With no room at the inn in Lee Vining on night eight of our trip, we rolled into the town of Mammoth Lakes around 11pm and stopped at the first motel we could find. They had a vacancy, a bit pricier than we wanted to pay, but we were SO tired it didn't matter. A bed, any bed at that hour, was worth every penny. The next morning we checked out and headed up the road to the lakes area on the back side of the ski resort. Our favorite campground at Lake Mary had lots of open sites, and we found one that was well situated and with lots of room. Even better, the campground had bear lockers with lots of warning signs about fees imposed for improper food storage " so it looked good that we'd enjoy a decent night's sleep without the craziness we had in Sequoia. We paid our fees to the campground host, and she said that in the two months she'd been there, she had not heard of anyone having problems with bears. That was a relief to hear! Getting camp set up went much more smoothly this time around. The kids helped more and we got it done pretty quickly. We spent the next three nights there, enjoying campfires and watching stars streak across the skies. The elevation was nearly 9,000 feet above sea level and the skies were free from the light pollution we normally have at home. The Milky Way was spectacularly bright, and every so often we could see a tiny speck of a satellite slide past. The fishing was not very good compared to other years we've been up there. But the lake was great for kayaking, and the kids got to ride their bikes all around. Unfortunately, the panic attacks I was having in the tent in Sequoia did not spare me at Lake Mary. Every night I woke up feeling like I would suffocate if I didn't at least have the tent window open, and sometimes I just had to get up and stand outside for a few minutes so I could breathe. I have no idea why this kept happening. On the last night, husband suggested I sleep in the truck with an air mattress, that way I could see out the windows. Seemed like a good idea at the time. However, the height of the air mattress took up what little space there was with the back seats folded down, and I felt even more like I was in a tomb " albeit one with windows. I managed to sleep a bit better, but still woke up needing to open the door and hang my head outside for some of that crisp, cold mountain air. On our last day at the campground, we took a day hike up to two smaller lakes about a mile away. They were surrounded by high granite crags that were still capped in snow. There's nothing like a pristine alpine lake to calm your spirits! Somehow my pictures from the hike have vanished. After the hike, we headed 30 miles north to the town of June Lake where we have exchange privileges for our timeshare. We had tried to book time there before we left home, but they were full. Luckily, there was a cancellation now, so we booked a room for 3 nights at this 100-year old lodge at a rate that was less than any of the motels we'd stayed at so far, with the added benefit of a kitchenette. We went exploring at Lundy Lake and took the road at the far end of the lake to a trail head deep in the canyon. We found numerous beaver ponds tucked away in this rugged canyon. There were hundreds of tiger swallowtail butterflies flitting about, landing in the mud to drink. We found a young gopher snake floating on some algae at the edge of one pond. Birds were calling to each other in a beautiful cacophony from one side of the canyon to the other. And the late spring weather meant wildflowers were just beginning to bloom. http://s167.photobucket.com/albums/u143/jmamendola/Mammoth/?albumview=slideshow On the way back from Lundy, we stopped to cast our lines out at Grant lake. It was dusk and the sky glowed pink, contrasting with the grey pumice craters in the distance. The next day we headed for home through the Owens Valley. It was very hot. Over 100 degrees. We made a scheduled stop for lunch in the town of Bishop which has public swimming every afternoon for $2 a person. The kids love the water slide here and the diving board. There's also a well-known Dutch bakery in town where we buy yummy walnut pullapart bread, and a smokehouse that sells a variety of excellent jerky. Finally, by late afternoon we continue on our way home. Driving through the valley we see many signs of ancient volcanic history, enormous cinder domes and sheer lava walls rising up next to the road. Over the mountains that we see to the east lies Death Valley, the driest, hottest place in the United States and home to the lowest point, 282 feet below sea level. And to the west we could see snow-capped Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states with an elevation of 14,496 feet. The Owens Valley is the gateway to these two topographical extremes! By 10pm, we were coming up to the turnoff for Edwards Airforce base in the Mojave Desert. The space shuttle has landed there many times when the weather in Florida does not permit a safe landing. It was very dark on the two-lane highway, and we'd been following a big rig truck for miles. Suddenly the truck started to slow down, braking and finally coming to a stop. We couldn't see around it, and we sat for a few minutes as cars began to slowly back up behind us in the dark. I got out to look up the road and could see flames coming from a vehicle about 6 cars ahead of us. It was too dark to see what exactly was burning. With cars coming from the opposite direction, it was not safe to try to move yet, and there didn't appear to be any emergency vehicles on scene yet. So there we sat. About 20 minutes passed when the truck in front of us began to slowly move. We started up the engine and began to follow. The truck made its way to the opposite side of the road, so we did the same. As we approached the fire, we could see that it wasn't a car burning, but a BOAT! A fishing boat that looked about 30 feet long, sitting on a trailer was fully engulfed in flames. The desert wind was blowing the 20 foot flames up and over the road, and as we carefully drove past on the opposite shoulder, we could feel the intense heat through the windows. It's lucky none of our gear on the roof or bike rack melted or caught fire. With no further ado, finally pulled into our driveway about two hours later, just minutes before midnight. Our 1500 mile journey was finally at an end. And THAT is how I spent my summer vacation!