Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Eastern Sierra Adventure

Robber's Roost on the 395
The Cowboy Poetry Festival is over and it's Monday morning. Time for our road trip up the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains to Virginia City, where I want to do some more research on my Western Mysteries series of books for kids.

My sidekick is my husband Richard. His Indian name is "Goes the Wrong Way". My Indian name is "Stands in Confusion". So it's just as well that my sister Jennifer is with us. Her Indian name is "Hawkeye". If we were on a wagon train west, "Goes" and I would be the ones travelling in circles and just missing all the waterholes. Hawkeye would be our driver, scout and hunter. She's the one who sees all the little critters on the ground even though she's busy driving.

Which brings us to our transport. It's a cramped rental with a parsimonious front window. Front window size is important for me, because I have to be in the back seat. But Hawkeye rings the car rental agency in Valencia and asks if she can change it. They say yes. She and I drive there to find our proper transport waiting happily. An adventurous little silver Jeep. And nobody else has reserved it. We can have it if we want it. We do.

Every long journey must begin with farewell to family and a fortifying meal. So Hawkeye, Goes and I meet my Santa Clarita family for brunch at the Egg Plantation. What a great place! The English manager gives us our own private area out back and we have a real pioneer meal of three egg omellettes, pancakes and coffee and EVERYBODY IS HAPPY. Bittersweet farewells to those we have to leave behind then off to Adventure in our silver Jeep.

An hour or two later we are heading east on Highway 14. Our first Adventure is spotting Vasquez Rocks off to the north of the highway. Hawkeye is a relaxed sort of person and has never been there before, so we nip off the highway and find it. Vasquez Rocks are famous for being the location of many, many films, especially Star Trek films. Especially the episode Arena, where Kirk battles a Gorn. (left) When "Goes" and I went on the Santa Clarita Valley film tour, our guide was telling us about some funky cafes in the area and I thought he mentioned one called the "Gorn Cafe". When I found out I misheard I was so disappointed. "Gorn Cafe" denied!

After Acton, Highway 14 turns north and takes you past the towns of Palmdale and Acton. Edwards Airforce base is on your right and Reefer City a blur on the left. After Mojave you start seeing Joshua trees and now you are in the desert proper. At Indian Wells near Inyokern we join up with the 395, which will take us virtually the rest of the way.

Red Rock Canyon takes us all by surprise, even Hawkeye. There is nobody else there, just a pair of fishermen packing up their tackle. Like Vasquez Rocks, it's another favorite with Hollywood. Films like Jurassic Park, Westworld and The Mummy were all shot here. One of the fishermen tells us not to miss Lone Pine further up the road. It's the site of a movie museum. We look at Red Rock Canyon, then pile back in our silver Jeep.

Then one of those straight highways right out of the American Myth. An empty ribbon of road stretching to the horizon with desert, mountains, a blue sky... and a Free Ghost town? Whiskey Flats is owned by Roscoe and his bitch Precious. You have to stop and visit his Antique Shop. The sign outside says: Buy Something. Buy Anything! I love the way he labels everything with signs: Hanging Tree, Cowboy Tower, Jail, House, Wagon. He came to say hi even though he's closed on Mondays. An historic plaque tells us this used to be known as Mojave Station.

Lone Pine is a gem of a town on a flat ribbon of highway with the Sierra Nevadas rearing up on one side and farms and ranches on the other. It is another popular spot for movie makers and every September is host to the Lone Pine Film Festival. You will also find the Beverley & Jim Rogers Museum of Film History. Full of posters, props and other memorabilia of B, C and D Westerns and other films made here. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that part of Iron Man was filmed here. Those mountains aren't Afghanistan. They're the Eastern Sierra Nevadas.  Jagged, blue, snow-capped, breathtaking.

Iron Man was filmed near Lone Pine, not Afghanistan

After Lone Pine, the 395 chases the exciting West Walker River which jumps and froths and leaps, full of all that icy snowmelt. This is the place to put on your waist high rubber boots and go fishing for trout. We take a quick detour to Mammoth Lakes, which is a big disappointment. It's bristling with hotels and ski lodges... but nary a lake. Quickly back on the 395 to Lee Vining, the town on the shores of America's Dead Sea, Mono Lake. We arrive around 8.00 at dusk. It is cold and crisp up here with snow on the mountains and the scent of pine resin.

There are a handful of motels there but only one place to eat, Nicely's. This will be our stopping place before we press on to Virginia City.

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