Eastern Sierra 2016

• Saturday, October 22, 2016

My parents needed a mini vacation and wanted to see some local fall colors, so I planned a last minute weekend trip to the Eastern Sierras. It is only half a days drive away from where we are in East LA County. We left on Thursday morning and came back Sunday evening.

DAY 1/// Bishop/South Lake Road/Rock Creek Road/Mammoth

We took windy CA-15 and the, at times boring first stretch, I-395. We left around 7:30 and got to Bishop right about lunch time. First, we stopped by the Bishop Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center for local maps and confirmation of areas with fall colors sightings. The gentleman at the visitor center was super helpful and very patient, especially with everyone coming in to ask the same thing this time of year.

We then grabbed lunch at Holy Smoke Texas Style BBQ just across the street from the visitor center. The place had a nice laid back atmosphere and a good meaty menu. Schat's Bakkery (also across the street) is a good choice too. It is a famous bakery with very heavy lunch-hour foot traffic.
Mom and I shared a Texan taco. We chose brisket and it came with coleslaw on cornbread. We also ordered a side of mac n' cheese.
After lunch, we headed towards CA-168 a few blocks back south off I-395. CA-168 runs along Bishop Creek and leads to Lake Sabrina. Before reaching Lake Sabrina, there is a turn-off called South Lake Road that takes you to South Lake (On Instagram, I see this road geotagged as the south fork of Bishop Creek). We heard the leaves around Lake Sabrina were after peak so we only drove down South Lake Road.

Along South Lake Road (October 6, 2016).
After driving back to Bishop and gasing up, we got back on I-395 but turned on to Rock Creek Road in search of more fall colors.

Somewhere on Upper Creek Road (October 6, 2016)
Then we headed toward Mammoth. We stopped at the visitor center there to get a local map to find our way to our resort, since phone data was spotty in the mountains. We also asked about the shuttle service to the Devil's Postpile/Rainbow Falls trailhead. The rep at the center told us that we can drive directly to the trailhead as the shuttle season is over. I gathered after awhile that the whole Sierra region prepares for winter at the end of September: shuttles/gondolas stop, ranger stations and sites close, weather equipments are checked and repaired. Snow might come any time and smaller roads would not get immediately cleared.

We checked in to Juniper Springs Resort which we booked through Groupon. Accommodation in the Eastern Sierras isn't cheap. There are daily resort fees and sometimes separate parking fees. The consolation is that most hotel-type accommodations have kitchens and ours came stocked with all the utensils and cookware we may need.

That evening, we had our hearts set on ramen. But when we found Ramenya, a sign on the door said it was closed for the month! We ended up eating at Good Life Cafe. This restaurant is not very eye-catching, sitting in the corner of a sleepy strip mall. The menu had a good variety. The food wasn't fancy, was very homey but exceeded expectations. My mom and I shared the Shrimp Scampi pasta and it was the best non-red sauce pasta that I ever had. I usually do not like non-red sauce pastas but I really enjoyed this one. We also loved the local Golden Trout Pilsner.

DAY 2/// Devils Postpile/Rainbow Falls/Mono Lake South Tufa/June Lake Scenic Loop/Mammoth

We headed over to the trailhead around 7:30. I thought I did my research but the drive to the trailhead was longer than I expected. When we turned off the main road, the kiosk at the entrance was closed with a sign that said we can pay on our way out. Beyond that point, it was a drive down a one lane dirt road for what seemed like forever before we got to the parking lot at the trailhead. There was no one else there save three men working on weather equipment. I confirmed with one of these men that I could park there and asked another one what to do if I saw bears. He assured me it was unlikely I would.

The walk to the Devil's Postpile monument was a easy 0.4 miles from the parking lot, as all the hiking sites and the provided trail map attest to.  The walk to the falls is an additional 2.1 miles. It was really cool to see Devil's Postpile. I had to write a report on it in the 4th grade and rememberi having a hard time finding info on it pre-internet. To see it in real life was like meeting a friend I had only ever corresponded with.

Devil's Postpile Monument
The rest of the trail felt longish. There were lots of chipmunks and bluejays along the way. Thankfully there were no bears, just a fat coyote. We took lots of pictures as we do wherever we travel and got to Rainbow Falls around 10. Rainbow Falls has two platforms from which to view it or you can take the steps down to the bottom of the falls. We were there for no more than 10 minutes when other hikers started to appear. We slowly made our way back to our car, overtaken by many better hikers. We even saw a fully geared hunter looking for bucks but only seeing does.

A fat coyote along the trail. Definitely not a wolf.
A chipmunk with something in its cheeks.
Some sights along the trail (October 7, 2016).
Rainbow Falls From second view point.
My mom towards the end of our hike.
We got back to the hotel, and after a quick lunch of instant noodles we headed out again. We drove to the Mono Lake Visitor Center. This is a large forest service center with educational displays and a gift shop inside. You can pick up your National Parks pass here so my dad got his senior pass! After talking to the ranger, we headed towards South Tufa back down off I-395. The 2-lane road turns onto a gravel road before ending in the parking lot. It was a short walk to the edge of Mono Lake and the other-worldly calcium carbonate formations in that part of the lake.

Landscape around South Tufa.
Mono Lake South Tufa and the calcium carbonate formations due to underground springs.
After the visit to South Tufa, we drove the June Lake Scenic Loop which passes by 4 lakes: Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake, and June Lake. We also drove the Mammoth scenic road back to Mammoth.

Somewhere on June Lake Loop (October 7, 2016).
For dinner, we were originally going to drive further to the Restaurant at Convict Lake but ended up staying in Mammoth. We ate at Campo, an Italian restaurant. Dad got the daily pork plate but he didn't love it. Mom and I shared a beet salad and the Prosciugula Pizza. The beet salad was too strong in goat cheese flavor but the pizza was amazing. The arugula on the pizza was heated and salted. The flavors were interesting and paired really well together.

The beet salad at Campo.
Prosciuga Pizza at Campo.
DAY 3/// Route 89//Lake Tahoe River Cruise//Overnight in Tahoe

The next morning was all about getting to South Lake Tahoe in time for our Lake Cruise but hopefully also seeing some sights along our drive. Instead of taking I-395 all the way to Tahoe, we turned onto CA-89 right before reaching Lake Topaz. This was my favorite part of the drive. It felt like we turned into a corner of the world that was unoccupied where there were hidden heights and meadows. Then soon after, the landscape drastically changed to a winding river-side road inside a canyon in perpetual shadow.

A vista towards the southern part Route 89, above Lake Topaz.

A meadow along Route 89 (October 8, 2016).
Once we reached the outskirts of South Lake Tahoe, we stopped by Getaway Cafe for some take-out lunch. We ordered a Beef Dip and a BLT.  Once we got our food, we got back on the road towards the MS Dixie II Lake Cruise. This tour had sold out fast. When I was hesitating about which time slot to book, the morning/afternoon tours sold out. Only the noon and dinner cruises were left. I decided on the noon tour but had to rush a little to get to there on time. The parking area was a little hard to find as the company tells you to board at the Zephyr Cove Marina. If you're looking on google maps, turn in at the Zephyr Cove Resort.

Though we booked online, we still had to check in half an hour before at the kiosk to exchange for real tickets. We parked at 11:20 and gulped down our lunch (which was very good, by the way) before getting in line. The boat ended up quite crowded with all sit-able places taken. It's no wonder it felt so crowded when it has a capacity of 599!

The cruise took us straight to Emerald Bay where we circle around Fannette Island and saw the cove with Vikingsholm. Other than that, the ride felt too long. Everyone was restless on the way back.

Fannette Island in Emerald Bay
Vikingsholm as seen from the cruise boat.
After our cruise, we checked into the Coachman Hotel. This is a glorified motel that opened earlier this year. It is similar to The Basecamp Hotel nearby. There are no elevators to the second floor, no telephones inside the rooms, and one person at the bar who doubles as the barista, the receptionist, and room service. Mom described this hotel as "for young people." The hotel itself is located two blocks from the busiest stretch of South Lake Tahoe right by the State Line. It is also two blocks away from the private Lakeside Beach. I think the room was overpriced for what we got, but then every hotel/motel in the area is expensive as the occupancy rates are high.
Kids soaking their feet in the frigid water of Lakeside Beach.
For dinner we went to Himmel Haus. It is a German themed restaurant with lots of beers, but unfortunately none local. It is right off a ski lift and would be great in the winter after time on the slopes. The decor inside is of a German drinking hall. We got a salad and the sausage platter to share.
The sausage platter Himmel Haus.
DAY 4/// Sacramento/E. LA County

We had breakfast at Ernie's Coffee Shop before heading home. I chose it because it opens very early. It seems to be very popular with locals and the waiter knew many by name. The food wasn't extraordinary, but it was hearty classic breakfast food. We had the choice of driving back via the same I-395, or CA99 or I-5. These routes are comparable in distance and time so I chose CA-99. I had to take CA-50 to Sacramento first so we stopped by the capitol building for some pictures. It was my first time being in the capitol city of my state. The mature tree lined streets made Sacramento feel real capitol-like!

Coffee at Ernie's Coffee Shop.
Capital Building in Sacramento.
We stopped at Bravo Farms for lunch and a bathroom break at Patch Fruit Stand before changing onto the I-5. Both places were bleh in my opinion. If I could have a do-over, I would stop at the Sun-Maid Market instead. We got back home around 5 or so. It was a nice 4-day getaway to see our beautiful state and to enjoy the season. 

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