Planned another jaunt up one of our favorite roadways, U.S Route 395. Starting in southern California at the junction of Interstate 15, the 395 runs along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas in the Owens Valley, dipping into Nevada near Carson City and Reno and then back into California and on up through Oregon and Washington. We've never driven up any farther than Reno, but the California section alone is wonderful, that is if you're not in a hurry. Lots of small towns, tons of natural hot springs and some damn pleasant scenery.
Spent a few days after Christmas out at my pop's ranch and figured we'd take the long way home by driving through Death Valley to the 395, thus meeting up with it further south than we did the last time. The road between searchligh, Nv and Nipton, Ca (Hwy 164) cuts through a forest of old growth Joshua trees. Not sure why, but its named Wee Thump Joshua Tree.
Cut into Death Valley after a slight detour to Baker to see the world's largest thermometer which, sadly, wasn't nearly as impressive as we'd remembered from those sweet days of youth, just sort of tall and ugly. Bun Boy seems to be gone as well, unless he's hidden somewhere behind the myriad of chain restaurants that now make up the town.
Hadn't been to Death Valley in a long time either and it was nice to see they haven't commercialized the hell out of it. Its definitely got its share of tourists, but still feels vast and wild.
Especially with the occasional coyote walking about.
Badwater, the lowest point in the U.S., sits at 282 feet below sea level.
Didn't fully realize how huge the valley is and didn't get up the other side until sunset. Next time we'll spend a few days and really explore. Even in winter there were a million people in the campgrounds, but there are so many relics of pioneering, old mines and natural formations to explore, it seems like it'd be worth it.
Another hour or so and we met up with the 395 just below Lone Pine.
Got totally hypnotized by the awesome neon signs of small town Lone Pine. Though the downtown was only a few blocks long it seemed like every business had one, and none of them looked any less than 40 years old. The promise of a 24 hour hot tub lured us to the Dow Villa Motel which turned out to be a lucky choice as we were given a room in the historic part, the Dow Hotel, built in the early 1920's and home to John Wayne when he was filming in the Alabama Hills behind town.
Dinner at Margie's Merry-Go-Round turned out to be another fantastic idea. Filet Mignon and twice baked potato for two.
It still being early, we opted for a drink at the Double L bar a few doors down. Within the first ten minutes we were treated to the sight of Cindy the bartendress besting a rather tipsy man named Dave at arm wrestling (not once, but twice) and the same gentleman buying the entire bar a round of drinks. Much to our delight we found this buying a round for the bar to be a common theme throughout the night, no small feat considering there were at least 20 people there.
We also met Perry, an English expat who was on his twice-annual visit to the area with his friend Jerry, both of whom were huge film buffs (mostly westerns and noirs from the 40's, so we got along famously). We'd had no idea in stopping there that Lone Pine was so historical, but apparently the Alabama Hills were used in the filming of quite a few movies from the 20's through the 50's (many of them westerns with John Wayne) including "Gunga Din", "High Sierra" and "The Lone Ranger" TV series. There's a even a museum dedicated to Lone Pine's film history and a Lone Pine Film Festival. Perry seemed slightly shocked that we'd attempt to chew and swallow a perfectly good five dollar bill.
Perry also had a collection of Morgan silver dollars from 1921 and a .45 back in the hotel room, which he very smartly wouldn't let us fire.
The Double L in the light of day.
We're reasonably sure that these are the Alabama Hills, though given our state that morning we may have been all turned around backwards. Couldn't hardly touch breakfast at the Alabama Hills Cafe, even though the plate was gigantic and the biscuits and gravy were delicious. Nothing to do but head north a few miles for a soak in Keough Hot Ditch.
Warm water takes the edge off nicely.
There must be at least six or seven pools right in the area, as we were able to count five of them without just standing in one spot. The best part is that they're huge by hot springs standards and spaced out enough that once you're sitting in the water you can't see anyone who's not in the same pool as you. Or, more aptly, they can't see you.
They even had a nice gravely bottom and ridiculously clear water for a natural hot spring.
Back on the road we passed through Bishop and had to stop for the best beef jerky ever.
Yep, we spent almost thirty dollars on jerky and it was worth every penny, especially since it constituted at least two meals when paired with smoked cheese and pepperocinis.
Stopped off at Travertine hot springs just before Bridgeport, where the hot water flows out of these crazy travertine formations on the hillside into small silty pools. Yes, we know what it looks like, just keep your filthy minds to yourselves.
Basked in the silty warmth until the sun started for behind the hills, then dressed as quickly as possible and booked to the car. Wish we could just sleep in there like it was a bathtub.
Made it up to Carson City and stopped for the night. Hadn't noticed it before, but the northern end of town is pretty neat, with old motels and the city hall and government buildings (Carson City being the capital of Nevada). Dropped $3.95 for a bowl of spaghetti at the Nugget's coffee shop and called it a night.
Our room at the Downtowner may have been the cheapest I've ever stayed in (in both senses of the word), second only to the late great Gates Hotel that used to reside at the corner of Ellis and Cyril Magnin. At least we got a heater and a picture of Mickey Rooney.
And a view of the Masonic Lodge across the street.
Spent a few hour thrifting in Carson City, then turned east on the 50, passing by Lake Tahoe with nary a cloud in sight, a far cry from our last venture over this pass. Dropped in at the Army Navy Surplus in Placerville, where Frankie got a sweet tooled leather wallet for one of his Christmas presents and somebody else copycatted and bought the same straw fedora he'd picked up there last year. Funny to realize you've been coveting a hat for a whole year.
Back across the bay we were treated to a glorious skyline homecoming.
Old bluey even felt the magic and didn't crap out til a block before the house. Woo hoo, maybe luck is on our side after all.
Road trip time? Death Valley Nat'l Park is east of Hwy 395 along the border of California and Nevada. (As we may have mentioned, the 395 runs north from I-15 , through the Owens River Valley.) Keough Hot Ditch is off the Highway between the towns of Lone Pine and Bishop and Travertine Hot Srings are just south of Bridgeport. There are literally dozens of natural hot springs off the 395 and we found Matt Bischoff's book Touring California and Nevada Hot Springs to be very helpful, both on this trip and in general.