Mammoth Lakes in California’s Mono County has a far-away-from-it-all location in a valley in the eastern Sierra Nevada, yet remains in the centre of everything. It’s is just a five hours scenic drive from Los Angles, Las Vegas and San Francisco and a mere two hours from Lake Tahoe.
We drove for five and a half hours from Newport Beach (around 40 minutes from Los Angeles) along the CA-203 for 341 miles passing the Sequoia Forest, the Death Valley Park and the Inyo National Forest. Imagine the sensational scenery along that route.
We stopped off for a break in the quiet, dusty town of Lone Pine (87 miles from Mammoth Lakes) to check out the Museum of Western– the story of filming in the area from the early days of the Round Up to the modern blockbusters.
Mammoth Lakes is best known as a ski but when the snow finally melts what you get is a vibrant timber-clad village that is simply beyond quaint. It is surrounded by lush forest and bordered by the Ansel Adams and the John Muir Wilderness Areas. You can see the Minaret hills and peaks on the sky line and on the near horizon is the dizzyingly high Mammoth Mountain that begs to be explored. The mountain is actually a volcano and you can even see steam escaping from its top from some vantage points.
There’s only around 8,000 locals in Mammoth Lakes and they seem unfazed by its elevation of 2,500 metres (8,000 feet) and its thinner air. They spend their time involved in marathon runs, bike tours, kayaking, hiking or some climbing escapade or other when not working. In the evening there are alfresco viewings in the village and live music and at the weekends a summer food market festival pops up.
Not sure if the term couch potato even exists here and with such a panoply of summer activities you would end up home alone in any case.
Panorama Gondola at Mammoth Mountain
Probably the best way to start exploring is to get oriented with a ride on the Panorama Gondala at Mammoth Mountain. Being whisked on a steep ascent of 11,053 feet (3,368m) to the summit of Mammoth Mountain is an exciting experience and delivers a joyful 360 degree view of the snow speckled Sierra Nevada. Even in June there’s still plenty of snow up there, certainly enough to build a snowman or two.
From here some people scramble up the Ritter range which emerges 13,143 feet/4006m high out of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. It’s a class 2 climb which means it’s mostly upright. I preferred to read about it and the area’s geology and history in the Eleven53 Interpretive Center.
Postpile and Rainbow Falls
From the Mammoth Centre there is a 20-minute shuttle transfer to Postpile Monument. There are several hop off stops within its 324 hectares of lush scenery. We were told that we may spot a black bear.
But we did lose ourselves amid the fir trees and Jeffrey pines (whose bark we stopped to scratch to release its famous butterscotch scent) and the sound of bird song only bouncing back into the moment at the sight of tiny chipmunks and pine martens.