Mono Lake – Willow Springs to Lee Vining (37k/5235k)

(September 5 – Written by Dave)

With a short day planned, we had a leisurely morning.  I finally got Nancy to put down her book around 7AM. Couple this with free coffee at the Willows campground it felt downright civilized.  My thoughts of calling it an unofficial rest day were dashed by the 7 mile 1,500 foot climb right out of the gate.

Virgina Creeks Cafe

Virgina Creek Cafe – near Willow

We were back out on Highway 395 right away but traffic today was much lower volume.  The shoulder was pretty good and the climb not overly steep.  We had more “burners” today but it was clear that many of them made their way south yesterday.  I snapped a few photos as we were climbing but even with all the stops we made it to the top in a couple hours.  We took a few photos at the top before starting a long, steep descent down to Mono Lake.

Up towards Conway Summit 2

Climbing Conway Pass

Conway Summit Pete and Nancy

Happy to be at the top

Backwards from Conway Summit

Looking back north from Conway Summit

About 2 miles down the climb we came upon a lake overlook and stopped for photos.  Lot of cars joined us at the overlook.  Say all you want about the “burners”, they were the people coming up to us asking if we needed food or water.  Views of the lake were pretty awesome – though hard to capture in the morning glare.

Mono Lake view 2

Mono Lake panoramic

Mono Lake and Highway 395

Highway 395 and Mono Lake

Burner car 2

Burner bikes with dust and duct tape

Burner car 1

Burner rig

VD = Voodoo Donuts

For our friends in Portland – VD = Voodoo Doughnuts

Mono Lake is now officially “saved”.  Growing up as kids we heard a lot about saving the lake.  It was actually fine all on its own until the 1940s, when the city of Los Angeles got a hold of old water rights and started pulling water out of the lake’s inlet streams.  By 1994 the lake had dropped 25 feet and was in danger of drying up.  The massive multi-year environmental campaign culminated in the city giving up some of its rights in exchange for guaranteed lower volumes.  There is still a strong movement here for the lake but the bumper stickers we used to see have changed from “Save Mono Lake” to “Keep Mono Lake Saved”.  We picked up a couple for our bikes.

Spot the cyclist 1

Spot the cyclist – number one

Spot the cyclist 2

Spot the cyclist – number two

Mono Lake Tufa 2

Mono Lake tufa

The ride down to the lake was fast and fun, the 500 foot climb back to Lee Vining not so fun.  We stopped at the lake visitor center on the way into town before heading 1 mile past town to a servo for lunch.  Pete swore that the best food in town was up the hill at the Mobile station so off there we went.  Afternoon thunder storms were threatening and the wind coming off the pass were amazing.  I was blown off my bike once but we all made it.  And yes, the food was great.  Pete and I had fish tacos, Nancy a BBQ chicken sandwich – It was so good, all we got for photos are below – sorry.

Lunch - all that remained

After lunch we rode back down the hill to town and the Mono Vista campground.  It’s full of a nice mix of Yosemite hikers, burners and another long distance cyclist.  We were all stuffed from our lunch but managed to find another nice place to eat for dinner – where we had just soup and salad – plus an amazing homemade blueberry pie.  Pete had his own slice but, to be fair, I ended up eating at least half of his (plus my half of ours) – it was good pie.

Welcome to Lee Vining

Nice vibe in Lee Vining

Blueberry Pie at dinner

Pete’s pie (and his photo, which he felt it important I mention)

For such a short day, it turned out to be pretty interesting.  The Mono Lake story is interesting and the mix of people here in Lee Vining entertaining.  Tomorrow is even a shorter day – however, there is a small matter of the 2,500 foot climb up Tioga Pass.  I’m not overly worried about the climb – we’ve done these things before.  Nancy, she’s not so convinced.  Good news awaits at the top as we’ve been able to secure campsites at Yosemite for three nights – one in Tuolumne Meadows and two in Yosemite Valley proper.  I’m not sure when our next post will get out…

One thought on “Mono Lake – Willow Springs to Lee Vining (37k/5235k)

  1. Sounds like a good day! I can’t wait to hear how Tioga Pass goes. I have no desire to ever try to ride it, but I’m sure it will be a beautiful ride! That pie looks delicious. Enjoy Yosemite, hopefully the smoke and crowds won’t be too bad! Try to do the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls (go very early to beat the crowds)…it is a favorite of mine.

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