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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Touring CA in a near depression - part 2

The second installment post of my recent 7 day CA road trip starts at Tioga Pass eastern entrance to Yosemite Park. Please see previous post for trip introduction and background.

I payed the $20 entrance fee at Yosemite entrance station and proceed down Tioga Pass Road. It was late in day and as i was trarveling without a reserved camping permit on a busy labor day weekend i needed to find an available campsite before dark. So i quickly passed thru Yosemite Park late in the afternoon. After a long descent down route 120 I lucked out and found a rarely used National Forest campsite. Poor, flat and dusty but available. So bad is was I decided not to even pitch my tent but set up a tarp cover over my pickup truck bed to make a sheltered sleeping spot . Drank lots of liquor to sleep quick and forget i was on that poor site. Up early and got out quick. It is Sunday Sept 4 mid-labor day weekend. Continued along route 120 and passed thru Groveland, a picturesque mt community which appeared to be one of the few CA Mt villages riding along ok in the CA great depression 2

Right after passing thru Groveland i got onto route 49 and went north thru the fabled CA gold rush country. There are lots of CA historical markers dotting the countryside- stone basilisks with a bronze plaque description of some historical event at a nearby site/ place of interest. Passed thru Chinese Camp and got to Sonora. Stopped to chomp down on a Carls Jr burger ( i had a discount coupon), then went to pick up supplies at a nearby Sonora discount mart. Surprized that Sonora population was almost entirely Caucasian.

Rushed thru at a rapid pace thru an area of California rich with historic gold rush sites but i had to go quick as i had only a week to do my trip and was only 1/3 way thru the journey which i had to finish on Sept 7.
Went into Columbia State Historic Park, which had a re-creation of a gold rush town/old west village. Good crowd activity here as it was Sunday on a labor day holiday weekend but mostly locals. There was evidence of poverty as i was passing thru here ; closed/shuttered shops, idle teens, yard sales, and foreclosed properties. No surprise as unemployment rates in Tuolumne & Calveras Counties are 13.5 % and 17.3 % respectively.

Went on to small, tidy Angels Camp, which appears kept up despite my seeing few tourists. Not much historical stuff to see here and town too gentrified so i got some info from the local tourst center/ rest stop and went returned back along 49 route in late afternoon.

It is Sunday September 4 late in the afternoon and i am passing thru sparsely populated Sierra foothill open oak woodland/grassland areas. Very empty of travelers. Stopped briefly at the route 49 hwy bridge span over an arm of the Don Pedro Reservoir. Lots of dammed up rivers and backed-up reservoir lakes in this part of CA, a feature alien to my Southern California/ Los Angeles experence

Passed thru tiny mountain community of Coulterville, which was decked out in full labor day regalia, complete with flags and bunting, but was completely empty of tourists. Even the locals at the old west style saloon looked bewildered when i passed thru.

Arrived at an undistinguished little campsite sited along an arm of Lake Mcclure, in the Bagby Recreation Area. I was lucky to find last worst available campsite( notorious site 18). Horrible privacy and little space but no matter. All i needed was a picnic bench table and space for a single vehicle so i snatched it. Talked that evening with a friendly neighboring camper about bad state of CA(in both senses).
After a few drinks i slept well, woke up early and got out quick from that forgettable site 18 and that dismal barren lake, which was geared toward large RV's and power boat lake recreationists.

Drove thru some fine oak/grassland rolling foothill country(California's version of the African Savanna without the wildlife). Passed thru Bear Valley, which had signs of great recession deterioration with abandoned properties galore before reaching Mariposa. Stopped at Mariposa visitor center at intersection of hwy 49 and hwy 140, which issues direct from Yosemite Valley and heads southwest, passing thru Mariposa. Very few tourists and day trippers at this main city junction on a Monday Sept 5, offical labor day. Maybe because Mariposa offers little worth seeing.

Leaving Mariposa I headed south/southeast-bound along route 49, passing thru deteriorated foreclosure-racked tiny mountain communities like Nipinnawasee and Ahwahnee before arriving at the built-up, suburbanized mountain community of Oakhurst. This southern gateway into Yosemite appears to have collected every major CA fast food franchise, and here was the first sign of heavy latino presence in a CA foothill/ mountain community. I stopped at a nearly empty Carls Jr. Like Marioposa, Oakhurst was virtually without tourists on a Monday the 5th, labor day. Saw only one at Carls - a couple pulling a powerboat thru the parking lot. Leaving Oakhurst i headed southbound along route 41. I passed thru Coarsegold, which was absolutely bustling and bursting from RE runup back in 2006 when i last passed thru there. Now it was less crowded and only activity was a town farmers flea market, which looked only half full on Sept 5th, labor day.


This completes the second installment of my CA trip log. I am now heading south along CA hwy route 41 on way to Fresno. It is Monday Sept 5th midday, temps are over 100% , and I am entering the CA Central Valley farmbelt.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Touring California in midst of a severe economic collapse

Intro to my California travelog,

This is first installment post of my recent week-long car camping trip thru some of best wild remote sections of California(CA). It basically circles the Sierra Mountain range, which i have hiked, camped, and backpacked since the late 80's. I wanted to do this trip to find out how the four-year deep recession has affected CA Auto and recreational vehicle touring during the year 2011 labor day holiday, and because it is my first excursion into Sierras since late 2007. I have been quite devastated by this recession as has a lot of CA folks, which has kept me from my beloved Sierras. In late 80's and all 90's during better times I did a lot of long CA road trips, hiking trips, desert trips, and long backpack trips all over south half of State, usually in remote desert and mountain areas. Have camped all over California State Parks, USA National Forest and Park areas. Did 7 long backpacks into remotest areas of hi-sierras.
I Managed to scrounge up a bit of money to do this trip, as i expect California/USA economy will worsen and i may not do this again for a long time. I went on the cheap, staying at $20 per nite Nat Forest/ Nat Park campsites entire time, and cooked all my meals. My total outlay was under $500, a miserly sum for a week long 1200 mile trip. Surprised that gas prices were constant $4 per gallon in every part of state and even deep in mountains, which kept my gas budget reasonable. Basically I threw all my camping stuff into my Tacoma ex-cab pickup and took off, a regular habit of mine. My 2002 Tacoma, with 184,000 miles on it, performed superbly without a glitch, a tribute to Japanese engineering and dedicated auto craftsmanship.


Now to the post:

I start my trip log from Lancaster on Thursday Sept 1. Not much to see in this forlorn outlier LA County hi-desert community so i got gas and quickly left. lots of inner LA Ghetto expats here in the CA hi-desert. Went on to Mohave, which appeared rather deserted late afternoon. Quickly passed thru this gritty tiny hi-desert railroad junction & crossroads connecting 58 and 14 hi-ways. Very few travelers on the road.


After a 1.5 hour long lonely drive thru mostly barren rocky CA desert I reached Lone Pine, passing thru numerous isolated desert roadstops/townships with lots of abandoned shuttered bldgs and shuttered businesses in such desolate map dots as Haiwee, Olancha, Cartago. ect. Lone Pine, the gateway into Eastern Sierra and Mt Whitney, seems in any economic climate to be always functioning. It is my 20th trip thru here. Still small and charming and has outstanding views of Mt Whitney and Eastern Sierra Wall. Camped in Lone Pine Campsite a bit up the slope at 6500 elevation. Campsite sited along a tree-lined stream gushing from the sierras, a tiny green pleasant seam amidst a desolate rocky/sagebrush-scattered desertscape.


Got an unreserved site Thursday Sept 1st and camped for the night. Woke up on Friday, Sept 2nd and decided to stay for a 2nd nite here. First day of Labor Day holiday weekend and half of reserved sites were no- shows. After Friday sleepover i awoke on Saturday Sept 3. Continued north along route 395 thru Owens River Valley. Few travelers on road the second day of labor day weekend. In fact i saw very few travelers period in this majestic east sierra vacation playground. Perhaps $4.00 gas prices and near-great depression level CA unemployment cut the flow of travelers. Got to motel/lodge-overrun Bishop, which normally is packed with tourists, backpackers, RV'ers, campers, fisherman, but was errily quiet as i passed thru Sat mid-morning smack in middle of labor day weekend. Continued on route 395 northbound, bypassing built-up condo-crazy Mammoth lakes area and continued on thru magnificent long Valley, which is the site of a long extinct supervolcano eruption/caldera collapse. Passed by Toms Place where there was a classic car show. Toms Place a very popular stopover and entry point for hikers and backpackers bound for Rock Creek and the sierra back country via Mono Pass. Did not see a whole lot of of folks heading up to Rock Creek today however.


Went on to June lakes loop and stopped at June lake, the main showcase lake along loop. It is a large roadside-accessible hi-sierra lake with a stunning mountain backdrop and a very swimmable beach. There was a light to medium crowd at the lake and most visitors appeared to be local day trippers. After a nice refreshing swim i continued around loop and got to Silver Lake. Another fabulous road-accessible sierra mt lake. There was a dedicated group of kayakers on the water and made me regret not packing my own 10-ft mini-kayak. I needed to save weight to reduce gas consumption but maybe it was unwise to leave the yak. It would have been an entire new experience to kayak a hi-mountain lake. Silver lake is a nice small gem of a lake. I have been to 200 plus remote hi-country sierra lakes on my numerous backpack trips but haven't visited a pine tree enveloped deep blue hi-sierra mountain lake in some time. Noticed that there were numerous lakeside lodges here but all of them had vacancy signs, a key indication of CA economic collapse. On this entire loop i saw few travelers, only a bit of activity at aformentioned June Lake swim beach. Last lake on loop was Grant Lake, completely barren.

left June Lakes loop and got back on and continued along route 395. Stopped at Tioga Gas Mart, a renowned popular stopover on way over Tioga Pass . After a brief rest I continued on over route 120, the Tioga Pass Road, which climbs up and over the 400- mile long Sierra Mountains at its mid-section. After a short distance along road i paid my $20 Yosemite Park entrance fee and 7-day park pass. Route 120 is the best way to see the real hi-sierra backcountry via auto touring as it ascends to 10,000 ft and skirts some fine hi-sierra lakes and meadows. I stopped at Lembert Dome, a road-assessible granite monolith towering 800 ft above the road. The dome base and parking area was jammed with cars, visitors, tourists, and would-be dome climbers. It was the first really big labor day holiday crowd i saw in the mountains since i left LA.

Too bad i was not going to use my Yosemite 7-day pass. I needed to find an unreserved campsite way outside the park because all park sites would be reserved and filled during this last holiday weekend of summer. I had to drive clear out of park to get an available campsite and the day was getting late so i left Yosemite for good. Anyway Yosemite Park is not my favorite place to be during labor day holiday weekend , when the showcase Yosemite Valley would be packed wall-to-wall with camera-clicking casual tourists. Even in a deep recession brand name world-renown parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon always get the crowds. They are too much like Disneyland for my remote wilderness-craving sensibilities.

This completes the first part of my CA trip log, which will likely encompass 4 or 5 blog postings. I Am about 1/4 way thru my CA trip. Notes: from Lancaster all way to Yosemite Park entrance i saw few road travelers and virtually no large recreational vehicles in the somewhat remote Eastern Sierra Region. The four year long USA great recession/near depression, CA 20-25% REAL unemployment rate ,and near $4 per gallon gas prices all summer appeared to have reduced CA road travel significantly. Saw many abandoned roadside bldgs,shuttered businesses & hollowed-out gas station marts in isolated settlements along route 395, especially between Mohave and Lone Pine.