We just got back from our road trip to Carson City Nevada via US 395, and might we say this is quite possibly the best stretch of highway in the country if you’re interested in breathtaking mountain views, quaint small towns, and some of the best natural hot springs the world has to offer.
We left LA at around 8am on a Friday morning with minimal traffic as we took the 14 freeway towards the 395 junction. After a quick breakfast in Mojave, we found our way onto US 395 with mountains, clouds, and desert scenery engulfing the horizon as we made our way into the Owens Valley. The eerie shells of once inhabited structures staggered along the highway set the stage for the vast amount of old west history in front of us, seemingly beckoning travelers to stop, explore, and reminisce about the once flourishing center of mining and agriculture surrounding the now mostly dry Owens Lake bed.
As you head north toward Lone Pine, you see the Eastern Sierras to the left and White Mountains to the right, with both mountain ranges seemingly competing for your attention. Although it is mid June, the snow caps on both mountain ranges are in tact and seem to glow like giant LED lights as they reflect the sunlight, far away from the clouds that blanket the roadway as we make our way along the Owens Valley Fault Line. Mount Whitney towers to the left, the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,505. Charlie, an avid climber and outdoorsman, has spent a good deal of his life exploring the Sierras. As we drive he describes the various peaks, faces, and terrain we’re seeing having climbed them all at one point or another over the years. Listening to Charlie bring the enormous mountain range into focus with details, and vivid descriptions, is enough to entice anyone to throw on a backpack and go check it out for themselves.
After another quick pitstop in Bishop to pick up some sandwiches, and some highly coveted Elk Jerky, we make our way toward Mammoth Lakes for a quick dip in the hot springs. If the hot springs of the West are thought of as sanctuaries of hedonistic worship, then a geothermally active depression just a little southeast of Mammoth Lakes, is hallowed ground. Known by and used by indigenous peoples for eons, these natural springs have been maintained and lovingly cared for by skillful volunteers and locals. While it was a bit too cold outside for Scott to jump in the water, Charlie seizes the opportunity for a quick soak before hitting the road for the last long stretch to the Nevada Border. We arrive in Nevada just a bit past 5pm, as we lazily make our way through quaint small towns that pepper the highway right into the state capital of Carson City, which itself is equally charming.
The next day we’re off to the Westside Pour House to make a little music for the Carson City Wine Walk. The Westside Pour House (Formerly Mo & Sluggos) is one of THE best bars in the city we discovered as we chatted to locals and musicians along our journey. We enjoyed watching the easy flow of people and party goers through this historic quarter of the city as we banged out the duo versions of Moonshine and Fireflies & Gasoline to our new found friends and family. A warm dusting of rain between the second and third sets brought out all of the Forest Service Firefighters who had just wrapped up a tough day/week of work, and we had a great time playing and hanging out with them and later chowing down on some of the best french dip we’ve ever tasted!
We also had the opportunity to play for some family that was in town, who also happen to be some amazing musicians. Charlie got to spend some quality time with Scott’s Uncle Geno, a world class pedal steel player, and trade war stories of C6 and E9 tunings, knee lever directions, and clean blackwidow powered amplification. Uncle Geno loved watching Charlie play, as well as networking with some local musicians who play country and came out to see us. We hope we get
to see him play next time we are up there! The next day we enjoyed a delicious BBQ pork roast Uncle Geno slow cooked all night and filled our bellies up and then stopped by the famous John Wayne house in the historic district before hitting the road. We sure will miss Carson, every club owner in Los Angeles would do themselves a service by spending a weekend or longer up there and getting some ideas on what ingrediants make for a fantastic scene people enjoy and want to be a part of.
After saying our goodbyes we were back on the road headed for Lake Tahoe, the largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada. While we’re no strangers to the beach, the serene waver of the lake water, and the peaceful easy feeling of Tahoe, got us in the mindset for the next leg of our journey…the 450 miles back down the 395. Now, 450 miles may sound like a long way, but I must say there is so much to see, and so much variety in terrain, there is not a duldrum moment along the way. Between discovering a creek that seemingly runs uphill, to the brine shrimp laden waters of Mono Lake, I don’t think we even had a chance to think of turning on the radio. Not wanting to spend the entire day on the road we took another detour off some crazy dirt road to another hidden ancient hot springs to soak in mother natures healing waters.
The weather was perfect and we still had hours of sunlight left to soak in all the nature around us as well as meet some fellow travelers also taking the no-hooks tour of the 395. It’s interesting that despite being in a remote area where there is seemingly nobody, you can find lots of people congregating around these hot springs. Where did they all come from? While the springs are not that difficult to find, we will take the liberty of doing our best not to tell you where they are located. We wouldn’t want you to miss the fun of discovering them for yourself.
After towling off, and feeling elated after a long soak, we make our way back to Mammoth Mountain for some chow, and to stake out our camping spot just north of Bishop. Within minutes of landing in Horton Creek we had our camp setup, our fire was raging, and a sea of stars danced over our heads. We didn’t think much about bears as we considered the Sierras hovering just a few miles to the east…in the dark it was hard to tell they were there. Then we saw the moonrise, or rather a mountain rise, as the moonshine began to reveal the colossal mountain peaks that surrounded our camp. With the sun being our alarm clock, we got an early start the next morning into Bishop for some hash and eggs, and to check out some of the local saloons.
From there we slowly made our way south on the 395, making sure to stop along the way to check out another hotsprings, before hitting our next destination, Fossil Falls. During the last ice age glaciers formed in the Sierra Nevada and meltwaters from the glaciers pooled into large lakes, and rivers. As the rivers traveled through the valley its course was diverted several times by volcanic activity. The falls were formed when the river was forced to divert its course over a basalt flow, polishing and reshaping the rock into a variety of unique shapes and forms. Evidence of ancient people abound in this area from a time that was much wetter, and full of wildlife. Charlie found several ancient petroglyphs, stone tools, and obsidian flakes and what looked like an ancient kitchen right next to what would have been the lake. We took a quick trip down to the dry lake bed to do some obligatory donuts in the car before heading back to the highway, and making our way back to “civilization.”
We only had a few days to spend out on the highway, but I have to tell you there was not a moment along the way we didn’t enjoy. We look forward to coming back to Carson City with the full band, and perhaps playing a few shows along the way. We met nothing but the kindest people, and look forward to heading back and making more new friends. We even wrote a few new songs along the way, we’re looking forward to debuting those for you soon!
So, if you have just purchased your copy of Fireflies & Gasoline and are looking for a road trip to take it on, the 395 makes an excellent destination, with no destination required. It’s the type of highway that encourages you to take that side road and see where it leads, and what mysterious beauty you may find at the other end. Speaking of destinations, next time we’ll have to take a detour over to Bodie CA, one of the wests premier ghost towns. Or swing on up to a trail head, and take a hike to see whats hidden in the sierra mountains. Or just sit your ass down in a hot spring, if you can find one. And don’t forget to stop and sample the jerky!!!