Monday, 16 March 2009

Under a Big Sky

This is almost the final instalment in the Great Tour of America and Italy from last year - I just thought I'd capitalise that to make it look Big and Important - a trick learned from A.A. Milne. I'm going to need to go on another trip to get some more adventures about which to blog. In the meantime...

Lone Pine apparently used to have an iconic pine tree which has since blown down, so the town should really be renamed No Pine.

We have missed their 19th film festival by a day. This festival celebrates Westerns and famous actors such as Gary Cooper, Hop-along Cassidy, Kirk Douglas and the bloke who played the Lone Ranger. The surrounding mountains have been used as scenery for many a film.

John Wayne stayed in the very same hotel as we do. Our room is old-fashioned with a Wild West feel – there are stencilled images printed on the wooden furniture, a green and purple flowery carpet, and a friendly receptionist.

Dinner at the Merry-Go-Round restaurant is delicious. In keeping with the area, I have pea soup and then filet steak with beans and twice-baked potato. We share a bottle of Pepper Grove cabernet sauvignon which is a Californian wine imported from Napa. The restaurant is in a building like a tent or an octagonal big top and the food is excellent. I enjoy the atmosphere and it is the perfect end to a great day.

The next morning we wake up to the most amazing scenery. Wow, what a view! We’re flanked by real cowboy mountains; jagged peaks haunted with boulders and topped with snow. Him Outdoors discovers the trail up Mt Whitney is one that can be walked in a couple of days and he is itching to get up there.

Unfortunately we haven’t got a couple of days so we quickly explore the town (which sells crystals, rocks, wood carvings, pottery, moccasins, cowboy boots, belts, fringed jackets, cowboy hats and crockery) and have breakfast at a diner where the owner collects butter churns. Her admission of this fact leads to an unsolicited conversation with a punter who collects random antiques from radios to roller-skates.

We drive on again through towns such as Big Pine and Independence, the administrative centre of Inyo County complete with a courthouse and, according to its brochure, ‘a patriotic flag-waving Fourth of July celebration, featuring an early-morning flag-raising, pancake breakfast, a 4km/10km run/walk, a nice small-town parade, delicious home-made ice cream and pie social, kids’ activities (including a frog jumping contest), an arts and crafts show, deep-pit barbecue and, to complete an exciting day, a sunset fireworks show.’

Bishop is less dramatic. As well as the usual Denny’s, Burger King, MacDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC and Karl Jnr, the town boasts such gems as Spellbinder Books and Coffee, Brock’s Flyfishing Specialists, Anne Marie’s Wedding Register, El Dorado Saving’s Bank, Giggle Springs Gasoline Market, Jumpin Juice and Java, Erick Schatt’s Bakery, and The Meat House.

This is an outdoor paradise with its clean air and bright light. We are in the High Sierras where people come to fish, hunt, shoot, trek, cycle, hike, and generally revel in the bluest skies I’ve seen outside Queenstown. We approach Sherwin Summit (7,000ft) where the steep sides of the archetypal American mountains are clad with pine trees and a sprinkling of snow.

Road signs promise twisting roads and bounding deer for the next umpteen miles. There are signs to Tom’s Place and an exhortation to report drunk drivers to the police. The landscape of boulders and trees is dotted with wilderness lodges, and paths wind through the scenery, beckoning runners to follow. Him Outdoors says, ‘This is my sort of stuff. I like this.’

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