Saturday, December 13, 2008

Just before the snow

Camp Connell, CA -- Friday, Dec. 12, 2008 -- We returned tonight from a quick trip across the Sierra Nevada mountains to take a look at the high country mountains before the first big series of winter storms brings snow.
We started east across California's Highway 4, aka Ebbetts Pass Highway, on Thursday on a bright and sunny morning, cold and clear and beautiful. Fall color is gone, and the trees at high elevation are bare, sparkling, and ready for winter. The brush is ripe with buds and the stems are a red color, indicating they are dormant and just waiting for the Spring to come.
The streams and lakes we passed along the route are all partially frozen, particularly in the shady spots. The route we followed is also known as the old Immigrant Trail, or the Big Trees-to-Carson Pass route once followed by beaver trappers, families moving West, and gold miners in search of fortunes.
Our route took us through Markleeville, seat of California's least populated county, and by a wonderful state park. Grover Hot Springs Park has just what the name implies, steaming hot springs where you can soak at any time of year for a mere $5 fee to the state.
As soon as we had a quick lunch (the cook was sick at the hotel, but they served great soups left over from the night before) we took the plunge.

The springs are at 5,600 feet, and hoar frost was snuggled into the weeds alongside the trail, and small patches of snow in the trees on the north-facing slopes, but the air was comfortable and the springs terrific.
We drove on into Nevada to visit the home of one of our favorite historical characters, Snowshoe Thompson, a mailman who carried mail and packages across these mountains between 1950s and 1870s, on skis in winter.
He is considered the father of skiing, and local resorts pay him homage. It took him three days to ski across a route that took us about four hours of tough mountain driving. Mostly we admire his skill and strength. You can find out more about him at this website:

Then we went on to Carson City, the capitol of Nevada, with a quick drive through Virginia City, the heart of the Comstock Lode silver strike in the late 1800s.
Here's a look.
Of the two, Virginia City is more interesting, though little was open and we opted to spend the night at a casino hotel in Carson City. The Gold Dust West Casino, Hotel, Bowling Alley and RV Park, looked good but the food was bad and the casino pretty sad. (I was too, as I dropped $40 in the Wheel of Fortune Slot machines.)

Friday we drove west toward home by way of Carson Pass, a beautiful two-lane route that goes near Lake Tahoe (though you can't see it from Carson Pass). It is named for Kit Carson, who came this way 150 years ago.
We went by Kirkwood Ski Resort, and then through the gold rush towns of Jackson, San Andreas and Angels Camp before arriving home just at dark.
The rain started about 9 p.m., turned to sleet by 10.

P.S. We woke up to a light covering of snow this morning.
Much more is expected Sunday.

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