A Late Winter Vanlife Tour of the Eastern Sierra
With walkie-talkies in hand two van-dwellers brave a late season storm to tour forgotten backroads and beloved hot springs
Sean Raymond Collier
Sean Raymond Collier
Kodak Ektar 100, Portra 160
Back in the 60’s, my great grandfather began making trips up to the Eastern Sierra with his wife and girls each summer. His love of fishing, hiking, and immersing in the mountains was passed down to his daughters, and so on through the generations, until I made my first trip to the area at around ten years old.
Although my great grandfather was on his last leg by the time I was old enough to want meaningful conversations, I read some of his writings after his passing. Stories of waiting out snowstorms while camped on the lake for months at a time; stories of his old pickup truck breaking down during a time where AAA towing wasn’t readily available. In learning of his legacy I discovered how my passion for being outdoors, particularly in the mountains, is something that is engrained in my DNA.
In keeping with tradition, I’ve been cruising up to the Eastern Sierra every summer since my first visit. In recent years I’ve acquired a trusty rig to allow for longer, more comfortable stays. Now I wake up wherever I desire. Yet after all these years, I had yet to catch a glimpse of the place in its purest form—the winter season.
So, at the tail-end of winter, I packed up my van, made sure I had enough film, and headed north on the 395. My good friend and fellow van-dweller Beau wanted to explore the region too, and our new purchase of walkie-talkies kept us keenly in contact while caravanning.
As the trip wore on I checked the weather report frequently. Mammoth Mountain was getting dumped on, and we were posted up right at the base of the pass. I feared being kept up all night due to the wind, imagining waking up to tires unable to grip any sort of traction. After reflecting on my great grandfather’s stories—how weather never got in the way of him spending time in his favorite place—we decided to find a level place to hunker down to wait out the storm. As rain turned into snow we played cards until it was time for bed.
It stormed throughout the night, but thankfully the wind eventually subsided. We woke before first light to find snow on the ground and our door handles frozen shut, making the morning scramble out of the van quite difficult. Though a soak in nearby hot springs helped thaw us out.
We spent the next few days bouncing around Bishop, Lee Vining, and Lone Pine, stopping at any place we wanted, because time was on our side. What I love most about this mountain range in central California is that no matter how many times you visit, there is always something new to see. For this mentality I have my great grandfather to thank—for keeping the pursuit alive.