Published on Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Just like the Wombles, but a whole lot scarier...




Dinah and Ben Hatch continue their car journey around California and Oregon and this time, it's travel writer and author Ben who takes over the blogging reins to describe the family's unexpected arrival in California's mighty Mammoth Lakes.

"Bears. We are now obsessing about the bears. During our unscheduled night in a cabin in Yosemite National Park (normal procedure; book one year ahead unless a giant forest fire prompts numerous cancellations and means we score a night's stay at the last minute) we were told that a bear would rip open our car if it so much as smelt some Hershey Bar on the carpet foot well. After our early departure from the park, we thought the bear tales would end.

Not so. We crossed the park's mighty Tioga Pass eastwards, then turned south into Mammoth Lakes where we were booked in at the Village Lodge. This complex of smart, comfortable condos surrounded by the Sierra Nevada mountains and lakes is one of those places Americans are fast learning about thanks to social media, but was in previous decades visited mainly only by Californians. It's snow-capped peaks, visible as you roast by the pool, are simply stunning.

And there are more bears per head than in Yosemite, it turns out.

Our guide Lucas drives us around the area while telling us about the 38 black bears who, like the UK's equivalent of urban foxes, have become so used to humans in Mammoth Lakes (population 8000) that they routinely amble into the main square when it gets quiet and start rustling in the dumpsters for food, a bit like the Wombles only scarier. They have even worked out that hotel doors can open automatically so have been known to wander in and help themselves to the breakfast buffet.
Apparently, a local 'bear whisperer' called Steve Searles knows every one of them by sight and actually tells them off if they wander too close to any people. Our son, Charlie, is entranced by this information. He secretly gets up at 4am to monitor the Village plaza for wildlife and reports next morning that he has 'seen a bear's bottom shuffling near Starbucks, honestly Daddy'.


Bears aside, this part of the California is best known for its ski trails but summer arrival numbers are finally topping winter's as hikers, mountain bikers, campers and anglers cotton on to its stunning mountain scenery. Just north, little known Mono Lake, with its fairytale-like rock formations known as tufas soaring from the water, is mesmerising. You can glide silently amongst the cormorants and pelicans there in high summer with not a single other soul in sight.


Gorgeous as it was, the itinerary beckoned and we set the GPS for Placerville, the epicentre of the 1840s Californian gold rush. Tired of motels, we booked in at the Fleming Jones Homestead B&B, a rural idyll and horse ranch owned by some of the sweetest Californians we have met so far, Robin and Mark Miller. Their cowboy/gold rush themed rooms were pretty and comfortable and we sat on the verandah watching the sun set and watching the kids feed the animals down below. The next morning Robin served home-made almond bread, pancakes with maple syrup and fresh fruit - a treat.


Gold panning is, of course, a must-do activity around here and the kids were addicted seconds after scoring their first miniscule nugget at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park. Phoebe, a little obsessive at the best of times, begged to go back the next day to seek her fortune and would only be persuaded to leave the park when we told her we were going to Gold Bug Mine, an historic site from the gold rush days, where she scoured the damp walls for flecks of the shiny stuff. Despite spotting whales, scuba diving with seals, swimming in shimmering Yosemite waterfalls, both she and Charlie declared gold-hunting their 'best day of the trip so far.' Kids."


The Hatch family travelled with www.hertz.co.uk

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