South on 395

Ah, what’s not to love about Highway 395? It really gives a sweeping view of those quirky corners of the old reality map that make California, well, California.

Oh, and Nevada, too. I mean, coming from the north, rolling through Minden and its unforgettable billboards: “Guns ‘n Pawn!”, “Cowboy Music Festival” and “Casino – Win a Free Gun! (with Paid Entry)”. Then there was the inscrutable, accusatory white-on-flat-black bold “Saturday’s the Lord’s Day – Who Changed It?”    Uhhh, let me Google that for you?
But then you roll into another twisting rise, through a pass, and out into the next stunning valley, and you think it might be worth putting up with the billboard kooks for this kind of scenery.
Kids were in back, J plugged into an endless series of movies on D’s computer, while M took turns gazing between the sky and her online fanfiction.
Mono Lake. Never been to Mono Lake before. At least, I hadn’t. Great fun, gorgeous-in-an-otherworldly-way, and surprisingly cold. Out to the waterline, make jokes about the tufa, obligatory photo, then back in the car southbound.
We skipped Bodie to avoid traumatizing Miranda. Apparently there had been an incident during a field trip in middle school of which she was not eager to be reminded. Next time.
Made Bishop by lunch, then on south, playing the “Which one is Mount Whitney?” game as we pulled through Independence, Lone Pine and Cartago. Google image search came to the rescue – how on earth did we survive before roaming data plans?
Had to stop at Gus’s for jerky, of course. What? You don’t know Gus’s? Okay, neither did we. But starting something like a half hour north of Cartago we started seeing crudely hand-lettered billboards extolling Gus’s Jerky, Olives and Honey – Only 33 Miles Ahead! I mean, you’d think we were approaching Wall Drug or something. By the fourth billboard advertising his selection of buffalo, antelope and beef, we knew we had to have a look.
Gus, or a reasonable facsimile, was happy to dole out samples, and we left with a couple packs of peppered “cowboy” jerky (yes, we asked, and no, it is not made with real cowboy). He explained that Cartago was a place artists gravitated to, sort of like a black hole. They came here and got stuck, with all their output bouncing around like little art-photons inside the event horizon. Well, those weren’t the exact words he used, but it did explain the welded ants, rusted steel dinosaur and adobe lemon-drop-lighthouse-pineapple….thing. No Spongebob in spurs, but we wouldn’t have been surprised.
Then south again, with Death Valley off to our left, somewhere past the swirling red-gray sand flats.
Got buzzed by an F-18 as we approached China Lake; seemed to be having fun, following the road only a hundred or so feet up, jinking along the turns with the cars below. And out onto the flats of Mohave, past a hundred or so shrink-wrapped 747s, patiently awaiting resurrection or dismemberment. Following the aviation theme, we detoured into Palmdale to pay homage to Plant 42 (, birthplace of the U-2, SR-71, X-15, XB-70 and a dozen other winged wonders. The museum was closed, but we spent a couple of minutes peering through the bars at the static displays.
Then, then – at this point we’d been driving something like 8 hours – back into the car for the final “Allons y”. We’d been “allons”ing all day and were ready for the “Y” part. Made LA by 6:30, dropped our stuff off at my mom’s, dosed up on round-the-corner sushi, and collapsed into our laptop-fueled internet trance….
Thoughts: I want to do this drive again. Want to take my time, stopping at all – or at least some of the funky spots along the way. Want to get the tour at Edwards, to pick up a loaf of the “Check out our World Famous Sheepherder’s Bread” at Schat’s Bakery. Want to stop and figure out what the heck the pineapple thing is. Not, however, feeling a need to check out “Guns ‘n Pawn!”. Okay, maybe a vague curiosity. And definitely need to pick up some more of that cowboy jerky and get more of Gus’s theory of art astrophysics.

The pineapple…thing. From Viewtoathrill on Panoramio, at

3 responses to “South on 395

  1. Other worthy side trips for that next traversal of 395: Hot Creek near Mammoth; Devil's Postpile and Rainbow Falls; Saline Valley; the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve (sounds like you were near there at just about the right time of year!); and Vasquez Rocks with a list of the movies that were filmed there.


  2. Schatt's Bakery is just a tourist trap (and their "original sheepherder bread: is not that great), but it's certainly worth wandering in to to look at.


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