I’ve been on a lot of road trips and I was incredulous to find that the most dreamy one I have ever been on is in my very own state. California has so many different geographies and natural wonders that it keeps surprising me, wherever I go. A year and a half ago, my boyfriend and I went on a road trip up the 395 to stay at Silver Lake Campground just north of Mammoth. It was late April and we expected the flowers to be in bloom, the grass to be green. My friend had hand drawn us a map for the whole drive, every fascinating little stop to make. As my bf and I were just about it to make it to our first stop, Convict Lake, droplets started to splatter on our window a little too hard for it to be rain. Chris said it wasn’t snow and I quipped back: “well then it’s frozen rain!”
We then proceeded to get caught in my first snow storm. We couldn’t see on either side of the highway, surpassing the hot springs, not even seeing the lakes that flowed right up to the road. We took the exit for Convict Lake, a masterpiece of the mountains I couldn’t wait to see, and were surrounded by flurries of white snow flakes. The lake was nowhere to be seen, covered in a white fog, and I still couldn’t help but dance in my body and soul. I had never been in a winter wonderland, and here I was in one, in the middle of spring, with my favorite person. It felt like magic.
Getting back in the car, we followed the Jeep in front of us, putting our wheels in their tracks as my little hatchback wasn’t quite prepared for deep, freshly fallen snow. We pulled out and finally made it to Silver Lake, where it was only us and two other campers. I had no idea it was the very first day the campsite reopened and the little old couple that hosted the campground was there to welcome us and let us know of all that we could do to survive the snow, the little places to get warm and collect firewood. That night, we slept in a snow storm. We ate Indian food in the car with the heater running and when it was time to sleep we ran to the tent, which was surprisingly warm as it was insulated by all the snow that had fallen around us. We were in our own little igloo of warmth, hearing the wind long before we could feel it, lulled to sleep by the nearby waterfall made from the melting snow.
Our plan venturing to this part of Cali was to hike around the eastern outskirts of Yosemite, to find the 20 lakes basin and hike among the greenery. But things never go as planned and considering the overhaul of snow, we made alternative plans. Our campground was in a little loop called June Lake loop, where our lake neighbored that one and another one called Grant Lake. We packed up the car and drove, asking local friends we made in the coffee shop nearby about things to do. They sent us with maps and free coffee, saying they loved how friendly we were. We started to drive north about an hour and we stopped at Mono Lake, just outside of Lee Vining, where geographical oddities lined the shores. Called tufas, they stagger like high stalagmites, as if the heavens took sand and dropped it on top of itself, like when you’re trying to make a sand castle. The water was an aqua blue and the fresh air, since it was sunnier the following day, made it perfect to walk around the lake. We fell into the quicksand like mud, making it even more of an adventure.
A little further up the highway and off a winding dirt road decorated by green, flowered meadows, is an old ghost town called Bodie. We drove the bumpy dirt roads, listened to my favorite African band and Chris played his African drum along to the beat. It was a desolate old town. Wooden churches, apothecaries, little gas pumps used by the folks that worked in the mines throughout the area. Built in the mid 1860s, when gold was discovered in the area, it turned quickly from a town of a few hundred people to one of nearly 10,000, hosting a dangerous combination of 65 saloons, a red light district and the hunt for gold. It was incredible to see the remnants of a past civilization outlined by the Sierras. It’s own world back in the solitude of the mountains. We got in our own little snowball fight but otherwise tread gently on the grounds, hearing it was bad luck to take, even accidentally, something from this ghost of a town.
Another half an hour up the highway is a little town called Bridgeport. We drove there to find the hot springs that were supposed to be filled with cleansing, though stinky, sulfur. The town was made of one little strip. We stopped at a classic red and white burger joint for veggie sandwiches and the cashier was about 14, training what seemed to be a 12 year old. And it was the most delicious veggie burger I’ve ever had. We met an old lady in a tiny shop called This and That and she told us her life story with a parakeet on her shoulder. It might’ve even been him who told us how to get to the hot springs.
Just a couple miles southeast of Bridgeport is the turnout for Travertine Hot Springs. An oasis of pools that sits up on the hillside, overlooking the meadows and pastures, not to mention an incredible horizon filled by the snowy Sierra Nevadas. An upgrowth of the earth spills out hot water into three pools that fill from the last, offering three temperatures, though all hot, to heal your body and soul. There’s something kismet about our travels, how Chris and I always happen to get beautiful places to ourselves for a bit. A sort of well known hot spring, there were a few others, but everyone was friendly as they too are open to nature’s healing properties. We had about 20 minutes to ourselves and there was nothing like those few minutes. Hot springs will change and renew you.
We had one more night in Silver Lake and we used it exploring the little mountain town. Chris took me to a cozy, red cabin restaurant where on the table there was a bowl of fresh croutons waiting our arrival. We went to the June Lake Brewery and it was the most family friendly one I’ve ever been too. Nice young couples had their children and even their giant great danes or huskies inside the open air bar. Helpful young folks were celebrating their full day of volunteering to clean the lakes after the snow and rain storms. It was the first time I thought that maybe I could live in a little mountain town. Surrounded by young families, animal lovers, philanthropist and eco friendly hearts. I’d go back to that brewery just to experience that feeling of community we all at some point seek. The connection our roots need.
Nature is powerful and unpredictable. It is best to go with no expectations, but we usually always have some semblance of one, or some version of a plan of what we believe might happen. I never expected a snow storm, a hiking trip to turn more into a relaxing road trip. But I didn’t know it was exactly what I needed. The universe and the earth will always give you that, even if it’s hard. Your adventure in nature will always be what it’s meant to be for you. We have no control of what Mother Earth will offer us and if we accept what she sends us, we can learn the lessons from it. We can appreciate all beauty, even in forms we weren’t prepared for.
I got to survive a snow storm with my boyfriend. I got to watch him make fires while I made our tent a home. We got to see who we both were in times of unexpected trials. And we loved what we saw. We found places, broadened our exploration to landmarks we didn’t know existed. We listened to local’s advice and made new friends, we heard suggestions and advice from a friendly stranger instead of from an internet site. We became a part of a community for a day. Without the surprise snow storm, without the moments of nervousness from an unexpected twist, without the willingness to and necessity of changing our plans, we wouldn’t have been a part of an old timey community for a weekend. We may have been off in wild woods, which is always good, but sometimes wild hearts need moments to meet their neighbors in whichever place they call home for the day.