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The East Side of California Dreaming

Mono County and Mammoth Lakes Nourish the Soul by Barbara L. Steinberg

Mono County View from Conway Summit to Mono Lake Credit Barbara L SteinbergThe vista defies imagination as you round Conway Summit and gaze down the length of the Long Valley.  The caldera is framed on the west by the Glass Mountain Range and the Sierra Nevada to the east.  Ancient Mono Lake – sapphire gem – glitters up and reflects billowy clouds that often adorn an azure sky.  Her alien tufas – sentinels to the past.  Any sane person should be rocked at their very core. 

The spine of California, this view is like no other. No pretense here. Carved and uplifted, the granite mountains shoot from the ground.  None of those pesky forests to block your viewshed.  Impressive heights include some rabidly sought after “fourteeners,” but plentiful 10,000- to 13,000-foot peaks take your breath away and challenge seasoned climbers.  From sunrise to sunset and season to season, the colors and shadows are an ever-changing portrait where Ansel Adams’ “range of light” is clearly defined.

At the bottom of the summit, Highway 395 stretches before you with promises of sanctuary from traffic and crowds.  There are few manmade roadside distractions.  Just miles and miles of fluctuating topography from pine forests to wetland pastures! Defining features include the Mono Craters and views of the Minarets – the backside of Yosemite.  After the final descent of Deadman Summit’s 8,047 feet, a few milesP1230336 to the south, Obsidian Dome a mile-long, 300-foot-high mound of glass pays homage to the region’s volcanic spirit. Above it all, Mammoth Mountain emerges.

Exit the open spaces for the wilds of Mammoth Lakes. Huge. Immense. Epic. Vast. California’s biggest mountain for winter sports – all of the adjectives apply.  Mammoth also has colossal year-round recreation delights from mountain biking and hiking to canoeing and kayaking and world-renown fly-fishing. Not enough? Rock jocks around the world drool over the climbing and bouldering opportunities. 

The Westin 119 steps to the top of the hill from The Village Credit Barbara L SteinbergThe Westin Monache Resort, perched on a hill above the town, is an ideal location to enjoy all of Mammoth’s pastimes. Ski-in or ski-out. Shop. Dine. Relax poolside. Shuttles whisk guests and their bikes up to the Mammoth Gondola and the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Cowabunga dude – this is some downhill run. For those seeking less treacherous amusements, scenic gondola rides to the top of Mammoth Mountain will still leave you breathless. Did we mention the premier golf options, horseback riding, and day trips to Yosemite National Park? Too much fun and not enough time. You will visit again and again. Each time a new discovery.

Back on the open road, a pinch to make sure this wasn’t a dream.  The Eastern Sierra. The Long Valley. Mammoth Lakes. Keep dreaming.

More photos!
More East Side:

Great Lattes, Scones...
Eastern Sierra Lower Owens River



If my Subaru can't get me there,
it's probably a good reason I shouldn't go.

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Dude! Billings Montana Dude Rancher is hauntingly kitsch

Hotel Impossible Makes All Things Possible at Dude Rancher Lodge
by Barbara L. Steinberg

P1240332So expanding my horizons beyond California paid-off bigtime when I stumbled onto this gem. This is "as good as it gets" for a somewhat kitschy, historic, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, western-themed, downtown, walking distance to local brewpubs, with a restaurant called Stirrup, featured in Hotel Impossible and just mildly haunted Billings, Montana motel circa 1949l!

As soon as I saw the name -- Dude Rancher Lodge -- I was sold and there! The Travel Channel's Hotel Impossible (reality TV) feature was pure bonus. Since the airing, several of the rooms have been P1240324redone and are boutique chic. Some of the regulars are none too happy preferring the tried and true old-fashioned look. I'm glad I got to see things as they are/were for so many years. The new look is definitely a step up. Personally, I hope they hold a few rooms back.

The lobby has also been beautifully redone. The fireplace is a major feature and the mantel -- one huge, rough-hewed timber is just stunning. The low-rise, two-story lodge surrounds an internal parking lot. First floor rooms have internal and external doors. You'll love the branded carpets and wall hangings (new rooms) which are the brands of the seven ranchers who were the original owners.

Just in time for Halloween, I'm penning this review because -- naturally -- the Lodge is said to be haunted. Specifically room 226. A woman in white. The Dude Rancher Lodge was built from bricks reclaimed from an old local hospital and school. It's thought she is somehow connected to these structures from the past.

P1240333The Stirrup/Dude Rancher Lodge Restaurant serves up big plates of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, You know? SIdes of biscuits and gravy, homemade cinnamon rolls with two inches of frosting, burgers and steaks. A real artery clogging experience. Just the way I like it.

Walking distance to local brewpubs and art district on Montana Avenue. And seriously, you just can't beat the price. Ask about the "American Package". I can't wait to get back to Billings and the Dude Rancher Lodge.

Also, free WiFi!

PS - So, a couple of times during the night people in the room above me were running back and forth. From the sounds of the footfall it was an adult and a child. At some point I heard a young girl crying. I was going to call the front desk, but shrugged it off and fell asleep. In the morning, I inquired who was in the room above me. Okay...get a grip....no one was in the room above me. The room was out of commission. I am not the first person to inquire. Spooky!

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