Our first day on the road took us north on highway 395 along the eastern Sierra Mountains. That roadway, I think, is one of California's most beautiful highways. The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range rises straight up alongside the west side of the road with many of the highest peaks in the range visible along the way.
As we made our way, we stopped at the Lone Pine Visitor Center for a bathroom break and to stretch our legs. There we browsed the bookstore and took in spectacular views of Lone Pine Mountain and the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. After heading back on the road, just a few minutes north we came to the Manzanar National Historic Site, the location of a WWII Japanese concentration camp at the foot of Mount Whitney. We didn't stop there on this trip, but we have before. If you find yourself heading up or down highway 395, don't miss this. It is worth the stop.We arrived in Bishop at about noon and decided for a quick and easy lunch at Mc Donalds. After lunch, we jumped back in the car and headed north on highway 395 to Mono Lake, our next destination. Our first stop at Mono Lake was the South Tufa. To get to the South Tufa, head east on highway 120 about five miles then follow the gravel road to the site. There are bathrooms at the parking lot and a small ranger kiosk. The entrance fee is $3 per person. When we arrived, the ranger was out giving a guided tour so we put our money in the canister as directed by the signs and headed into the tufa.
From the parking lot there is a loop trail that leads into the tufa and to the lakeshore. It was an easy stroll, even on a hot humid day, but be prepared to encounter a variety of rather load buzzing flies and other flying insects. At the shore you will see what looks like black dirt floating on the surface and accumulated on the beach, but when you get a closer look you will see that all of that is actually thousands and thousands of flies. Following the trail back from the shore you can either take a short route or a longer route back to the parking lot. We took the shorter route, since we thought it was a bit too warm and it looked like we had seen most of the interesting stuff.
After making it back to the car, we headed back to highway 120 then north again on highway 395 for our second stop at Mono Lake. We arrived a few minutes later at the Mono Lake Visitors Center, which is located right off the highway near the town of Lee Vining. At the Visitors Center there are bathrooms, a gift shop, and a museum. There are also rangers on hand to answer questions about the area. Behind the Visitors Center is a large veranda over looking the lake with interpretive signs pointing out various landmarks that you can see from that vantage point.
After spending some time at the Visitors Center, we headed north again on highway 395 for our final destination of the day, South Lake Tahoe. Along the way we passed the Tioga Pass Road (highway 120 west) to Yosemite, and further on down we passed the cutoff to Bodie. Bodie, located north of Mono Lake in a very remote area is a ghost-town these days. It’s a fascinating place that we’ve been to before. It was very tempting to take the turnoff and head that way, but it was getting late and we still had about two hours ahead of us to go.
We arrived at our hotel in South Lake Tahoe at about 5:30 pm. We stayed at the Days Inn, which we wouldn’t recommend. We gave it a "D-". The first thing I learned about doing road trips on a budget is to try to avoid the popular destinations on a weekend. But for us, Lake Tahoe was the most logical first stop on our route and $145 a night for a budget motel was a little higher than the lowest price I could find. Even though this room wasn't at a rock bottom price, the room felt filthy. It was too late to make other arrangements since the town was pretty much booked, so we decided to tough it out.
From our hotel, it was about a 20-minute stroll to the Nevada border where there is the Harrah’s Casino and Hotel and the Harvery’s Casino and Hotel. We decided to find out if there was a buffet at Harrah’s. After getting lost in the casino a bit and finally finding our way to the lobby, we asked a bellhop for info on the restaurants in the hotel. He told about several places, but the buffet on the 18th floor piqued our interest as well as the coffee shop one floor below the lobby level. With growling stomachs we took an elevator to the 18th floor only to find that there was an hour wait for a table at the buffet. We decided it would be best to head down to the coffee shop, instead.
The restaurant below the lobby is called the American River Café. The wait was only 15 minutes and we were given a nice table in this cozy but kind of tacky theme restaurant. We ordered fish and chips and a hot turkey sandwich. The food was okay and the cost was reasonable, but the service was very good. Overall, we’d give it a "C+".
After having our fill, we headed back to our hotel, but first we took a little side stroll through Heavenly Village. During the day, you can take a gondola ride from there to the top of the mountain. In the village we also found a few restaurants, plenty of shops, and a cinema.
We were back in our hotel room at about 9:00 or 9:30 with sleepy heads and weary bodies in need of a good night’s sleep. That wasn’t something easy to do in this hotel room. It was quite, but its hard to relax in a place that doesn’t feel clean.
That wraps up our first day on this trip, but there is one other thing I should mention, and that’s the wheels that are taking us to see these places far and wide. For this trip we have taken our 2005 Acura TL, which is powered by a 3.2 liter V-Tech V6 engine with 258 horses powering the front wheels. At the beginning of our trip, the car had about 22,200 miles on the dial and 2 years and 8 months of daily usage under its belt. For those readers not residing in North America, this car is actually a Honda with bigger muscles wearing formal wear. At the end of each day’s journal entry I’ll be giving mileage and miles per gallon statistics on the car to track its eco-friendly performance.
After driving 449 miles today, we averaged 61 miles per hour and consumed one gallon of gas every 28 miles. Not bad!