California Hot Springs: the Mono Lake Area + Testing out a Grandby '88 Four Wheel Pop Up Camper

Family trip to the Mono Lake Basin, testing out the Grandby Pop Up Camper in preparation for the Pan Am Overland Trip to be taken in 2013

Mono Lake lies just over the Tioga Pass, nestled in an enormous valley that separates Yosemite and Nevada. It is a well-kept secret, a hidden pocket of astonishing natural splendor. Nature on promenade. It is the love child of Montana and Bolivia.

We stumbled into the area a few years ago by way of the The Hot Springs Guide and fell madly for it. Granted, it’s hard to not love a place that packs as much of a punch as this region. I think if we did not travel on the Pan Am Overland as we are planning, we would move to Mono Lake and start our Inn there. It’s just that beautiful.

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We went last weekend, ostensibly to test the new/old Grandby ’88 Four Wheeler Pop Up Camper we purchased. We had decided that since we were only going to be there for the weekend – which, coming from the San Francisco Bay Area really means we are only going to stay at the hot springs for two nights, one day – we were going to stay at the spring that is easiest for all of us. It’s not too hot, not too cold. Goldilocks-just-right. Usually with fewer people than the Travertine Springs, it is on public land which means you can free-camp right in the area.

Getting there, we took the most direct route, Highway 120, passing through Yosemite. Normally, you have to pay $20 to enter the Park but as our daughter has Down syndrome, we receive the Access Pass and travel for free. Thanks, Moxie!

leg stretch/bathroom break in Yosemite
yogurt too.
This whole part always takes a long, long time and with kids, we invariably hit the “when will be there?“, “are we there yet?” hump. Then we reach the Tioga Pass, up and over and down, down, down.
it really IS  a long, long way down
When the road finally levels out, Mono Lake is in front of you, glimmering all aqua-like in the sun. That is, if it’s sunny when you reach that point.

On the right is the famous Tioga Gas Mart and the Whoa Nellie Deli. Note: the gas here is expensive but it’s there. The food from Whoa Nellie is a little on the pricey side but it’s also on the gourmet-quality side. The market carries anything you might have forgotten – with the prices that will make you wish you hadn’t. Great, clean bathrooms.

We were hungry but since we are on a tight budget, we didn’t go to Whoa Nellie – we turned left and went to Nicely’s.

$28 for a table loaded with complete meals for all of us. We were stuffed full and pretty happy. Ready to hit the road again to Shepherd’s (GPS Coordinates HERE). 395S. You have to pass the road to the
town of Mammoth Lakes (isn’t that the coolest name? Ever?) – so if you really did forget things, or if you want to stock up, this is the town to do it. They have supermarkets, camping stores, all of it.
Turn left by the green church off of 395S. It’s called Benton Crossing.
the green church. Benton Crossing.
Head down the graded road, then the dirt road.

Turn right, before the BIG tree on the right (not the little tree on the left – forget the little tree on the left, okay?). Head down, down the road. Note: high grade clearance vehicle would be a must in bad weather, but a regular car could/should make it easily.

When you see the water stuff, you are THERE! That simple!

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After we arrived, we popped the camper up to air it, dived into our swim gear. All of the springs are clothing optional – we were opting to wear ours just then, especially as a family parked RIGHT NEXT TO THE SPRING and were sitting in it. This is a huge, big bad no-no within Hot Springs Culture – right up there with peeing in a pool. One of the worst, rudest things you could do. We were pretty pissed off. And guess what? Our darling 4 year old son made sure to tell them all, “MY MOMMY AND DADDY DON’T LIKE THAT YOU CAMPED HERE – CAN YOU MOVE PLEASE?”

Yep.

They got defensive, “we have kids” Mikey shot back, “so do we, younger than yours, but you just don’t do that”, then they went with, “we’re only here for a day,” I said, “yeah, us too but we still wouldn’t park there” – I may have chewed them out a little on their complete and total lack of manners and consideration, they may have gone quiet… then I may have just taken my baby girl and stepped into the hot springs with my back to them. May have.


A little tense there, no?

But they had a 12 year old girl and she was in love, LOVE, love, LOVE with babies (and horses – you know that stage) and she was cooing and oohing and ahhing Moxie and that eventually broke all the defensive/hostile tension right up and while I wouldn’t call us “friends”, I’d say we were all pretty friendly with one another in the end.

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Up at the crack of dawn the next morning, we raced back to the Springs. Our time alone.

It’s one the sweetest things. Best little nuggets of life.

 
 

The water is absolutely perfect. A little on the warm side, but it’s not as hot at the Hot Tub or Crab Cooker (both are very close by). It’s the best spring around for kids. And pregnant ladies who can’t stay in the tub for more than 10 minutes because, you know, that boils the baby.

There is something so satisfyingly primal about the way the springs are at dawn, with the steam rising from both it and all the other hot springs in the area (and there are many). The broad sweeps of land untouched as yet. Those soaring mountains, kissing the sky.

It’s all so peaceful. Even the kids are still in that moment.

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We took the short walk after breakfast over to Crab Cooker. The path to Crab Cooker is the one right in front of Shepherd’s – no mistaking it. It’s the only one.

 

It was hot. Warning: bring your sunscreen when you come out here. And/or wear thin, long-sleeved gear, good for preventing burns. And hats.

Hopefully your baby isn’t like mine, throwing them at the first moment she can.

Turns out both kids wanted to walk, so we let them

The path is easy and fairly smooth. When it’s not, you just call it “physical therapy” for your child.

Then, you are there and glad you came.

Testing the Grandby ’88 Four Wheel Pop Up Camper

This is how a four wheel pop up works. You park your truck. Your husband goes around and fiddles with the snaps and then he pushes it up or something and your truck suddenly has a home on it! It’s amazing. This is the view from your home-on-wheels if you are by Shepherd’s Hot Spring:

It comes with a mini kitchen inside – a stove, sink, water faucet and an icebox/fridge. We opted to not use the stove or sink for this trip – we need to test those features out fully first (remember: this is an ’88 and we bought it off of Craigslist). We did, however, use and like the icebox. Next time we won’t use dry ice – it froze everything pretty solid (we now know what potato-salad flavored ice cream would taste like).

My One True Darling set up his kitchen outside, shielded by the truck

isn’t he handsome? and there he is, cooking for us all…. sigh.

The couch area folds out to a double bed. The top also flips out to make another double. We thought the kids would sleep on top but we hadn’t thought of a good guard rail for them yet, so we had the boys on the top shelf and us girls on the bottom double.

While we laughed about how our standards are so low that anything would probably seem totally luxurious to us, it really was awfully comfortable.
My only complaint was that the whole place shook worse than a Tokyo earthquake whenever anyone moved. I am deaf and so of course sounds don’t bother me (at all, haha) when I take my hearing aids out – movement on the other hand, can keep me up all night. I was up pretty much all night.
My One True Darling said that we can easily fix that with jacks. I hope he’s right.
We developed a short list of what needs doing or what we’d like to add/implement in the near future:
– a changing room
– door mat
– clothes line
– portable toilet
– awning
– porta-shower
– hand vacuum
– small broom
This, added to a fixed cover.
Overall, it’s an amazing thing. One of the things that I liked best about it is that you can just pull over, get in back, lay out the beds and sleep. You can do it in the dark – no need to rush from site to site in order to set up while light.
Stay tuned for more testing.

More Photos: for those of you that like ’em:

ready, set? everyone has their eyes closed and is looking away? SHOOT!


…and a little cloud porn..

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Meriah
Meriah Nichols is a deaf artist, tech-junkie, Counselor (and sometime teacher), mom (one with Down syndrome), cat-lover, Trekkie, yurt-dwelling off-the-grid farmer's wife. She writes about travel, disability, and getting dishes done.

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