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Three Nerds and a Big Honkin' Truck
1,200 Miles in Four Days
by Mark Helmlinger

California State Route 120 near Tioga Pass
Alpine Lake along California State Route 120 near Tioga Pass

Tioga Pass
An engineering marvel, the road over Tioga Pass is built on a scree slope

Bodie, California
Bodie -- not exactly a ghost town any more, and a lot less rowdy than it was in its heyday!

Next morning we took CSR-120 out of the park over Tioga Pass. It's one of the most beautiful roads anywhere. Evidence of glacial activity is all around as you cross the top of an enormous hardened granite bubble -- a batholith. On this road, amazing pictures will practically fall into your camera. Early morning light has its own magic to impart upon the landscape. We wound down Tioga Pass to the Sierra town of Lee Vining. You must downshift down this road, or burn up your brakes otherwise. Remember all the energy from the many gallons of gas you burned getting up to 9,000 feet is being converted into the frictional heating of your poor brakes! It's steep, because the entire eastern edge of the Sierras is moving upward at -- in geological terms -- a tremendous rate. The road cuts through a series of thrust faults.


We ate breakfast at the Whoa Nellie Deli in the Mobil station just west of the junction of US Highway 395 and SR-120. I highly recommend this culinary experience.

We then followed US-395 north to CSR-167 and then followed County Road 169, which is the southern road into Bodie State Park. It's a well-maintained gravel road with a great view of the Mono caldera. It's a fun drive! SUVs and cars didn't seem to have any problems, although it'd be a bit rough on the suspension of a sedan. Bodie was quite busy on this particular Sunday, so we did not hang around long. Bodie, a picturesque ghost town, is a well-loved and very informative outdoor museum. We took CSR-270 to the west out. It's almost entirely paved, and good gravel otherwise. No problem for cars.


Heading out of Bodie there are fantastic views of the glacier-carved Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west. The classic U-shape and moraines are like handwriting on the wall. Only ten to twenty thousand years ago, the climate of this planet was radically different. During the Ice Ages (of which there have been several) the winter snow did not completely melt away in the summer, and built up year after year.

We turned south down US-395, and took in a great view of Mono Basin from a well-placed roadside overlook just south of Conway Summit. We then visited the south shore of Mono Lake, via CSR-120. Nearby Navy Beach is BLM land, and some folks park there to avoid paying a use fee, but they have to walk a ways to the tufa formations. I do recommend the Mono Lake Visitors' Center, but we skipped it because it's possible to spend a great deal of time inside with the interesting displays, and we still had a ways to go.

Next: Hot Creek, Bishop, & Independence>

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Mark Helmlinger
August 7, 2005


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