This morning we climbed back up from the lake and headed up over the pass. We had no idea what was in store. We chose the Sonora Pass mainly because we had never been over it before, and sort of figured there would be very little traffic. What we didn’t really appreciate was the climb. It tops out at 9624 ft and is pretty darn steep by any standards. We climbed it – slowly – but we did it. Mostly 2nd gear, and occasionally 1st. Fortunately, there wasn’t anyone behind us for the entire ascent.
Uphill just required patience and liberal use of all four limbs. Downhill was the real challenge. The Eastern descent is STEEP. How steep? We boiled brake fluid. I used low gears and engine braking the entire way – staying off the brake pedal as much as possible. It didn’t matter. A few thousand feet down, the brakes went to the floor (fortunately, right around a flat spot). We were crawling downhill the entire time, so engine braking and the emergency brake helped us come to a complete stop.
I hopped out and the hubcaps were scalding, smoke pouring out of the front wheels, and a quick look at the transparent brake fluid reservoir and hose behind my seat indicated rapid boiling. I had no idea this was even a possibility. I suppose some of my chemist friends can probably tell me what the boiling point of brake fluid is, but I do know this – it’s freaking hot!
We spent some time just lounging and waiting for things to cool (Bode put together a puzzle on the table). Once it was safe to touch (about 45 minutes), it was clear that we had to bleed the brakes to get any residual bubbles out, and amazingly that was pretty much it. No permanent damage. A good warm-up for The Andes, I suppose. Onward to Bodie.
Bodie is an old ghost town located at about 8500 feet, but you first descend down to Bridgeport before climbing up into the high desert. We’d been told to visit early in the morning because of the heat, and due to the slow ascents over the mountain passes we rolled in about 2pm. Luckily, there were some clouds and rain in the distance.
I’m not sure what we were expecting, but something along the lines of “ye old ghost town” at a cheesy amusement park was in the back of Angela’s mind. Maybe somewhere you could get your photo taken in old-fashioned clothes in front of a saloon backdrop. Not quite – it’s the real deal. It was absolutely amazing.
The many houses and buildings nestled into the mountain made up just 5% of what the town once was in it’s heyday. Still, the largest ghost town anywhere, and an amazingly impressive slice of history preserved for eternity.
Of course, Bode loved it. He wanted to check out the firehouse and jail, and loved walking through the vacant lots spotting well cranks and wagon wheels. There was lot’s of clue-gathering (thanks to Scooby Doo) and he quizzed everyone on their theories about ghosts and what happened to the people that lived here (according to a Ranger that looked like an old prospector, there were just no more no jobs. The government closed the Post Office and bank and that was the end.)
Afterwords, we headed through yet another mountain pass – I think the third of the day at a mere 8400 feet – and rolled into Markleeville,CA around 7 pm. Before setting up camp we hit Grover Hot Springs for a couple hours. A great relaxing end to a long day of criss-crossing the mountains and desert. They have two spring-fed pools that get drained and re-filled everyday: one luke-warm and a hot one at 104 F degrees. Both had shallow ends of 2.5 feet deep – perfect for a 4 year old.
A great part of the day was the variety of scenery. We started the day at a lake in the forest, climbed as high as I believe I’ve ever been in any car (much less a loaded down VW), saw glaciers, desert and prairie. Each mountain pass we took had yet another amazing view completely different from the last. One had a herder and sheep, another a military training operation. All the fields of cows and horses reminded me of Texas, yet the weather was perfect. You gotta love Northern California.
One last thing – there was an article about us in many of the local Bay Area newspapers today. Many thanks for the offers to send us the article – we’ve taken a few of you up on them!
If you aren’t in the Bay Area, you can view the article here.
If you read the article and just found us – welcome to the journey!