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Eastern Sierra Fall 2009

Day 1 of 4

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Friday, October 9th
Drive to Mammoth Lakes via Sonora Pass

Our son's school was closed on Columbus Day (October 12th), so we planned to go on a 3-day weekend. With the date already set, I spent the 2 or 3 weeks beforehand trying to decide where to go and stay. At first we thought about camping, but as it got closer I realized that it would probably be too cold (probably bearable, but not comfortable). I also had to decide - eastern Sierra, or Hope Valley area? I checked various sources on the web every day, trying to see which area would be best for fall color. I even created a Sierra Nevada Fall Color Facebook page where people can go to help each other keep track of the best places and current conditions.

Eventually, I realized it would probably be too early for Hope Valley, and despite an early-season storm there would still be some color in the eastern Sierra. And so we set our sights for Mammoth Lakes this afternoon. We left the Bay Area in mid-afternoon, only to get snarled in a big traffic jam that delayed us 90 minutes. After suffering through that, we stopped in Oakdale for dinner, then had to decide - take Highway 120 or 108 across the Sierra? I had always taken Highway 120 through Yosemite to reach the eastern Sierra, and wouldn't have even considered taking 108, but my car GPS suggested it. Looking at a map, I didn't see how that could possibly be even remotely as fast as going through Yosemite. But, it was now dark and the thought of descending the east side of Tioga Pass at night didn't appeal to me, so I stupidly chose to try out Highway 108.

Let me say that I had never driven the full length of Highway 108 before, only in the past stopping as far as the trailhead for our Emigrant Wilderness backpacking trip years ago. After now having driven it, I don't think I'll ever drive it at night again, if I can avoid it. It's a steep, winding road, even more steep and winding than other trans-Sierra highways. In fact, there's one spot that's a 26% grade! At least there was no traffic to deal with; I never had a car directly in front of or behind me, although I passed cars coming in the opposite direction every few minutes.

After driving around in the dark for quite some time, we finally reached Highway 395, turning right and sailed along the relatively straight flat highway through Bridgeport and Lee Vining and into Mammoth Lakes. Much to my amazement, despite the traffic and the twisting roads, we arrived at Tamarack Lodge after 6 hours and 45 minutes of driving, meaning that without the traffic jam it would have taken a respectable 5:15 (it had taken us 5:10 via Highway 120, four years earlier).


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