Thursday, June 22, 2017

Turning 30 in Washington DC: Day 4

Monday, June 5

Monday was our last day in DC, and with a flight that left at 7:00 PM we had a good chunk of the day to continue exploring. The only downside was that it was raining...there are only so many activities you can do with a dog in the rain. Plus, we had to check out of our AirBNB by 11:00, which was also limiting. 

After a quick Google search, we settled on visiting the National Arboretum, which was just a half hour drive away or so. I'd never even heard of it, but was marvelously impressed! It's essentially a huge park curated with different collections of trees and plants. One collection has a tree from every state in the US! 

There are also an arrangement of columns from the Capitol Building that were present for a number of presidential inaugurations, including Abraham Lincoln's. When they renovated the Capitol, the columns were no longer strong enough to be used structurally, so they were moved here and set up for display. Another bonus: the Arboretum is free to visit!

Also on site you will find a beautiful herb garden, bonzai museum, lovely visitor center, and vast grounds you can tour with a variety of different plant collections. We spent some time walking around the Asian Collection, which eventually led down to a picnic area by a river. This would be a really lovely spot on a sunnier day. As it was, the tree canopy protected us from most of the rain and the temperature was still warm enough to enjoy a casual stroll.

With some extra time before we needed to head to the airport, we did some drive-by tours of Logan and Thomas Circles to see some of the architecture, and made our way over to the National Cathedral. Learning that you had to pay to go inside, we spent some time having Dave run around on the front grass and taking photos. Always a good idea to tire a pup out before a long plane ride!

We stopped in Virginia on the way to the airport and picked up some burritos for lunch, which we ate in the car because it was raining and we have a dog, so patio seating wasn't an option. Let me tell you, Virginia certainly doesn't do Mexican food the way California does. A bit of a sad last meal to end an otherwise excellent vacation.

My Overall Impressions

DC is a great place to go visit! There are so many options of things to do for all ages and interests, and it can be a really affordable vacation since so many of the attractions are free. The activities that did cost money were generally reasonably priced. You can easily spend a week here and never run out of options of things to do, but you can also just focus in on key points of interest and have a fulfilling visit without feeling like you missed out. 

The drivers are terrible, so if you don't need to drive I'd stick to the Metro and Ubers. Driving here can be pretty stressful, so save yourself the headache. If you do decide to have a car, make sure you are good at parallel parking or are prepared to pay $$$ for a parking garage. Getting early starts to your day will help you avoid crowds and heat, and there is still a lot to do after the sun sets so go ahead and spend the afternoon relaxing in air conditioning, by a pool, or having a picnic in the shade. Bring lots of sunscreen and bug spray. If you are a bicycling person, they have a bike share where you can pick up and drop off bicycles at various locations that would be a great option for visiting the different memorials and getting around the National Mall, which is huge. The city overall seems to be very dog friendly, so don't hesitate to bring your pooch with you on your visit. Great food, nice people, and a very pleasant experience all around. I will definitely add this to my list of places I could return to for another visit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Turning 30 in Washington DC: Day 3

Sunday, June 4

On our last full day in DC Todd enjoyed some urban exploration while I slept in in our comfortably air conditioned apartment. We had a mellow day planned and spent the morning researching places that offered dog-friendly boat rentals. 

We decided on Tidal Basin, which has a great view of the Jefferson and MLK Memorials, as well as the Washington Monument (which has a pretty good view from almost everywhere, I've discovered). We wanted to rent a boat that looked like a giant swan but it was too small to bring Dave with us, so we settled on a paddle boat just like the kind my grandmother used to have when she lived on Hood Canal in Washington state.

Jefferson Memorial

In direct sun with no shade and a pretty substantial current, boating was hard work!! We only stayed out for about an hour before heading back, but it was certainly a fun adventure and an even better workout. 

After boating, we picked up lunch at Shake Shack to see if the burgers lived up to the hype. In terms of fast food, it's clearly better than something like McDonald''s still fast food. I wasn't terribly impressed, and wouldn't go out of my way to eat there again. But this review is coming from a Californian who doesn't like In-N-Out, so...there's that. 

We had a restful afternoon and headed back out to watch the sunset at the National Mall and take some photos in front of the Capitol Building. There was a concert going on during this time, which was a pleasant addition to our warm evening stroll. We topped the evening off with ice cream from one of the many food trucks parked on the perimeter of the lawn.

Once the sun went down, we went to view some of our favorite monuments lit up at night. It's a totally different experience than seeing the monuments during the day, and I highly recommend it to get a well-rounded introduction to the city. Just beware of all of the bugs!! We got chewed up taking photos of the WWII Memorial at night, and could see enormous swarms above the lights near the water. Yuck!

Capitol Building

WWII Memorial

Found it!

Jefferson Memorial

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Turning 30 in Washington DC: Day 2

Saturday, June 3

Thanks to jet lag and high levels of adventuring the day before, we got a late start Saturday morning and headed out to visit some of the monuments and memorials. Unfortunately, this combination of weekend timing meant the crowds were out in full force and parking was a bit more of a challenge.

Driving in DC is not for the faint of heart. Turn signals are apparently only suggestions, pedestrians ignore traffic lights and walk into oncoming traffic, and no one thinks twice about cutting you off. The road signs seem to contradict one another, and GPS elects to inform you of your turn just moments before you should take it. We ended up taking some accidental excursions into Virginia and Maryland, which provided the opportunity to practice our patience/positive attitudes as well as see some of the surrounding areas. What struck me was the amount of green vegetation--so thick and dense, it reminded me of Puerto Rico. 

It was a very hot day with minimal cloud coverage, and with lots of walking and creative driving we were able to see some of the main points of interest including the Washington Monument, as well as the Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR, Vietnam, and WWII Memorials. 

Lincoln Memorial

Hot Dog!

FDR Memorial

Dave legitimately started barking at the statue dog.

Jefferson Memorial

Despite Pennsylvania Avenue being blocked off in front of the White House, we were also able to catch a glimpse from out front. Dave, dressed in a very presidential suit, was a hit with other tourists. Strangers kept asking to take photos of him, and then would politely ask me to step out of the photo(!)...I should start charging for this.

White House

In the afternoon, we met up with Dave's girlfriend, Maya, under a tree next to the Washington Monument. Maya is an Instagram sensation with nearly 95,000 followers. They have been sending each other gifts and photos online for the past year, and finally got the chance to meet! Maya's brother Winston and their friend Minnow joined us for a couple hours, and it was so sweet watching them play. 

Dave and Maya

That evening we met up with my friends Nick and Kate again for dinner, this time at a popular Korean restaurant. I'd never had Korean before, so it was a delicious adventure for me! I would definitely eat there again, and enjoyed the outdoor patio seating where Dave could beg for scraps from under my chair. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Turning 30 in Washington DC: Day 1

Entering a new decade can be a little daunting. For many, turning 30 can signify the end of a decade of freedom and limited personal responsibilities. To avoid feeling any kind of despondency as I usher in a more "adult" period of my life, I decided to take a celebratory extended weekend getaway to Washington DC.

Many people have asked me, "Why DC?" My reply: "Why not?!" I've always wanted to go see our nation's capital, and my hunger for history, art, and culture can easily be fed here. Plus, Dave (my dog) has a girlfriend who lives in the area, so it was really a win-win.

Thursday, June 1

It took a whole day of travel to get to DC from San Francisco. We had to factor in driving to the airport during the morning commute, parking off site, planning extra time traveling with a dog who will need to visit the pet relief area before embarking on a 5+ hour flight, getting lunch, etc. With the time change, we ended up getting to Dulles Airport around 10:00 PM, had to rent a car, drive to downtown DC, pick up some dinner at the one grocery store we could find that was open by the time we got there. We ended up rolling into our AirBNB just after midnight. I will never forget the feeling I got when we rounded the corner approaching the city and I saw the Washington Monument and Capitol Building lit up (I actually gasped so loud and so suddenly Todd thought something was wrong, which isn't a great idea while driving in unfamiliar territory).

Here we go!

Our accommodations were truly a dream. We had rented a complete apartment on the bottom floor of a row house in an adorable Victorian neighborhood in the Shaw district. It was much more spacious than I expected, and newly renovated from top to bottom with modern amenities. Our host was delightfully professional and charming and made sure we were totally comfortable during our stay. I can't say how essential it was to have our own kitchen, washer/dryer, and parking space! It was such an improvement on staying at a hotel. 

View of our apartment from the bedroom.

Dave is checking out the bed

Friday, June 2

We woke up early on Friday to start our first day of sightseeing. As an art history major, it was (of course) crucial that we visit the National Gallery and Smithsonian Museums. Since Dave clearly couldn't join us on these excursions, we dropped him off at doggy day care at Wagtime, Too. I had found them online and they had great reviews and were happy to accept Dave as a visitor without a trial period. They had an adorable pet shop attached with all kinds of treats, toys, outfits, etc. Definitely a place I would love to frequent if we lived locally!

We headed down to the National Mall to start our day of exploring. It was a Friday morning around 10:00 or 11:00, and I was amazed at how much free street parking was available! There was also hardly anyone out and about on the lawns in front of the Washington Monument, so we stopped and took a few photos on our way to the museum.

Look! No one else is here!!

Our first destination was the National Gallery of Art. We focused on the West Building, which houses the more classical art collections (contemporary and modern are in the East Building, which we skipped). It struck me how, again, hardly anyone was there and we were able to walk right in through the light security screening. No lines. No hassles. And also totally free to visit! The guides in the office were extremely helpful in providing us with information on the exhibits to help focus our visit, and we spent the morning viewing some of the most amazing pieces. 

Of course, I was taken by all of the heavy hitters (Da Vinci, Raphael, Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Rembrandt, etc. etc. etc.) as anyone would be, but I was particularly interested in some of the pieces by Thomas Cole and Vigee Le Brun, whom I had studied in art history classes but hadn't paid particular attention to. I was also somewhat underwhelmed by the Vermeers we saw, though I understood they had loaned one or two of their Vermeers out to another museum for a temporary exhibition, so perhaps we missed the best of them. 

Recognize this fellow?

One of my very favorite Raphael paintings

Taking a break from museum-ing

We also saw a fabulous exhibit on French art collected by Americans, and an exhibit of drawings and sketches from a variety of artists including studies for major paintings by famous artists like Picasso, Da Vinci, and more. My favorite part was seeing the artists who set up easels and were creating their own renditions of various pieces in the museum. Real art in action. 

Even moving quickly through the galleries, there is SO MUCH to see you can easily become overwhelmed and overstimulated. I'm sure there is plenty we missed, but we broke for lunch and rejuvenated ourselves in the Pavilion Cafe to escape the heat. 

The afternoon took us to the Natural History Museum, which by this time was packed with school tour groups. The crowds were such a stark contrast to our morning experience in the National Gallery it was a bit much to take in. The museum is, of course, marvelous and we enjoyed walking through the exhibits of dinosaurs, mammals, and mummies. Highlights included the gems and minerals gallery  (where we saw the Hope Diamond and Todd was a bit disappointed it wasn't more impressive! Ha!), a sort of "best of the Smithsonian collections" exhibit called "Objects of Wonder" and a photography exhibit of the 21st Annual Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards. Every one of these photos was truly a masterpiece, and was an obvious favorite for us both.

Hope Diamond

One of the photography winners

Next we headed to the Smithsonian Castle. The information office for the collection of museums is there, and we also spent some time looking at the exhibits which gave you a brief flavor for each of the different museums. It's a great idea to check this out if you don't plan on seeing all of the museums during your stay, and almost no one else was in there when we were, which allowed us to browse at our own pace in relative peace.

We spent our remaining time in the Museum of American History, where we enjoyed seeing the exhibits for the American Presidents and First Ladies, the star of which was naturally Abe Lincoln's top hat.

In the evening we picked up Dave from day care and met up with some of my friends who were also visiting the area. We met for dinner at Right Proper Brew Co., which was just a couple blocks walk from our apartment. The nightlife in DC is so vibrant and youthful, and many people were out enjoying the warm weather and socializing. I definitely noticed the humidity and how warm it stays at night in comparison with our dry California heat and lower evening temperatures. Delicious food and excellent conversation ended a great day.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Puppymoon: One Last Fling Before the Ween!

Mono Lake & Bodie

After talking about it for years, we finally pulled the trigger and got ourselves a too-cute-for-its-own-good puppy. He is a miniature English Cream dachshund, his name will be Dave Growl (as in Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters), and we reserved him when he was only 2 days old. Since puppies can't leave their mothers for 8 or 9 weeks, we have spent the past couple months preparing for Dave's arrival. We've read puppy behavior and training books, purchased a bed and toys and even outfits(!), plus an actual baby blanket from Target. We've planned feeding schedules and sleeping schedules, and while it may not be really like preparing to have a human baby, it's certainly comparable on a smaller scale. And here leads us to our puppymoon.

You take a honeymoon after you are married but before you start your married life. You take a babymoon when you are pregnant but before the baby is born. Clearly it follows to take a puppymoon when you have reserved your puppy but have yet to come into possession of him.

In deciding where to go on our puppymoon, we wanted to choose somewhere within easy driving distance for a weekend getaway, and Mono Lake and Bodie instantly came to mind. We have had an article about these places (just east of Yosemite, almost in Nevada) ripped out of Sunset Magazine and tacked up on a bulletin board in our office. This has been a bucket list destination of ours for a few years now, but our work schedules don't often allow us to take weekends away, or when we have been in Yosemite we haven't had enough time, or the roads were closed due to snow. So now seemed like the perfect time!

The Adventure Begins

Friday we both worked full days but were eager to get on the road to allow more time for exploring on Saturday. I headed straight home from work, threw our bags into Gandy (my lovely Prius, Gandalf the Grey), and started out. After a quick stop by Starbucks on our way out of town to load up on caffeine and carbs, we started the long drive in Friday rush hour traffic through Sacramento and into the forest. We only had one stop to fuel up with both gasoline and sugar to keep us awake (hello, Reese's Fast Break!) and finally rolled into Walker, CA around 11:30 PM. Let me tell you, driving around in the dark forest on narrow, winding mountain roads lined in slush and old snow when all you want to do is sleep is one of the less fun things I've done lately. Naturally we were relieved to arrive at our motel for the evening.

The West Walker Motel is a charming establishment with a very 1940s vibe to it, each room decorated differently and quaintly, and random clutter in the yard including an old fashioned refrigerator. Our bathroom was tiny but the bed was insanely comfortable, and we passed out almost immediately.


Saturday morning we were up bright and early after only a few hours of sleep to make it to Bodie when the park opened at 9:00 AM. We spent some time investigating the motel's grounds and saw an exceptionally cute baby bunny hopping around. The next leg of our journey was another hour and change way out into the middle of nowhere, but at least this drive was during daylight hours. We had some spectacular views of the Sierra Nevadas and mentally bookmarked places to return for photo ops on the way home.

The road out to Bodie is skinny and curvy, and the last 3 miles are unpaved and scattered with potholes. Poor Gandy had enough trouble on the well-maintained roads, and this added a layer of challenge but certainly not unmanageable in any way. The roads on Vieques Island and in Tulum were certainly worse. We were the second car in line to enter the park, and arrived a solid 20 minutes early, so we sat there waiting at a ranger booth in front of a large sign that read DO NOT ENTER THE PARK BEFORE 9:00 AM! No ranger mans this booth; once it turns 9:00, they trust you to get an envelope from the box near the window, fill out your information, and return it with a cash payment into a slot. It does not appear they monitor this system carefully...very trusting, these mountain folk.

If you aren't familiar with Bodie, it is a historic ghost town that has been purchased and preserved in a state of "arrested decay" by the Parks Department; this means that the buildings' roofs, windows, and foundations are repaired and stabilized, but not restored. Once a booming mining town in the late 1800s with a population nearing 10,000, the town became deserted after the gold ran out. Two devastating fires, the latest of the two in 1932, destroyed much of the already declining town, and the last mine was closed in 1942.

Today, about 5% of the buildings remain from the town's 1877-1881 heydey, and you can peek in the windows of the establishments to see all kinds of exciting artifacts from the period.

Since we got to Bodie so early we got to explore in relative peace until the crowds of tourists began to spill in around noon. I was amazed at the amount of freedom we had (and ultimately, the lack of supervision). It seemed to be some kind of park ranger training day, and a group was being educated on a small tour around the property, but otherwise we didn't see any authoritative figures and were free to explore at our leisure.

Bodie appears to be untouched by modern vandals, and you really feel like you are stepping back in time. You can see every possible kind of artifact, from standard household and personal items to more obscure pieces from the period. I love that they have built wooden steps up to the higher windows so you can see in better, and piled larger rocks under others for shorties like me.

There's a schoolhouse with books and papers piled on old desks. A general store is packed with goods for sale and a mannequin in the window. A Shell gas station lies across from a shop displaying antique skis and snowshoes, with a pool table set up for a game. There is a barber shop complete with a shoe shining station next door to a saloon outfitted with a slot machine and roulette table. You can view a Catholic church, a funeral parlor, an athletic club, hotels, the large mill, decaying cars and old wagons, a fire house, just about everything you could ever think of. One of the buildings has been turned into a museum that features all sorts of additional artifacts and modern souvenirs for purchase. A short walk up the hill leads you to a cemetery that is still in use today. You can't even imagine how much there is to see here, and this blog certainly doesn't do it any justice. You can easily spend hours exploring, and that's exactly what we did...and we still didn't even see everything!

This trip was somewhat meant as a photography trip, so Todd and I spent a solid 5-6 hours snapping away to our hearts' content, pressed up against the glass on our tiptoes, or crouching in the grass to get the best angle. Since Todd is an urban exploration photographer, this was right up his alley, and though I normally photograph models and actors, I had a great time trying my hand at some abandoned photography. My shots aren't as good as Todd's, of course, but I think I got a few good ones! Why don't you judge for yourself? All following photos were taken by me.

My recommendations for a visit to Bodie:

  • Wear sunscreen! Even though it was only 60 degrees and windy, that sun is fierce. I was wearing a hoodie and capri yoga pants, and got a nasty burn on my calves without even realizing it! 
  • Bug spray was also useful. I recommend a backpack for carrying such items with you since the journey back to the car is a long one.
  • Buy one of the guide booklets. You can get one for $2 at a stand near the drinking fountains (also on the honor system...don't be a jerk! Put the $2 in the box!). Most of the buildings have numbers posted in front of them and corresponding descriptions in the guide, which is super helpful. The map is also useful to make sure you hit all of the buildings you want to see, and there are some interesting historic photos and facts as well.
  • Bring cash in small bills to pay for entry and things like the guide booklet.
  • There are no services except for bathrooms and drinking fountains, so bring some snacks or a lunch, since there is literally nothing nearby.
  • The bathrooms are well maintained, but there is no soap or paper towels/hand dryer! Bring some hand sanitizer. 
  • You will get dirty! Wear comfortable shoes you don't mind getting filthy.
  • The crowd was biggest between 11:00-2:00. If you come early and/or stay later, you will have some amazing opportunities for photos without tons of strangers in your shots.
  • If you are taking photos, press your lens directly up against the glass to minimize glare from the dirty windows.

Mid-afternoon we headed back on the road to our next destination, Lee Vining, which is a tiny town of about 300 people right on the edge of Mono Lake. We found our lodgings at the Lake View Motel, which was far nicer than we had anticipated. The lobby is cozy and welcoming and modern, with local products for sale and a friendly staff. Our room had a fabulously comfortable king sized bed dressed in royal purple bedding (which I decided was an accidental homage to Prince) and those fancy keys you just touch to the door to unlock it. 

We got settled in and went next door to the market to buy some burritos and were met with delightful small town hospitality and graciousness. After so much early morning adventuring, we needed a nap and planned to hit sunset at the most scenic area of the lake, the South Tufa Natural Reserve. Since the sun sets around 8:00pm, we decided to grab some dinner first, and I was craving a cheeseburger (as usual), so we found some reviews online and headed out to a restaurant just outside the downtown stretch. Reviewed as the best restaurant in the area, The Mono Inn's website boasted of spectacular lake views, outdoor dining, and some vague historic connections to Ansel Adams and Mark Twain (I believe Ansel Adams' granddaughter owned the place and it remains in the family, but I couldn't quite make out the relationship to Mark Twain other than he wrote about the lake in one of his books). The white table linens and wine menus suggested I didn't do my research--this was clearly not the place for a cheeseburger. But who am I to turn down some fine dining?! Severely under-dressed in my filthy exploring clothes, we proceeded to order prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and pork chops with all the trimmings, and cheers'ed to a successful day. After topping it off with some homemade apple pie with crust that tasted like a snickerdoodle and gobs of vanilla ice cream, we set out for our sunset adventure.

Mono Lake has extremely high levels of salt, which accumulates because there is no outlet for the lake except for evaporation, and which also makes the lake alkaline. What makes this lake extra photogenic are the tufa formations, or columns of limestone that form underwater where springs come into the lake, and are then exposed as the level of the lake drops over time. An informational sign referred to them as "petrified springs."

That night I witnessed probably the most breathtaking sunset I've ever seen, and combined with the tufa skyline and the snow-capped Sierras in the distance, Todd and I were both able to capture some pretty remarkable photos. And hey! I learned how to properly shoot a sunset, tripod and all. Let's celebrate the small victories.


Sunday was one of those days where everything seems to go wrong. We headed to a nearby coffee-shop-slash-organic-bakery (one of two places to get coffee in town) for breakfast, and were vastly disappointed with our fare. Nevertheless, we took it to the Visitor Center perched on top of the hill and ate on a bench overlooking the lake. Our plan was to get some ideas of what to do during the day from the Center and embark on some impromptu adventures.

The Visitor Center itself is glorious. Half of it is curated into  interactive displays on the lake's history, geology, and ecology, and there is a theater that regularly plays informative videos. 

On the opposite side, you will find a gift shop and an art gallery featuring an exhibit of photographs of the lake from the past century, including some by Ansel Adams. After spending some time looking around, we decided to speak with a representative at the information desk to ask for his advice on activities nearby. This was our conversation: 

Us: "Hello! We wanted to know if you could make some recommendations on what we could do or see today."
Him: "You should go to the South Tufa Reserve."
Us: "Yes, we did that yesterday. We were wondering what else there is to do."
Him: "How would you feel about driving to a ghost town?"
Us: "Bodie? Yes, we also went there yesterday. What else? "
Him: "Then you've already done everything."

 I don't think this man should go into sales! For the record, there is plenty more to do and see in the area, though perhaps not as exciting as what we had already done. I had seen numerous other suggestions and was hoping he could help us narrow it down. He proceeded to unhelpfully kindly give us 2 maps, one out to the Japanese internment camp Manzanar (2 hours away) and one to Yosemite Valley (also hours away on a closed road) "for our next visit." Pressing him further, he also gave us instructions to the Panum Crater (a volcanic cone) near the South Tufa Reserve, which included a skinny dirt road.

Us: "We have a Prius, and we heard you need four wheel drive for those roads."
Him: "Naw, you will be fine. Just go slow. It's no worse than the one out to South Tufa."

We left the Center feeling less than enthusiastic, but determined to find an adventure. Fortunately, there was a much more helpful visitor's map posted outside that highlighted areas of interest around the lake (homeboy could have pointed us to this map and would have been more helpful than he was). So we headed off to the old Marina area where they used to have a boathouse and even hold old school bathing beauty contests (like Miss America!) back in the day, but now is just a parking lot and some paths that lead down to the muddy, salt stained shoreline. We scrambled around the water front trying to get decent pictures of some less impressive tufa formations, our shoes sinking and sticking the whole way. 

Poor little guy!

On our way back, we ran into a boardwalk that didn't quite lead to the water which apparently connected to some hiking trails that led up to the Visitor Center way up on the top of the hill. I have no idea why we didn't see this boardwalk until we were leaving.

Ok, so now what? Todd had heard of an abandoned mine just a few miles out of town, so we decided to go check it out. But when we got to the road, it was so narrow and full of potholes, poor Gandy would have never made it out alive, so we abandoned that mission.

What next? Let's stop at the souvenir store across from our motel to check out the tchotchkes! But is closed for renovation and won't open "until summer." Great.

Alright, let's go visit the museum in the old schoolhouse! I hear there is a famous upside down house there! Dang it...the museum is "closed until spring." Isn't it spring?! What is happening?

Fine, let's go out to that crater the dude gave us directions to. HA! He thought we could drive on this dirt road in a Prius? This is certainly not the same as the one to the Tufa Reserve! Has he ever been out here? There is a sign posted on the turnoff that says "Road not suitable for low riding vehicles. Four wheel drive recommended." That guy was useless!

Ok, well let's see if we can go take photos of those tufa formations out to the left of where we went before. That might be different. Nope. Can't get over there at all. Awesome.

South Tufa

All of this is happening with us driving back and forth, back and forth, across considerable distances. All our plans were foiled! So after taking a few daytime photos, we decided to go get cheeseburgers (from a place that for sure sold them) and regroup for the evening. And what luck...Todd ate half of my hamburger before we discovered he had the wrong one. Sigh. Not my day.

That evening we decided to take a short drive out to Lundy Lake to try and get a new perspective on what looked like it was going to be another lovely sunset. First we stopped to have salads for dinner at a well-reviewed cafe located inside the Mobil gas station. The Whoa Nellie Deli is actually quite good, so don't let the location discourage you! They also have a decent souvenir shop, and it's located right at the beginning of Tioga Pass, which would take you to Yosemite Valley, which was, of course, closed.

Lundy Lake is quite pretty, lined with delightful trees that I'm sure are spectacular in the fall, and set against a backdrop of snowy mountains. But oh my stars, was it COLD. Even in a hoodie under a winter jacket with my hood tied tightly around my face and gloves, the windchill was too much for me. I opted to watch the sunset from the car while Todd braved the freezing temperatures, and I only snuck out to snap some photos of a group of deer who came down to the lake to drink. And the sunset wasn't even that great. Poo.

Lundy Lake

You ain't artsier than me

So Sunday wasn't as successful as it could have been, but we were still able to see the area and had an overall good time.


Monday morning we decided to head back early so we could make plentiful stops on the way and hit some of the photo locations we had scouted on our way in. Breakfast was much more successful at the other coffee shop (better food variety, better coffee options), and we headed out of town.

Our first stop was the nearby town of Bridgeport, home to the famous Mono County Court House. Photo op!

Every so often during the drive, one of us would say, "Hey! This looks like a good spot for some adventuring! Pull over!" And we would run around taking some scenic pictures, then jump back in and head on our way.

Caught this fisherman in action just south of Tahoe

We stopped in Placerville for lunch, which is one of my very favorite towns. If you haven't been to Placerville, it's located on the way to Tahoe from Sacramento, and the downtown is adorably historic.

I wanted to go check out the historic Cary House Hotel (I had lobbied to stay here on Friday night, but it wasn't close enough to our final destination) which is supposed to be haunted and has had all kinds of famous people stay there dating back to 1857. The lobby is stunning, decorated with period pieces and antiques, and the young man at reception was very polite and let us poke around as much as we pleased. 

After admiring the shops and establishments that lined the street, we stopped at the Old Town Grill to make up for my 2 ruined attempts at cheeseburgers, and I must say I was extremely impressed. The food was AMAZING, and the staff was probably the most friendly and attentive I have ever encountered. We ate in the back patio, pleased to be back in high 70s temps after the cold mountain air.

The rest of the journey home was occupied with rounds of trivia from an app Todd found on his phone, which certainly made the trip pass faster and I highly recommend for future road trippers.

My recommendations for going to Mono Lake:

  • You can really do all of the cool stuff at Mono Lake in one day. Plan it as a stop-over trip on your way to other things.
  • Bring a range of outfits. It gets really cold at night, and decently warm during the day. Layers!
  • Go in the summer if you have a choice. Most things are closed, even in mid May when we went. I'm assuming things will open around Memorial Day Weekend, or at least in June.
  • If you go in the summer, try swimming in the lake! You should float like crazy...let me know how it goes!
  • Bug spray!
  • A Subaru or SUV would be a great idea and would open up your exploring possibilities.
  • Mono Cone and Mono Cup Coffee are great choices for food in Lee Vining.
  • Be prepared for a lot of wind.
  • Take photos at sunrise and sunset for the best shots.
For more photos from our adventures, visit my Facebook album.