Tioga Lodge at Mono Lake: Resting Where the Water Reaches for the Sky
In stark contrast to the 120°F weather we'd spent the day fleeing from in Death Valley, a storm was chasing us towards Yosemite and the Tioga Pass. On the map, Lee Vining and Mono Lake seemed like a perfect place to spend the night, wait out the storm and set out from, early the following day. We'd seen some pictures of Mono Lake while researching our two-month trip around the western US and the seemingly alien tufa tower formations that reached out from the water were definitely intriguing.
In Lee Vining, the town closest to the lake, there were a few places to stay right on the main street - some looked decent while others were a little rougher around the edges. At the local gas station we asked about hotels and the attendant suggested that Tioga Lodge would be a decent place to stay at a reasonable price. We were in the early days of October and things seemed to be winding down so finding decent lodging at fair rates wasn’t a difficult prospect.
How much you enjoy your stay at the Tioga Lodge will likely be based entirely on your state of mind when you arrive. Had we visited after our stay just outside of Sonora (another story) this would have felt like absolute luxury. If the Ritz Carlton is more your speed then you’re likely going to be disappointed. When I think about what exactly made our stay a good one is hard to definitively explain. We had great company, the days riding was hard but wonderful, and we were looking forward to planning the next days route over a glass of wine with a view of the lake.
But from the outside there were a few red-flags that could have easily seen us turning around and heading right back to the hotels in Lee Vining. First, there was a steep dirt driveway into, and out of, the parking area for the cabins which was an obvious drawback for riders. However, if you’re alright with your bike being parked out of view and next to the highway, there’s gravel parking in front of the office.
Then there was the swollen face of the grounds-keeper after he’d been stung by a number of flittering wasps. Yet, even with his puffy cheeks he managed a brave smile and was incredibly friendly while he helped us navigate the lighting of the in-room furnaces (“Push here, turn that, light match, start this, nod head, clap three times...”).
The rooms themselves were on the cozy side and decorated much like other B&B’s we’ve stayed in - plush and frilly. They’re comfortable and, for our wine and map time, the space was ample. The bathrooms were quite small but did the job and the overall cleanliness of our cabin was excellent. The beds were comfy but squeaked like mad, though in all honesty we were too tired to really care. Tioga Lodge was far away from modern - in fact I’m not certain there was even a television. But, in reality, the lake is all the TV you’d need and we could get an eyeful of it from where we were staying. Internet access was spotty from the rooms but the owners have an area in the main building where we could sit and work online. But again, the idea with this place is to be offline and focus your time in the real world and the remarkable beauty it has to offer.
The grounds around the cabins were lush and relaxing. The trees surround the rear of the cabins and provided some nice shade and a sense of privacy. While we didn’t use it, there’s also communal green space where visitors can enjoy the day taking in views of the lake and the wonderful light that surrounds it.
I’m not sure if it was the fact that we were there so late in the season, but the restaurant was a definite miss. The decor was sparse and there was really no ambience to speak of. For us it wasn’t a problem, since Lee Vining had at least two really decent restaurants choose from. Dinner at Bodie Mikes Barbeque Restaurant provided some tasty food but the real star was discovering Nicely’s Restaurant for breakfast. Its famous pancakes and diner fare is recommended for the long road ahead and the friendly staff are sure to keep you smiling long after you’ve left.
So, again, it’s all about what you’re expecting. The Tioga Lodge isn’t refined in any way. But it is what it’s supposed to be - a retreat from the modern - a departure from the norm. It’s almost entirely imperfect but, with the right frame of mind it can be a lovely, rustic spot to lay your head at the end of a long day. With the previous days storm behind us, we awoke to a bright sun poking through the trees outside our cabin and golden flecks dancing off of Mono Lakes beautiful water.
Official Lee Vining Website: http://www.leevining.com
Tioga Lodge Website: http://www.tiogalodgeatmonolake.com