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Celebrating our two-lane highways of yesteryear…And the joys of driving them today!

Us 395 & California's Mono Lake

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Who has a story to tell about a highway not listed among our other forums? I’ll start by doing a few posts on US 395 in California. You can reply to this post or start a new thread. This post covers the road between Bridgeport and Mono Lake.


US 395 between Bridgeport and Lone Pine California is hands down one of the most spectacular roads in America. It follows along the east side of the Sierra Nevada beneath he highest mountains south of Alaska, through high desert country, along ancient lakes, and past movie settings. It provides access to Yosemite National Park along the awesome Tioga Pass Road, to Bodie, one of America’s best preserved ghost towns, and to lake after lake at the base of the Sierra.


It also provides a sad reminder of one of our mistakes. The Manzanar internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII is on the road. And whether you consider it a mistake or not, you see the consequences of diverting the water from the east side of the mountains to an ever thirsty Los Angeles, 300 miles south.


My experiences along 395 dates back to the late 1950’s when as a high school student my buddies and I explored the lakes and ghost towns that we often had to ourselves back then. But this post isn’t about the “good ole days,” it is about a trip in January and February this year (2007) along this marvelous road with Bo, the Malamute Wonder Dog and Sheila, Rose of the Road.


We will start this adventure in Bridgeport because we drove south from Fort Churchill and Yerington and connected with 395 there. Bridgeport in the winter and Bridgeport in the summer are two different towns. In the winter you can walk down the middle of main street (US 395) and seldom have to dodge a car. In the summer it is a continuous stream of automobiles and motor homes.


Ken’s Sporting Goods, a Bridgeport Roadside Landmark Since 1954.


Bridgeport is at the heart of an outdoor sports paradise. The bright sunlight of a winter morning brightens Ken’s Sporting Goods Store, with its classic neon trout sign. Ken’s was in business when I first visited Bridgeport in 1958 (it was opened in 1954) and frankly, it hasn’t changed a whole lot in that 50 years. I honestly believe that blue box was out front then, as was the fish sign.


Across 395 on the south stands the Bridgeport Inn. In 1962, when I last stayed there, they had a cougar in a cage in the yard to the right of the building. The cougar is gone, but the Inn built in 1877 lives on.



The Bridgeport Inn built in 1877


The Mono County courthouse is a symbol of Bridgeport. Bridgeport became the county seat when it was discovered that the former county seat at Aurora was in Nevada! The courthouse was constructed in 1881 and still serves the county.


Bridgeport Courthouse, Built 1881.


South on 395 the road climbs toward the Conway Summit at 8143 feet. As you approach the summit there is an area off to the right that is spectacular in the fall with yellow aspen, but isn’t so bad here in the winter either. You are looking west toward the Sierra Nevada.


The Sierra Nevada approaching Conway Summit


At the summit looking south you see US 395 as it heads toward the famed Mono Lake. At 8143 feet the view is breathtaking in more than one sense.



US 395 from Conway Summit, 8143 Feet high.


As a teenager driving my 51 Chev, I took a curve on the old alignment (visible in the smaller photo) too fast and enjoyed a few seconds of two wheeling. I’m not sure you could slide one of those old chunks of iron, they just rolled.


US 395 follows along the western shore of Mono Lake. We stopped and walked down to the lake. You see a tufa tower standing out of the water



Tufa Tower Rising from Mono Lake



Tufa is essentially common limestone. Typically, underwater springs rich in calcium mix with lake water which is rich in carbonates and a chemical reaction occurs resulting in calcium carbonate—limestone. The calcium carbonate precipitates around the spring, and over the course of decades to centuries, a tufa tower will grow. Tufa towers grow exclusively underwater, and some grow to heights of over 30 feet.


Because the water supply along the east side of the Sierra is siphoned off to Los Angeles, the lake is lower than its historical height, thus many of the tufts are above water or on dry land.



Our next installment will take us southward from Mono Lake.


Keep the Show on the Road!

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This makes me itch for a trip to CA. I could probably easily spend a week driving interesting roads, it looks like.


Is that old alignment of 395 still driveable?




Hi Mobilene,


There are some sections of the old road that are still there and they are very beautiful, complete with the towering Sierra Nevada as a backdrop. On the way back a few weeks later, we drove some of the old alignment and my wife liked it so much she wanted to move there.


If you take a look at Conway Summit in Google Earth in 3D, you can easily see the old alignment up the mountain. I’m not confident that one is open. The section on the flat where I almost rolled the Chev is already overgrown.


One section I do want to take myself bypasses Conway Summit altogether and goes through a canyon further east.


I think the best time for a trip along this 395 and the Sierra is in the fall. In the summer it is busy, and in the winter it draws ski crowds.


If you ever decide to take a trip to Yosemite, include Tioga Pass and 395. I can give you some “tips” for sure. My grandfather was the chauffeur for a well to do Californian (L.C. Brand) and drove throughout this area in the teens.


Hey, I just remembered! I have photos of the car they drove parked beside Mono Lake about 1916. They called the car the Tioga Wolf. I’ll do another post here with a couple of then and now shots.


I also plan to post a few more segments of 395, so when you get back from your National road trip, take a look


Keep the Show on the Road!

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