The northeastern corner of California had been a simmering obsession of mine for a while now. I can’t remember how it started. Most likely I was looking at Google Maps one day and got curious.
But unlike the Pacific Coast Highway, not a lot of people head over to the Eastern part of the state. Ask anyone in Southern California what happens if you keep going north of Mammoth, and you’d likely get blank stares.
For one, there is Mono Lake:
After the City of Los Angeles realized their initial water source of Owens River was not enough, the Department of Water and Power decided to keep moving north and divert the creeks that feed into Mono Lake back in the early 40s. While the diversion of the Owens River caused Owens Lake to dry up, environmentalists and citizens up there fought like hell and forced the DWP to not take all the water. Thus, we still get to see Mono Lake, although it’s nowhere near as deep as it was before the diversion began. But it’s still better than its all-time low in 1982.
This trip was a last-minute one for me. I didn’t know if I was going to do the trip during the Memorial Day weekend, but on Friday I finally decided to just do it. Here is the rough map of the trip:
You can zoom in the map and see pretty much the exact route I took. I left Saturday morning and got back home Monday morning driving just under 1,500 miles. It sounds very impressive, but mind you I was by myself only had to satisfy my own whims.
This is from Red Rock Canyon State Park on Highway 14 after you get past Lancaster and Palmdale. It was Saturday morning as I drove through this landscape that took my breath away. I had to pull over on the road to take pictures.
This was taken on Highway 395 just before you hit Manzanar looking up at the Eastern Sierras. Being in a drought these last five years, this image is truly remarkable and stunning. Usually by this time of the year, the passes going through the Eastern Sierras are open. But because of the tons of snow we got this winter, most of these passes are still closed.
One of the sad by-products of this road trip were all of the suicidal bugs. Here is an unfortunate butterfly that didn’t survive my nearly two-ton vehicle travelling around 75 mph.
Here is the part of Highway 395 after the turn before Susanville that keeps going north into Alturas and Modoc County. Like I said, it’s an obscure part of California. This trip made me realize I have to come back through these parts more often and discover more of what’s up here.
Since there were hardly any cars, I didn’t have problems with passing people through this leg of the journey. But the next day as I headed back south, I realized there are a lot of people who did not know how to pass on these two-lane roads. As I was on Highway 97 headed down to Weed to meet up with the I-5, I got caught up in a 10-car line where the front cars refused to pass a truck.
Here are some photos of Alturas. Most of these were taken at around 7 pm after I had gotten into town and checked into my motel. It’s a small town, so it wasn’t that hard to walk through Main Street.
The next morning I went over to the Lava Beds National Monument about 60 miles away. For all the road trips I take, this was the first time I saw actual deer: I saw one scampering off through the forest to my left; there were two just chilling to the right of me as I drove past.
To get to the visitor center, there is a rough road that you could barely call as being paved. It was like driving on a road that has been torn up for repaving. For a good 15 miles, that’s what I was driving on.
But it was worth it. Perhaps the best part of the visit was that despite it being Memorial Day weekend, there were only 15 cars in the parking lot when I got there at just before 9 am.
Because this was a last minute trip, I didn’t pack any hiking boots. So I had to make due with my Converse. In addition to hikes, there are caves that you can explore and go spelunking.
The Black Crater trail blew me away because the trail is on the lava. You can hear the hollowness with each step.
In addition to the geology, you learn about how the Modoc tribe fought the US government who was trying to give their land to farmers. They were actually successful for a while until infighting got them captured and sent to Oklahoma.
Since I’m also obsessed with man-made borders, I decided to head north and travel on Highway 161 which straddles the California-Oregon border before dippping into California and bordering the Lower Klamath Lake.
I headed down Highway 97 to the I-5 and went into Sacramento where I stopped by the Capitol. I’ve physically visited the Capitol buildings of Louisiana, Texas and Montana, but in the 30 years of living here in California, I have never seen the building.
So here it is.
I spent the night in Kingsburg just south of Fresno on Highway 99 (where apparently people feel perfectly content in driving in the passing lane.) And I got home the next morning beating all of that traffic.
That was my quick Memorial Day weekend roadtrip. 1500 miles. A lot of the places were new to me. So all in all, it was a success.
I know I must make it up to that part of California again.