Exploring Lake Tahoe and the Eastern Sierras

Last week I wrote all about my family’s adventures through California Gold Country, the region of the state lying just west of the Sierra Nevada’s. We discovered a beautiful area rich in history but were also eager to discover the Eastern side of the mountain range. Luckily, we did just that as we made our way south to return home.

After leaving the Grass Valley/Nevada City area we headed east along highway 80 through a mountainous forested area. It was absolutely beautiful and we had to stop at a vista point to take in the view.

It was absolutely breathtaking.

As we made our way through the Donner Pass we made sure to stop at Donner Memorial State Park.

The park marks the area the ill fated Donner party attempted to wait out the winter of 1846. An onsite museum tells their story and outside is the historic memorial to the pioneers. It was a sobering place to visit that served as an all important reminder of the furies of nature and what can happen to those who are ill prepared to face it.

After we cross the Sierras we made our way south to Lake Tahoe stopping for the night in the town of South Lake Tahoe.

The next morning, after days of complimentary hotel breakfasts, we decided to splurge on a restaurant meal and headed to Heidi’s Pancake House.

Open since 1962 it’s a delightfully kitschy homage to the famed Alpine maiden. But don’t think it’s all atmosphere – the food is actually quite good. We all ordered delicious pancakes and it turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip.

With our fully sated bellies we headed out to explore the lake.

It was crisp and cold and incredibly beautiful. As we explored we came across the Tallac Historic Site – a group of historic lakeside cabins belonging to some of the wealthiest families of the early 20th century.

Unfortunately, the buildings were already closed for the season but the grounds remained open and made for a picturesque nature walk.

We were hoping to then ride horses at the adjacent Camp Richardson but the stables were, unfortunately, closed. We then decided to bid adieu to Tahoe and began our trek south on Highway 395. The scenery was beautiful and we soon found ourselves in the small town of Markleeville, home of the Alpine County Museum.

The quaint museum contains several displays detailing the history of the area and is home to a handful of historic structures including the Old Log Jail.

It was the perfect place to stop and rest our legs and the exhibits were quite interesting and informative. The view wasn’t too shabby either.

Continuing on we made our way to a place that had long been on my wish list – Bodie State Historic Park. We arrived in the afternoon and made our way down the windy dirt road to the park (giving me flashbacks to my visit to the Castle Dome Mine). I expected to see a few structures that made up the ghost town so imagine my surprise when I first laid eyes on it.

It was huge! The town once had a population of over 10,000 and several of the structures remain. It was so fascinating to wander around and observe them all and I was especially surprised to see them filled with objects. The school house, stores and homes looked as if the inhabitants had just stepped out and somehow never returned.

It was endlessly fascinating and I could have spent hours upon hours exploring. Unfortunately, the day was nearing a close and we had to make our way to our next destination, Mammoth Lakes. The ski town located at the base of Mammoth Mountain was our home for the night and we hit the hay reminiscing about our incredible day.

The next morning we headed out to the mountain and made our first stop at Minaret Summit, elevation 9265′ and added to our collection of impressive vistas.

From there we headed to the Devil’s Postpile Natural Monument – a most unusual natural wonder.

Though not classically beautiful it still is an impressive piece of nature.

Our last stop visit was to the Earthquake Fault – a deep crevasse created by earthquakes centuries ago.

It may not look that impressive in a photo but it’s an incredibly large and very deep fault that was fascinating to see in person.

After a morning filled with nature we headed back to the highway to make our way south to Lone Pine to attend the annual film festival. Before we arrived in town we had one final stop – Manzanar National Historic Site.

Whereas the Donner Monument was a sobering reminder of the destructiveness of nature the former Manzanar internment camp was a sobering reminder of the pain inflicted by humankind. A self-guided route gave us a glimpse of the remains of the camp while the onsite museum told the store of the people stationed there. There were several handmade objects on display that were created by some of the inmates and I was struck at the beauty that came out of such an unpleasant experience.

The Eastern Sierras is a region filled with incredibly natural beauty as well as tragic history. It’s a rugged, awe-inspiring region of California that deserves to be explored. I’m so grateful I was able to see it.

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