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The Sierras

Mammoth Lakes (Cont'd)


After accomplishing his goal, that is creating a nationally acclaimed upscale fast food joint at a gas station in the middle of nowhere (see Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining), Matt Toomey has returned home to Mammoth Lakes.  Not one to rest on his laurels, Matt opened Toomey's Catering and Carry-Out in the Village.  He offers most of the creations he made semi-famous 30 miles to the north while adding new dishes and expanding his breakfast menu.  Business quickly grew so Matt added a dining room as well as a patio complete with fire pits.

Debbie and I had lunch here after a few hours of kicking up dust along the maze of forest roads surrounding Mammoth Lakes.  We were quickly seated in the outside dining area at a table perfectly suited for watching the tourists and locals meander by.  You know we are suckers for chalkboard menus and daily specials so we had to try Toomey's "World's Best Hamburger".  We also ordered the baked Toomey's Brie appetizer, an iced tea and a Mammoth Brewery Pilsner.

Our drinks were served and the appetizer arrived shortly thereafter.  We could have (and probably should have) stopped right there.  The baked Brie wrapped in puff pastry and topped with a berry glaze could have been a meal.  Fresh strawberries, grapes and a French baguette accompany the Brie.  I first tried the cheese on the baguette, which was very good.  Next I spread some on one of the strawberries.  Wow, I had reached culinary Nirvana!  The sweet strawberry, rich glaze and creamy Brie tickled taste buds I didn't even know I had.

I don't know if Toomey's has the world's best hamburger, but it is mighty tasty.  Matt does have a reason to be proud of his burger.  He won the Burger Battle at the Mammoth Food and Wine Experience in 2013.  Our burgers were simple.  A toasted sesame seed bun, nicely charred medium rare patty, melted cheddar cheese slice, lettuce, tomato onion and ketchup are all that's needed.  That and crispy French fries on the side.

With lunch out of the way it was time to head over to the Mammoth Lakes Margarita Festival.

TRIP TIP!  Toomey's allows your pet dog to accompany you in the patio are.  This can be a blessing to some and a reason to stay away for others.  I'll let you decide which side of the fence you're on.

6085 Minaret Rd.  Mammoth Lakes CA 93546

Volcanic Automotive Tour

Several signs similar to the one on the right are scattered along 395 between the Mammoth Lakes turnoff and Lee Vining.  Obviously they refer to some point of interest.  The question is what, and where.  This is the Volcanic Auto Tour, "a self-guided Eastern Sierra exploration".  Copies of the tour in a brochure canVolcanic Auto Tour sign be found at  the California Welcome Center in Mammoth and the Mono Lake Visitor Center just north of Lee Vining.

The Volcanic Auto Tour encourages  investigating the unique volcanic landscape surrounding you. Geologically speaking, the region just below Mono Lake is a baby.  Panum Crater (on the north side of Hwy 120), for instance, was formed only 600 years ago.  Further south Highway 395 actually traverses a much older seismic formation, the Long Valley Caldera.  This 20 mile wide basin was formed 760,000 years ago.  Calderas are the result of volcanic eruptions so violent that the lava chamber feeding the volcano completely empties causing the surrounding earth to collapse.  A stop overlooking the Casa Diablo Geothermal Power Plant provides evidence of the ongoing activity beneath your feet.   Snowmelt from the Sierras flow through cracks in the earth's surface to the fiery magma chambers below you.  Wells drilled by the power plant tap into the superheated water and convert the steam into electricity.

The Volcanic Auto Tour offers twelve different points of interest along its 30 mile journey.  About half the stops are next to 395, the rest require getting your tires dirty.  All off highway excursions are on well maintained Forestry Service roads but please use common sense and be aware of off-road travel dangers.  You should allow 3 to 4 hours to experience the full tour, but there is nothing wrong with taking in one or two of the landmarks at a time.  As you're motoring through the area pull over, stretch your legs and marvel at the grandeur around you.

June Lake Loop

Gull Lake Marina

Most of the lakes in the Sierra Nevada offer boat rentals.  Your choice is probably influenced by where you’ve had the best luck fishing.  For the most part they are all the same.  A rustic building offering bait, tackle and snacks.  For fifty to sixty bucks you and your buddies can rent a boat for all or part of the day.

Fishermen on Gull LakeOur preferred place to rent a boat is Gull Lake Marina.  Their staff is why we keep going back.  I’ll give you an example.  A few years back I was injured and now rely on a cane to get around.  Though I can't scurry over rocks in search of the perfect fishing hole any more we still enjoy a day on the lake, fishing rod in hand.

During our first visit to Gull Lake Marina we were deciding whether to get a boat for the full day or just keep it out until noon.  Not knowing how my leg would handle being tossed around in an aluminum boat we opted for the half day rental.  I asked the girl checking out boats if we could pay the difference between a half and a full day rental should we change our minds.  She replied, ”No problem, just let us know when you come back in. It’s 7 o’clock now, so you will have to bring the boat back around noonish”. The rules are strict here.

We walked to our car and started unloading.  One of the dock workers rushed up and helped with our tackle.  Once on the dock I didn’t even get a chance to figure out how I was going to get into the boat before our host dropped to his knee and told me to put my hand on his shoulder for support.  I was impressed.  My handicap was not his problem.  When Debbie and I were done fishing we headed back to the marina.  The same fellow was waiting for us, tied off the boat and helped me onto the dock.

The following morning we decided to go fishing again.  The wind was blowing and there were whitecaps on the lake.  The guy that helped me in and out of our boat the day before was handling the rental counter. We put in our request.  After thinking for a moment he called over the manager who told us, “I’m going to do us all a favor.  I won't rent you a boat this morning.  Gusts through the canyon could hit 35 miles an hour today.  That doesn’t make for good fishing”.

We drove by Gull Lake on our way home the next morning.  It was smooth as glass.

47 W. Granite St.  June Lake, CA 93529  (760) 648-7539

High Sierra Jeep Adventures

To fully realize the rugged appeal of the Eastern Sierras you need to get off the pavement and put a little gravel in your travel.  If you don't have a jeep and the tracking skills of an Indian scout the best way to do this is to hook up with High Sierra Jeep Adventures.  According to their business statement, "We take small groups on a customized tour selected to best suit each group.  These are personalized tours for individual groups.  We don't mix groups together.  It's been a very successful concept, which allowsHigh Sierras Jeep Tours people to actually experience driving off road in the backcountry, and have their own space without having to socialize with people they don't know."

Based on that description and rave reviews by satisfied customers we figured we would give High Sierra Jeep Adventures a try.  We met our guide, Ian, and Hi, the company dog, in the parking lot of the Double Eagle Resort.  After introductions and a few minutes of small talk it was time to get down to business. Debbie and I have become nerds when it comes to the seismic activity in the area and the different kinds of volcanic rocks.  We told Ian we were on the hunt for some exceptional specimens of pumice and obsidian.  We explained the samples we found at the obsidian dome had a lot of granite in them; we were looking for better quality.  That gave Ian all the information he needed for our tour.

After a quick lesson in the do's and don'ts of off-roading Ian handed me the keys to our vehicle.  High Sierra Jeep Adventures modifies their 4-wheelers for the area and equips them with CB radios. Considering what it was, our Jeep was surprisingly comfortable.  After a quick drive up to the 395 Ian made a sharp right onto a dirt road.  That was the last time we would see pavement for a few hours.  Ian took us through a maze of old mining roads and logging trails to the closed gates of a pumice mine.  He explained the mine operates off and on but appeared to be shut down at this time.  Hopping out of our Jeep it was easy to find the rocks we were searching for.  Next we drove to the top of an extinct volcano. Nearby we found a marker for the L.A. Aqueduct.  Ian then took us up a trail so narrow and rugged a horse would have trouble getting through it.  We stopped at a small flat spot across from Devil's Punchbowl.  Ian disappeared for a few minutes while we marveled at our surroundings.  When he came back he was holding a half dozen fist sized pieces of pure obsidian.  That made our trip!  On our way down the mountain Ian kept in contact with us via CB.  As we neared Highway 395 we suddenly came across a large herd of sheep blocking our way.  Basque sheepherders are still alive and well in this neck of the woods.

Arriving back at the Double Eagle Resort we thanked Ian for a truly one-of-a-kind experience and started making plans for our next expedition with High Sierra Jeep Adventures.

TRIP TIP!  High Sierra Jeep Adventures offers snowmobile trips in the winter.

(949) 294-6588