It's Not Just About the Destination: Redlands to Auburn Roadtrip

There are two types of roadtrips, the kind in which the objective is to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, and the other in which it's about the journey itself, not just the destination. If you have the option then why not go the scenic route? Sure you may pay more in gas, and you'll spend more time in the car, but trust me, it's worth it. Especially when it comes to the drive between the LA and Sacramento area. Would you rather spend 7 hours staring at fields and cows, with the intermittent truck stop to stretch your legs? Or would you rather take your time indulging in towering mountains, ethereal lakes, and relaxing natural hot springs? I took my pick. 

My boyfriend and I drive between Redlands and the Bay Area and then up to Sacramento at least twice a year because my grandparents and dad live up there and so does his dad. This time around, though, we were dreading the long drive and even considered flying instead. That's when my dad recommended we take two days to get up instead and go up the 395-N. "Hit some hot springs, take in the mountains, and do some hiking, it'll make your ride up a lot better trust me," he said. Chris and I were convinced. Why not make our usual boring trek up an adventure?

The Initial Drive

The first few hours was not awe-inspiring, but it was also better than endless fields. There were a lot of tiny, rundown towns that were fascinating to look at, but not much else. I created a little time lapse to give you guys a feel.

It wasn't until Lone Pine where we started to get really excited about the mountain views. Lone Pine was also a tiny little town, but it, at least, had a gas station, which funny enough was attached to a farm.

The Hot Springs

It only took us another hour from Lone Pine to make it to Mammoth Lakes. We knew without a doubt that we wanted to check out the hot springs. How cool is it that the earth produces its on heated water? Its heated by geothermal heat, which pretty much means that it is heated from the Earth's core. While soaking in the springs, I over heard some guy ask his friend if he could imagine what it was like when the first caveman came across a hot spring never having felt hot water before. Could you imagine? 

Anyway, we Googled "Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs" and came across two different options. One was Wild Willy's and the other was High Top. Both require that you take the same road. For those of you who are coming from Bishop to find these two you have to turn at the green church, i.e., Benton Crossing Rd. We actually went too far the first time around and so had to turn around and find a non discript dirt road we passed on the third cattle guard.

It was so worth the confusion. Being there amongst the mountains and beautiful golden fields was just breathtaking. We took a second just to breathe it in. The dirt road winded through the fields for a while before it came to a stop in a dirt lot. The only signifier that we were in the right spot was a small wooden sign that said: "Welcome to the Springs!" Chris and I quickly changed into our suits, and in my case my Mosmann Australia underwear/bikini and made our way to this picturesque boardwalk that snaked its way between ponds and golden grass.

The walkway lasted for only a thousand feet or so before it made way to Wild Willy's Hot Springs--two pools a few hundred feet from each other. Chris and I chose the smaller one because no one was in it. It, strangely enough, was shaped like a heart.

The heat from the hot spring was a perfect jacuzzi temperature. The sulfur smell took a few moments to get used to, but after a while, it was easy just to melt into my surroundings. I almost fell asleep with how relaxing it was.

The Tufas: Mono Lake

Our initial plan was to catch the sunset at Mono Lake. I had been there previously with my dad just as the sun was setting and it was such a stunning view that I wanted Chris to experience it as well. I guess we spent a little too long indulging in Willy's Wild Hot Spring's heat, though, since we missed the sunset only by a few minutes. 

We also made the mistake of assuming that any decent restaurants would be open in Lee Vining (the town closest to Mona Lake) past 6 pm. We were planning on getting a cheap hotel in Lee Vining, but the only open restaurant was a small diner. Now this is the part where I made a stupid mistake. Looking back on it Chris and I chalked it up to a learning experience, and that is really what road trips are all about, taking in all of the new sites and experiences and gaining knowledge that you'll never forget. Well, something about the tiny dark town of Lee Vining with its one dimly lit diner just didn't sit well with me. I guess it kinda just was putting me down that we'd end such an incredible day by going to this seedy diner and then book a room in one of the dubious looking hotels. 

Instead, I convinced Chris to keep driving to the next town over by looking on Yelp and finding a Bar and Grill that was still open. It only took us 20 minutes to get to Bridgeport, but we forked over $60 more for our hotel than we would have at Lee Vining. Oops. Also, at that point, I was getting major FOMO (fear of missing out) for not having seen the mystical tufas of Mono Lake.  Ps. Tufas are live microorganisms that form "rock towers". I found a cool article if you're interested in how!

We decided that the tufas were worth retracing our drive back to Mono Lake at sunrise. The next morning we got up at about 5:50 am and booked it back the way we came. We were listening to Flume and Odesza songs, which were just perfect for the dark setting. I had the realization that I really love dawn. It has such a quiet, peaceful air about it. The world seems so still as if holding its breath. 

We took off later than we wanted so we were racing against time. I only had a vague idea of where my dad initially took me several years ago to show me the sunset at Mono Lake, so both of us felt a bit anxious to get to the spot where all the large tufas were. It took us a few tries, but we finally found a road that had a "Tufa Access" sign next to it.

We drove down a bumpy road until we came to another wooden walkway that made its way through a golden field until reaching closer to Mono Lake's edge. Mono Lake truly is like an alien planet; I can almost imagine myself on Mars with how otherworldly it looks, especially when it is set on fire by the sun.

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Tufas Round Two

Although the site we went to see the sunset was absolutely breathtaking, it also lacked in huge tufas. I wanted to see those suckers that were stacked high off the ground. Chris almost convinced me that we could walk around the lake to find them, but it was freezing out, and I had a feeling that that would end in disaster. Instead, we got back in the car and headed for some coffee. Ironically, the only place to get coffee in the area was the shady diner, which in the morning light wasn't all that shady after all. Double oops. We asked our waitress directions on how to get to the "big tufas" and she informed us it was an easy two miles back. We decided it was worth the effort to see these things and so after breakfast (apple pancakes for those wondering), we got back in the car and traversed down the road until we found what she was talking about and turned down another road heading towards the lake. 

After some winding dirt roads, we finally arrived in the dirt parking lot that I had remembered from my last trip with my dad. We got out and walked over to the entrance only to be stopped by a sign that said, "$3 per person," with little envelopes stuck to the side of it. This wouldn't have been a huge issue except that A) we didn't have change, and B) a big white truck with 'Park Ranger' stamped on it pulled in next to our car. Mind you besides Chris and I, the place was empty. 

As the park ranger got out, Chris decided to ask about the parking. Before he could even open his mouth, the park ranger said: "Go for a walk you two, take your time, enjoy it." Totally not what I thought he would say. Chris even pointed to the payment box inquisitively, but the park ranger responded with, "I'm a Native American, I work for the government, I do a great job, but I'm not going to hassle people to pay to see nature." Day definitely made with that one.

Seeing the huge tufa's during the daylight was still so surreal. More than ever it felt alien-like with this blue turning green lake that so perfectly reflected the mountains above, and the towering tufa structures casting their own reflection into the clear as crystal lake.

Twin Lakes

Next on our agenda was some exploration time around Twin Lakes. Chris's grandfather recently passed away, and this was his favorite fishing spot, so he also wanted to drop a line in honor of his grandpa. We drove back from the alien world that is Mono Lake, checked out of our hotel in Bridgeport, and drove the 20 minutes it took to get to Twin Lakes. In that time, we entered a whole different world. One that reminded me a bit of Banff, Canada. From the drive over to the lakes I would have had no idea what lay ahead, but as we got closer and closer to the lakes, the terrain started to turn snowier until we were right up close to the mountains. 

From there we turned a corner and got our first glimpse of Twin Lakes, which was utterly remarkable. The lake was right up next to mountains, which was such an impressive sight, it was a pristine glassy blue, so different than Mono Lake.

Lake Tahoe

Our last stop on our road trip before making our way to Auburn was Lake Tahoe, which falls right in the middle of Nevada and California. The drive was once again breathtaking, with glimpses of Lake Tahoe through the trees. We were listening to Purity Ring tunes, which matched the surroundings perfectly. This was unquestionably one of my favorite parts of the trip. We stopped at a little brewery smack dab in the middle of Nevada and California. I kept jumping left to right, amusing myself way too much with the fact that I was hoping from one state to the other. After we talked for a bit and sipped our IPAs, we headed to a beach for one last glimpse of the beautiful Lake Tahoe before the sun set. 

What I Learned

We made several mistakes on this trip from spending too much money on our hotel to taking a wrong turn to not having change with us, but through it all, we stayed strong in not blaming each other or getting frustrated. At the end of the day, we can chalk up any of these mistakes to life experiences, ones that will come in handy with future travels. It was truly such a beautiful experience to be able to traverse through the mountains and get into nature. It made me a true believer in the idea that it isn't just about the destination, but also how you get there. From here on out, I am convinced that the best way to travel is by making your journey as enjoyable as possible, even if it takes a couple of extra days. If any of you is interested in making this road trip or have any questions feel free to comment below or email me at alizahakiko@gmail.com. 

 Love,

Alizah