Sharp switchbacks and steep inclines make the Sonora Pass Highway a difficult road for RVs and motorists traveling through the Eastern Sierras. Most take Highway 120 through Yosemite Valley to see El Capitan and Bridal Falls amongst crowds of tourists, leaving this more northerly but equally pristine alpine highway nearly deserted for more than 70 unspoiled miles. Perfect.
Joey and I left early morning so we could properly explore this road less traveled. Windows rolled down we breathed in the piney scent of the forest while keeping an eye out for deer bouncing across the highway and future camping spots. We stopped at a particularly beautiful meandering river and sat on rocky outcrops to look at the water crashing below us and the lush maiden ferns growing on the banks.
At the top of Sonora Pass, 9,624 elevation, we took another leg stretch and read about “Grizzly” Adams and the original wagon road.
The Pacific Crest Trail intersects the highway here and we discussed a multiple day trek through this incredible wilderness. It also marks the east/west boundary along the Sierra Crestline for firefighters, mostly volunteer, who protect these lands.
For three hours we were constantly surrounded by a mix of enormous trees, beautiful meadows, mountain lakes, snow-capped ridges, rivers or waterfalls, only passing about ten cars. After a time we drove through a few rustic towns, like Strawberry and Bumblebee, offering a good meal and a warm bed. Eventually the trees began to thin and we reached civilization with its fast food restaurants, strip malls, car dealerships, billboards and many cars.
In need of a cold one and a break, we stopped at Shivley’s Bar & Grill in Oakdale. The place had absolutely no roadside appeal at all, but its desolate look was half the draw. The other half? They advertised 40 beers on taps and Joey and I had recently become IPA enthusiasts.
We entered the dive, sat at the long bar next to a few locals and took the bartender’s advice on their best bar food and locally crafted beer. A poster advertised the community BBQ. Nothing pretentious here – just unassuming folks and their homegrown hospitality, a little worn and dusty, but perfect for a road warrior.