Toad in the Hole

October 15, 2005

Bodie-odie, Drinkin' Wine

We jumped into the faithful RAV4 and went to the East Slope of the Sierra for a couple of days, to catch the last of the clear weather and chase birds. Joe had heard there were sage grouse walking the streets of Bodie, and it had been something like 25 years since we'd seen sage grouse.

Well, they weren't walking the streets of Bodie when we got there; we saw them before that. A flock of about 10 - 12 whooshed out of a meadow beside us and across the road to another meadow as we were making small talk with the rangers at the entrance booth. Got good looks as they flew, and then we parked (illegally, I suppose, but there weren't crowds yet and the rangers kindly let us get away with it) and dragged out the scope to watch them as they noshed and strolled through the second meadow. They disappear quite efficiently in tall grass, so it was a matter of seeing heads popping up and looking around. The whole flock looked like hens, but I don't know how long it takes cocks' mature plumage to come in.

The weather was gorgeous the whole three days, if seriously cold first thing in the morning. We sanely decided to stay in a motel instead of camping, and can recommend the Virginia Creek Settlement Motel on the south edge of Bridgeport. Small, with the row of rooms made out of a sort of flattened-Lincoln Logs set, wood inside and out. Cozy bed, small fridge, a loveseat with reading lamp, the whole little room clean and inviting; real bathroom, back porch to sit on and listen to the creek rush by, coffeepot in the room. There's a restaurant out front, not cheap but good eats in a midlands-Italian-joint way. Joe had lasagna and I had good old spaghetti and meatballs, both decent; the pizzas looked very nice. And a glass of the house burgundy. Not merlot, not zin: burgundy.

Oh yeah, and it's out of cell-phone range. If you do need to reach out, there's a phone in a mock outhouse and you get a key to the booth; also, the nice young fellow who runs the place will come knock on your door if someone calls for you. Please Do Not Clean Fish In Room. There's a campground and some housekeeping cabins too.

They also theoretically do breakfast, but were taking the midweek off in that regard, so we had a gas-station breakfast (pastry, more coffee, bottle of OJ) on the fly Wednesday and sat down for very nice French toast and bacon, biscuits with ham gravy and two eggs over-easy at the Hays Strees Cafe in Bridgeport on Thursday -- pretty much kept us fueled for the rest of the day's trip home.

Closer to Bridgeport, I can recommend Casa Michaela for dinner, especially the chile colorado which had a great depth of flavor. The chile verde wasn't half bad either. A guy bought us each a second beer after I told him he'd left his Jeep's lights on in the parking lot.

We had a three-jay day Wednesday: the usual Steller's and scrub, plus a big flock of pinyon jays on the road out of Bodie. We saw a few, pulled over, and spent 10 - 15 minutes surrounded by jays meowing at each other and flying back and forth over us, from a creekside clump of willows to the pinyons up the hill, and foraging around in the pines. There were a couple of red-shafted flickers hanging out with them and adding to the conversation. It had been almost as long since the last pinyon jays, oddly enough. Great to see them.

Clark's nutcracker, raven, and magpie too: corvids galore.

Thursday we also had a two-magpie day, with black-bills around Bridgeport (all three days) and yellow-bills on the road back, around Manteca.

Bodie itself was pretty quiet except for tourists. There weren't mobs, maybe thirty all day, but we kept having to dodge photographers. The place is pretty photogenic. It's a weird sort of voyeuristic fun to peer into all those windows and see the tools of various trades and people's quotidian stuff lying around, covered with dust. Which reminds me, our place needs a thorough cleaning. We did see a small flock of mountain bluebirds sweep through and back again, and any day I can see that other-dimensional shade of blue is a good day.

Mono Lake was full of eared grebes (in the high ten-thousands at least -- they get to nearly a million there most years in late October-early November) and California gulls (85% of that species in this state are born there) and patches of coots and ducks: shovelers, mallards, ruddies, and widgeons, maybe others we didn't notice. There was one bird that was probably driving birders nuts and/or getting reported as a smew; we're both pretty sure it was an albino grebe. We scoped and gazed and exclaimed, than sat on a bench in the North Tufa park and watched all the busyness and the light changing over the tufa towers and Paoha and Negit islands and the half-plus moon rising as the sun set.

And the minute the sun went behind the mountain, bam, cold. It's brittle, that gracious fall-day warmth.

Cottonwoods, willows, and aspens were in great color, all incandescent and gold-red fiery along the invisible watercourses, amazing glowing against the black basaltic slopes. The whole place is quite visibly volcanic, very much Ma Nature's industrial world-forge.

Posted at October 15, 2005 05:02 PM