Home » 2022 Bishop and Death Valley

Bishop, CA

Friday, February 25, 2022 - 9:45am by Lolo
360 miles and 7 hours from our last stop - 3 night stay


Day 1 - Drive to Bishop stopping at Mono Lake along the way

Mono LakeMono LakeAs I mentioned in the past, our son Andrew and his wife Celeste, moved from San Francisco to Bishop in 2019 to try out a less-urban lifestyle in what is a world-class rock climbing destination. They were fortunate enough to be able to take their San Francisco jobs with them - and this was before Covid.

Bishop and all of the Eastern Sierra is stunningly beautiful, so even though they are 6 ½ hours away from us now, it is not a hardship to go over the mountains to visit them. Their home is often the first or last stop on one of our road trips.

The drive on Highway 395, also known as the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway, is probably one of the most beautiful drives in the U.S. The 133-mile stretch from the Nevada border to Bishop is loaded with scenic vistas, each more beautiful than the next.

Mono LakeMono LakeOne of our favorites along the way is Mono Lake, so we couldn’t resist just driving by without taking a detour to the County Park to visit the “tufa castles”.

These tufas, which are composed of precipitated calcium carbonate, were formed over a period of thousands of years by the interaction of freshwater springs and the highly alkaline waters of Mono Lake.

Normally they would just be hidden beneath the water, but as lake levels dropped, these extraordinary-looking knobs, spires, and minarets became exposed, some of them rising as high as 30 feet above the surface—and they do look like castles. Most of the towers visible in the lake are from 200 to 900 years old. It is such a unique and otherworldly place and definitely worth a stop.

Then it was on to Andrew and Celeste’s for a great home-cooked meal followed by a cozy night by the wood burning stove, just enjoying each other’s company.

Day 2 - Climbing at the Buttermilks and Off-Roading to Warm Springs Road

The view atop a hill in the ButtermilksThe view atop a hill in the ButtermilksWhenever we go to Bishop, we know that climbing is going to be a big part of it. Plus, Bishop is a premier climbing destination with numerous areas to do all types of climbing - trad, sport, and bouldering. That’s why they moved here.

Herb was still out photographing, so Andrew and Celeste headed out ahead of us to the Buttermilks, their favorite climbing area and one of California’s premier bouldering destinations. It was just a half hour from their house, out along the bumpy, washboardy Buttermilk Road.

Bouldering in the ButtermilksBouldering in the ButtermilksBouldering is not Herb and my thing - we’re getting too old to take the kind of falls involved, even with a pile of crash pads below. So, for this portion of the day, we would just be spectators - not a bad thing as the landscape is amazing, with hundreds of huge boulders (or more technically, glacial erratics) strewn across a vast hillside with the snow-capped Sierra in the background.

Before meeting up with them, we passed the main climbing area and drove up a short, but very steep hill, to a wonderful panoramic view of the Buttermilks. 4WD is definitely recommended. This is the hill where we camped back in July of 2020 to watch the Neowise Comet.

Burn area from the Bishop Airport FireBurn area from the Bishop Airport FireAfterwards we found them happily climbing with their friends. I really enjoy just hanging out, watching them climb, and enjoying the scenery.

On the way back, Herb and I decided to take a drive out on Warm Springs Road toward the White Mountains to see the damage done by the recent Bishop Airport fire, which had raged through the Owens Valley, east of 395 and towards the White Mountains.

Herb usually gets up every morning to drive out into the Owens Valley to photograph the early morning light. On the few mornings he had, he had not seen any signs of the fire. However, today we drove further south to Warm Springs Road and then further east towards the White Mountains and came across an area of burn. Fortunately, this was mostly a vegetation fire with no damage to structures. Still it was sad to see the burnt Cottonwoods and reeds along the river.

Burn area from the Bishop Airport fireBurn area from the Bishop Airport fireThat night we went out to dinner at Andrew and Celeste’s favorite place, the Owens Valley Distillery, where they serve “Intelligently crafted, artisanal spirits." I think of myself as sort of a scholar, so I like my drinks intelligent.

Seriously, they serve phenomenal cocktails. I had a delicious rum cocktail called a Painkiller. There is also a rotating food truck there, and Andrew and Celeste seem to always know the chef - the beauty of small town living. The food was delicious, the cocktails inspiring, and it was within walking distance to their house - good thing, because these cocktails were potent.

After dinner, we went to Good Earth Yogurt on Main Street for wine and cheesecake. Gee, when did Bishop get so fancy?

Day 3 - Skiing at June Lake followed by the June Lake Brewery

Awesome views of Mono Lake at June Lake Ski AreaAwesome views of Mono Lake at June Lake Ski AreaHerb and I hadn’t skied in almost 3 years, so I was kind of anxious to try it again. I’m not a particularly great skier (Herb is much better), but I do enjoy a good intermediate trail. Andrew had been raving for some time about the June Lake Mountain Ski Area and telling me how much I would love it - plenty of wide intermediate trails, no crowds, no hassle, and great views. Sounded good to me.

Equipment failure after first runEquipment failure after first runWe had our own equipment, but they were a bit of antiques. I think they were probably at least 20 years old, and before the advent of shaped skis. The straight shape of my skis and its design, which literally looked like the wood flooring of a bowling alley lane, probably dated me a bit. Let’s just say I didn't exactly look like Susie “Chapstick.” That comment definitely dates me as well.

I was a little rusty and nervous, but on the first run everything seemed to be going fine and I was really enjoying myself. For some reason, at the very end, I felt a little less in control, but I definitely was feeling more confident.

Just before getting back on the chairlift for our second run, Herb pointed down at my right boot, which seemed to have cracked by the buckle nearest to the toe, exposing the orange padding inside.

Happy skiersHappy skiersAt first he questioned whether it was a big deal, but when I went to open it, more of it started to crack. This was not good, so Andrew said he would take me inside to rent a pair.

I took my now defunct boot off and carried somewhat embarrassingly behind him, as more and more pieces of it dropped in the snow, leaving a trail of “breadcrumbs” behind me. Oh, and the other boot started to crack as well.

I apologized to Andrew for taking time away from his skiing, but with a big grin, he informed me that this was the highlight of his day and proceeded to text Tommy photos of Mom’s first run.
We quickly got another pair of boots, I threw my old ones in the trash, and we were back out on the slopes in less than 20 minutes.

Apres ski at June Lake BreweryApres ski at June Lake BreweryThe rest of the day went much smoother and we had a blast - 15 runs without any further incident.

Now, we were ready for the real event of the day that all of us had been looking forward to - some of us even more than skiing (you know who I’m talking about Celeste).

The June Lake Brewery is Andrew and Celeste’s weekend happy place, not just in winter, but all year round. This lovely little lakeside mountain village is known fondly as the ‘Switzerland of California’, because of its spectacular glacial lakes and high jagged mountain peaks.

It was already hopping (no pun intended) when we got there. They have a great selection of craft IPAs, which I love, and pilsners and wheat beers for Herb. There is also a food truck serving tasty Hawaiian soul food. It has a great apres-ski vibe.

Then it was back to the house for one more night before going on to Death Valley for a few days