The Owens Valley and Insight

I’m in the Owens Valley. Famous or infamous by Manzanar, the WWII Japanese Internment Camp, or the greet Los Angeles water robbery that created caustic conditions in the valley and effectively eliminated agriculture. I’ve been to the Valley three or four times, and I wanted to figure out why I keep on coming back. The place is beautiful, but …

There are many variables. There are great vistas, the Eastern Sierra looms to the west of the Valley. The area is desolate but has that minimalist esthetic. At Mono Lake and Lee Vining, there is the eastern entrance of Yosemite, one of Louise’s favorite places in the world. I worked for the town of Long Valley (Washington Township, Morris County, NJ). This area is referred to as the Long Valley Caldera. I studied Geology, and have a good, but currently misplaced friend, Janet Kempski, who is a volcanologist. The valley is chock a block full of all kinds of volcanoes.

Some of my favorites are in/near the town of Lee Vining. There are some excellent pumice volcanoes south of town, and there are the volcanoes in and by Mono Lake which were reported to be active in recorded history. The southernmost one by the volcano has excellent examples of obsidian. Obsidian is a rock, but looks like black glass and fractures just like glass. Native Americans used the Obsidian to construct tools.

Yesterday Al Jaffa, a friend who agreed to follow me up the valley from Death Valley where we’d been hanging out between RV Rallies, decided not to head south towards warmer weather, but to take a chance and see whet we could to the north of the Valley. We lucked on a BLM Campsite. There is a table, and a fire ring, but there are no normal facilities like a dump station or water, but the price is right. The fee is $2.50 a night, and it’s level. So, we’re in an inexpensive, beautiful campground, and we’re self sufficient. We thought we’d see if we could make it to Mono Lake.

No such luck, as we hit 7,800 in elevation, just past Mammoth Lakes, there was snow everywhere, and more importantly a notice from CALTRANS that vehicles had to have chains on board. Nope, I had none of those. Besides, everything I wanted to see and poke at was under a thick layer of snow. That, and the 20° weather was a slowing factor.

We stopped a geothermal power plant near Mammoth Lakes Ski area, and looked at leakage coming out of the ground (yes all those red and black lumps are volcanoes of indeterminate age.) It was the first time Al had seen a geothermal feature outside of a National Park. Louise and I discovered it back in 2012 when we explored the area during the Summer. On the way back to camp, we stopped at Mahogany smoked meats where I picked up some not-anywhere-close-to-diet-good-smoked-pork-loin-chops. Al picked up some jerky, and was kind enough to give me a taste. The Buffalo pepper dried was the best.

I hit a grocery store for some diet type food, while Al talked to friends and family, and we then headed to the famous Erick Schat’s Bakery. The place was packed like the NYC subway at rush hour. Maybe more packed. Al bought bread, I tasted the free samples.

From there, we continued to Copper Top BBQ for lunch.  I’ve always looked for places that had a full parking lots and long lines, on the pre or tail end of mealtimes. Copper Top did not disappoint. There was a line, and the wait to order was about 20 minutes. We met a very nice Couple. Luke and Isabelle. He was from the Seattle area, and worked for Microsoft. She was from Los Angeles, but was quick to add that she wasn’t from there originally. They were very pleasant company while waiting. I ordered the pork ribs and Tri-Tip. Al got Tri Tip and pulled pork and said he was good for dinner for a week. He is slim and trim, I a not. I know why.

We retired to the RV for lunch, and had a beer while we ate. I had a rib, some slices of Tri Tip and some Cole Slaw. The coleslaw had a surprise. It was made with green apples in addition to the cabbage and celery seed (a mando ingredient in my opinion).  The meat was good, I’d give it an A, but I’ve had better with Jack Rigby in Pearland Texas. The BBQ was good, the Tri Tip was chewy, but had good flavor. I’ve only had Tri Tip once before. I cooked that, and it melted in your mouth. Their cow must have been trying to avoid the Bar B Que. The ribs were fair, but somewhere along the cooking process they got too hot. The tips became dried out and chewy. They were good, but the trick to great BBQ, in my opinion is to have the texture of the meet consistent over the entire bone. We drove back to camp after lunch to look at the snow covered mountains. A very nice day. I could do this one over again.

We returned to camp and straightened out our purchases, put away food, parked and leveled my RV, and Al went back to his RV. The remainder of the afternoon provided us with an opportunity to relax. There was the time to do some things that were not necessary, but on our itch list. I had a cup of coffee and a donut, two self prohibited items on my quest to be a more compact me, (It was great!), and read a book.

I posted to Facebook, moved some dash cam videos off the dash cam to my computer, a task that I’ve been putting off since last July. I happened to look out the window after listening to a video clip I accidentally came across after messing with the dash cam. The segment was an inconsequential clip where I was talking to Kitt about traveling with Louise. It was from last October, and for some reason, had not been deleted. It had not been saved, it just was there. Pure chance. Pure blessing. Pure gift.

In the conversation with Kitt I talked about Louise and me traveling. One of the most impressive places we stayed was the campground next to Devil’s Tower. We sat in the RV and looked out the dinette window, and there it was. Impressive, majestic, looking like a giant pre-historic tree trunk. Iconic. It filled the whole window. I told Kitt that I would play a game with Louise when we were at less than magnificent places. We slept with all the curtains and skylight shade drawn. Our interior was a constant; it was the exterior scenery that changed constantly. I’d ask her where she wanted to be. With the curtains closed we could be anywhere we wanted until they were opened. It was fun to play the game.

We’d name out favorite places; Lembert Dome, the For Pierre Grasslands, the Tetons. We’d both laugh and enjoy the memory of being at all those wonderful places for a minute or two, and then open the curtains, and see where we were that morning. It generally was beautiful, but seldom and beautiful as our favorite places. It brought us enjoyment. As a reflex, I looked out the window and saw the snow covered mountains looming above out campground. It was then I realized why I love this place.

Louise loved mountains. She didn’t especially enjoy traveling through them on twisty roads without guardrails and steep drop offs when I was driving, pointing and looking, but nothing sated her thirst for nature like being in the mountains. She found them euphoric. The Owens Valley is bounded by mountains on both sides. The Sierra to the west are higher, more impressive, and generally more snow covered, but everywhere you look are mountains. In summer, the floor of the valley is tans and southwestern shades of green. There are vistas that allow you to look back into the lower section of the Valley. It is a beautiful place that made my best friend very happy. I still love her, and I love this place.