2014 Roadtrip: Benton, CA to Bishop, CA

At around 9 a.m., when we left the Inn at Benton Hot Springs, it was 57° at 5700’ (on May 1st). We first checked out the Benton Paiute Reservation on Yellow Jacket Road. The houses were neat and maintained and looked infinitely better than the aboriginal houses we saw near Alice Springs in Australia.

On the way to Bishop, the road had beautiful vistas of the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. At 10:15 a.m. and 4100’ it was 71°. We got to Bishop before lunch and stopped at the Holiday Inn Express first. They wouldn't let us check in until 3 p.m. Our next stop was the Bishop Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center (690 N Main St., Bishop, CA 93514, tel. (760)873-8405, e-mail: info@bishopvisitor.com) where Joe was most helpful. Then we took our car for an oil and filter change at Bishop Automotive Center (950 Tu Su Lane).

While the car was being worked on we had lunch across the street at Karma Indian Buffet (1347 Rocking W Dr., Bishop Plaza, Bishop, CA, tel. 760-873-3401). Dimitri had the buffet and liked it ($9.99). Audre had a lentil soup (really just the dal from the buffet spread) and there was no charge for her. We also had a masala chai and it was okay.

After lunch we took a 1 hour hike/walk around Pleasant Valley Reservoir (which was supposed to be scenic). The sun was blazing and it was 84°. We put on sunscreen but still got scorched. We saw our first wildflowers of the season around the reservoir. One that was new for us (and that we could identify from the book called "Wildflower Hot Spots of the Sierra Nevada") was bird's-nest buckwheat. It was an orange color cup-like flower that looked good against the brown sandy soil. We saw one pelican-looking bird, a seagull and some ugly-looking black birds with tan under their wings. The walls of the canyon around the reservoir were scrubby and rocky and very brown. Bishop is in the picturesque Owens Valley with the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas to the west and the White Mountains to the east (those ranges are the two highest ranges in the state, BTW) and with the foothills of the Benton Range near Bishop. This Pleasant Valley Reservoir is probably part of the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power holdings in this part of the world. Some of the town is part of the Bishop Paiute Reservation but the LADWP owns a huge amount of the Owens Valley water.

At the appointed hour, we arrived at the Holiday Inn Express (636 N Main St., Bishop, CA 93514, tel. (760) 872-2423,  $129.99 per night plus $15.68 tax for room 207). The gal at the front desk struck us as not liking her job so the introduction was not good. Our room was a "king bed leisure" with a senior discount (of course). It was a large rectangular room with a window and bed at the window end. We had a view of Bishop City Park which was pleasant. There was a chest of drawers, a flat screen TV over a mini frig and microwave, a sofa and coffee table, a table with 2 chairs to use as our desks and then a sink area and a toilet room with shower (that had a door). There was even room to bring in each of our big Samsonite suitcases and the extra large Samsonite with our terrycloth robes and miscellaneous toys. (This year, we're traveling with 5 suitcases, 2 computer cases, 1 Igloo and 3 "Chinese" bags for food. What we'd call 7 pieces of luggage.) The heating/air conditioning works, sort of. At night if we set it on 68°, cool, auto, the temperature will be 70° as it cycles on and off. The noise of the cycles didn't wake us up. The room was acceptable and clean but the carpet desperately needed cleaning. Although the Holiday Inn Express advertises that it was just "renewed" we guess that didn't include the carpets. The Internet connection in the Holiday Inn Express was truly annoying. Every time we opened our laptops we had to agree to something or other and log in with a password. That was several times a day for us as we went in and out of the room. Another annoying thing was the faint smell of cigarette smoke that we both inhaled each time we entered the room. There were two big no smoking signs on the door. Go figure. And yet another annoying feature of the Holiday Inn Express Bishop was its one elevator. It was a the far distant end of a long, long hall--as far as one could get from our room and the reception desk. In order to load the car, for instance, we made 8 trips (one to get the cart, then back to the room, two to take two loads to the car--is that 6? Anyway, it was a stupid and inconvenient place for the elevator. Next time we get a "king bed leisure" room near the elevator.) The final annoyance was the plastic cups in the rooms and in the breakfast area. No glass glasses were available for use. Plastic cups are unstable and Audre can't put her numerous toothbrushes in them because they are too heavy. Marriott's appear to have glass glasses and Audre likes that.

We used the Jacuzzi in the hotel before dinner and it was perfectly acceptable. For dinner the first night, we went to Thai Thai (703-C Airport Rd., Bishop, CA 93514, tel. (760) 872-2595).  This restaurant was a fantastic surprise in a most unlikely place (Bishop and the airport building outside of town). Our server was friendly and good. Although it was busy with lots of local fans of Alisa Khongnok (aka “Rung”), the food didn't take an inordinately long time to arrive. We had one Long Rice Salad $13.50 described as bean thread noodles seasoned with sesame oil, lime juice and green onions. It was very good. We had one Green Curry with chicken $13.50 described as "Chef Alisa’s personal favorite!" with a light creamy base, hints of kaffir lime leaf, basil and an assortment of vegetables, and which included eggplant when available (it wasn't on Thursday night). We thought that the curry was excellent but the basil and lime leaf tastes were not bold enough. The restaurant allowed guests to bring their own wine (without corkage) but we didn't know we could and we didn’t. We had a very nice meal and it cost $29.19 plus tip. We were glad to be in a town with varied restaurants. Bishop certainly has come a long way since we would drive through on our way to ski Mammoth (coming through separately because we didn't know each other then).

Our first complimentary breakfast was just fine. Dimitri had the pancakes (made in a machine called Quickcakes we had never seen before by a company that evidently didn't include chemicals that poisoned him like the waffle machine in Montana did to us). Audre included real maple syrup in our food bags and Dimitri enjoyed the pancakes, butter and  real maple syrup. Audre had her cereal that she carries in one of our 3 food bags. Bananas are provided by the Holiday Inn. We had gotten some fresh peaches and grapefruit at Vons in Bishop to supplement our breakfast fruit. 

After breakfast we went biking on Rock Creek Trail--a mountain biking/hiking trail recommended by Joe in the Visitor's Center. It was beautiful a midst the bristle cone pines but a little difficult for us technically and because it was the beginning of the mountain biking season. So we ended up doing a bike/hike, pushing our bikes up to the junction of the Rock Creek Road. We had a wonderful descent back to our car on the bikes on that road.

We had lunch at Erick Schat's Bakkery (763 N Main St., Bishop, tel 760-873-7156). Dimitri had a 1/2 pastrami sandwich and liked it. Audre had their cole slaw for lunch and liked it too. We spent $7 after our senior discount and got a free cookie to boot.

After lunch we went to the Inyo National Forest office and learned that the pass on Hwy. 120 was open and we could get to Yosemite. We also learned that the lake area that the Dansons recommended for hiking and biking would be too icy to be pleasant at this time. It was recommended that we hike and bike around Mammoth Lakes on the trails that would be dry at this time. We haven't been to Mammoth since the late 1980's and we wanted to see what it looked like.

We did other chores in Bishop and then went to the annual "Taste of the Sierras" ($25 each) sponsored by the Bishop Chamber of Commerce. Many restaurants set up food tables and with the ticket one eats all one can and gets 2 drinks. We had a fine time and there was plenty of food to make a dinner for Dimitri (and to add a pound on Audre). We thought that the Convict Lake Restaurant's food was the best. We also had a pleasant chat with Erick Schat who had his restaurant's bakery items presented there.
We were glad to go to A Taste of the Sierra and talk to the local folks
On Saturday we drove to Mammoth Lakes and back which was 138 miles round trip, with the extra loop we did. We stopped in the information office and the first man gave us terrible advice. He said "come back in two weeks to mountain bike in Mammoth." Fortunately one of his colleagues interrupted him and gave us good advice. We did a wonderful bike ride, near Shady Rest. It was in deep forest on a double track that was sandy and very dry but ride-able. The views of the mountains were fabulous. There was glassy, black obsidian rock on the trail which was a kick to see (we hadn't gone to see Obsidian Dome nearby).
Dimitri actually riding up to 8100' with the Eastern Sierras in the background 
After we climbed 300' (to 8100') pushing the bike part of the way, we were rewarded with a great downhill back to our car. Although sandy and rocky with tree roots, it was definitely ride-able and we enjoyed it. It was cool and breezy in Mammoth, about 60-something° whereas back in Bishop it was 82° (on May 3rd). It was striking how Mammoth Lakes had grown. In a guidebook we found an organic and natural cafe that we wanted to eat lunch at (Lynne's Garden of Eat'N and Catering,126 Old Mammoth Road) but it was closed (even though their sign said it was open on Saturdays). Oh well.

We had lunch at the Stellar Brew and Natural Cafe (3280 Main St., Mammoth, CA, tel. (760) 924-3559, www.stallarbrewnaturalcafe.com). It was a funky place with live music on the deck. We both had salads and we had one smoothie. We spent $25 and that was too much for what we had.

After lunch we drove to the ski area and went into the base lodge. It was old, decrepit and depressing. We walked outside to the lift that was right there and it looked pretty old and rickety too. We don't know who owns Mammoth now but a gargantuan investment is needed.

We drove on to June Lake and it is very pretty but the accommodations would not be for us. There was nothing new and nothing with an obvious lake view or mountain view. It was late so we decided not to go on to Mono Lake or Lee Vining. When we got back to our hotel in Bishop we used the Jacuzzi a midst 4 screaming kids in the pool. Even so, it was good. 

For dinner on Saturday night we went right across the street from our hotel to Yamatani (635 N Main St., Bishop, CA 93514, tel. 760-872-4801). We did not like our server, Michael, and that colored our meal. He forgot things and had attitude, verging on being rude. Dimitri had a Saba Shioyaki meal ($11) meal which was  ½ broiled mackerel lightly seasoned with salt and pepper that was served with miso soup, tsukemono, cabbage salad, rice and green tea. Dimitri liked his meal. Audre had 2 appetizers: one steamed vegetables ($5) served with soy sauce, mayonnaise and lemon dressing and one Hiya-Yakko ($4.50) which was chilled tofu with diced green onions, dried bonito flakes, grated ginger and wasabi. She also had a bowl of steamed rice ($1.75). We shared a hot sake ($8.50). The food was good; the service not so good. The meal cost $33.75 plus tip.

For Sunday breakfast we went to the restaurant we were told was the best in town: 19th Hole Bar and Grill (1200 U.S. 395, Bishop, CA, tel. 760-873-5828) at the golf course. Ryan was a good server. We had one orange juice ($2.31), one coffee ($1.39), one mushroom and Swiss cheese omelet for $8.25 (made with egg whites) with grilled onions (extra charge .75) and one one mushroom and Swiss cheese omelet regular ($8.25). It was a nice place for breakfast and it was The Place to go in town based on how many people were there. We spent $22.83 plus tip and we were stuffed and happy.

We decided to hike in the area that the Dansons had recommended called Bishop Creek Canyon. The ranger station for Inyo National Forest recommended against it saying there would still be ice there. Based upon our experience on Saturday in Mammoth where it was dry without snow at 8100' we decided that the ranger had given us bad advice. We were right!

The road to Lake Sabrina in Bishop Creek Canyon is a designated scenic one and on the way out (west) it certainly was. The snow-capped peaks were in front of us. (On the return to Bishop we saw the Owens River Gorge but the ride west was much prettier.) 

In Bishop we were at 4100' elevation and it was 70-something° at 11:30 a.m. (on May 4th). When we got to Lake Sabrina we were at 9145' and it was 69° and windy.  We were surprised that Lake Sabrina is a reservoir. We shouldn't have been. The City of Los Angeles, Department of Water and Power owns water rights in these parts and has certainly harnessed them.

At the end of Hwy 168, the Apteds (Juanita, rick and Patti) own an everything store (760-873-7425)--fishing stuff, a lunch bar and "information central". We noticed a hiking trail that started from the store. We asked about it and were told it was 1.5 miles to the south (other) end of the lake. That sounded good to us so off we went. The views of the lake and the granite cirque (from a French word for "arena"-- it is an amphitheater-like valley head, formed by a glacier) were gorgeous. The surrounding mountains still had snow on them.
Lake Sabrina with part of the gorgeous cirque visible
We could see the trail to Blue Lake on the other side of Lake Sabrina and could see that it would hit snow at the south end of the lake. We walked through bushes with leathery leaves and lots of scrub. There were beautiful junipers, pines and aspens that had not leafed--they still had their catkins. We came to a very tricky moraine with granite boulders; we had to slow down to traverse it. We only saw one minuscule wildflower and one bush starting to show some flowers. The bushes with new leaves were few. The highest elevation we hit was 9250', about a 250' elevation gain. At the south end of the lake we had a rest at the point where a mountain drainage flowed into the lake. It actually sounded like a waterfall!
Audre sitting by the drainage that flowed into Lake Sabrina
The hike took us almost 3 hours with all of that technical moraine stuff and we were very glad we did it. Mountain lakes are beautiful and we love them. On the way back it was even more obvious how little precipitation California has had. The south end of the lake had water; the north end was dry. There was a boat ramp that was about 9 feet above the current dry lake bottom area at that spot. 

We had lunch (leftover Thai noodles and crudites) at the Sabrina Camp Ground by Middle Bishop Creek. Then we drove back to Bishop where it was 82° when we got back at about 4:30 p.m. We went back to Erick Schat's Bakkery (our third visit) and got some sweets: 2 fruit bars ($1.70), one apple brioche puff pastry ($2.05) and one 8 oz. Toffee bar ($5.05) that would put a pound on Audre.

Then we got gas at Von's gas. It was $4.339 a gallon. We have increased the amount we are paying for gas from $3.80 in Utah, to $4.00 in Nevada to $4.339 in California. Holy, moly.

On our last night in Bishop, we had a lovely meal at Sage (621 W Line St., Suite 101, Bishop, CA 93514, tel. 760-937-6945) and Jesse who was serving the whole restaurant by himself did a great job. The owner/executive chef, Darin Harding, was cooking at the Taste of the Sierras on Friday night. We liked his offerings and Sage is an upscale restaurant in Bishop that we were "in need" of. (The other one is Convict Lake Restaurant near Mammoth Lakes.) There were at least 6 tables that Jesse handled with friendliness, professionalism and aplomb. We had two entrées and two glasses of wine. Each entrée came with either a soup or a salad and with a garnish of seasonal vegetables. Dimitri had the salad (which he liked) and the veal osso bucco ($24) described as veal braised with garlic, prosciutto, sun dried tomatoes and fresh herbs and served on a bed of linguine. He liked it very much.  Audre had the roasted red pepper bisque (that she liked a lot) and the trio of veggie raviolis ($17) described as portobella mushroom, ratatouille-goat cheese and butternut squash raviolis with a sage buerre noisette sauce and sautéed spinach. Unfortunately, Audre didn’t taste any sage in her buerre noisette. Also her butternut squash raviolis were tough to chew. Otherwise she was happy. Dimitri had a glass of the cabernet sauvignon ($7.50) and Audre had a glass of the pinot noir ($8). We had lots of leftovers to take home. We spent $61.02 plus tip.

On Monday, we went on to Yosemite and then to Merced, CA.

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