Once out of Death Valley, the hottest place on earth, we quickly headed high up into the mountains and into some very different scenery. In the morning we were below sea-level amongst salt flats and white sand, by the evening we were 8,000 feet or so in amongst trees and a whole lot cooler. We started to see beware of the bears road signs almost straight away, as we skirted around the edge of King’s Canyon National Park and the Sierra National Forest. We were on a bear hunt, secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of one of those awesome brown not-so-cuddly creatures that a girl living in Lincolnshire only reads about in books or sees on a David Attenborough show.
The signs didn’t actually say “beware of the bears”. It wasn’t like they were warning you against getting your hand bitten off when posting junk mail through a letterbox in a health and safety kind of way. They were designed to try and prevent cars and trucks from hitting and killing bears, as they often wandered into the roads, and in the National Parks were placed where bears had recently been struck – and there were lots of them. I did think that if you were to run over a bear and didn’t actually kill it, you’d make it so mad!
There were also signs saying that it is illegal to leave food in your car, explaining that you had to put it in one of the bear safes provided. These were large metal containers with difficult to open doors on latches that humans could manage but bear paws were not designed to open. Otherwise the bears will happily break into your car to steal a pic-anic-a basket. (Apologies.) The litter bins were also bear-proof. Poor Yogi.
Mammoth Lakes is a Californian mountain resort good for skiing in winter and mountain biking in summer. We saw loads of people washing their mountain bikes and dirt bikes (in communal washing areas – great idea), they were obviously having a fun time on the trails while we were riding across from Las Vegas. In the evening we walked the mile or so from the hotel up to the Village Square and main gondola to have a look around, and it looks like the kind of ski resort we would like. There was live music, fresh popcorn stands (the biggest bags of popcorn I’ve ever seen), restaurants and shops – it had a fabulous atmosphere even in the middle of summer. I must give an honourable mention to Toomey’s, the restaurant we ate at that evening – the sliders were so good and the “World’s Greatest Carrot Cake” was indeed the best we’ve eaten, and also the largest. Is it bad when a massive slice of cake sticks in your mind as a holiday highlight?
“The World’s Greatest Carrot Cake” at Toomey’s, Mammoth Lakes
The following morning we left Mammoth Lakes and headed to June Lake, a trip down memory lane for our tour guide Jeff as he had camped and fished there as a child. The June Lake Loop, most of which is closed during the winter, is a really pretty winding road that passes June Lake, Silver Lake and Grant Lake, surrounded by mountains and with plenty of waterfalls, camp grounds and fishing spots. It might have only been a few miles long but it was a diversion off the main road that I was so glad we took – we stopped a few times and enjoyed the scenery. But there were no bears.
Grant Lake, California
I saw on twitter the other day that the Tioga Pass is currently closed due to snow. This road, which is one of the routes into Yosemite National Park, is closed for a considerable number of weeks each year due to the weather. It was this that dictated the dates we went over for our Motorcycle Tour –we wanted to ride it, and so had to go when we knew it would definitely still be open. We had stopped at a gas station and general store (the Whoa Nellie Delli, awesome name for a sandwich shop, and the biggest roast beef salad sandwiches I’ve ever seen) to buy some lunch and a bit later sat at a picnic table overlooking Ellery Lake to eat it – it was warm, sunny, the water was blue, the grass was green, the mountains were white, it was perfect.
Ellery Lake, on the Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is simply one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. The combination of winding mountain passes and awesome scenery was inspiring, and I smiled constantly. We continued along the Tioga Pass, reaching 9,945 feet above sea level at our highest point, before coming across Tenaya Lake, my new favourite place in the world (it was Inch Beach, Ireland, which is now a very close second). The lake was deep blue in colour and was surrounded by snow-capped mountains that were the start of waterfalls flowing down the rock. There was a beautiful white sandy beach on one side and there were people relaxing on and off the water. If I wasn’t in all my bike gear I’d have been in that lake for a swim, or in the inflatable canoe sat on the beach just waiting for a willing paddler to get in, it looked so inviting – I’ve added “swim in Tenaya Lake” to my bucket list and have every intention of going back there sometime to do just that.
Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park – my new favourite place in the world
The road continued to wind along for another 40 or so miles before we reached our lodgings at El Portal, where signs of bear activity were as obvious as ever – high fencing around the patio areas and strict warnings not to leave food or drink outside your room as it would attract unwanted guests. Tempting, yes, but don’t worry we weren’t that desperate to see a bear right outside our bedroom window. I was looking around all the time, squinting through the trees, peering into the undergrowth, wanting to catch a glimpse of a big brown Paddington.
Merced River, El Portal, Yosemite National Park – this was the view from our hotel room, I peered and peered into the trees just in case there was a bear to be seen
Not content with how much of Yosemite we’d explored the whole group headed back into the National Park to see the famous Half Dome and waterfalls, riding along those fabulous winding roads a few more times for good measure. We even headed back into the Park the following morning before heading out towards the Pacific Coast, just to make sure we would remember what was so lovely about this place.
Our bear hunt might not have been fruitful, but I did fall in love with Yosemite and this part of California none-the-less. My introduction to mountain lakes and how beautiful they are was one that will always stick in my mind. We will be back. I just hope it’s soon.
Read the Wild West Series
- Part 1 – Going Guided
- Part 2 – Fat Boys and Softails
- Part 3 – The Hottest Place on Earth
- Part 4 – Movie Set Scenery
- Part 5 – We’re All Going on a Bear Hunt
- Part 6 – One Day in San Francisco
- Part 7 – The Sea is Still There