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TRAVEL TRIVIA  What celebrity spent almost a week in jail in Bridgeport, California?
                                                                  Answer at bottom of page

Lee Vining

Whoa Nellie Deli

On the opening page of Eat & Drive 395 we promised to highlight a spot where you could feast on fish tacos while enjoying live music and a panorama of Mono Lake.  Well, here it is; the Whoa Nellie Deli, situated in, what else, a gas station!  The story goes like this.  Matt Toomey, former head chef at one of Mammoths Lake's finest restaurants happened to meet up with Dennis Domaille, owner of the Mobil station just south of Lee Vining.  Domaille was looking to add a fast-food joint to his businiess.  Matt shared his vision of a gourmet bistro and the Whoa Nellie Deli was born.

Toomey's delicatessen was not an overnight success.  Word slowly spread about some crazy guy cooking up out of this world lobster taquitos and BBQ chicken pizza at a gas station near Tioga pass. Whoa Nellie Deli Chicken WrapMagazines and newspapers from around the country began writing rave reviews about this "gourmet deli" in the middle of nowhere.  The popularity of his cooking allowed Matt to add new items to the menu.  Many of his dishes have a distinct Caribbean flair.

There is more to Whoa Nellie Deli than legendary taquitos and tacos.  Scan the menu board for entrees like Rajin' Cajun Chicken Jambalaya, Wild Buffalo Meatloaf or Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Apricot and Wild Berry Glaze.  The Deli has ever changing daily specials.  Sierra Sunrise Breakfasts are offered every morning.  For the less adventurous Whoa Nellie Deli provides the "Great American BBQ" (hamburgers and hot dogs) from 10:30 until closing time.  Pick up a sandwich to go for a perfect picnic in Yosemite.  Brews from their cappuccino machine will appease most caffeine addicts.  Soft drinks as well as alcoholic libations are for sale.

You may dine inside or move the feast outdoors.   Picnic tables are spread over a rolling lawn overlooking the lake.  During the summer local bands stop by to rock the house.  So there you have it. What better place is there to spend a warm summer evening kicking back listening to bluegrass while drinking margaritas and chowing down fish tacos?

TRIP TIP!  Whoa Nellie Deli may seem pricey, especially compared to local diners and burger stands. Entrees range from 13 to 20 dollars or more; however, dinner for two here won't set you back any more than eating at one of Mammoth Lakes upscale establishments.  Two points to consider.  The staff at Whoa Nellie Deli is not too fussy if you bring your own bottle, and the amazing view of Mono Lake at sunset can't be found in a dimly lit restaurant.

This roadhouse can get crowded.  YARTS, Yosemite's public transportation, has a bus stop in front of the gas station.  Sightseers like to stop in for a bite before moving on.  Live bands usually perform on Thursday and Sunday evenings.  Combine the two along with normal diner traffic and you've got a boatload of people!

FUN FACT!  Dennis Domaille has a passion for high-wire acts.  He entertained his zeal for the art by erecting a trapeze just beyond the gas pumps.  Customers were invited to try out an offbeat way to stretch their legs until the station's insurance company put the kibosh on the fun.

22 Vista Point Rd.  Lee Vining, CA 93541  (760) 647-1088

Mono Lake Tufa Towers

In 1941 the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power completed  the second phase of its Sierra Aqueduct Project.  Streams flowing into Mono Lake were diverted to an 11 mile tunnel feeding  Crowley Lake, choking off Mono Lake's water supply.  LA's greedy thirst unwittingly brought dramatic ecological and political changes to the Mono Basin.  Over the next 40 years Mono Lake's water level dropped almost 50 feet.  During that time salinity levels nearly doubled in the already alkaline inland sea.

For centuries Mono Lake has been a major stop to millions of migratory birds.  Negit Island on the north side of the lake offered a safe nesting area.  Brine shrimp and alkali flies provided an ample food supply. By 1972 the lake's water level had dropped low enough that a land bridge formed between the shore and island.  Coyotes were quick to seize the opportunity and began raiding the nesting ground.  Luckily the birds found protected areas nearby to hatch their chicks.

During the early '80s concerned citizens formed the Mono Lake Committee and joined forces with the Audubon Society  to save Mono Lake.  In the next dozen years the group won many legal battles in their crusade to restore the area.  The struggle culminated in 1994 when LADWP was ordered to supply MonoMono Lake Tufa Towers Lake with enough fresh water to raise the water level 20 feet.  Ironically, the diversion of water which could have destroyed the region instead exposed its most popular tourist attraction: the Mono Lake Tufa Towers.

Tufa is created when underground springs, rich in calcium, bubble up into the sodium carbonate laden waters of Mono Lake.  A chemical reaction occurs resulting in the formation of calcium carbonate, better known to the uneducated masses as limestone.  The newly created particles settle around the spring.  As the process continues pieces fuse together, becoming the spires we see today.  Some of Mono Lake's tufa columns are 30 feet tall!

The best place to get close up and personal to these eerie formations is Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, located at the south end of the lake.  Turn east onto Hwy 120, travel about 5 miles; the road leading to the reserve will be on your left.  A boardwalk  and  path leads you down to the lake from the parking lot.  As you walk towards the tufa grove visions of Star Trek come to mind.  The strange minarets and steeples surrounding you could easily double as an alien planet.  I wish I could have built sand castles this good when I was growing up!

Rangers at the park offer tufa and bird walks during the summer months.  For a more intimate view of the lake and its wonders, try one of Mono Lake Committee's guided canoe trips.  Don't forget your camera! The tufa reserve and its environs can be gold for photographers, especially during sunrise and sunset hours.

Enjoy the tufa towers while you still can.  By 2013 the elevation of Mono Lake had risen only half of the 20 feet mandated in 1994.  While standing on the lake's shore admiring the columns rising above you imagine what it will be like when the water level is ten feet higher.  Mono Lake's tufa groves will someday disappear under the waves, like the lost city of Atlantis.

FUN FACT!  Next door to the tufa reserve is Navy Beach, so named because of the top secret military Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter
installation located there from the late '50s to early '60s.  In 1973 an entire frontier town was erected, then burnt to the ground, at Navy Beach for the filming of Clint Eastwood's "High Plains Drifter".

Hwy 120, 5 miles east of Hwy 395  

Bodie State Park

Tons of information about the ghost town of Bodie can be found on the internet. There is no point in repeating information easily found elsewhere.  So, without further delay, here are ten of the lesser known fun facts about the wickedest town in the West.

  1. William (or  Waterman) S. Bodey was not a lucky man.  Though he and a group of prospectors discovered gold in the hills north of Mono Lake in 1859, Bodey did not live long enough to realize his dreams.  He froze to death the following winter during a freak blizzard while returning to his cabin on a supply trip.  His body was not found until the spring thaw.  Bodey was buried where he was found.

  2. Bodey's bad luck followed him into the Great Divide.  Once the gold camp became a boom town, the grateful citizens wanted to honor Bodey by naming their city after him.  Unfortunately an errant sign painter printed the name of the town Bodie; the spelling stuck.

  3. During Bodie's heyday the good townsfolk again wished to venerate W.S. Bodey.  In 1879 his body was exhumed and reburied in the cemetery overlooking the city.  500 dollars was raised to erect a marble pillar at the gravesite.  But fate frowned on Bodey one more time.  Just as the sculptor was about to engrave the tombstone, James Garfield (20th US President) was assassinated.  The Bodie State Parktownship's sympathies shifted to our fallen leader and Bodey's monument was chiseled with Garfield's name on it.  The 12 foot high memorial was placed in Bodie's cemetery where it still stands today and W.S. Bodey lies in an unmarked grave, it's location long forgotten.

  4. Camping was once allowed at Bodie State Park.  Permission to stay overnight came to a halt when rangers started finding square nails among the ashes in the fire pits.  The use of square nails in construction waned during the early 1900s.  It was obvious a few bad apples were sneaking into town at night and helping themselves to any lumber they could find to use as firewood.

  5. The Curse of Bodie is alive and well.   Visitors with sticky fingers who take home "souvenirs"  experience a string of bad karma until they return the pilfered items.  Whether the curse is fact or myth is debatable, but park rangers continue to vigorously promote the legend.

  6. Bodie was one of the first towns in the West to get electrical power from a remote location.  In 1892 a hydroelectric power plant was built on Green Creek, 13 miles away.  The power line was hung in a straight line from the plant to Bodie.  Engineers at the time feared that electricity could not make sharp turns and would plunge off the line, falling to the ground!

  7. In June of 1932 the now famous "Bodie Bill" sparked the town's most devastating fire.  He was 3 months shy of celebrating his third birthday when disaster struck.  Bill was attending a party when the hosts gave everybody Jello instead of the ice cream he was promised.  Upset, Bill stormed out of the party, ran behind the Sawdust Saloon and began playing with matches.  The resulting blaze leveled U2 in Bodie3/4 of the city, leaving only the buildings you see today.

  8. Throughout the 3 major fires in Bodie's history the fire station escaped unharmed.

  9. In 1929 Universal Studios filmed the movie, Hell's Heroes in Bodie.  It was the story of 3 outlaws who met up with a dying women and her young infant.  Bodie Bill played the baby.

  10. Promotional pictures of the rock band U2 were shot in Bodie for their upcoming Joshua Tree tour in 1987.


The Barn

Heading home after a refreshing weekend at Lake Tahoe is depressing.   The reality of a long drive and having to act like grownups again can make anyone madder than a mosquito in a room full of mannequins.  As we drove into Bridgeport our stomachs were grumbling louder than we were.  It was still early so dining opportunities were few.  There wasn't enough time to eat at a restaurant so we pulled into the first fast food joint we could find, The Barn.

Debbie and I ordered a couple of iced teas and a machaca burrito to go.  Settling back in our car Debbie cut the burrito in half while I pulled out of the driveway.  It quickly became apparent this was not mobile cuisine.   The sheer weight and juiciness of my breakfast wrap was not conducive to eating while driving. But it was love at first bite!  Seasoned shreds of beef, fluffy scrambled eggs , cheddar cheese, green The Barn in Bridgeportchiles and pico de gallo were wrapped in a flour tortilla so thin you could almost see through it.  Fear not, fellow travelers, The Barn also offers traditional breakfast burritos that are tightly wrapped making for tasty meals on wheels.  There is a vegetarian burrito for those who steer clear of meat dishes.

Cheryl McCoy has been cooking up her version of Mexican/ American food at The Barn for around thirty years.  Her imagination is endless.   The menu outgrew the reader boards years ago.  Cheryl makes most of her dishes on site with the best ingredients she can find; no small task when the closest market is over 80 miles away.

Two of The Barn's near-famous items are the Texas Toothpicks and Cheryl's Horchata.  Texas Toothpicks are a side dish that is rarely found this side of the Rockies.  They are slivers of onions and jalapeno peppers battered then deep fried.  A side of ranch dressing makes the perfect accompaniment to the spicy Toothpicks.   Horchata is a refreshing iced Mexican drink laced with cinnamon.

On the American side of the menu hamburgers are the star.   You can choose from beef, turkey, elk and buffalo.  From there the toppings are endless.  Don't forget the napkins!  Aside from sodas The Barn brews their own iced tea and pucker up lemonade.  Think Arnold Palmer.  An assortment of bottled beers is available.  When you stop by look for the daily specials which change, well, daily.  Be sure to ask what the soup de jour is.

125 Main St.  Bridgeport, CA 93517  (760) 932-7775

TRAVEL TRIVIA ANSWER  Sean Penn.  In 1987 Penn received a 60 day sentence for battery and parole Sean Pennviolation.  His attorneys brokered a deal that allowed the movie star to be incarcerated at the Mono County Jail in Bridgeport instead of doing time in Los Angeles' jail system.  After six days he was released to "fulfill filming commitments" in Europe.  Sean Penn paid 80 dollars a day to stay in Bridgeport's graybar hotel.