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Eastern Sierra Trip Winter 2010

Day 1 of 5

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Wednesday, February 17th
Drive to Swall Institute

Despite having done many winter trips, mostly to the Tahoe area, and having done more Eastern Sierra trips as of late, we had never visited the Eastern Sierra in winter. There's a good reason for this. During winter, Tioga Pass Road (and many other roads that cross the Sierra) are covered with snow and closed for the season. This makes a long trip even longer.

To reach the Swall Institute, a house we were renting about a half hour south of Mammoth Lakes, we would have to first drive to South Lake Tahoe, over the Kingsbury Grade, and then south along Highway 395. I'm not sure how often the Kingsbury Grade closes, but when it does, the drive is even longer, probably requiring a drive to Reno and then down 395.

Thankfully, the skies were clear and had been for days when we started off from the Bay Area at 9:30am on a Wednesday morning. So we weren't worried about any unexpected road closures. As you might imagine, we encountered zero traffic. We stopped for lunch near Sacramento, then took Highway 50 into South Lake Tahoe. Despite stopping about an hour for gas and lunch, we arrived in South Lake Tahoe around 2pm. From there, we took Highway 207 (Kingsbury Grade) over to 395. Highway 207 looks like more of a secondary road, so I'm not sure how much of a priority it is to plow it after snowstorms. If you're going, call ahead or check the Nevada road closure web site.

Highway 395 is a beautiful drive. Driving it in winter is no exception. I was especially struck by the view coming down toward Mono Lake, seeing mountain reflections in the water. Unfortunately I drove past the lone scenic overlook parking before I realized it, so I don't have any pictures of it to share.

We arrived in Mammoth Lakes around 4:30pm, 7 hours after we'd started (and after 6 hours of driving). After picking up some groceries, we made the half hour drive south to the Swall Institute, where we'd stayed in the summer.

Note: Horizon Air started daily commercial flights to Mammoth Lakes in December 2009. If you're planning on visiting, that's one option to consider. With a family of four and taking into account all our gear (and probable extra baggage charges) and car rental, I decided it wasn't worth flying. But certainly if your circumstances are different you might consider it to save on the long drive.

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