Trek to Inyo County

by Dave Schultheis

During my cross-country motorcycle trip in May/June 2001, I got pictures of nearly every city (A through Z) and nearly every county (A through Z) for the Harley Owners Group's ABCs of Touring.[1] Somehow an "I" county had eluded me. My co-worker Dave C. also needed an "I" county, so we planned this trip to get photos of Inyo County, Dave on his Electra Glide Standard and me on my Electra Glide Road King.

Friday, October 19, 2001

Inyo County is in far east-central California, on U.S. Highway 395 about 150 miles south of Carson City, Nevada and about 200 miles north of Mojave, California. One of the big cities in Inyo County is Bishop, which sits on Highway 395 about 60 miles south of Mono (pronounced moe-know) Lake.

Many people only know of Mono Lake, and how to pronounce it, from looking out of airplane windows when the pilot says, "We're passing over Mono Lake." It is just east of the community of Lee Vining on U.S. 395. I cannot tell you its history, but I will tell you about our trip.

I left San Jose at 6:10 a.m. and fought Friday morning traffic out of the Santa Clara valley. This included what looked like an injury accident on Hy 680 just east of Hy 101. San Jose Fire and the California Highway Patrol were on scene cleaning up. After that, it was relatively clear sailing, although still dark.

I passed through Livermore on CA 84 about 7:00 a.m. and was eastbound on Interstate 580 by 7:15 a.m. I continued east on 580, passing through Tracy, transitioned onto I-205 and then north on Interstate 5 for a very short distance to CA 120 and then east. Dave lives in Manteca, so I only had to go a few miles before taking on off-ramp and got to his house at 7:40 a.m.

After meeting the family and checking the maps, we saddled up and rode over to the Manteca municipal building for some "M" pictures in front of the police department. After refueling, we left Manteca at about 8:45 a.m. and continued east on CA 120.

We passed many miles of farmland and several little cities on the way east. Highway 120 is mostly two-lane with some four-lane divided sections, going over hill and dale with occasional passing lanes and more little towns along the way, slowly climbing in elevation. Hy 120 and Hy 108 are the same road for a while, but 108 continues toward Sonora Pass and 120 goes through Yosemite National Park and over Tioga Pass.

Then it's clear that you're entering the Sierra Nevada mountains as the elevation rises and you're surrounded by tall trees and beautiful views in all directions.

Since there is no gasoline available in Yosemite Valley, we stopped for fuel in Groveland a few minutes before 10:00 a.m. to assure that we'd make it through the park. (Dave estimated the distance through Yosemite to be 70 miles.) I also managed to get a photograph in front of the Groveland Fire Department.

About a half-hour later, we took advantage of a vista point in the Stanislaus National Forest to pull over and rest. The sign says it's the Rim of the World and it certainly was a beautiful sight. We could see a panorama of color, some burned trees from a forest fire, but mostly huge mountainsides and trees of all shapes, sizes and colors.

A bicyclist saw us getting out the cameras and volunteered to take our pictures. Of course we returned the favor and then she was on her way, the same way we were going but at a considerably slower rate.

We arrived at Yosemite National Park's Big Oak Flat entrance ranger station (more like cashier's office) about 11:15 a.m. and paid our $10 to ride though the park, good for 10 days. I guess I shouldn't complain, because the roads are well maintained.

Highway 120 turns north (left while going through the park from this direction), so we did not get into the Yosemite Valley itself. The road is still two lanes and the speed limit is mostly 45 miles per hour through the redwood trees.

We passed several campgrounds, lakes and many rock formations among the trees, then the terrain changed dramatically as we passed through the aptly named Tuolumne Meadows. Shortly after leaving the park at the Tioga Pass ranger station, we stopped at a turnout near Saddlebag Lake Road (near the Tioga Pass Resort) and talked to a couple of fishermen who had caught their limit for the day.

It was just another 10 or so miles through the the Inyo National Forest to U.S. Highway 395. When we got there, we glimpsed Mono Lake and the community of Lee Vining, but since the day was rapidly passing, we turned south and headed for Inyo County.

We pulled into Tom's Place Resort in Crowley Lake about 2:00 p.m. for a short rest and confirmed that we were about 12 miles short of the Inyo County line. We found that we would be missing the annual Tom's Place Perch Fry by just one day, so I got a t-shirt to commemorate the event while Dave made a telephone call.

There was a sample t-shirt there with the logo "Support Mono County Search & Rescue, get lost!" but they'd run out, so I was invited to call in a couple weeks and see if more come in.

We decided to ride down and get those pictures and then return for something to eat, so that we could rest assured that the trip was more than half over and that we had accomplished our goal.

We took various pictures of each other and our bikes and the H-D magazine and the "Inyo County" sign with both cameras and then searched for the next safe place to make a U-turn and return northbound on U.S. 395. Although we were only 24 miles from Bishop, we didn't have time to visit. I remember telling Dave that the closer we got to home, the better of an idea this whole trip sounded.

Back at Tom's Place we sat down to steak sandwiches, non-adult beverages and conversations with some of the locals, including Daisy Mae the bloodhound.

We left Tom's Place about 3:30 p.m. looking for gasoline. Dave recalled seeing a Shell Station somewhere south of Lee Vining, although it was a good distance down the road. We found it near June Lake and refueled with 184 miles on our trip odometers (not far from running on fumes).

We continued north on U.S. 395 and then west on CA 120, back into Yosemite at 4:35 p.m. Riding into the afternoon sun was a bad experience, although Dave didn't seem to be bothered. It's hard to minimize the beauty of Yosemite, but I was tired and it was territory we had seen before.

I did not note the time we got back to the Big Oak Flat ranger station, but it was still light out and we stopped for a few minutes at a turnout due to sore butt syndrome and to help a foreign tourist with directions and advice.

By the time we got back to Groveland, it was dark. We calculated that we had enough fuel to make it at least as far as Oakdale, so we continued west.

We pulled into a gas station in Manteca at 8:30 p.m. and when we were done, Dave was almost home and I had another hour and a half to go.

I struggled with night-time freeway traffic and sore butt syndrome to make it home. Interstate 205 and Interstate 580 were moving well in my direction and seemed to be at capacity in the eastbound direction with people heading home after a long work week. I turned off I-580 at Vasco Road, skirted the main streets of Livermore and cut over Arroyo and Concannon to Holmes (CA 84) and back to Hy 680.

The transition ramp from westbound 84 to southbound 680 has a hellacious groove down the middle of the lane which grabbed my tires and made me say bad words out loud. I wish Cal-Trans had more consideration for motorcycle riders when it comes to maintaining the roads. I made it through okay but had an excess of adrenaline for a while.

There was a lot of traffic all the way down Hy 680, most of it leaving the valley. I got through Milpitas and east San Jose, transitioned to Hy 280, then CA 87 to Almaden Expressway and got home at 9:55 p.m.

It was a very long day (654 miles) but it was nice to enjoy the beauty of Yosemite just prior to the bad weather arriving. Tioga Pass will be closed soon (from November through May, and sometimes later) since they don't plow it in winter.

I wish we'd had enough time to visit Lee Vining and Bishop, but those trips are yet to come.

I am very pleased to say that the FLHR-I and the FLHT both performed very well on this trip.

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Created on October 27, 2001. Last updated on November 26, 2001.
David W. Schultheis, San Josť, Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County, California, USA