July 17th, 2023
Here in June Lake, there is a lot of dispersed camping north of town and there were few campers so it was great. There are two forestry campgrounds but they do not offer serviced sites and no showers so we didn’t see the point of paying to camp when we have all we need. We found a little dead around with a large turn around area and got set up. We are at 2331 m / 7648 ’ so about 245m / 800’ higher than in Lee Vining and it’s supposed to be a bit cooler. And we got a T-Mobile signal that was slightly better than at the last place.
The town is cute, has lots of places to eat, a General Store, a brewery and more. The library opens from 1-6 on Tuesdays and we’d read on iOverlander that the signal is good outside the building too. Fran dropped off Doug there with a chair around ten in the morning.
She went over to the General Store to see if there was a laundromat in town (she knew there was one in nearby Carson Peak but hoped she would have to go that far if not necessary). She picked up a few groceries and while paying was told, no, the only one was in Carson Peak.
She drove over and the laundromat was on the main floor of a two story building with apartments on the upper level. It was pretty large and she got it all done in just about an hour. She returned to the library, found Doug sitting in the shade by the door, picked him up and we returned to the trailer to have our brunch. After eating, we returned to the library for the opening hour (librarian was late but at least she showed up).
Upon returning home around 5:15, it was a lovely temperature. Sure we’re up higher but it’s all become quite cloudy with the threat of rain (it did sprinkle a few times and again a bit more overnight. We didn’t even need fans last night. Woo hoo!
As the library doesn’t open till one again today, we spent the morning at home doing chores etc. and after we had brunch Fran walked into town to get her steps taking the back way with some great views:
Thursday we went into town early, sat by Gull Lake in the shade reading, Fran got her steps and found us a place to have pizza for lunch. Today the weather is clearer skies and slightly warmer but nothing unbearable – being up higher sure helps.
We spent the afternoon in the library once again.
Friday it began to heat up again; we went to the beach on June Lake mid-morning and it was very pleasant. We’d packed lunch and sat on the beach enjoying the view, reading, watching the families come by. So many people have or rent SUP’s and the lake is quite clear water. We thought it would be much colder due to snow melt but it wasn’t bad.
By midafternoon it was heating up considerably and the breeze died down. We returned home, turned on the AC via the gennies for a while and had another quiet night on the BLM lands.
Saturday morning Doug went for his long run and we packed up to head a tiny bit further south. We wanted to stop and see Obsidian Dome but it’s a dirt road that we weren’t sure th trailer could handle but lucky for us at the turn off the 395, there was a paved parking lot! Doug got us unhooked and we drove the few miles up the road to the “dome”. It’s more like a big pile of rock but at the parking area, there was a trail up and we begin to see obsidian right away.
We made it to the top and took a few more snapshots before heading back down.
We returned to the trailer, hooked back up and drove a few more miles to the Mammoth Lakes area. Fran found us a wild camp on the east side of the 395 and it’s less than four miles into town. The spot we were headed to was not suitable for the trailer but at the beginning of the dirt road there’s a large open area with several trees and we got parked in there. Doug unhooked us once again and had brunch before heading into town. Mammoth Lakes has a library with free Wi-Fi and a few grocery stores and we needed both.
Now the price of gasoline in California is high – well over $5 a gallon, sometimes $6. We found under $5 in Bishop which is our next destination but to be sure we have enough for the gennies if we have to run our AC, we stopped at get a couple of gallons at the Shell.
First we checked to see if the Vons was open on Sunday (it was so we’ll wait a day to shop) and then we spent a few hours in the library. Doug has finished his nutrition project but now we’re planning our return to Greece in September – we’re doing the islands with our friends, Christine and Mark as well as going to Crete and then Cyprus before returning to France. So there are some logistics to work out.
Our spot near Mammoth:
That night a few other camper vans joined us at around our “spot” and we all had a quiet night. Sunday morning we went into town to first check out the mountain itself; due to all the snow this part of California had last winter they are STILL skiing here at Mammoth Lakes – this is the last week though and we could see why. (pic at the top of this post is of the parking area near the main lodge).
There were plenty of vehicles up at this area and lots people carrying skis and snow boards – many guys with no shirts on too.
There are two grocery stores in town we discovered on our way through and we parked at the Grocery Outlet and then Doug walked back to our camp while Fran shopped. She couldn’t find everything she needed so then she hit the Vons before going back. We had our brunch and had a quiet afternoon all alone as everyone else had departed this morning.
Around our campsite:
That night a couple of others arrived, including a van we’d noticed last night, but in all, not as many as the night before. Before heading to Bishop we had a few spots we wanted to check out that were not too far from our camp spot.
The first was Hot Creek Geological Site
Hot Creek is a place to marvel at geology in action. It’s like a mini Yellowstone. Boiling water bubbling up from the creek bed, fumaroles and periodic geyser eruptions at Hot Creek attest to the chamber of hot magma which lies about three miles below the surface of the earth in this area.
The steam you see along the Hot Creek drainage is created when water percolates deep into the ground and enters a complex underground plumbing system. The water is heated and pressurized before it rises to the earth’s surface. It is believed this journey takes around 1000 years.
This was pretty cool and you can only view it from the overlook unless you are hiking the canyon/river area. Swimming and access is not permitted.
As you can’t get that close from the lookout, here’s a video
Now we’d heard about “hot pools” around the Mammoth Lakes area and wanted to see what they were like. Fran found a few of the “best around” and we checked out two.
The first, Crab Cooker Hot Springs – was cold! It’s not very big and the water was rather murky looking. It was beside a large cow pasture and not all that enticing.
Then we checked out Rock Tub Hot Springs and it was much nicer looking and better set up BUT while the water was clearer and about bathtub warm, the bottom and sides were quite slimy looking so we didn’t go in that one either.
Neither of these is very large – 2-4 people, maybe six if you want to get real cosy!
We returned to the trailer, hooked up and began the short drive to Bishop. On Friday Fran afternoon, Fran had called the fairgrounds RV park to ask a couple of questions. From their website, it looked as though the main RV section with full hookups was unavailable but the site said there were over 100 sites with just power and water. While driving to Bishop they called her back and advised that actually if we only wanted a site for one week, there was one available! Sold! We just needed to show up before 4 to do the paperwork and pay.
A few days ago, we noticed that the rear tires on the trailer were wearing on the inside and wanted to get this looked at but hadn’t been in a town large enough to have a tire place so Bishop was the plan. First we went to get gas at $4.69 a gallon and then we drove to a tire place. What Doug wanted to do was just flip the tires so the wearing side was on the outside and then next year, we’d deal with replacing the tires. The fellow there would not do this so we moved on to Simpson Tire. That fellow was willing to do it but once they removed a tire, it was way worse that it looked, especially on one tire and he said we’d need new tires now. He did not have the tire in stock but he called around and a place about a mile down the road actually had two and they were the correct weight rating (D).
While this was all being done, Fran walked over to the fairgrounds and got our site paid for, got the bathroom block code and wifi access, and learned which one we would have. It’s not fancy, nor pretty but it’s $210 for a week with clean bathrooms/showers and full hook ups. IT’s HOT here in Bishop with highs of 38C / 100F and we want to be comfy. From here we’ll do a day trip into Death Valley, maybe see a movie and just chill before we head north again.
We drove over there and they confirmed they had them in but we’d have to wait about two hours before they could fit us in. Now we are not happy replacing these in California due to the expected high cost, but we need to be safe.
We left the tire shop and went to get some breakfast and some wifi. For some reason, here in Bishop, even though our phones are showing 4 bars of 5G, we cannot get online! We did discover if we were on the outskirts of town, like at the second tire shop or on the south side of town, it worked! We do not understand.
We returned to Bishop Automotive at 2:15 and were shown where to park. While removing the second tire from its rim, they discovered the rim was bent. We have NO idea how that happened but luckily they had one in stock although of a different design and colour (ours our gray, this new one was white). The manager suggested we use the new rim on the spare and put the spare’s rim on the new tire we were having installed. Great idea and the best surprise was the price for all this; Doug had expected close to $500 but it was $353 all in so not as bad as we expected for California.
So by 3:50 pm we were done and drove over to our campsite. We got settled, turned on the AC, went for hot showers and then had an ice cold beer.
It’s HOT here – we are down at 1267 m / 4157 ‘ and the highs are around 40C / over 100F. Yes, it’s a dry heat but it’s still hot. This is the reason we got a full service site: ability to run the AC. We will stay here the week, take care of a few things, Doug will do a long walk and we’ll do a couple of day trips.
We have been chatting with Christine and Mark about our Greek Island trip in September and have booked one of our flights; on Tuesday, Fran booked our ferries and our second flight and first hotel in Mykonos. So we’re getting there.
Wednesday, Fran went to do laundry and then went for a pedi. Thursday, Doug did a marathon walk leaving early to avoid some of the heat.
That night we took in the new Mission Impossible movie at the local theatre. We both enjoyed it.
Bishop is a decent sized town amenity wise; three large grocery stores, several gas stations, some touristy shops, lots of hotels/motels, restaurants and the like.
Friday, we took a day trip to Death Valley. We have been there several times but have not seen it all. We had a route in mind but were not sure how long it would take due to road conditions, closures and dirt roads. We packed lots of liquids, some snacks and an overnight bag, just in case. Our plan for lunch was to stop before leaving Bishop a the “famous” Eric Shat’s bakery to pick up some fresh sandwiches and dessert.
After picking up lunch we made our way south towards Big Pine on the 395 and turned off at the 168 to enter Death Valley from the north, which we’ve never done.
The temperature was 18C / 64F at 7am when we left Bishop. We climbed up to 2316m / 7600′ and lost cell service before reaching the park. The road to the park was paved but upon crossing the boundary, it turned to gravel with several wash outs. By 8am the temp was 27C / 80F.
Why is it called Death Valley? Death Valley was given its forbidding name by a group of pioneers lost here in the winter of 1849-1850. Even though, as far as we know, only one of the group died here, they all assumed that this valley would be their grave.
Death Valley National Park Facts
- Death Valley is the lowest point in America. Badwater Basin, which is situated at 86m / 282′ below sea level, is not only the lowest point in the U.S., but in all of North America.
- Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous U.S.
- The park has its own airport at Furnace Creek
- Death Valley has the tallest dune in North America – Eureka Dunes. They rise over 207m / 680′ from base to summit. These amazing dunes stretch about 3 miles long and 1 mile wide.
- Death Valley has its own castle.
- Death Valley holds the record as being the hottest place on earth. On July 10, 1913, a temperature of 134°F was measured at Furnace Creek.
- Death Valley was featured in the first Star Wars film.
Our first stop was Eureka Dunes (see info above) and we were down to 792 m / 2600’.
We parked in the empty campground that has pit toilets, tables and fire rings and walked over to get into the sand on the dune – we did not climb it – it was going to be far too hot for hiking today – but was so cool to be “on it”.
By the time we leave the dunes, it was 32C / 90F. We had a bit more paved road through a pass and then it was dirt for a long way with some rough wash outs. We rose to 1707 m / 5600’ again and then back down. By this time, we’ve not met a single soul since leaving the 395. By 10 am it was 36C / 97F and fifteen minutes later we hit 38C / 100F.
We are back on the paved roads of the park and at 10: 33 we saw our first people in three test cars (you know when the first test out new vehicles in remote places to put them through the paces). Five minutes later, our first passenger car.
When we reached 152C / 500’ above sea level, it was 42C / 108F at 10:48 am; by eleven it was 44 C / 112!
We were getting hungry so we decided to take a short detour towards the entrance to Titus Canyon. The road itself is one way and we’ve done it a few times but the start is at the other end and it’s currently closed due to road damage over the winter from snow runoff. We had the place to ourselves! We found a spot in the shade and had lunch .
After lunch we headed west and reached -3m / -10’ in altitude and it reached 45C / 114F and a little bit later the truck thermometer said 47C / 117F!
Although we’d been drinking a great deal, we wanted something really cold now and stopped at the General Store in Stovepipe Wells where their thermometer read 50.8C / 123.4F!!!!! This is the hottest we’ve every experienced without humidex (it’s way too dry here for that!).
Just after we departed the store, we came across this sign:
No way, Jose!! It’s far too hot – we have been watching the engine heat and the Tundra handled the drive very well.
We then took a detour off the main road to drive a road we’ve never done passed the Wildrose Campground – it’s very windy and at times you’re in a canyon. Here we rose up to 1067 m / 3500’ and the temperature dropped to 42C / 100F. At one point near the beginning of the road we came across about 8 wild donkeys:
We then took the turn to Panamint Spring and before exiting the park, stopped at Father Crowley’s Overlook of Rainbow Valley aka the Star Wars Valley.
Here we were at 1707m / 5600’ and could see the road below. The temperature had dropped to 34C / 94F.
We exited the park and made our way to the nearby mining town of Darwin.
Darwin sits at an elevation of 1460 m / 4,790’. The population was 43 at the 2010 census, down from 54 at the 2000 census. (The sign now says “50 or so”).
It is named after Darwin French of Fort Tejon and was with a party of prospectors in the area during the fall of 1850. French also led a party into Death Valley in 1860 to search for the mythical Gunsight Lode via the local wash, lending his first name to the wash, canyon, and future town.
Silver and lead discovery at the place led to the founding of a settlement in 1874. A post office opened in 1875, closed for a time in 1902, and remains open. The town prospered when Eichbaum Toll Road opened in 1926, opening Death Valley from the west. When Death Valley became a National Monument in 1933, it was decided to buy the toll road to allow free access to the new park. In 1937, a new cutoff bypassed Darwin, isolating the town.
The town was the subject of a 2011 documentary film Darwin. In April 2012, BBC News featured a video of local residents describing their wishes to replace dial-up Internet access with broadband. The district has produced over $29 million in lead, silver, zinc, tungsten, and copper.
The mine seems to be operational and the town itself is mostly just old decapitated homes and lots of RV’s and travel trailers where we figure the workers live. There are NO services at all; no gas or shops.
Now we begin the drive back to the 395 to Bishop. The only stop we made was in Lone Pine at a gas station for more drinks and to get a good view of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48. It stands 4421m / 14, 505’ tall and is in the Sierra Nevada range.
Here’s our shots:
and with Fran in front (mountain on the left of her):
and here’s one from the US Forest Service:
We were home by about 3pm, so much sooner than we expected but it was nice to get “home” to our own beds.
This morning, since we weren’t sure we’d be back, we’d turn off the AC and closed all the windows and curtains. Inside the trailer it was 42C / 108Fand 40C /x 104F outside! It took several hours to cool down.