After a long Day 3 tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g60791-i711-k66759… it was time to take things easy.
We woke up early determined to get going before it got too hot. My son (with his new license) drove. First stop: Panum Crater (thanks to Jenazz). He made the turnoff from 395 to 120 East and was getting comfortable when he saw a deer in the middle of the road. Luckily, he was observing the speed limit and was able to stop and the deer ran off. After that he was spooked. And missed the left turn to the dirt road to Panum Crater. In his defense, the large brown sign just had a picture of hikers but no words. Nothing to let him know that the next turn was to Panum Cater. And the road sign at the turn was very small so by the time we read it, he didn't feel comfortable making the tight left turn. We decided to just continue on to the South Tufas area first and drove on.
The tufas were amazing. But my daughter enjoyed the flies the most.
Then it was back to the Panum Crater. There was a guided tour on weekends so we we hoped to catch that. This time coming from the other direction, we knew that the brown hiker picture sign meant that the turn to Panum was coming up next and we found the turn. My son had fun driving the .9 mile on the VERY bumpy narrow dirt/gravel road. Twice as bumpy as the short gravel road we just went on at South Tufas. Luckily we were early so there were no cars leaving Panum.
The walk up to the rim of the crater was short. Easier than walking up to the top of Devils Postpile. We decided not to walk around the rim but go straight up into "Mordor" so that took a little bit of exertion. The volcanic plug was very interesting and we had fun lifting large pumice stones and pretending to be strong (note: we discovered little cuts afterwords on our hands so next time we would wear gloves). We also got nice views of Mono Lake and the surrounding area.
On the way out, we encountered a 9-car caravan of scouts so we decided to wait in the parking lot to avoid having to make frequent turnouts on the narrow gravel road.
We then traveled north on 395 to the visitor center in Lee Vining. WOW. We saw some people stumble on the steps in the back because they were so mesmerized by the view. We just sat there in the shade for a long long time.
Then northwards again on 395 to the county park. On the way, saw clouds reflected on Mono Lake from the highway but couldn't get a picture in time. The county park was nice, but the tufas were not as impressive as the ones we saw in the south. There was green grass, trees, shade, flush toilets, picnic tables and a wooden wheelchair accessible boardwalk to the lake -- things missing form the South Tufas which was exposed, hot, pit toilets and bumpy trail.
My wife says the county park was paid with blood money as the property is owned by LA Dept of Water and Power and given back to residents as a park. It's also ironic that the park was lush and green when the surrounding areas were dry and arid. The park would have been a good place for a picnic except that we left our lunch back at the condo.
So back to Mammoth to spend the rest of the day just relaxing, hanging out, and shopping at the very small outlet stores in town. At night, we had hoped to catch a live band at the village like over the weekend but they were showing a movie. We decided to go back to Minaret Lookout for sunset and stargazing. It was cloudier than the previous day -- the clouds made the sunset more spectacular but hampered star gazing.Edited: 12:57 pm, July 18, 2013