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Eastern Sierra motorists urged to carry chains, or risk being turned back

December 1, 2009 | 12:01 pm
U.S. 395, heading southbound, near Lee Vining.
If you were among the roughly 400 northbound travelers turned back on U.S. 395 over the holiday weekend, you already know: It's not only safer to carry chains while traveling through the Eastern Sierra, it also might be the only way you'll be allowed to venture beyond an area just south of Mammoth Lakes.

Doug Northington, a public information officer with the California Highway Patrol, explained in a story on the Sierra Wave website that motorists are required to carry chains when signs are posted or when "R1" or "R2" conditions exist. That was the case over the weekend, and motorists stopped at checkpoints at Tom's Place and the famous Green Church were told they could not continue without chains.

Northington said even four-wheel-drive vehicles with snow tires must carry chains under the more severe R2 conditions.

Although this angered many motorists, it must have been a boon to vendors of tire chains in Bishop, which is the nearest city south of Mammoth Lakes. Northington conceded that strict enforcement of the codes is new. He also pointed out that heavy snow and strong winds in the Bridgeport area in northern Mono County on Saturday caused numerous cars to spin-out and said vehicles were "stacked like firewood" alongside the highway.

So it's not unreasonable to require that motorists come prepared, as weather can deteriorate quickly in the region.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: U.S. 395, heading southbound, near Lee Vining. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times