BASS LAKE, Calif. — The sleek, powerful boat with water skier in tow roared across Lake Potowotominimac. The skier careened back and forth across the foaming wake.
In the middle of the lake, the boat whirled and lunged headlong towards a small dock. Ashore, half the population of Pechoggin Village watched, paralyzed. The boat screamed past the dock, missing it by inches. The skier raced toward the dock amid a rooster-tail spray.
Miraculously, his skis bounced. He flew into the air and dropped back into the lake--still desperately hanging on to the tow rope.
As boat and skier disappeared, the villagers watching let out a collective sigh of relief. Even for a movie (being filmed by Hollywood) it was a breathtaking feat.
Pechoggin Village faces Lake Potowotominimac and no matter how audiences react to the movie, they should be charmed by the town, the lake and the scenery.
Unlike some other famous towns of literature, such as Lake Wobegon and Sauk Center, Pechoggin Village really exists. Sort of. Stripped of its fictional name, Pechoggin Village is actually the resort community of Pines Village, part of the Bass Lake recreational area.
Bass Lake, between Fresno and Yosemite National Park, is actually a reservoir in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. There, farms on flat land give way to rolling hills covered with vast stands of ponderosa pine and groves of giant sequoias protected by the Sierra National Forest.
The region is redolent with gold-mining history. Once prospectors searched for the golden metal, with pick, pan, mule and--in case of good luck--a dependable rifle to help defend their find
Some found gold in such fabled mines as Rich Hill, Texas Flats and Lucky Bill. Others panned the swirling sands of Coarse Gold and Fine Gold creeks to fill their pokes.
Panning It Yourself
Today, visitors can drive through the Mother Lode country on Route 49, numbered to remember the '49ers, and visit the remnants of a few mines--or even buy a gold pan and stir up the sandy creeks, searching for their own pokes.
This also is a country that clings almost reverently to its past.
An ancient narrow-gauge steam railroad operates during the summer. Decrepit one-room jails have been turned into museums. Clusters of decaying original buildings in forgotten communities have been refurbished and sell antiques, Western curios (imported from Asia), and hot dogs.
The feel of the Old West can be found on signs around town: Hitching Rail Saloon, Goldmine Jewelry Store, Sierra Sky Ranch, Old Corral Grocery, Gold Rush Realty and Coarsegold Inn.
Central to it all is Bass Lake, whose waters serve a multitude of functions--as a highly popular summer playground for water skiers, boaters and beach lovers, as a power producer for Pacific Gas & Electric, and irrigation for crops in the fertile San Joaquin Valley.
The lake is about five miles long and up to half a mile wide, its shores heavily wooded.
The northeastern shore is the site of Pines Village, and is lined with resort homes, cottage rentals and luxury retreats. The southwestern shore is reserved for half a dozen large campgrounds and scattered picnic areas.
Camping and picnicking facilities are operated as a concession from the U.S. Forest Service by California Land Management, a private firm.
From May to September, camping reservations are recommended. Where the Mono Indians once pitched their wigwams, sites may be reserved through Ticketron outlets.
During our visit to the area, we stayed in Oakhurst, the largest community in the region. We had rooms at the Yosemite Gateway Inn, a motel with terraced gardens, an outdoor swimming pool and a large restaurant with wide windows that offer an excellent view.
We drove along winding, paved roads to the village for lunch one day and ate on the outdoor deck of the Pines restaurant. In the cool, winter air, the lake waters were a perfect mirror.
Trails of Discovery
One of the attractions of the Bass Lake area is the number of trails leading to hidden waterfalls, hilltop vistas and lookout towers.
We walked a short section of the Lewis Creek trail, through a narrow canyon that follows the route of a long-ago flume that once carried lumber from the mountains to a mill in Madera.
A steep descent leads through a cathedral corridor formed by giant ponderosas. At the bottom of the canyon we gazed at Corlieu Falls, which cascades along a 100-foot series of drops. As we started back up, a deer leaped across our path and disappeared in the forest.
The next day we drove to North Fork Village and a small, neatly maintained museum built and operated by the several hundred surviving Mono Indians. The museum is at the intersections of county roads 274 and 225.
The Monos take justifiable pride in exquisite baskets woven by skilled women. Numerous examples of baskets were on display in cases that held other Indian artifacts.
Annual Mono Fair