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Western Travel | DRIVES

California's miracle miles

U.S. 395 takes travelers on a tour through desert and mountains, past ghost towns and ma-and-pa motels, serene lakes and alpine ski resorts.

April 23, 2006|Mark Boster | Times Staff Writer

THE drive up U.S. 395 is sort of religious for me. As soon as I arrive in the Alabama Hills among the strangely shaped granite rocks and the looming spires of Mt. Whitney, church is in session.

I usually travel with a congregation of fellow photographers, and we explore every shack, ghost town and rusty car. My trip in late March was different, a solo meditation of 1,200 miles from Victorville to Lee Vining and back.

I stopped at places I had never heard of before, such as Fossil Falls, where there is no water, only lava. I took the time to walk quietly through Manzanar and explore the ruins of the World War II internment camp. I visited a fish hatchery and a hot springs, and I walked for hours around otherworldly Mono Lake.

There are no four- or five-star hotels, only the little Best Westerns or places like the Thunderbird in Bishop with its pulsing neon sign. Sometimes the heaters don't work and the walls are thin, but the beds are clean, and it is easy to find rooms for $50. And there are wonderful burgers and burritos to fuel the exploration.

There are few places in the world where you can drive from the high desert to an alpine ski resort in a day and can experience the wind, rain, snow and sand. U.S. 395 is as unusual as the characters who live alongside it.

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