This time, I was leaving Reno with a predicted snow snow storm right on my heels.  The night before I left, I had 90% of the camper loaded and ready to go.  It would be about a seven hour drive to the springs and I wanted to make the entire trip in the daylight, so I left just after 8:00 a.m.  As I loaded those last few things, my hands were chilled to the bone and I was just hoping that Saline Valley would be a lot warmer.

As I made my way south on the awesome U.S. 395, it was sunny and clear outside.  It even looked hot outside, but all I had to do was crack the window a little for a reminder that winter was definitely at my doorstep.

I stopped at the vista point that overlooks Mono Lake.  Not only did I want to take in the views, but Dexter was getting restless in the back seat and was anxious to stretch his legs and "water" some bushes.  I think what this rail needs is a few Wander the West stickers... 

I made incredible time on this trip.  It must have been because I was traveling on a Wednesday AND the summer tourists were gone and ski season hadn't yet hit high gear.  I topped off the tank at the Indian gas station in north Bishop, grabbed a quick hot dog off of their hot roller thingy and hit the road.  The whole thing kind of felt like a NASCAR pit stop, but I had a one track mind at this point: a tub full of hot water in the desert.

I had read on the Saline Valley Forum that the north pass road, which I would be taking, was in excellent condition this year.  Excellent, however, can be relative.  Last year, the road was super rough, had a big washout and was officially CLOSED by Inyo County.  

Dex and I stopped at the Saline Valley turnoff and I must say I was quite relieved to find the road open. 

I knew I was just ahead of an incoming storm and I really hoped snow removal would not be an issue on my way out...and it wasn't.  I think a WTW sticker is all but mandatory here...

And so we began the slow, rough, washboard infested trek down into the valley below.

 Upon seeing this cairn overlooking the Saline Valley below, I had to make a quick pit stop.  This was about an hour in from the highway intersection.  As I got out of the truck, I was hoping to feel a much warmer temperature than before, but it was not to be.  It was still downright cold.  

At this point, I stopped hoping for warmer temps and began doing something that more closely resembled praying.  I knew there was still a respectable amount elevation I would lose as I dropped down into the valley, but I was pessimistic if it would be enough to make a significant difference.

Ahhhhh, I've arrived!

When you see this totem, you know you're only 15 minutes away from being neck deep in pure 102° desert water.  I didn't know what to expect as I opened my door here, but I was completely stoked to feel the much warmer air hit me in the face as I got out of the truck.  It wasn't balmy by any means, but it was enough warmth that I could work with.  I would estimate it to be about 64°.

On the approach to the springs, fighter jets were whizzing about in all different directions.  Sometimes you could see them and sometimes you could only hear them as they conducted, what looked to me like, aerial dog fighting maneuvers.  The part that was really cool was when they would fly right above the deck and their approach would almost be silent until they were right over you and then you'd hear their thunderous BOOOOM.  

Once I got there, I wasted no time getting set up.

The whole way here I was hoping that the site I had last year would be available.  I guess sentiment was part of the reason, but the other reason was that last year's site was so close to a really nice tub.  Well, I was in luck!  Not only was my old site vacant, but 99.93482% of the springs were vacant.  

I noticed a Tacoma/Flippac rig to the east, a tent rig to my south and one vehicle up above at Palm Spring pools, but that was it.  

Just look at the awesome spot I have for the next three days!

By the time I got everything set up, the sun had sunk below the Inyos and the light would be fading soon.  For this trip, I decided to re-read Edward Abbey's "Fire on the Mountain," which is my second favorite Abbey fiction, after "The Monkey Wrench Gang," of course.  "Fire on the Mountain" is set in the very area of New Mexico in which I grew up, so it would be the perfect read on this trip.

I soaked and read until the light faded to the point I could not longer see the print.  I made my way back to the camper and fixed Dexter and I our traditional first night out steak dinner.  I was just so glad to be here and after a nice camp meal, I felt totally at peace.  I glanced at my watch and was shocked to see that it was only 6:45 p.m.  I still had a lot of time on my hands before bedtime, so I put an old Humphrey Bogart movie in the DVD player, stretched out and just relaxed.

After the movie was over, it was still early, so Dex and I dashed out into the cold desert air and I had soak #2 under what appeared to be about a half moon.  Even at only a half moon, the desert was brilliantly lit up, so much so, that I could have almost read more of my book with just the moonlight.  

After soaking and getting my core up to a very balmy temp., we headed in for the night.  I had time for one more movie (I knew I could sleep in the next day), so I lit the heater and watched Key Largo, with my trusty hound dog stretched out before the warm glow of the ceramic heater.  

That night, as usual, the coyotes started yipping and yapping, but this time I swore one of the yappers was right outside the camper.  As I peeled back the Velcro of the upper window to look out, I saw a lone coyote skampering away...I guess they don't like that tearing sound either.

The next morning, after breakfast, Dex and I went on a little walkabout.

Here's the main pool area...still not a sole in sight. 

The main pool is so inviting and a great place to soak when the sun's directly overhead. 

Lee, the volunteer camp host, had a fire going every night, just outside the main pool.  

Here's the little one person pool that I've never seen anyone actually use. 

Please shower before you soak... 

I don't know what this was, but if the point of the wire was to hold the pole together, 
I'd say it was an epic fail. 

Lee has five or six solar panels to keep his house running.

The entire time I was here, my day consisted of waking up around 9:00 a.m., eating breakfast, taking a soak, going back to the camper to read, then nap, then lunch, then a soak, then a hike, another soak, dinner and yes, you guessed it, another soak, before turning in for the night with a movie and a glass of bourbon.  Three days was not enough.  Next time, I'm taking the whole week!

A pretty popular design around Saline Valley. 

Another great place to take it all in.  A camper told me that Lee often sits here and feeds the coyotes. 

Dex and I eventually made our way up to check out the Flippac. 

Mark, an engineer, (on the left) lives in Baltimore, MD.  He stores his rig in Las Vegas and takes advantage of the cheap Southwest Airlines flights to Vegas, where he grabs his rig and sets out for the desert and Eastern Sierra.  Mark definitely got the award for Most Miles Traveled.

I forgot the name of the gentleman on the right, but he was in a new FWC and had just arrived, via the Lippincott Pass road, from Death Valley and The Racetrack.  He too was traveling solo.

On the second evening, I saw a little Cessna flying low around the springs (he kind of had to dodge all of the fighter jets whizzing around) and he eventually landed on the nearby strip (The Chicken Strip).  Later that evening, we all enjoyed a soak together and the pilot said that he had flow in from Flagstaff, AZ, for just one glorious night at Saline Valley.  He was gone before 8:00 a.m. the next morning.  I must not be the only one this place calls to.

Well, every good thing must come to an end eventually.  My time was up, but I wanted to stay so badly, that I promised myself, next time I'll do a week here.  I was able to run around in shorts and a T-shirt the entire time and it was so nice to have "extended" the summer for just a few more days.  

After one last morning soak, I got everything packed up, stowed and latched down for the long drive home.

Oh, just sleep right on the road why don't you...

This guy must have pulled in late the night before and just said "to hell with it, I'm going to sleep right here."  I guess he wasn't worried that some yahoo might come barreling through here in the middle of the night and run him over, but he did look comfortable, so I'm guessing no one wanted to wake him.

The totem from the east side; marking my departure from this oasis.

The drive out was uneventful, albeit a long trek.  As soon as I popped out onto CA 168, I could see the storm clouds over the Sierras.  It looked soooo cold over the mountains that it made me appreciate my S.V. trip even more.

I had to make a stop in Big Pine for some of that famous Copper Top BBQ.  

After visiting here for the first time over Labor Day, I had to make it back.  

Copper Top had just gotten back from their fall vacation two days prior, so my timing was great.

You won't find better BBQ this side of Kansas City and even then, you might not! 

Just about ready... 

Four beautiful tri-tips slow cooking over mesquite and almond wood in the Copper Top's
Santa Maria style cooker. 

I'm not one of those people who posts a picture of every meal I eat, but I have to make an exception for such incredible BBQ.  Here is the Sierra Sampler, which has three pork ribs, tri-tip. 1/4 chicken, potato salad, chips and a drink and all for under $20.00.  There was so much here that Dexter got a very nice doggy bag (don't tell the cook!).

As soon as I started up the hill north of Bishop, the cold rain and horrendous wind started in an it didn't let up all the way home.  I arrived back in Reno to a wet, almost freezing drizzle and decided I'd unpack the next day.

I'm already thinking that another "cheating winter" trip to D.V./S.V. is in order for around March!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

GroovyDad, Hoyden and MuleHawk Meet Up

October 4, 2016

     Fellow Wander the West'er "Hoyden" was taking a month long road/camp trip during the month of October and her trip route was going to take her through Reno (my town), so I arranged to meet up with her on her way through for a quick overnight camp at Buckeye Hot Springs, CA.

     Hoyden's itinerary was going to have her at Buckeye on Monday and because she was planning to stay a couple of days in the area, I arranged to meet her on Tuesday afternoon.

     We just had a little taste of cold winter weather on Sunday, but the weatherman said it was going to be a nice all week, so off I went.

     I arrived at the boondocking site at Buckeye just before 3:00 PM and Hoyden had already set up her rig in a wide spot somewhat near the springs.  After a quick meet & greet, I popped my rig up just behind hers and we sat in the warm sun, visited and watched all of the dogs get acquainted.

     The area was fairly busy, considering that it was mid-week in October, but it was hunting season and there were plenty of people looking for deer.

     Hoyden and I had only been visiting for about an hour and a half, when a nice Toyota Tundra, sporting a FWC Silver Spur Hawk drove up nearby.  We waved at them and then Hoyden motioned for them to come over and they did.  Once they pulled up, we found out that it was fellow Wander the West'ers: MuleHawk (Luke and Annie)!

     The MuleHawks were four months into their year long journey through the U.S. and it was just by chance that they were at Buckeye when Hoyden and I were there.  Luke and Annie had just come from a soak in the nearby hot springs and were staying the night.  You can also follow them on Instagram at MuleHawkAdventures.

     We had a very nice time getting to know one another, but when the sun sets in October, it gets cold fast, so we all headed inside our campers for the night.

     Even though we all stayed warm overnight, I knew it had been cold because the cup of water near my bed was half frozen.  Luke and Annie had hung their towels over their front bumper to dry overnight, but they too were frozen solid in the morning.

     I only took a few photos on this trip and I was shooting in RAW format for the first time, so as you can see, I still have a lot to learn about RAW.

All bought together by WTW...

 Here is the MuleHawk (and their frozen towels)

Luke was showing Dawn and I their new Aluminess Bumpers.

Here's Dawn's rig and mine is behind hers.

     After thawing ourselves out a bit with some hot coffee and breakfast, we all hiked the short distance, along Buckeye Creek, to the hot springs.  We had seen a fly fisherman the day before and he told us that the fishing was amazing.  During our walk along the creek, we could see that the river was teeming with 10-12 in trout.  Note to self: bring fly rod next time.

Dawn, Annie and Luke enjoying the 104° water.

     We soaked for well over an hour and enjoyed the scenery and the company.  After the nice soak, we hiked  back to camp, ate lunch and visited until about 3:00 PM.  Luke and Annie were going to stay another night and then head out for Bodie and Mono Lake the following day.

     Hoyden and I headed north to Reno, where she was able to take a shower and do a load of laundry at my casa.  My daughter and I took Hoyden out for some very good Thai food, which is always a nice break from camp food.

     The next morning, Hoyden and her hound dogs headed out north, where she'll eventually make her way to the Oregon coast and then loop back around to Arizona in time for her October "Utah Campering Gathering" at Valley of the Gods (October 18th).

     I had a great time meeting these wonderful people.  WTW and these little pop up rigs seem to attract the nicest people and I look forward to meeting more of you all along the back roads.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Eastern Sierra Hot Springs & The Alabama Hills (Labor Day, 2016)

     This Labor Day, Dexter and I put 612 miles on the odometer and we loved every mile of it.  I wanted to get away from the hoards of people that are always out and about on this holiday, so I headed to the Eastern Sierra Nevadas.  I knew there would be a lot of people roaming around there too, but it's so vast that I was sure I could find some peaceful places within it.

     We were out for five days and four nights and I could have stayed another week easily.  Since my agenda was kind of open, I just kind of moseyed and meandered my way south.  You really do see and enjoy the trip lot more when you don't have the rushed "get-there-itis" to make a certain destination by a certain time.

This was my playground for the long weekend!


     I left Reno on Wednesday, around noon and began to notice that with each mile south, I saw fewer and fewer people.  I knew that would change as the weekend approached, but I was getting a head start to it by taking a few extra days off of work earlier in the week.

     My destination for the night was Buckeye Hot Springs, which is just west of Bridgeport, CA.  Buckeye H.S. is one of my favorite places to go because it's only a couple of hours from home, there's a lot of boondock camping in the area and it's gorgeous!  The springs are located in the Toiyabe National Forest, in an area just north of the Yosemite National Park boundary, so that should tell you how beautiful the area is.

The hot spring flows down a large mound of, what I believe is travertine, and
into some handmade pools that are adjacent to Buckeye Creek. 

You're rarely alone at these springs, but the crowds are usually small and I've always
met some really nice people while soaking here.  This day was no different.

After soaking a while, it's always nice to take a cold plunge in the river and then jump
back into the hot pools. 

This guy seemed to be meditating under the hot water.

The dictionary defines "Den-i-zen" as: an inhabitant or occupant of a particular place.  After
visiting a lot of hot springs over the years, I've identified what I call a " Hot Spring Denizen."
A Hot Spring Denizen is that person, usually a guy, who kind of quasi lives at the hot springs.  I've
met a Hot Spring Denizen at just about every spring I've been to it seems.  Sometimes they seem kind
of crazy and sometimes they're just living a nontraditional lifestyle, but they're always a character.

Hot Spring Denizen #1.  Gary said that he was from Ventura, CA and described himself
as being semi-retired all of his life.  He claimed to have just spent six days backpacking
through Yosemite NP and was just relaxing after a long week in the woods.  I don't know 
about ole Gary, because he showed up with a ice cold quart of bottled beer and no backpacker
I ever met hikes with a heavy bottle of suds.  Regardless of the validity of his story, he and I
had a good visit and he was a friendly, entertaining guy. 

Here was my campsite for the night.  The springs are just below (near where the car is 
parked, by the tree).

The evening was super quiet and I slept like a log.  The next morning, I would head further south.


From Buckeye Road, I snapped this photo of little Bridgeport, CA, which is in that clump
of trees in the foothills on the far horizon.  Bridgeport is a beautiful little town that lies at 
6,463 ft. elev. and is, what I consider to be, the jumping off point to the eastern Sierra.

I've always wanted to visit the Hot Creek Geothermal area, near Mammoth, CA.  I've driven by the turnoff many, many times, but since it's fairly close to home, I've always said "I can visit these anytime."  Well, this was the time!

This area is home to about 7 different hot springs, all within a 10 mile radius, so it makes visiting them pretty easy.  There are only two drawbacks that I can see to visiting this area: 1.) the springs can be crowded at times because it's close to the tourist mecca of Mammoth Lakes and 2.) there were a lot of cattle grazing about and that means lots of little biting flies.  Other than that, it was a blast.

The Ski3pins dialed me into one of their favorite tubs in the area.  The actual soaking tub is about 200 yards off of the road.  Above is the source creek.

I know hot spring etiquette usually advises against camping too close to the soaking tubs, but here, there were a few people camping along the roadside and there were a couple of tent campers set up in the adjacent meadows, so I just popped up here for the night.

It was too hot to even think about soaking under the afternoon sun, so Dex and I went on a short hike and hunkered down in the camper until the heat of the day followed the sun west.

This appeared to be the main source of the hot creek that flowed down to the tub, which was probably 400 yards away. 

This is a view of the tub from my camper.  The lone soaker in the tub would be Hot Spring Denizen #2.  Jerry arrived at the springs around 3:00 pm and had the tub to himself for an hour and a half or so.  During that time, a couple of families showed up to soak, but I guess a "Jerry-in-the-Raw" scared them away.

Jerry said that he was from northern California, but had been staying near the springs for a couple of weeks.  When I asked where he was camped, he said "it's a secret because I don't want any Claymore Mines placed near me."  Jerry LOVED to hear himself talk and when he finally let someone get a word in edgewise, he didn't hear a single thing they said.  When he saw my camper, he launched into many stories of how he builds his own pop-ups and, of course, they're so much better than FWC or ATC.  Around dusk, he finally hauled his naked heinie out of the tub and walked up the road to his "secret camp."

This vehicle (and dog) belonged to Hot Spring Denizen #3.  Around mid-afternoon, this car pulled up and parked near me.  The back hatch was remotely opened and out jumped this lovable mutt, but no one got out of the car.  After an hour passed, I approached the car and knocked on the window.  There, nestled in the middle of piles and piles of junk, was a very old man lying under a sleeping bag.  He must have been in his late eighties and could hardly hear me knocking on the glass.  Had he not let out an inaudible grunt, I would have thought he was dead.  I asked him if he was alright and he said that he was.  He said he reads late into the night and sleeps all day.  I guess he gets out of the car to occasionally use his porta-potty, but I never saw him leave the hoarders nest he had built within his car.

That evening, the tub had 3-5 people in it at any given time and we all soaked until almost 10:00 pm.  
The rest of the people I met were of the sane variety.  Brandon was a young guy, originally from Wisconsin, who had just backpacked and fished through the Golden Trout Wilderness, before ending his trip with a night at the hot springs.  Brandon had a job and a fiance to get back to in San Francisco, but he made it very clear that he wanted out of the Bay Area and the sooner the better.

An Orthodox Jewish woman, clad head to toe in black, with her two kids sporting Yamakas, showed up and her kids took a brief soak before moving on.  The tent campers came in for an evening soak and then finally an older hippie couple, on their way to Zion NP, showed up.  In spite of our vast differences, we all had such a fantastic time visiting with each other that it gives one a lot of hope for humanity.  

Little "Porky" had to make a showing at the spring too.

After an unusually cold night, a lot of us met up for a morning soak before we all went our separate ways.  

Just before pulling out of the area, I checked on the welfare of Hot Spring Denizen #3 and he was still alive and kicking and apparently hadn't moved from his little den since I saw him last night.


I wasn't planning to soak at any other tubs in the area today, but I did want to visit them and get a feel for where they were for future visits.

This creek appeared to be on of the larger ones in the area.  It was warm, but not hot, and was full of this incredible algae. 

This was Shepard Hot Spring and it was kind of dismal looking.  I think before soaking, it would be a good idea to drain and refill it with clean water.  As you can see, it had some incredible views. 

Porky didn't want to get in either...

This spring is called "The Crab Cooker" and apparently it's source had dried up.  I don't know if the source flows seasonally or if it's permanently out of commission, but I'll stop by the next time I'm in the area to see.

The next spring is simply called "The Hot Tub."

This was a very nice little tub with clear, inviting water and great views. 

You might only get 4-5 people in The Hot Tub at any given time, but I'll definitely be back to this one. 

And that brings me to Hot Spring Denizen #4

As I pulled up to The Hot Tub, there was an old converted school bus parked fairly close to the spring.  Outside it, sat an old hippie guy with a long dirty beard, rolling something to smoke.  From inside the bus I could hear, what sounded like, a very vicious dog barking.  I walked up to the old hippie and he told me that he'd keep his dog in the bus, but his dog was very mean and protective.  From a distance, I looked into the bus and it was simply filthy.  I don't mean to be judgmental, but I couldn't believe that a human would live in such squalor.

The old hippie wasn't the talking type, but seeing me with my camera, he told me in a "not so subtle way" that publicity was bad for the area because there were already too many people coming to the area.  I think the whole stand-offish appearance and vicious dog thing he had going was his way of keeping people out of the area.  If he's there on my next visit, he better get used to my company because I'm not going to let him keep me from enjoying this nice little pool.  Who knows, we may even become friends.


     After leaving the Mammoth area, I headed south on glorious Highway 395.  As you drop down into the Owens Valley, you loose a few thousand feet of elevation and the scenery is magnificent.  I should have pulled over on the vista point and taken a photograph or two, but I was too busy drinking it all in.

     Bishop was a madhouse, as it usually is in the summer, but on a holiday weekend, the town's in overdrive.  I planned to make my usual stop at Eric Schat's Bakkery, but the place was swamped, so I continued south.  


I went through Big Pine and Independence, CA...

Just south of Independence, CA, is the Manzanar National Historic Site, where Japanese citizens were relocated to during WW II, in the name of national security.

It was really hot that afternoon and I had Dexter with me.  Since dogs aren't allowed in the museum or visitor's center, I just took a couple of pics of the outside.  I understand that they have a wonderful museum and I plan to see it when an overheated dog is not a possibility.

The only guard tower still standing, gives you an eerie feeling about the place.

Next was Lone Pine, CA...

     Pretty much in the center of town, you turn west on Whitney Portal Road, and after on a few miles, you enter the Alabama Hills area, which is managed by the BLM.  It's funny because from U.S. 395, you have no idea this place even exists, but it's right there.

This is the first little guy to greet you when you enter the area.

These granite boulders are jumbled up everywhere.  Some are the size of a car and some comprise entire mountain ranges.

Just after entering the Alabama Hills, you'll come to Movie Road, which was named that because a lot of movies, mostly older westerns, were filmed in the area.

 This was one of the larger ranges in the A.H.  The Sierra Nevada range is in the background.

After driving around Movie Road for a couple of hours, I started to look for a good campsite for the night.

 Home for the night--not too bad, huh?

It was still very hot outside as I set up, but the sun would be setting soon enough.

 Just look at that view!

 Dexter really liked hopping around all of the rocks, as long as it was on the shady side of them that is.

 Lucky bird...

While hiking around, I stumbled on one of the elusive "GroovyDad" petroglyphs that legend has are in the area.

     The night was perfect.  There wasn't hardly a noise all night and the temperature was just right to sleep with all of the windows open, with a soft breeze blowing through the camper.


     The next morning, I drove up to the end of Whitney Portal Road, where the trail head leading up to the highest point in the lower 48 was located.  I only planned to hike to Lone Pine Lake, which is 6 miles out and back, but the trail shares the Mt. Whitney trail for the first 3 miles.  

 What a beautiful place to start a hike!

The trail head is at 8,350 ft. elev. and Lone Pine Lake sits at 10,050 ft., so we had
a respectable 1,700 feet of elevation gain ahead of us for the day.

 We crossed a few small creeks on the way up and Dex loved every one of them.

 We finally entered the John Muir Wilderness.  Day hikers don't need permits, but if you plan to stay overnight, you do.

Dexter would just lay in the creeks to cool off and I have to admit, I was a bit jealous.

We finally made it to the trail junction.  Go right and you're headed to Whitney; go left and little Lone Pine Lake is only a few hundred yards away.

 My first view of Lone Pine Lake.

 A guy I passed on the trail described Lone Pine Lake as looking as if it had fallen from the sky.  I now knew what he meant--it was gorgeous.

 The Alabama Hills lie way down below (in the center of the photo).

 A view of the lake (facing west).

One of the best places I've ever had lunch at.

After meandering around the lake for over an hour and hiking around it, we started our descent back down to the trail head.  It took a little over two hours to climb up, but we made it down in half that time.

 A cold bottle of Gatorade awaited me at this little outpost.

 This is the official trail head to Whitney.

The law requires hikers to pack everything out.

On the way back to camp, we stopped at the very sad looking Lone Pine Campground to camel up all of our water jugs.  I wondered who would elect to stay there when the Alabama Hills are just a few miles away.  I guess some people really like their restrooms.

Back in the Alabama Hills for the night, I found another great little campsite (they were all over the place) for the night.  Since no one was around for miles, I strolled out to a nice rock (buck nekkid) and put my solar shower to work.  It felt so nice to wash off the day's activities.

After dinner, I sat up my chair with an incredible view of the Sierras and watched the sun sink slowly behind them.  Just after the sun had set, a small crescent moon appeared just north of Whitney.  It just kind of arched there briefly, before following the sun behind the mountains.

It was absolutely silent as I sat there and read under the occasional bat that was flying around feeding off of whatever was unfortunate enough to be airborne at the time.  It was another damn near perfect night.


 The next morning, I had to get a shot of Porky.

We then hiked the very short little loop trail that leads to the Mobius Arch.

 On the way to the arch, I saw that Mother Nature saw fit to erode a little heart in the rocks above.

 Beautiful and hateful at the same time...

Two views of the famous arch.

Unfortunately, it was time to start heading back home and back to reality.

Knowing that Schat's Bakkery would no doubt be a madhouse again today, I took a chance and stopped at the Copper Top BBQ in Big Pine, CA.  I can tell you this, I will NEVER drive by this place again without stopping in.  It was definitely in the top three of the best BBQ joints I have ever been to (and it wasn't just because I was hungry).

I spoke with the owner, Hank Otten, who was busy manning a smoker and two Santa Maria style grills.  The smoker was full of ribs and the Santa Maria grills had tri-tip on one and chicken on the other.  Hank told me that he uses a combination of red oak, almond and mesquite woods for his cooking and I can tell you this, that man knows what he's doing.

They gave me so much food that I needed a doggie bag to to haul it all away.  I shared the contents of that doggie bag with my hound dog, who came with me on this wonderful trip.

There is so much to do and see in the Eastern Sierra that I'll be a busy man for years to come.  Finally, a BIG thank you to the Ski3pins for dialing me into some beautiful locations with their very accurate GPS coordinates--I owe you all big time!