GHOST TOWNS & TUFA TOWERS
The scenery east of Yosemite is completely different to what you’ll have grown used to over the last few days. This is a parched volcanic tableland, dusty and speckled with sagebrush, and the perfect setting for one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the country. In the late 1870s, BODIE [open daily 9am to 6pm, until 4pm from November to mid-May 14 | $8, under-17s, under-4s free], half an hour’s drive off US 395, and just over 30 miles north of Lee Vining, was a thriving gold-mining town of 10,000 people, but when the gold dried up the townsfolk moved away. Today, the rickety old wooden buildings look pretty much the same as they did in Bodie’s Wild West heyday, albeit weathered by the dry desert winds, and wandering amongst the saloons, banks, barber shops and stores is eerily compelling – it’s very easy to imagine a gunfight breaking out as you walk down the deserted Main Street. In the Boone Store, tins of food gather dust on the shelves; the wonky Swazey Hotel looks like it might collapse at any moment; and the old pool table in the even older town hotel stands trapped in time, as if someone’s going to come back at some point to finish their game. Only the bravest children will peer into the town morgue, and wander up to the town’s hillside graveyard.
An abandoned mining town might be surreal enough for one day, but just 35 miles down US 395 lies MONO LAKE, over a million years old and with jagged towers of tufa rising up from its surface like a rocky forest. The towers are formed from spring-water calcium reacting with carbonate in the lake (Mono is two and a half times saltier than the sea) and are quite a sight against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. The best array of towers is along the shore by South Tufa [$3, under-16s free], five miles down Highway 120 from US 395, where you can walk amongst them and spot the trillions of tiny brine shrimp that call the lake home. Try and coincide your visit with one of the hour-long tours that are held here daily in summer [10am & 6pm | free].
TOP TIP For a different perspective of Mono Lake, you could try a summer CANOE TOUR with the Mono Lake Committee, which takes you up close to (and over) the bubbling springs that form the tufa towers. One-hour tours [Saturday and Sunday 8am, 9.30am and 11am | $35, under-13s $20, no under-4s] depart from Navy Beach, just a bit further round the lake from South Tufa, and highlight Mono’s interesting natural and political history. Alternatively, your kids will probably enjoy an early afternoon’s STAND-UP PADDLEBOARDING or KAYAKING amongst the mountains on glacial JUNE LAKE with Mammoth Kayaks and Paddleboards [daily 10am to 3pm | $25 per hour, includes free lesson]; the lake is about 13.5 miles south of Mono, en route to Mammoth Lakes.
WHERE TO STAY
THE LIJOMA LOWDOWN
Delve deeper with our tips on what to read and watch before you go, foods and drinks your kids must try, and some key cultural advice
From beachfront hotels to Downtown B&Bs – our pick of the most memorable places for families to stay in California
NEED TO KNOW
A handy overview of California’s weather and climate throughout the year, with recommendations for the best time to visit
Pre-trip practicalities, including getting there, visas and passports, health and safety, and how to get around
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