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Breath and sky: Get away from the coast with a trip to the Eastern Sierras 

I roll my windows down simply to feel the heat: a wave of new weather to rid my bones of the fog-enshrouded cloud of 60-degree coast behind me. 

click to enlarge FISH ON:  Grass Lake, like many of the lakes outside of Bishop, is a spot where anglers like to fish for trout. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • FISH ON: Grass Lake, like many of the lakes outside of Bishop, is a spot where anglers like to fish for trout.

The gauge on my dashboard climbs above 90, and continues its upward push as I hit Cuyama, skirt around Bakersfield, and reach for Tehachapi. By the time my little blue wagon hits Highway 395, the sun is setting and the temperature is 100-plus degrees. My windows are up and the AC is blasting.

Freedom, anticipation, and a need for fuel all mix together in a solid breath of weekend. I’m heading past Bishop. It’s a long haul—five to seven hours depending on traffic—and I definitely hit construction traffic, because that’s what happens when I leave work early.

My dog is panting and has to pee but won’t because the gas station doesn’t smell like home. So after 15 minutes of wandering around in the bushes without any action, I let him loose to chase the bunnies in the empty lot next door—and now he won’t come when I call him and he still hasn’t peed. Typical. 

click to enlarge NATURE’S BEST:  Wild tiger lilies hide in the tall grass beneath the pine that line the shoreline of Grass Lake. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • NATURE’S BEST: Wild tiger lilies hide in the tall grass beneath the pine that line the shoreline of Grass Lake.

All the frustration of being a pet owner is forgotten as we climb out of Bishop on Highway 168 toward South Lake: 4,000 to 5,000 to 6,000 to 7,000 feet in 20 minutes. My ears pop and so do the stars. My dog starts looking like a wild beast, eyes wide, pacing in the back seat; ears high and alert, he starts whimpering. I feel the same, but it’s almost midnight.

Pulling into Four Jeffry Campground off South Lake Road, I cross my fingers. I don’t have a reservation, and all the empty campsites have reserved signs on them. Luckily I find one, pull in, and get camp set up—cracking a Death Valley Pale Ale from Indian Wells Brewing Co. (thanks, gas station!) before staring at the sky. Only the brightest stars shine through the light of the full moon, which illuminates the craggy mountains in front of me. Finally. Some peace.

I meet some friends in the morning who are staying up the road at the Creekside RV Park, and we hit Parchers Resort for an all-you-can-eat breakfast. Homemade biscuits and sausage gravy, need I say more? Well-fed, it’s time for dust, sun, and some fishing. 

click to enlarge DEEP BREATH:  Long Lake stretches into the John Muir Wilderness on the east side of the Sierra Nevadas outside of Bishop. - PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • PHOTO BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
  • DEEP BREATH: Long Lake stretches into the John Muir Wilderness on the east side of the Sierra Nevadas outside of Bishop.

We hike up to Grass Lake, which was more than the 4-year-old bargained for, but he managed to make it in good spirits after threatening to nap on one of the boulders we passed. They get out the fishing rods and swim trunks, and I look for the booming creek that feeds the lake. It careens in a tumble of whitewater from boulder to boulder until settling in the valley, meandering in clarity toward Grass Lake. 

Trout dart between my bare feet and hurriedly swim in fear from the graceful crashing splashes of my pit bull. Barren granite mountains push up against the sky beyond the tree line as my ankles freeze in snowmelt rippling next to late summer blooms of purple, red, and yellow wildflowers.

The mosquitoes are especially fierce in the early afternoon, and cranky hunger drives us to find pizza and beer at another little resort on South Lake Road, Bishop Creek Lodge. I know, pretty fancy food for camping!

RESERVE AMERICA:  Unless you’re a brave soul who likes the risk of not finding a place to camp after driving for at least five hours, I recommend reserving a campsite in advance. To find your moment of Zen in the Sierras, visit reserveamerica.com or recreation.gov.
  • RESERVE AMERICA: Unless you’re a brave soul who likes the risk of not finding a place to camp after driving for at least five hours, I recommend reserving a campsite in advance. To find your moment of Zen in the Sierras, visit reserveamerica.com or recreation.gov.

On day two, we drive down into Bishop to look for a swimming hole. After nearly two hours of dead ends in 100-degree heat, we tripped into a cool artesian spring along the Owens River. We have it to ourselves for 15 minutes before people start showing up. Once it gets too crowded, we search for a different spot along the river that’s deep enough to jump into. Sufficiently waterlogged and river-scented, Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ is next on the list. Yeast, flour, and sugar enticingly beckon from every shelf, and we pick up some sheepherder’s bread to go with the trout we will be frying for dinner, as well as some pull-apart monkey bread for the next morning.

On day three, my friends head home and I find Long Lake, about a 2.5-mile hike up from South Lake into the John Muir Wilderness. Perfect for a morning trek into some wilderness—and a last breath of solitude—before I get back in the car for the long drive home. 

Editor Camillia Lanham is ready to breath some not smoky mountain air again. Send comments to clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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