October 12 2010 by Jason Fogelson
There's nothing like a 300-mile motorcycle ride through the desert to assure a good night's sleep. A nice, clean elegant room at the BEST WESTERN High Sierra Hotel doesn't hurt much, either. We packed up our gear, then went down to the hotel's adjacent Cafe 203 for eggs cooked to order, bacon, sausage, coffee and juice -- all included with our night's stay. We ran into Gary and his girlfriend as we were loading the bike for the road. They were going to dip into Yosemite National Park through the Tioga Pass on their way to Lake Tahoe, a detour that we had considered. We had other plans, so we wished each other well, keep the rubber side down, and went our separate ways.
Mammoth Lakes is a great base for exploration. During winter, the area features world class skiing and snowmobiling. During summer, hiking, camping and fly-fishing abound. The whole Eastern Sierra area is an outdoor-lover's paradise. But we didn't have time to explore everything on this trip. We'll have to return to Mammoth Lakes in the near future.
After a short time on the road, we stopped in at the Forest Rangers' Station at Lee Vining overlooking Mono Lake, and toured the exhibit about the ecology of the region. Mono Lake was a thriving ecology until it became a source for Los Angeles' water supply in the 1940s. The levels in the lake fell by half, and the salinity increased dramatically. Most of the native fish and vegetation died, and the ecological disaster threatened to spread to the rest of the area. Concerned citizens banded together, and strove to protect the local ecology. Today, Mono Lake appears to be on the way to recovery, though it will still take many years before the damage is reversed. The Mono County Tourism and Film Commission is a great resource for information about tours, vacations and activities in the area.
Back on the road, we reached Conway Summit (elevation 8,138), the highest point on any highway in California. We continued on US 395 as it crossed the border into Nevada, pointing toward Carson City. The theme to the television show "Bonanza" ran through my head, as I imagined Hoss, Little Joe and Adam telling Pa Cartwright that they were taking the wagon into Carson City for supplies. But I digress.
Just south of the town of Minden, we left US 395 for Route 207, which pointed us to the west. From the high flat land of Nevada, Route 207 rose quickly into the mountains. Beautiful, tight curves and switchbacks led us into the Lake Tahoe area. We soon arrived in South Lake Tahoe at the BEST WESTERN Station House Inn. We were a little early for check-in -- our room had not yet been prepared. But the friendly staff at the hotel gladly stored our leathers for us, and we went off to explore the nearby town on foot.
South Lake Tahoe nestles against the California/Nevada border. The BEST WESTERN Station House Inn is on the California side, literally blocks from the imaginary dotted line. Gambling is legal on the Nevada side, and several big casinos adorn the main drag in town. The California side features more shopping and casual dining opportunities. We grabbed a quick lunch at McP's Pub, a local watering hole and live music venue. Sitting outdoors on the front porch, we absorbed the sights and smells of the bustling resort town.
With our stomachs full, we were ready for more motorcycling. We decided to ride around Lake Tahoe in a clockwise direction, a ride that the brochures describe as "The Most Beautiful Drive in America." It was certainly in my top ten "Most Beautiful," in any case, and a must if you visit Lake Tahoe. Taking roads that hug the shoreline of the lake, the drive is 72 miles long, and takes about 3 hours without stops. But you must stop -- if only to admire the scenery at several designated scenic overlooks. We also stopped for a look at an antique car show in Incline Village, at the top of the lake. You've gotta stop for the cool old cars, right?
I'm very glad that we did our drive in a clockwise direction from South Lake Tahoe, because the more densely populated western shore gave way to the beautiful wilderness of the eastern shore and Nevada's Highway 28, a National Scenic Byway.
We rode back in to our hotel, completely relaxed and delighted by our day of riding. While Robin freshened up for dinner, I walked down to the beach of Lake Tahoe, two blocks away from the hotel. The beach is private, but as a guest at the BEST WESTERN you can gain free access during your stay. Nice. I smoked a cigar while I watched the sunset, then returned to collect Robin for our evening repast.
We strolled over to the Nevada side of town, and peeked in at the casinos. Gambling really isn't our thing, but casinos usually have good cheap eats somewhere inside. After checking out the buffets at the three big casinos, we settled on The Buffet at Montbleu Casino. For $12.95 per person, we each ate our fill of quite good food. You get what you pay for, to be sure, but sometimes you get a little more if there's enough competition in the area. With several "all-you-can-eat" buffets in close proximity, you can make out pretty well if you shop around.
After dinner, Robin wanted to try out the slot machines for fun. We spent about five minutes feeding a very complicated "Wizard of Oz" themed machine bills before we gave up, realizing that we didn't understand how the electronic slots worked. What happened to the good old one-armed bandits of yesteryear? Oh, well, we only lost $5 and five minutes. That was plenty of gambling for us.
Besides, tomorrow we would ride through the Sierras and over a high mountain pass. It was time for some rest.
Miles ridden: 220
Next: Day Three: South Lake Tahoe to Sonora, CA