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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.

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