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.

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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

Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes

All of my life I have known Mammoth Lakes as just Mammoth and I always thought it was surrounded by one large lake, appropriately called Mammoth Lake.

Much to my surprise it isn’t called Mammoth, it is called Mammoth Lakes and there isn’t just one lake, there are multiple lakes of various sizes around the area.

Sixty-four years after my birth, I finally decided to visit this popular mountain town.  It’s a place that I obviously knew nothing about, yet it is only a mere six hours away from where I live.

T-shirts, Lakes, and Elevation
At an elevation of 7,881, Mammoth Lakes also has a thriving ski area and numerous other attractions such as Devils Postpile National Monument, a formation of basalt columns, and the soaring Rainbow Falls.

For us, our quest was to do some fishing on the many alpine lakes and explore others that were just up the road off of Highway 395.

When we arrived in town and even before our engine had time to cool off, we set off to check out some of the nearby lakes. Some were conveniently just a few miles from the condo that we rented.

Lake Mary is only a few miles outside of the town of Mammoth Lakes

On this weekend we were only a few days into fall but the weather still had summer like conditions.

As an example, on the beautiful Grant Lake, the sun beat done on us so hard, we had to find refuge in the shade.  It seems weird being up in the mountains dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. However, after the sun sets, the temperatures start to pummel to a cool thirty degrees Fahrenheit.

The next day was just as warm so we drove around a loop that took us to some of the other lakes.

Lake Mary was our first stop and we were impressed by the beautiful scenery and the sparkling blue water.  Only a smattering of white snow patches could be seen at the very tip of the mountains although soon they will be fully covered in pristine white.

The pine tree-lined hills added even more color while the air was clean and crisp.

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Humphreys Half Moon Inn.

Humphreys Half Moon Bay Inn
When arriving at Humphreys Half Moon Bay Inn located in San Diego, we were greeted at the desk with what are now my favorite 6 words in the English language…”We have given you an upgrade.”

What a beautiful upgrade it was as it turned out to be a one bedroom suite with a huge kitchen, dining room, and separate bedroom.   However, we did order a mini suite originally so it wasn’t as if they moved us up from a regular room all the way to a suite. Still, it was well appreciated. I don’t know why we were given an upgrade but I shut my mouth and gladly took the key!

When arriving at the room, the first thing I noticed when entering the door was an immediate view of the bay.  There were Rows of boats and sailboats against a pretty blue sky with the spectacular homes of Point Loma in the distance.

I investigated every nook and cranny in the place and there was so much room, I felt like calling up every friend I know to come over!!

However, this was to be a mellow weekend starting with a smooth jazz concert by saxophonist Kenny G.

Continue reading “Humphreys Half Moon Inn.”

La Jolla

LJ PS in foreground LJ Looking north-Houses and seals

By Land, Sea, or Air

As I was driving through La Jolla just recently it suddenly hit me on how much there was to do in this city.

As a leisurely Sunday drive, La Jolla is one of the best in Southern California.  The scenic route takes you to the bluffs above the ocean and, eventually, weaves you back down to sea level.

Along the way on La Jolla Scenic Drive or Torrey Pines Road, you will run into the Torrey Pines Golf Course, a PGA caliber course with the cliffs and majestic Pacific Ocean as a backdrop.   This remarkable golf course has hosted PGA events through the years and has attracted some of the best golfers in the world.

During the times when special events aren’t happening, this becomes a public course so give it a try if you dare. This is a challenging course with some of the holes sitting right on the ocean bluff.    As you enjoy the view of the sparkling ocean and the sprawling beach below, it just might take the sting away from scoring a 7 on a par 4.

La Jolla is also home to the Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve with walking trails giving you unobstructed views of the breathtaking coastline.   There are 8 miles of trails, a visitor center, and guided nature walks on weekends and holidays.

Just a short drive away you come across the Gliderport where you can take a tandem ride on a paraglider or hang-glider.  Many years ago on rare occasions they offered glider plane rides.  On one such day long ago, I was fortunate enough to be there when they were giving these rides.  I jumped on the opportunity and enjoyed a 30-minute exhilarating flight over the bluffs with the waves of Blacks Beach crashing some 500 feet below.

Today there are plenty of pilots available to give you tandem paraglider and hang-gliding rides, but we recommend getting reservations as this daring adventure fills up fast.

LJ Hang glider
LJ Lone parasailer
LJ Tandem riding
If stepping off a 300 foot cliff isn’t your cup of tea, you can enjoy the whole scene and the amazing view at one of the many sitting areas at the Gliderport.

You can bring your own lunch or purchase something from the café located in sute and kick back to enjoy the feeling of being on solid ground, unlike the crazies flying just above your head.

LJ Multiple parsailers

As you make your way towards the beach you will come across the popular La Jolla Shores.  With plenty of parking, this is a great place to swim, surf, and enjoy the day.   Just south of the shores you can rent kayaks or take a supervised kayak tour of the 7 caves of La Jolla. These caves are only accessible by sea and can be dangerous, so it’s best to let an expert show you the way if you are not experienced.

LJ Kayaks in bay
Another interesting attraction in this area, one that I was fortunate enough to experience as well , is swimming with the sharks.  A guide takes you to an area where the sharks congregate every year beginning in June.   The sharks hang out in the shallows so you don’t have to go very far to see them.

I was expecting little sharks about twelve inches long, so imagine my surprise when I dunked my masked head beneath the water to see my first shark of the day and it was five feet long!   Quite a surprise, but the leopard sharks are harmless and leave you alone while you are swimming among them.

If being close to sea life isn’t your thing, the Birch Aquarium along the scenic drive may be a little less stressful.  There are aquariums of all sizes full of every type of sea life imaginable. The sea horse display is most interesting and, if you are lucky, you can see the male seahorses giving birth to over 200 babies.

A live tide pool gives you a chance to experience sea life up close and the supervisor will let you lightly touch some of the species. Don’t worry, you will not have to swim with five feet long sharks. There are also interactive displays and plenty for the kids to do.

Caves and Seals
Following the scenic route you will soon reach the Cave Store just off of Prospect Ave. A man-made tunnel takes you from the gift store entrance to the actual cave.  I have not visited this interesting attraction but always make a note to do it every time I am in town.

Beyond the Cave Store you can park along the road and take a walk along the rocky shore with beautiful views up and down the coast.   There are accessible tide pools and close by is Seal Beach where you can view dozens of seals basking in the sun.  In fact, there are seals on almost every rock formation around the area.

There are areas where you can swim and La Jolla is known as having some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in California.

LJ Rock formation
LG Rocks along beach
LJ Seal Beach
LJ Seals on rock
LJ Sleeping Seal
LJ Swimming beach
Shopping and Eating
Just up the street a little bit east is Prospect Avenue where you can shop and eat at some of the finest stores and restaurants in the county.  Georges at the Beach features an ocean view and the ultra yummy Donavon’s is just a few doors down.

LJ Donavons
LJ Shops

In the evening there are bars, nightclubs, comedy stores, and of course the La Jolla Playhouse where top-notch actors perform in highly rated plays and musicals.

For more shopping, head east to the Westfield UTC mall which houses all the top stores, a theater, and an ice skating rink, or visit the mountaintop site of Mt. Soledad which is the home of the Mt. Soledad Cross, a memorial for fallen military, and 360 degree views as far as you can see.

The Jewel
La Jolla is known as a wealthy/affluent city and that is evident in some of the homes along the coast as well as inland.  However, it is a wonderful playground for every type person.  Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, adventuresome or safe, there is an activity for you.

Where else can you fly over the ocean with the wind at your face?  Where else can you swim with human sized sharks?  Where else can you play golf on the same holes that were played by the likes of Tiger Woods or Phil Michelson,  and where else can you walk into a gift shop and then right into an ocean cave?  LA JOLLA!

I read that there are two possible explanations for the origin of its name.  One answer is that La Jolla comes from the Spanish word “La Joya” which means “The Jewel.”

With what I have seen, I’m going with that one.


Parting Shot: The La Valencia Hotel. Many a movie star has stayed at this landmark hotel.

LJ Pink hotel

Photos and Story: Debbie Colwell