California: Hot Springs the Hard Way
Seeking a hot spring while the temperature in Los Angeles boils over 100 degrees might seem like a rather strange journey, but my loaner BMW F 800 GS and I are off to do just that in the Eastern Sierra. Let’s go!
Slipping out of town at noon in early September, I’m 3,000 feet above sea level and aiming toward the sky every hour.
It’s super-slab out of Los Angeles on the 5 and 14 freeways north to the Mojave Air and Space Port until I break away to the scenic 395 bound for higher ground. Passing through the gateway to Mt. Whitney’s trailheads, Lone Pine, CA, this is as good a place as any to fuel up and get my grub on. Gas is also available in the town of Independence (another 15 miles). That’s where I turn off and get dirty.
Rising 4,000 feet (over a span of five hours), I’ll add another 5,000 feet on the dial in just 20 miles before setting up camp, watching the sun set, and bedding down for the night.
At the south end of Independence, I turn east on to Mazourka Canyon Road and ascend with ease. The first six miles merely cross to the foot of the mountain on broken pavement. Once bending left (north) up through a valley, the surface becomes graded gravel, picks up the routing number 13S05, and leads all the way to Mazourka Peak at 9,300 feet. It’s an easy start for those of us that don’t ride in the dirt too often; it’s flat, predictable, and passable by automobiles.
Had I been smarter, I would have more slowly acclimated to the altitude by spending a night in town at a lower elevation to avoid any possible sickness, but I excitedly climb and suffer a little. I’ve already got some great photography, though, thanks to the half moon in the sky, so I don’t mind.
Motorcycle & Gear
2012 BMW F 800 GS
Helmet: HJC CL-X6
Jacket: Triumph Adventure Jacket
Pants: Scorpion XDR
Boots: Alpinestars Tech 3
Camping in this part of the Inyo National Forest doesn’t require any permits. Fires are legal, but this is California and rather flammable, so I usually cook my meals with a stove. As I get closer to the ancient trees tomorrow night, any flames will be off limits.
Day 1 ends on an elevated note right where I belong. Though I’m many miles from home, I’m surrounded by nature and my Patsy Cline MP3s lull me to sleep.
Up, Up, and Away
Waking in the morning to the sound of buzzing insects instead of auto traffic is worth the trouble, but I’m wary. They’re hungry and want blood.
Since I’m running street-bias tires, I descend from the foot of Mazourka Peak to the backbone of the Owens Valley (Route 395), pass through the town of Independence, and refuel in Big Pine before turning right onto Route 168 (Death Valley Road) and returning to the forest level.
Betting Within your Limit
The climb up Westgard Pass to the pinyon pine and juniper tree covered Cedar Flat is about 13 miles from 395. A left turn onto White Mountain Road (4S01) leads to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Ten miles from that intersection is the Schulman Grove. I pay the park fee of per adult where the pavement ends, but not before I gaze at vistas over Bishop, CA, to the west and Nevada to the east.
Schulman Grove is host to the grandfather of all living things on Earth, the nearly 5,000-year-old “Methuselah” tree. I dismount the bike and set off on foot to get a closer look at the eldest of the park’s trees, choosing one of two hiking paths. The 4.5-mile version loops around the peak to the southeast.