Thursday, June 11, 2009

Middle Palisade, Part VI, Local Color

Rivas and I awoke to a clear, sunny day. The kind of day that depresses you if your plan used to be climbing mountains. We dried everything out again, the morning ritual. Breakfast was down the hill at the Tom's Place cafe. Something to be said for not having any local competition: waitresses can be as grouchy as they want. These were grouchy with panache, a matter of prickly pride. The food was great, however, and the waitresses warmed to us once they saw we were there to eat and not be just a burden.
Properly fueled, we hit the dirt roads again. North of Chidalgo Canyon we discovered numerous mines. Some of the sites were just remnants, others were simply a caved in hole in the side of a hill. However, we did find several mines that had been a going concern in their day. The "Casa Diablo" mine had huge mounds of talings, several foundations for cabins, a small mountain of trash (old tins, cans, glass, etc...) and , of course, a deep mine shaft. I went into the shaft cautiously and quietly and my headlamp became neccessary after about 20ft. There were a couple of small cave-ins that had been shored up with boards and logs. I studdied them with care before continuing. I started getting creeped out after about a hundred feet. My light couldn't reach the end of the tunnel and behind me the mine entrance was just a distant light. Enough. Time to get out.
We found another significant mine site, the "Slim Chance". Despite the claim's name there was every indication that this site had been in buisness for quite a while. The remains of two cabins, one still standing, were perched on the hill of a little canyon. The mine shaft had significant cave-in damage at the mouth though one could peer into the shaft by shoving aside some rocks and dirt. As at Casa Diablo there was a big trash heap, talings piles, and other deritrus.
Returning to the roads we headed north through miles of desert, eventually arriving at the derelict Benton Hot Springs, a village of about 100 people whose sole economy was based on it's stagecoach stop heritage and what few people could be attracted to the spring. Continuing north and west we drove on black-top through a largely untouched wilderness of high valleys, mesas, and plateaus. Truly beautiful country with surprises around every corner. Soon we descended into the southern edge of Mono Lake.
Turning north on 395 we passed Lee Vining and hung a right on the road to Bodie State Historical Park. This site is a Gold Rush ghost town where the population exploded from 200 to 10,000 in the space of a year. Despite a fire in 1929 there remains at least 200 buildings in what the Park Service calls "arrested decay". A visitor can wander through the town, the residences, the church, and numerous businesses. One can see the mortuary, the assayer office, the school and several saloons. There are derelict cars, mining junk, old carriages, everything is still here. I'm at a loss to adequately describe this place. It's a touch of the old stuff, magical. I think the pictures can give you a better sense of it than 1,000 words of mine.
We returned to Mammoth and spent the evening at Convict Lake under rainy skies. We'd had enough of rain so we had pizza and watched game 1 of the NBA Finals at the Restaurant at Convict Lake.

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