See Related Stories: California’s Alabama Hills

Extreme RV Makeover: 1976 Airstream Argosy

Running along the eastern Sierra Range, U.S. Route 395 is one of California’s classic drives. With its otherworldly landscapes and unique volcanic geology, the mostly two-lane highway passes through jaw-dropping scenery, especially the stretch from Mono Lake south to Lone Pine.

Situated just north of the junction with State Route 120, the Tioga Pass Road, Mono Lake is known for its tufa formations. Created by calcium-rich springs, these unusual limestone towers can grow to heights of 30 feet. Dry camping is allowed on the shore with a free permit from the visitor center at Mono Basin Scenic Area. A hike along the nearby Panum Crater Trail offers gorgeous views of the lake and its volcanic island, Paoha.

Cate Battles standing under Mobius Arch
On the short Mobius Arch Trail near Lone Pine, the author poses at the namesake rock formation.

Hot Creek Geological Site, dubbed Little Yellowstone, sits just east of Route 395 and contains colorful geothermal springs. Water temperatures are unpredictable and can change rapidly, so people are no longer allowed to swim in the pools. However, several rustic hot springs that are safe to soak in are right off Route 395. A couple of our favorites are Wild Willy’s near Mammoth Lakes and Travertine near Bridgeport.

RVs at at RV park with Sierra mountains in background
Open year-round, Boulder Creek RV Resort offers full-hookup campsites 4 miles south of Lone Pine.

A few miles outside of Lone Pine are the Alabama Hills, a range of rounded rock formations in contrast to their ragged Sierra backdrop. Whitney Portal and Movie Road offer scenic drives, and the area has endless opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, fishing and biking. Just west of the Alabama Hills, BLM-managed Tuttle Creek Campground is open year-round.

IF YOU GO: For a less-rustic stay in the Lone Pine area, Boulder Creek RV Resort
supplies full hookups and Wi-Fi. The pet-friendly Good Sam Park also has a swimming pool, showers, laundry facilities and a convenience store.

Collage of nine photos showing scenes on California road trip
Top: Panorama of tufa formations at Mono Lake. Second row: At sunrise and sunset, anticrepuscular rays can be seen along the horizon at Mono Lake. The loop trail along Panum Crater’s rim provides scenic views of Mono Lake and the Sierra range. The author’s dog, Maggie, makes a friend at Wild Willy’s Hot Spring near Mammoth Lakes. Third row: Wild Willy’s not only supplies soothing waters but sweeping views of the Owens Valley as well. Travertine Hot Spring near Bridgeport offers nearly a dozen pools with varying degrees of hotness. Bottom row: The author’s mural-painted Argosy trailer on BLM land in the Alabama Hills, where her pet goat, Frankie, finds endless rock-climbing opportunities. Face Rock is an iconic scene in the Alabama Hills. Photos: Cate Battles

Author, artist, blogger and full-time RV Cate BattlesAuthor, photographer and artist Cate Battles travels the country full time with her husband, Chad, in their renovated, mural-painted 1976 Airstream Argosy. The couple’s travel blog, Argosy Odyssey, chronicles their adventures as they tour North America with their pet goat and dog. You can read more of Cate’s dispatches for Trailer Life here and follow the Battles on Instagram and Facebook.


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