Lee Vining, dubbed as the Gateway to Yosemite, is a great place to make your base of operation to explore Yosemite and the surrounding areas of Mono Lake and the ghost town of Bodie. However, my one visit to Lee Vining is one that I hadn't planned and would have been happy not to make.
It all began innocently enough, a day trip through Yosemite, a visit to Bodie, and a drive back through Sonora Pass. However, the day trip through Yosemite ended up being an overnight stay in Lee Vining. The visit to Bodie was scrapped, but the return visit through Sonora Pass did happen.
The drive towards the Tioga Pass is quite spectacular, passing Tenaya Lake along the way. The drive on the flip side of the Tioga Pass, on the way out of Yosemite and towards Lee Vining, is quite rocky and stark as you head towards the desert.
We (the boyfriend and I) were driving through Yosemite to the Tioga Pass, a beautiful and scenic drive, when we had car trouble and ended up staying the night in Lee Vining. We were on the downside of the Tioga Pass, when the car engine suddenly lost power. No power meant no brakes, so the BF had to control the car by standing on the brakes in order to come to a stop before we hit (literally) 395.
Right before the power quit, I had wondered to myself how many cars had driven off the road into the deep canyon to the right . There was no guardrail, which is what made me wonder in the first place. Be careful what you wish for, or at least think of...I had no idea, of course, that we were close to doing the same. The video below was taken right before the car lost power.
Fortunately, the BF was able to stop the car at the bottom of the hill, at a gas station/rest stop, The Tioga Gas and Gift Mart. We were able to call for a tow to a service station in Lee Vining. We then had to find a place to stay as no repair was going to be made that day. Fortunately, Lee Vining is not a very big town, so it was an easy walk to find a motel room. Also fortunately--I guess--we were able to get the "best" room at the Yosemite Gateway Motel.
At least we were unharmed and had a place to stay the night. However, since it was a day trip, we had no luggage with us...no change of clothes, no toiletries...nothing but what we were wearing and the remainders of our lunch. And, since Lee Vining is not a very big town, there were not a lot of shopping options to get the necessary overnight supplies.
The one good thing I can say is that the room had a somewhat scenic view overlooking the area around Mono Lake. The room itself was very basic, definitely a throwback to an old school motor inn. We were across the street from Bodie Mike's restaurant, a place with fairly decent food and generous portions. There are limited dining options in Lee Vining, so there's not too much to choose from. The nice thing about Bodie Mike's is that it has an outdoor seating area.
Fortunately, the repair to the car was completed the next morning, a three inch rubber tube had ruptured, causing the engine to lose connection with the gas. We were glad to have come through the incident unscathed and happy that the repair was made so quickly. We left Lee Vining as soon as possible.