The Queen Mary


The Queen Mary

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend was quickly approaching and we had no plans in mind for the four days off from work.

The fires in central California were keeping us from planning ahead because they were in the areas we wanted to visit.  Then as time drew closer, the weather forecast called for pouring down rain throughout Southern California  which was good for the fires, not good for vacation plans.

What to do?  What to do?  Because of the rain, it was decided that an indoor venue would be best.  Where could we go that was interesting and we could do things inside?

An indoor tour of the Queen Mary sounded like a good plan for at least one day, so we perused the internet for information.  The next thing I know, a room was booked for a two night stay in one of the staterooms of this historical ocean liner.

Before I talk about how our stay went, it is important to know the history behind this amazing ship.

The History:
The RMS Queen Mary is a retired British passenger liner that now has its home docked in Long Beach harbor.

Built by Cunard Line, this impressive vessel started its maiden voyage on May 27,, 1936, from Southhampton, England.

It was glamorous at its time with five dining areas, lounges, two cocktail bars, swimming pools, a grand ballroom, a squash court, and a doctor’s office.

It had class and style and even as you walk its floors today, you can tell that this interior was once the epitome of elegance.

While watching one of the 4D films in the theater about its history, we were amazed that at one time it was actually used in war time to ferry soldiers from port to port.  Photos in the movie show over 16,000 men aboard with a good part of them lounging on the deck.

There was actual footage of the inaugural voyage and christening, then subsequently the celebrated launching.    This massive bucket of metal amazingly slipped into the water without any trouble and was soon on its way to many trans-Atlantic voyages.  On screen as it splashed into the waterway, the seat ahead of us squirted us with water, all a part of the 4D experience.

After hundreds of voyages, the Queen Mary ended her illustrious career by making her final journey to the port at Long Beach, California.  In 1967 she officially became a hotel and a tourist attraction.


Looking at the ship from the other side of the harbor

 The Quirkiness of the Queen Mary:
To access the ship, you walk over a gangway to the check-in desk. Your first sight is an old piano next to a lounge featuring a couple of large port holes. There you can look out over the Long Beach harbor.

We were told that our room had no portholes and was situated in the inner part of the boat. We knew from seeing the staterooms online that this would be a very small space.  We also were told that we could pay a nominal fee to get portholes but there would be no heat.   It was a cold weekend and picturing me freezing while trying to sleep, didn’t hold up much appeal.  So warm it would be.  I left the negotiations to look out the large portholes onto the harbor and resigned myself that I will be spending a few days in a little cubby hole.

As I walked down the hallways there were small sub halls leading to a room on one side and one on the other. In some cases there were four doors in one section.  I thought, “Oh, this is going to be small.”

When we reached our room, there was only one door,  so this looked promising.  Sure enough it opened into a long hall that led in to a space with two single beds and surprise, surprise, there were portholes!

They were actually very large portholes and there were two of them!!  The accommodations were pretty spacious and the bathroom was a normal size, I was very, very happy.

The lady at the desk must have given us an upgrade as she saw we were worried about the heat.  As it turned out, this room had plenty of heat and there begins the quirkiness part of staying on the Queen Mary.

There were two open ‘spout’ like apparatuses on the wall where one side said colder and the other warmer. We fiddled with them until we saw the actual thermostat on the wall.  Those must have been just for show although we never knew for sure.

There were also faucet handles near the shower that said hot salt, hot fresh, cold salt, or cold fresh.  We knew these didn’t work but they gave us pause to wonder why anyone would want salt water for a shower, especially cold.    Oh, well that’s what you get on a ship built in the 1930’s.

The toilet flusher was a handle that you pushed in, unlike anything I have ever seen, but it DID work.

The funniest part was the bathtub.  The shape of it made it very hard to balance yourself while taking a shower.   It wasn’t flat and was angled like a really deep scoop so you were very unstable standing straight up facing the shower head.   Luckily there was a hand rail to hold on to which I used the whole duration of the shower.   I thought, if I am having a hard time and the ship isn’t moving, how did they shower during rough seas?  Maybe baths were the order of the day back then?

I laughed the whole time I was in there because I was literally holding on for dear life.  This was a funny experience making me wonder what it was like actually taking a trip across the ocean back in those days.

The stateroom had two small twin beds that weren’t comfortable nor uncomfortable.  Luckily, they catered to us in the year 2019, as the TV was a sizeable flat screen.

Another funny thing about the interior and is something they do warn you about is how thin the walls are in the passenger areas.    I heard someone talking and laughing, so I thought maybe a walkway was just outside of the portholes.   When I looked out, it was just the side of the boat, nowhere for anyone to walk.  It turned out to be the people in the next room that you could hear almost as plain as day.   Although laughter and indiscernible conversations went on just feet away, we were happy they stopped around 11:00pm.

Overall the stateroom is exactly what you would expect with wood panels, décor, and ambiance of that era.

You have to embrace the history and go with the flow.   Imagine what it was like back then, when they were sailing across the Atlantic Ocean.   This hotel is unlike any you having ever stayed; take it for what it is.

One final note, in winter the ship is cold.  In certain parts and in particular where they leave the doors open, it can be downright chilly. So bring plenty of warm wear.

Tours:
As a hotel guest or a visitor, you can walk around and explore on your own or take a guided tour.  A perk for staying there is that all of the tours are discounted except the self guided which comes free.


Walking along the outer deck in full holiday decor

Basically, you are allowed to wonder around and stop at points of interest at your leisure.  Arrows guide you where to go and while there, you can read facts and tid-bits about this grand ship.  I am sure the tours with a guide are more informative as you would hear actual stories and antidotes that are obviously not given when you explore on your own.

We were able to visit the engine room which was extremely large and impressive.  How all this machinery propelled this huge ocean liner is something that makes you really wonder.   With a horse power of  160,000 needed to get the ship to move, it was truly a marvel.   There were gears the size of a Volkswagen and machinery, boilers, levers, wheels, everywhere.


The many halls of the engine room.

On the other end, in boat terms called “the bow”, sits the bridge and officers quarters, both of which you are able to view.

We saw the pool that is no longer in service and we made a point to stand next to the mighty and iconic red smokestacks that are familiar to all about this ship.

There is one room that is dedicated to large models of the Queen Mary as well as other known passenger liners from that era.   It was interesting to see the detail on this miniature vessel.  There is one model that is cut in half so you can see the spaces and what is in the guts of the Queen Mary.

The hotel itself features a few places to dine, a café, coffee house, and of course gift stores.  Overlooking the bow is the Observation Bar, where we shared appetizers one night while looking across the bay at the colorful lights of the city. There is much to do in Long Beach so an excursion off the ship is something to consider too.


The Theater:
As mentioned, there is a theater where we enjoyed a few free moves because of our status of hotel guests.  However, if you are on a paid tour I do believe these movies are an extra charge.

The first film was about how the Queen Mary came to be built.  It chronicled the trials and tribulations of building and launching this mighty ocean liner.  The ‘Cunard Story’ also featured other historical events throughout the history of its lifespan.

They also showed a movie about sharks; don’t ask me why, however, it was pretty fascinating and very well done.  Both movies we had to wear 3D glasses while the 4D part had water spraying our faces, chairs poking us in the back, and seats moving during loud scenes.  It was all good fun while learning something new.

A Haunted Ship?
Evidently the Queen Mary is known as the “The Haunted Ship.”    There are a few guided ‘haunted’ tours where you learn about the dark secrets within the historical halls.  The guides take you to different places from the normal tours plus provide vivid story telling about ghost sightings and paranormal activities.  You will also learn about the mystery of the “Lady in White”, a ghost that supposedly resides there.   The nighttime tours I hear are more interactive with some special affects thrown in.

We didn’t take the tour but it sounded like it was really fun.

One Last Quirk
Don’t get me started on the elevator and what was on each level.   Some of the levels can only be accessed in elevators that are outside of the ship and some are inside.  I think I finally got it by the end of the trip.   There wasn’t an ‘L’  for Lobby or floors 1, 2, 3, 4 as example, no there was P, M A, R, which were obviously left over from that era.   I got it that ‘P’ stood for Promenade but I still don’t know what M, A, or R means.    I don’t know how many times we got off on the wrong floor.

The outside elevators were modern and slid along like a well oiled machine. The original ones that are inside the ship looked like that era but also rode like something made in the 1930’s.  A clank here, a pop there and off you went wondering if it is going to make it to your level in one piece.   At one point, we reached our floor but the doors didn’t open all of the way.    I reached my hand out to press the open door button hoping that it would work, luckily, it did.  I wasn’t worried really, I mean it is an old ship but they have to maintain safety, right?

I know this all may sound negative but that is not my intent.  It is quirky but you have to go into it knowing that you are on a very old ocean liner.    It is a beautiful vessel that is filled with history and evidently ghosts.

Try to step out of the 21st century and become immersed into the 20th. It is only then that you can truly enjoy this attraction.  You want a comfy modern room? , go to the Hilton or someplace like that.

THIS, is an experience.  Despite all of the oddities, it was pure fun and super interesting.  A definite must for at least once in your lifetime.

Story and Photos: Debbie Colwell

Highway 395 Part Three of Three

Highway 395, Part Three

For the last part of our excursion down Highway 395, we visit a ghost town, walk on ancient lava, explore the history of Owens Valley, and one last stop at a small lake.

Owens Valley
Continuing on our way south, we made a brief stop at the vista point for Owens Valley along Highway 395.  I was intrigued by this beautiful valley which spanned as far as you could see with its green fields and the spectacular mountains in the back ground.  It looked like a wide open place where you could ride your horse for miles, or spin around singing, “The hills are alive” just like in the movie Sound of Music.

I took a photo and made a point to research it later.  That was when I realized that things were not as they seem in Owens Valley. History has a harsh story for this peaceful little area.

Evidently, there was, and still is a Owens Lake.  In the beginning of 1913, the Owens River was diverted to bring water to the city of Los Angeles. By the mid 1920’s Owens Lake was completely dry and of course to much dismay of the local residents. To make matters worse, the dry bed produced large amounts of dust.  The dust contained carcinogens and the lake bed soon became a huge polluter. The pollution levels became 25 times the amount that is acceptable under clean-air standards.  Owens Lake soon developed into the largest source of dust pollution in the United States.

Soon, multiple legal battles ensued and eventually Los Angeles had to establish a dust mitigation project. Over a billion dollars was spent to keep the dust down in the dry lake by pouring gravel and in parts, watering it or filling it with water. But it is worth it as the winds are strong in this area and can carry particles to many other cities that are close by.

Today, there is hope for Owens Lake as the restoration project is slowly bringing life back and birds are flocking to this once desolate lake area.

As I think back to that serene little valley, I am sure the residents were not happy with losing their lake as well as the dry bed becoming polluted.  I hope things are better for them all.

Diaz Lake
Although we were in the heat of the mid day, we still wanted to fish one last time. We found a small lake on the map and decided to stop by.

The temperatures were in the nineties so finding shade was a must. That proved a little hard as there weren’t that many trees around the water.  Gone were the pine trees and the mountains, as Diaz Lake looked like something in the desert.  Surrounded by a RV park, the place was pretty deserted so we slipped into a parking space and tried our luck for about forty five minutes.

Just like in the Sierras, no fish were to be had, it was our last chance and once again we came up empty.  Even though this little lake isn’t as picturesque as the mountain lakes, it was still nice sitting on its banks enjoying the day. It looked like a great place to camp with your family.

Fossil Falls
I read a brief snippet of Fossil Falls and on the map we saw that it wasn’t far from Highway 395, so we added it to our excursion list.  In the two paragraph article I read about it, it said, “don’t expect any fossils or waterfalls.”   They were sort of right.

We drove just a few minutes from the highway and came to a parking lot that didn’t require any payment.   In fact everywhere we went on the 395 with the exception of one place, no fee was ever required.

As we stepped out of the car, the sun was beating down on us with ninety-five degree mid day temperatures.   Adding to the heat, the landscape looked  like something out of this world, so it wasn’t  hard to imagine we were on Mercury or one of those other hot planets  .

Dating back over 150,000 years ago, volcanic eruptions caused the lava flow along the Owens River and through the valley.

Fossil Falls is a lava flow that was sculpted by rushing water in the ice ages. So it is kind of a fossil in itself.



If you hike in far enough you will see the portion designated as “The falls”.  The flat area comes into a small valley or chasm where you can see where this hot molten rock became a lava waterfall.

It was too hot for me so I snapped a few photos and headed back to the air conditioned car. I saw small a campground in the distance and wondered what they could possible do out here.

I guess it is a great place for hiking, rock climbing and of course night sky viewing that I am sure is incredible.

For one of our small excursions during our trip down Highway 395, this was interesting and I am glad we stopped.

Continue reading “Highway 395 Part Three of Three”

Highway 395 Part Two

Highway 395 Part Two of Three Parts

Continuing on in Part two, we explore more of Highway 395 when we visit, Bishop, Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery, and the Manzanar National Historic Site.

 Bishop
Like Lee Vining, most of Bishop is on the 395 Highway.  Shops, restaurants, other various businesses are right there as you drive by.    In all of the stories I have read about Bishop, people raved about their restaurants and their delicious bakeries. If I was hungry I would have definitely stopped for a bite, but this time was only for gas.

Bishop is one of the larger towns on this lonely stretch of the 395 and sits at an elevation of 4,150 feet.  Although the population is just under 4,000, in town and around Bishop there is a lot to do.  It is a popular area for hiking with trails galore as well as areas for rock climbing.  Other attractions include,  Keough’s hot springs,  a railroad museum, festivals, plus plenty of off-roading.

Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery
After four days of only catching one fish, we read about the Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery and decided if we can’t catch em’, let’s go see em’!

Near the town of Independence, the hatchery is once again not far off from the highway.  We drove up to an empty parking lot and saw only two other people that were heading for their car. That should have been our first clue as we found out that the hatchery was closed.

Even on this extremely hot day, we still got out to explore a little.  There is a super tall European looking building right at the entrance and close by is a small pond with quiet seating areas along its edges.

We didn’t see any fish in the pond and since we couldn’t get in to the building, we don’t know where the fish are kept.

On research later, that building was actually built in 1916 and features hand-laid stones all around its perimeter.

Although we didn’t get to see this place in full, they do offer tours, fish feedings, a gift shop, displays, and restrooms.  If you want to learn more or find out when they are open, visit: https://www.mtwhitneyfishhatchery.org/

In its prime, the hatchery produced over two million fish per year but just like our luck with fishing, we didn’t see any…maybe next time.

It was too bad we went on a day that they were closed but it was time to move on. Speaking of history, our next stop would be the Manazar National Historical Site. It will be a journey back to a dark place in our history.

Manzanar National Historic Site
On an earlier Staycation post, I wrote about the Japanese Fishing Village in Terminal Island, San Pedro. It was a story about Japanese residents who were displaced and sent to Internment camps after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

While driving south on Highway 395, we were surprised to see that there was a former  internment camp, at the Manzanar National Historic Site.


One of the old guard towers stands today

The site is about 45 miles south of Bishop and has a huge visitor center with displays, exhibits, facts, and movies about the camp. Quite frankly you can spend a lot of time here as there was a lot to see and learn about in the center alone.

As it turns out the residents of that fishing village that I wrote about, came here along with 10,000 other Japanese U.S citizens.   Soon after that fateful day at Pearl Harbor, they were thought to be spies or involved and an anti-Japanese sentiment soon surrounded the country.  Soon, Executive Order 9066 was enacted which sent them all to these military type camps.

With only a few days notice, they had to sell their possessions before they were trucked to various isolated areas.   There were ten internment camps in the U.S. and for some of the west coasters; Manzanar was created for them in the remote area of Owens Valley, California.

As the day wore on and the weather got progressively hotter, I was saddened on how they had to live here in such contrasting conditions. Summer temperatures were in the 100’s and in winter it could drop below zero.  On this October day it was scorching hot and as I looked over the baseball field and basket ball court, I couldn’t imagine doing anything but sitting in an air conditioner…but they didn’t have that luxury.

After we spent time in the visitor center, they allowed you to drive around for a 3.2 mile self guided tour.  You could also go by foot but we vetoed that idea because of the heat.

Just a stone’s throw away from the visitor center sits two reconstructed barracks and a mess hall with exhibits.  Hung on the walls were fact sheets about life in the camp.


The barracks and sleeping quarters


The inside of mess hall


An old photo of the lines waiting to get into the mess hall

The housing units encompassed about 500 acres and were at the time, surrounded by barbed wire and eight guard towers. Military police patrolled the area and were housed just outside of the fence.

On the tour, you can see the markers of where the other buildings once stood.


Signs show the rows and rows of barracks that were once here

There were 36 blocks that had 500 barracks and the conditions were crowded.  The only furnishings supplied were an oil stove, blankets, cots with mattresses filled with straw, and one single light source.


A display in the visitor center shows the rows and rows of barracks and other buildings


The sleeping quarters

Some of the facts that we read on the wall told about life in the camps. As an example, the original buildings had big slits in them where sand would gush in and fill the rooms.  I also gave a brief thought about how many bugs got in between those open areas. I am not a big fan of ugly or harmful bugs like tarantulas and scorpions, so that alone would have been hell for me.

I also had another unpleasant thought about the open latrine that we were also able to visit. Toilets were all in a row with no barrier or partition and not very private.  Of course, the showers were the same.

Reading some of the information in the rooms, we discovered that the internees tried to make the best of a bad situation. Taken against their will and losing all of their possessions, despair would certainly be expected.  These brave and resilient people established churches, temples, boys/girls clubs, baseball and basketball teams, plus other sports activities.

Under harsh weather conditions, no privacy, imprisoned behind fences, they persevered by  creating gardens, ponds, music, and even a newspaper, The Manzanar Press. During the driving self tour, there are markings that tell you where everything was at that time.

During camp life they became mess hall workers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, and teachers. Skilled workers were paid the most while non-skilled workers made a lesser wage.

There was a general store, beauty parlor, bank, barber shop, and other things to make life easier.

When the war turned to our favor, they were allowed to leave the camps. The last few hundred internees left in November 1945. Many had spent three and a half years at Manzanar.

This is a very historical exhibit on Highway 395. It is not the best part of our history but it is a time that many don’t want forgotten so that we never do something like this again.

I cried writing the story about how the Fishing Village residents in San Pedro were removed from the homes they loved.  Now I see where they were taken and my heart goes out to them even more.

This is a must see if driving the 395.

Highway 395

 

Highway 395

I’m a sucker for a scenic road and Highway 395 is one of the good ones in my opinion.

On our way home from Mammoth Lakes headed south, we decided to take our time and explore this route a little more. This meant stopping at some of the underrated and quirky places along the way.

Because there was so much to see and many were historical, we split this up into three parts. We hope you will enjoy.

The Highway
To get to the Eastern Sierras, Highway 395 is one of the easiest ways. It starts near the town of  Victorville and takes you through the interior of California while passing by deserts, mountains, and plenty of lakes.

On our way north, we only drove as far as the town of Lee Vining which is about two hours south of Lake Tahoe, but we saw so much.

If you trace Highway 395 on a map, you will see that right around Lake Tahoe, it does a short diversion into Nevada and then back into California.  What is interesting is that it continues north through Oregon, Washington, and finally stops at the Canadian border.

Our five hour drive was just a snippet of what this grand road provides and as mentioned, there was a lot see!

What I found interesting is that there are exits from the 395 that take you to the lowest altitude in North America and the highest in the contiguous United States.

Just a couple hours from the highway is the highly traveled Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level.

In contrast, you can access the Mount Whitney portal around the town of Lone Pine.  A thirteen mile drive takes you to an elevation of 8,373 feet and is the gateway to Mount Whitney. If you are so inclined you can climb this mountain which has an altitude of 14,505 feet.   Only Alaska has higher peaks.

So altitude changes of 282 feet below sea level to 14,505 feet above, all accessible from Highway 395.

The Road Begins
As you leave the hustle and bustle of Southern California, the scenery starts changing as you’ll soon notice more and more tree lined hills. With summer just ending, they were not as vibrant as after a rainy period, but still beautiful.

The highway eventually starts its ascent into higher altitudes and the Eastern Sierras will soon appear in the distance.   Spread out like a enormous majestic wall, this range of mountains separates the coast from this inland passage.  The mountain peaks were only slighted dotted with snow although that will soon be changing when fall turns into winter.

However, winter seemed so far away as on this day, the temperatures were in the 80’s to mid 90’s .

Now let’s start the trip with Lee Vining, Lundy Lake, June Lake Loop, Lakes Crawley and Convict then finally The McGee Creek RV Park in Part One.

Continue reading “Highway 395”

Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Only a mere twenty minutes from Mammoth Lakes sits the fascinating Mono Lake.  Unlike some of the alpine lakes we visited while in the area, Mono is the largest and spreads out for 695 square miles.

At 6,378 feet in elevation, Mono Lake can be seen from Highway 395 and is a neighbor to the nearby Sierras. In the distance the mountain range can be seen with small patches of snow at the tips.

The lake was formed 760,000 years ago and sits in a basin with no outlet. Because of this, high levels of salt accumulate making the water alkaline.

I was surprised to read later that they allow swimming and boats although on this day, I didn’t see any swimmers or boaters.

A Little Salt Please  
Because the salt is almost three times the density of ocean water, they say that when you swim, you are more buoyant. Floating is much easier than in sea water and is an unusual sensation reported by those who have actually swam there.

Navy Beach, just south of the city of Lee Vining is one of the swimming areas where you can also launch your kayaks and SUP’s.  Don’t forget to bring your binoculars as bird watching is prime here.

This desert lake has a productive ecosystem and although there are no fish, it does have a huge population of brine shrimp. Over two million migratory birds arrive annually to feed on them as well as the alkali flies.

On the Lake
We followed the signs from Highway 395 and arrived in a parking lot where a series of trails takes you down to the shore.  We saw a few guides/docents along the way available to answer any questions and one was even leading a tour of about twenty people.

These towers, unique to Mono Lake are mineral structures created when fresh-water springs bubble up through the alkaline waters.  They have become exposed because the water level has fallen.  With these strange pillars, it makes Mono Lake one of the most photographed and visited places in California.

There is a small $3 fee to use the area but children are free.

Since Mono Lake is such a short trip from Highway 395, I think it is worth it to take the time to view one of the oldest lakes in North America.

Our next story will be about Highway 395 where we stop in the nearby town of Lee Vining, visit an old internment camp, see a ghost town, walk along a lava pit, and finally make our way to the coast.

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell