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Cal-Neva - 07.09

Slight sidetrip sojourn to the Venice California area. Venice actually has a grid of real canals, and Venician bridge wannabees.

The city of Marina del Rey really "is" just a big marina. Boat slips probably represent a reliable constant tax-base. Every night the cars park at the boat slips, and every morning the slipsters come back out, get into their cars, and go into town to work.

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Poor Lake Isabella (elev 2530') lies east above Bakersfield (elev 421'), in one of the least exciting places in the USA (right). Southern terminous of the High Sierras, leading into Mohave Desert, lends it unexciting barren desert peaks, in comparison to the High-Sierra Peaks just a few miles north. The pictures don't do justice to just how unexciting the environs really are. Luckily, one can drive north along the upper Kern River from Lake Isabella for a few miles and at least see a tree that wasn't planted on purpose. See, Kernville. [click to blow-up]

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For real excitement, the lower Kern River, with about 2000' of drop over 30-miles from Lake Isabella down to Bakersfield, is a rock-littered monster with big drops (left). Sign at the bottom of the canyon forewarns of 246 river deaths since 1968. No doubt, lots of rattlesnakes, too. See, images.

Back in 1981, some noted rock climbers carried their kayaks over the high-Sierra passes from the Mt Whitney side, and boated the upper Kern, far beyond the end of the road (right) - 50 miles and 5000 vertical feet of whitewater. See Headwaters [2] (pictures here not the original triad of Lake, Robbins, and Tompkins).

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Highway 395, running up the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the mysterious desert naval base at China Lake to Carson City, is one of the great scenic highways of America. 300-mile unbroken backbone of mountain sentinels, dozens of 13,000' and 14,000' peaks, only 3 east-west highway crossings along the route, and none at all along the southern 200-mile stretch. See also, maps + info. [click to blow-up]
wall of sentinels, south of Bishop, heading north, late afternoon.
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a few miles north of Mammoth, southern end of Yosemite Park.

Some think Hwy-395 vastly more scenic than the I-25 Rocky Mtn Front Range from Trinidad up to Fort Collins in Colorado, and the I-15 Wasatch Front from Provo up to Brigham City in Utah. "Them is just foothills, compared to the mighty Sierra" - to paraphrase Del Gue from the hippy-era, back-to-nature-movement movie Jeremiah Johnson.

Lone Pine [2] (elev 3727') is a tiny town surrounded by fantastic Sierra foothills and Mt Whitney (14,495') access to the west. Southern terminous for the John Muir Trail, plus 500-miles to go (mostly desert) to the southern terminous of the Pacific Crest Trail. Dozens of movie westerns were filmed in the Alabama Hills just west of here. See also, great images.

Bishop [2] (elev 4147'), located at the north end of the Owens Valley Mohave Desert extension, plus low elevation, gains it summer temperatures similar to hot-Vegas. 100-plus daily in July.

However, the nice hometown atmosphere, plus South + Sabrina Lake basins, which provide access to the high-Sierra and John Muir Trails to the west (right), are more than worth a stopover. The 100-mile section of Muir Trail from here south to Mt Whitney is highly scenic, and mostly inaccessible. Evolution Basin and the Minarets area to the north may slightly outdo this section for scenery, but don't match it for high altitude and hard work.

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[click to blow-up] Mammoth Lakes & Mountain Resort (elev 7920'), the really big "LA" ski area, lies 260 miles up Hwy-395 from San Bernardino - pretty much all semi-freeway now. Winter weekends on Hwy-395 are reputed to be worse than traffic in downtown LA.

The famous mountain (right, as seen from the east) is a remnant of the rim of an ancient volcano, which originally had a 20-mile diameter. The Long Valley Caldera [2] blew out 760,000 years ago, and covered much of America with ash. Estimated at 2,000X larger than the 1980 Mt. Saint Helens blow-out. Renewed volcanic activity in the 1980s slowed development in Mammoth Lakes for a short time, but no longer - memory is short, dollars are long, LALA-landians want a second home in the mountains. See also, dev.

Although the mountain looks isolated, not far behind it are Mts. Ritter and Banner, the Minarets, and the Sierra backbone. See also, images [2].

Somehow, tiny Bridgeport (elev 6463'), not far from the Nevada border, has been bypassed by subdivision-gilded developers. Still much the same, some decades after the first visit. Isolation is its own reward. The famous ghost town of Bodie (cf, "Bad Man From Bodie") is nearby.

Gardnerville and Minden are tiny residential communities that one enters shortly after crossing the border into Nevada on Hwy-395. They mark the start of the high-traffic zone extending through the Carson and Washoe Valleys, up to Reno. One finds lots of retirement communities, agriculture, and (supposedly) commercial tech-centers in this area.
Little Carson City [2] (elev 4687', pop 57,000) is the capital of Nevada. A pleasant town in the fertile heart of the Carson Valley. The pace is slow and the traffic is light, other than the out-of-towners passing along Hwy-395, north-south.

The Victorian-era historic district + mansions lie just west of downtown. This, by the way, was the heart of the "Ponderosa Ranch", of TV-series Bonanza fame.

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[click to blow-up] Welcome to Reno [2] (elev 4498', pop about 290,000, inc Sparks), a city that takes more than its share of bad raps. The area directly north and east of downtown is somewhat blighted, but the rest of town is rather nice. The main artery Virginia St south is very busy, but other streets not nearly so bad. Nice city parks lie along the Truckee River, which runs through the heart of downtown. Tons of visitors splash in the river waters in the afternoons and evenings. See also, images.

In comparison to Vegas, Reno is 8X less population and 100X less traffic mess, and summer temperatures average about 15-degrees cooler. Car insurance in Reno is fully "half" the cost as in Vegas. Allstate ranks Reno #11 (out of the 200 largest US cities) on its list for traffic safety, whereas Vegas ranks #153. There are nice "local neighborhoods" virtually everywheres in Reno, as compared to Vegas, where 6 months of searching didn't uncover even "one" area that could be called a neighborhood (maybe such exists behind the walls of those 100s and 100s of gated and fenced resident communities).

However, Reno is currently a depressed economy, with almost 12% unemployment. Vegas seems to have grown as one big suburb surrounding the Gambling Strip, Reno grew as a real city, based upon a late-1800s mining industry, and later gambling was added. Gambling revenues in Vegas were over $1-Billion/month before the recession, Reno was around $100-Million. Today, the recession plus the new Indian casinos in California, outside Sacramento and with easy bus service to the San Francisco Bay Area, have eaten deeply into Reno's gambling income. Empty retail, commercial, and office buildings litter the city landscape, downtown and elsewhere.

First thing discovered .... the "Washoe Zephyr". Reno is in a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. Late in the day, the sun directly strikes the barren hills to the east of town, heating them up, while the wooded hills west of town fall into shadow and cool off. This creates updrafts to the east, and downdrafts to the west, producing a rolling cyclonic effect, with 20-MPH winds. Cool.

©, July 2009