Written by Zeke Piestrup
Cities must have strong gravity fields. I still meet Angelinos who have never been to Mammoth Mountain! They’ve hit the local mountains, but have yet to make the five-hour drive north.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson advises, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Well, with Mammoth, Phil would be only half right. Both the journey and the destination are prime. No need to proselytize about the world-class mountain of Mammoth, that is established truth.
But, I must say that I love the drive to Mammoth, too. The journey is a mathematical wonder ride to many destinations. The 300-mile drive divides equally into three 100-mile chunks. Even within those chunks, more perfect divisibles are found. Such perfect numbers could only be a message from the divine: this drive is a holy pilgrimage.
I got the wheel. Zen out as we hit all the prime spots on this drive to Mammoth.
TUNNELS: The First 100 to Mohave
LA means traffic. It’s also an obvious reminder of why you’re heading to a Nature Paradise. We are fleeing the city, but the city won’t release us without a fight.
Traffic slogs through the 5 & 210 freeway interchange. Proof that there’s no such thing as an “adult”: rush-hour traffic brings incessant horn honking in the tunnel of the 5 freeway, as it merges with the 210. Horns in tunnels, must be funny stuff.
Phil Jackson on the honkers: “Don’t judge, just observe.”
DAWN ROAD: A New Day
If a chain store exists, it exists in Palmdale/Lancaster. Avenue I = In N Out Burger. Otherwise, best to keep the forward momentum rolling, past all the track housing, past Edwards Air Force Base, and up to the first exit on the Mojave plane.
Dawn Road is a symbolic exit. I always stop here. It’s the first exit where the city is finally left behind. Symbolic in name and feature. There’s literally nothing off the exit. It’s an exit to nothing. I pull off to the side of the exit ramp, use the public restroom (for boys only), and look back down at the city left behind. We are officially out of the city. It is a new day.
Phil Jackson: “An old day passes, a new day arrives.”
THE MOHAVE AIRPORT: Airplanes, Bones & Space Flight
Mojave is the economy. Once the 58 freeway was built, sucking all the cars off of Mojave’s streets, this city has been in contraction mode. But golly, Huell Howser has been here, because of the Mojave Air & Space Port (aka the Mojave Airport).
The Mojave Airport is where old passenger jets go to die and new jet (and rocket) ideas are born. The old ones? They’re parked everywhere here. It’s one big old folks’ home for jets, enjoying the weather before they die and are disassembled in the Mojave aircraft boneyard. Not forgotten.ge
In 2004 the Mojave Airport became a spaceport, certification courtesy of the FAA. A horizontal launch into space on a reusable spacecraft is an allowed flight plan now. Forty companies, many involved in highly advanced aerospace design, have made a home at the Mojave Airport.
Phil Jackson: “So while the city dies, the airport flies.”
RED ROCK CANYON: The Next 100 Miles
The first 100 is gone with Mojave. The next 100 starts with a right turn. Next gas station is 50 miles. Next station of interest is 25. 100, 50, 25. You see it?
Red Rock Canyon State Park, 25 miles in on the second 100, was once home to the Kawaiisu Indians. The distinctive (= amazing!) rock formations served as mile markers for 20-mule wagons hauling goods in the 1870s. Today, there is a four lane highway that plows right through the middle. Good for views, probably bad for canyons. Parts of Jurassic Parkwere filmed here, and that’s cool, but the 80s show Airwolf and Jan Michael Vincent shot here, and that’s cooler! Season 3 of Airwolf is always comedy to watch. Mr. Vincent was often times intoxicated on the job. Good thing he was only playing pretend. With the flying, that is. The boozin’ was real life.
Phil Jackson: “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.”
BRANDY’S JUNCTION: Inappropriate Gifts For Conservative Folk
Precisely halfway through the second chunk of 100 miles brings us to Brady’s Junction. At the convergence of the 14 and 395, Brady’s is filled with all sorts of crap. My favorite are the figurines of inappropriate body parts that are placed in water and “expand up to 600%!” Brady’s always has some sort of idiotic two dollar trinket that can serve as the perfect gag gift. Although the Nazi flags they had there recently just made me gag. Brady’s is a weird spot with clean restrooms.
Phil Jackson: “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”
INDIAN WELLS BREWERY: Norm Peterson Finds Heaven on the 395
Indian Wells’ beers have found their way from this tiny blip on the map into your Whole Foods grocery store. Beer connoisseurs come from far and wide to stockpile Mojave Red, a cherished lager and the signature brew of Indian Wells. Inside the gift shop, you can mix-and-match any of the 14 different brews into one six-pack. It’s the perfect compliment to any apres-ski jacuzzi hang.
Phil Jackson: “On a long journey, faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.”
PEARSONVILLE: The Hub Cab Capital of the World, Seriously
For real. A hub cap capital of the world. Sanctioned by the International Hub Cap Governing Body. This place is waiting for you, the perfect location to film your brilliant horror movie idea. Its bizarre-ness can easily morph to super creepy-ness. There’s a children’s playground completely devoid of children. There’s also Lucy “the Hubcap Queen”. Lucy likes to wash and shine the hubcaps. Don’t ask why. It’s a question that could short circuit any rational brain.
Phil Jackson: “All men come into this world alone and leave it alone.”
OLANCHA: Gus’s Fresh Jerky
I’ll never eat a hot dog except for at a baseball game, and I’ll never eat jerky except for a drive to Mammoth. Thirty miles from Olancha, the amateur painted signs begin to pop up advertising “Really Good! Fresh Jerky 24 Miles.” It ain’t no lie. Jerky is a Native American invention, adopted by cowboys, and exercised by road travelers. Get your jerky fix in Olancha, where the population may be less than a thousand, but there’s enough dried ostrich, bison, wild boar, alligator, and cow at Gus’s to feed them all!
Phil Jackson: “A mind of the calibre of mine cannot derive its nutriment from cows.”
CRYSTAL GEYSER: A 700 Year Mistake
Bottled water is healthier than tap water. That’s a myth. And we’ve all been suckers. It’s a $15 billion industry of total waste. Next time you purchase a bottle of Fiji water, contemplate the black air diesel generators that keep their plants churning at night when electrical power is shut-off in Fiji. Then there’s the 8000-mile journey of jet fuel to get the eco-branded, buck-fifty bottle into your hands. Toss the plastic bottle in the trash, where it’s transported to your local landfill, and some 700 years later, the plastic bottle will finish biodegrading.
Tap water in the U.S. is completely safe, and the added flouride helps prevent cavities! If you’re in a bind, and must purchase bottled water on your drive to Mammoth, make it Crystal Geyser. It’s local. No generators and no airplanes necessary to get Crystal Geyser into your hands. Same 700-year expiration date, though.
Phil Jackson: “As irrigators leave water where they want, as archers make their arrows straight, as carpenters carve wood, the wise shape their minds.”
LONE PINE: The Last 100 Miles
The last 100 mile chunk begins with Lone Pine and views of the Sierra Mountain range. The Sierras are the beasts you’ll be riding at Mammoth, and their first starring appearance is a towering introduction in Lone Pine. Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental U.S., is accessed from Lone Pine.
Take a detour to the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History to check out the parade of Hollywood films that have been shot in and around Lone Pine. Bogart, John Wayne, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, all have been a part of Lone Pine’s extensive film history.
Phil Jackson: “He who envies others does not attain peace of mind.”
MANZANAR: Our Bombs Are Filled with Peace!
Freedom is a foreign concept during times of war. Our core values are swallowed up by fiery patriotic surges. Water-boarding is but a link in a chain. Manzanar, half-way between Lone Pine and Independence, was one of ten Japanese American “internment” camps during World War II. Manzanar is also part of the our American tradition of creative branding through euphemisms. It’s been called a “war relocation center.” A relocation center, sounds like a nice place for a vacation! The reality was the armed imprisonment of American citizens of Japanese descent by a scared populous fed on a diet of patriotic fervor. The War on Terror, we’ve seen you before.
Phil Jackson: “To conquer oneself is a greater victory than to conquer thousands in a battle.”
OWEN’S VALLEY RADIO OBSERVATORY: Jodi Foster’s Big Bang
Nearing Big Pine, a huge crop of satellite dishes will prop up in the distance to your right (east). The Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) is the largest university-operated radio observatory in the world. Caltech’s astronomy students are currently studying the Big Bang, using the 130-foot telescope of OVRO to peer back into space and time. Each time I pass by these gigantic dishes, I think about another kind of bang: Jodi Foster and Matthew McConaughey making-out inContact.
Phil Jackson: “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
AMIGO’S IN BISHOP: The Holy Trinity of Mexican Food
Since So-Cal folks have no NFL team to root for, we root for Mexican food. The Holy Trinity of Mexican Food is San Diego, LA, and San Fran. Sorry New Yorkers, you have no good Mexi food. You may think you do, but you don’t.
Good Mexi spots are indexed and stored in the brain. Yes, Bishop has one of my favorite Mexi joints. Amigo’s on the main drag, just past the Horse from Hell. Hit this spot on the way or the way back. Order the special. Do not deviate. Sunday is my favorite. The chili colorado burrito. All time.
Phil Jackson: “As we need food, so do we need emotional nourishment: love, kindness, appreciation, and support from others.”
SCHAT’S BAKERY IN BISHOP: Carbs Are Good
Often times Schat’s can become a parking and tourist trap. However, there good reason. Pick up a loaf of their cheese bread and it’ll be gone that day. Their Sheepherder’s bread really is that good. LA Times glossed the bakery as one ofCalifornia’s Golden 15, a top place to see in California. Graduate to the next level and pocket the chili-cheese bread.
Phil Jackson: “Bread feeds the body, indeed, but flowers feed also the soul.”
SHERWIN GRADE: The Final Grade
A great aspect of the Mammoth drive is there’s no harrowing, windy mountain roads. It’s a four-lane scenic highway to the high mountain tops. The Sherwin Grade is its final climb. Take the “Scenic Point” exit. The view is astounding, and like Dawn Road, there’s more public restrooms here for boys. The Sherwin Grade signals the final stretch and the end of “Are we there yet?” Yes, we are. The journey was great, and the destination is the greatest. All hail Mammoth Mountain!
Phil Jackson: “The longest journey starts with a single step.”
Get ready for the drive to Mammoth, because MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN IS OPEN! Click for details.