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The Road Home
updated: Sep 11, 2010, 8:30 AM
Photo credit: Bristlecone pine tree photo by Sharon Dirlam
Itinerary: Tahoe to Bishop to Mojave to Lancaster to Santa Barbara.
The road home from a trip has a strange fascination. You have thoughts: "Gee, I'm only one state from home". Or, "Hm, I'll probably never see this burg again". Or, "Fillmore has sure changed since the old days".
I hadn't driven home from Tahoe in years, and it was fun, in an odd way - a rather weary way.
The road home from Tahoe for Santa Barbarians is about 510 miles on the eastern approach, across the burning sands. We found that it feels much farther when the drivers are on the downhill slope age-wise.
Leaving Tahoe via the eastern passages is most pleasant, offering great scenery on either Hwy 207, which, like Tioga Pass out of Yosemite is a bit like sliding down the edge of the Earth, or Hwy 50, around the Nevada shore and on down to Hwy 395. This Rte 50 is (now) very nicely paved and smoothly sloping to Nevada ranch land.
It was too early for fatigue to set in, on a bright, cool summer morning, one traveler driving, the other leaning back and enjoying the slopes of the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. (Please, they are not the "Sierras," plural. Let's give a nod to the Spanish part of our heritage. Sierra Nevada means "snowy mountains," with the adjective second and Sierra related to saw teeth, like serrated. Very apt.)
The first hours' worth of miles or so into California are interesting and pleasantly varied, with cattle, wooded slopes … But everyone knows all this.
Frequent travelers to Mammoth Lakes, and there are many in Santa Barbara - travelers, not lakes - will rave about several stops:
1) The Whoa Nellie Deli at the foot of the Tioga Pass drop-off, corner of Hwys 395 and 120. It's hidden inside the only gas station at this oasis.
2) The Bristlecone Pine Forest, winding 20 miles or so into the mountains south of Lone Pine;
3) In the spring, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, near Lancaster. Flower viewing requires a bit of a detour behind and around Lancaster, but the poppies are well worth it. These inspiring fields of brilliant orange may be the only attraction Lancaster offers, give or take a few Joshua trees, already endangered by rapacious "manunkind" (e.e. cummings).
4) The Manzanar War Relocation Center, between Lone Pine and Independence. Talk about Manunkind, these camps being part of our WW II shame. My Japanese-American dentist, Dr. Victor Kato of Oxnard, said people did a wonderful job of installing the memorial museum a few years ago. During the war years, Victor and his family were "relocated" to a similar camp in Northern California. He recently visited the new memorial.
The much written-about Tioga Gas Mart / Whoa Nellie Deli offers prepackaged sandwiches, which are pretty much like every other pre-wrapped deli sandwich you've ever eaten. I'm told the sit-down meals there are very good, very large and a very "good deal". The timing was wrong for us.
The little joint is inside a slightly larger joint, a typical truck-stop gas station/store. Throw in decent coffee and clean restrooms and you've got a fine highway stop, the more welcome because it means you survived the road that falls, rather abruptly, off the edge of the High Sierra.
The bristle cone pines are more interesting, but require driving a sometimes-tedious road way up yonder to the east. (Don't share this! It's been written that "the government" in our sick world doesn't advertise the location in order to prevent vandalism.)
The ancient trees, high up and across the plain from the stony high Sierra Nevada, are worth the visit. Imagine: Some of these plants were living at the time of Christ.
Older people especially might relate to the pines, which manage to draw just enough water and chemicals to survive in their sandy, unfriendly environment. It's a small, sparse forest, but beautiful in its craggy, stubborn, peeled-bark, serene way. People have also said that about me.
But you've heard enough of this, maybe too much. No more about Castaic, Piru . . . Piru! Now THERE'S a story. Huell Houser did one, but that doesn't prove anything because he doesn't say much after, "Gollee . . . do yew mean to say . . ."
Piru? Hello? It's a few farm laborers' cottages and a small man-made lake. I used to say it's the kind of place where killers throw the bodies . . . and some guy from L.A. area did just that recently! He burned his wife's body in a fire pit. Hopefully weenie cookers in Piru didn't read that story. But maybe they're used to it, and it's hard to make supermarket weenies taste any worse.
This metropolis, outlanders might need to know, is followed by Fillmore, Santa Paula, Ventura, Rincon and Carpinteria, Santa Barbara's back yard . . .
But it's time to go somewhere else. Ciao for now.
2010-09-12 05:42 PM
Some of the bristlecones are much older than Jesus. The Santorini volcano in 1628 B.C. made a world-wide ash cloud that lowered temperatures for a couple of years. Tree rings of older pines show minimal growth at this date. They also accurately date historical eruptions of Vesuvius and Etna as well as Tambura and Krakatoa more recently.
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