Summer Solstice Photo Extravaganza

Where: our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

In a stunning reversal of weeks past, this last week was suddenly, unmistakably, and completely SUMMER. After the dusting of snow we got last week, we immediately shot up in the 60s and 70s, and flirted with 80 a couple days. Meanwhile, Bishop has been in the 105 range, and just a little further south has been seeing 110. (And Death Valley hit 124 this week!) The aspens are fully leafed out, the pine trees are pumping out pollen, and the bugs are acting out Cole Porter lyrics. Summer was taking a long siesta, but she’s awake and ready for action!

Even though it’s super warm at elevations below 8000 feet, there’s still too much snow in the alpine zones where we’d like to be hiking. I’ve been studying day hikes and drives options in the lower areas, trying to find something that would meet in the temperate middle. Thanks to a great little publication put out by the Mono County Tourism Board, we have a long list of possible destinations nearby. Our inaugural outing was to Bald Mountain Lookout, in the dense Jeffery and Lodgepole forests between Mammoth Lakes and June Lake. We parked about a mile and a half down from the top and hiked up the rest of the way.  I had no idea that it would be such a premiere viewpoint. We could see 75 miles of the spine of the Sierra, all the way from Crowley Lake up north to Mono Lake.

The log cabin up top is now used as a warming hut for skiers in winter, but was originally built for the Civilian Public Service, which was an option for conscientious objectors during WWII.

A bit rustic, but just fine for winter camping:

We rounded out the day with a trip around the June Lake Loop, stopping for a meal and a cider at a match made in heaven: June Lake Brewery and Ohana’s Food Truck in their parking lot.

Warmer temperatures also mean the start of the Polar Bear Cub Club “meetings”. In years past, there was a group of guys working at the resort who always jumped into the lake at 5:30am on Wednesday mornings, and they called themselves the Polar Bear Club. For those who prefer their freezing cold water at a more civilized time, there’s the Polar Bear Cub Club, which meets on Wednesday evenings for a plunge. Since the lake was finally free of ice, it seemed like the right time to get things going. Four of us were veteran jumpers, and we enticed 3 of the newcomers to try it out. I remember the first time I jumped in, and how debilitating the cold water was to my whole system. Apparently, you build up some kind of tolerance to the situation, because this time was not too bad. I didn’t want to swim across the lake, but I also didn’t fear that I was going to stop breathing!

As a five year veteran of the Resort, Casey was first in.  The rocks I’m standing on are usually a couple feet above the water line:

Proof that JJ and I got in:

Cheering on Annie, for her first time plunge:

Time for a hot shower:

You’d never know it was only about 40 degrees!:

According to a state avalanche scientist that the owner talked to, we are currently experiencing peak runoff.  They said we could continue to see the same level of water for quite some time, but that it shouldn’t get any worse.  Customers who want to rent a boat get a stern warning, because they have to wade through waist deep water to walk on the gangplank to the floating docks.  The lake is way above both the outlet tube and also the overflow tubes, and we really hope the prediction is accurate–we don’t want it to get any higher!

Early in the week, the water was a lot lower and the gangplank was accessible:

It’s a cold swim to our boats:

The day use area right by the lake is not quite ready for business:

And the road to the trailhead is probably also a way from opening:

The trailhead itself is still really covered in snow:

Up for next week: we hike to a huge waterfall and we get a new, vandwelling co-worker who learned about the Resort from my blog!

Fire and Ice

Where: At our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

It’s a blessing and a curse to live at very high altitude, just above a desert valley. This juxtaposition means that we sometimes have the opportunity to experience one hell of a temperature spread, and often in a pretty short span of time. The past week was one of those instances, where we went down to the valley and sweltered in 97 degrees, and then we woke up to 18 and snow at the resort yesterday. It’s like living in several seasons at once!

Last weekend, we drove south to Big Pine, the next town below Bishop, to spend the day with a lady we used to work with at the Resort. For the last decade, Patty was in charge of cleaning cabins, and only decided to give it up this year as a septuagenarian. She’s a spunky, independent woman who still heads out on long alpine hikes and practices yoga. She was a lot of fun to work with and we were missing her!

To the west of Big Pine is a gradual canyon that’s already snow-free, and has some great hiking along a normally gentle creek that’s now a ranging torrent. With the huge amount of runoff right now, it was like walking next to Niagara Falls, with waterfalls cascading in whitewater that made us a little nervous to cross the bridges over them! We hiked until we hit snow about 3.5 miles in, and then enjoyed a stream-side picnic at the trailhead.

Patty was known for her love of all kinds of boardgames, so a day with her would not be complete without a little competition. She had us over to her house, a charming vintage trailer on land she shares with a friend, and we sat out in the shade of huge trees to tussle over a few rounds of Monopoly Deal. (Which is our new obsession, BTW, and a game you should really check out!) Her land is a verdant oasis with tons of plants, flowers and trees, and a couple creeks running nearby, but she’s barely above the valley floor, and hence, the 97 degrees. We had a lot of fun, but we were completely wiped out by the heat by the time we headed home!

Yesterday was a complete contrast, and we woke up to a blanket of snow and frozen puddles everywhere. All the concrete walkways were like a skating rink, with a thin layer of ice covered in fluffy snow, and it was dangerous going. The low of 18 meant that the mosquito-harboring areas froze pretty solid, but it also made us worry for the fresh buds on the aspen trees. By afternoon, the sun was back out and everything was melted, even though it only got into the 40s. This weekend is supposed to be a real heat wave, and there’s talk that we’ll get up to the low 70s!

More crew members arrived this week, and we almost have our full contingent. I recruited Annie last year, when she came in to the Resort for her family’s annual jaunt to the Sierra. She had a great personality and big smile, so I asked what her plans were for Summer 2017! Brock, Nathan and Daniel are a trio of friends from Illinois, and I’ve been kidding that their arrival really tips the balance of the Resort towards the East Coast. It’s good that everyone is arriving, because the workload should really pick up in the next week, as most of our cabins are rented, and the nice weather should lure families up for some temperate climate recreation.

Here’s some scenes from the not-too-cold and not-too-hot middle of the week:

Finally spring right beside us!:

The last little iceberg on the lake:

A harbinger of allergies to come:

All along Rock Creek Road are new waterfalls:

Your teaser for next week is the fact that I promised I would jump into the lake on Thursday.  Provided I don’t die of hypothermia, I’ll have some good picture from that poorly thought out decision!

Water, water everywhere!

Where: At our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

I’m not sure how there is any water left anywhere else in the country, because it seems like all the water in the world is currently coming down from the mountains around us. Jim and Sue, the owners of the resort, recently did a snow survey on Piute Pass, just southwest of Bishop, and found some pretty impressive data. The snowpack was at 10 feet deep, and held the equivalent of 6 ½ feet of rain. If the high points around us are similar, there is an awful lot of moisture that’s yet to melt. There are new streams and waterfalls everywhere, and the lake is rising. The resort is not in any danger of high waters, but one of the campgrounds in the canyon is being closed because of flooding. It’s like Waterworld around here!

Behold the beauty of the parking lot cum stream bed:

JJ and I finally walked around the lake for the first time this season. It’s mostly clear of ice, but all the forested areas around it are full of deep snow. The campground on the backside is a long way from opening; campsites are either still under a couple feet of snow, or part of a huge delta of cold, fast-flowing water. Even if all the snow melts, I doubt the campground can open until the backcountry finishes shedding most of its snow and the runoff decreases. The patterns of melting ice did make some enchanting views of the lake, and it was fun to go all the way around and see nary another soul!

Who’s ready for a picnic?:

Rising lake eating the snow:

I love how the reflection of the mountain makes this look like a waterfall:

All this snow and water is really affecting the resort. Because the campgrounds and hiking trails are closed, we’re not getting nearly as many customers as usual. This weekend was the first of the season for the cafe, and we had only a handful of customers. Early June is normally a slower time, at least until schools get out across the state, but this year is markedly different from past years. It still feels like the pre-season, and not at all like the start of the summer!

First day of the cafe crew picture:

This will be a short one, because I’m really tired from getting up at “meow-o-clock” lately.  See, little Soupy just loves going outside while at the resort.  It’s probably her favorite place in the whole world.  The issue is, she starts begging to go out as soon as there’s the barest hint of daylight.  And being on the eastern edge of a time zone, that bit of light begins at about 4:30am.  So, in addition to my usual not sleeping from 2-4 am, Soupy is waking us up just after I’ve fallen back asleep.  I’ve been up from 2 am onwards a couple times recently thanks to her protests.  Good thing she’s cute, or she’d be in for it!

Stay tuned next week for tales of our first hiking adventure of the season!

Don’t bring Fritos, there won’t be dancing

Where: first full week of our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

The title of this blog post comes from a Saturday Night Live skit about a cancelled party that I always found hilarious. “Everybody, the party’s cancelled, we’re not having a party!”  And that’s pretty much what it was like to work in the general store of the resort this Memorial Weekend, when the whole of Southern California came up for fishing, hiking, and boating, and instead found themselves in a winter wonderland.  People clearly had not referred to any local conditions, which explains things like folks in shorts and t-shirts, asking about backcounty camping or hiking, and looking really confused when we told them about 6 feet of snow.   We also had to disappoint lots of potential cafe customers with the news that it wouldn’t be open until the following weekend.  It was definitely not the sort of opening weekend we’ve experienced in the prior two years, and it did not feel like the start of the summer season!

The good news is that snow around the resort is really melting, and we’re almost ready to fully open for the season. We finished shoveling paths to crucial areas, fixed lots of broken wooden things that the snow smashed, and we’re getting more cabins ready to rent.  So, even if the summer recreation options around us are still under snow, we will be able to offer food, hot showers, and lodging for customers.  The only part that’s going to be a while is boat rentals.  The lake is trying to break up, but these pictures taken a week apart show that it’s not happening very fast!

Our first co-worker arrived this week–Wyatt from Vermont.  Our favorite part about him is the fact that he’s 19, energetic and strong, and able to tackle the huge shoveling projects with gusto. Thanks to his efforts, we finally broke through the glacier along the back of the resort–this was a herculean effort!

Spring is trying to start at 10,000 feet. The aspens around us are just starting to bud, despite the fact that the base of the trunks are still under snow.

……………………………………………

Since we’ve had a decently long time without something breaking on the RV, we were overdue for a problem. This time, it’s the car that has something funky going on. Our Subaru is eating coolant like crazy, and the shop we usually go to couldn’t find any leaks. We took her to a Subaru specialist that can handle any potential problem, but is perpetually backed up. We left the car at the shop last Wednesday, and she should be diagnosed today.  It might be 2 to 3 more weeks before the repair can be done, which is kind of a bummer, since we’re all ready for Eastern Sierra adventures. In the meantime, we do have another engine, so we drove the RV into Mammoth Lakes yesterday to go to JJ’s dentist appointment. And while we were out, we decided to stay the night at a campground on the way back to the resort. We love Crowley Lake Campground for great views all around, and for blazing fast internet.  It was also a real pleasure to not have any snow nearby, sleep with our windows open, and be able to walk on dry ground.

Front yard:

Back yard:

Til next week!

The coldest winter I even saw was a spring in the Eastern Sierra

Where: At our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort in the snowy Eastern Sierra.

Thanks to some sort of glitch in the Matrix, when you look up East Fork Campground, which is just down the road from the resort, the resort phone number is listed rather than the correct one. We’re used to answering the phone with “Rock Creek Lakes Resort, this is Rayn, may I help you?” and getting a bewildered “Um, is this the campground?” This week, we really had a couple funny interactions when we got phone calls from some folks who might lack some attention to detail, and who were actually looking for the East Fork Campground in Ohio. (Were they not curious about dialing an area code they’ve never heard of?) My boss fielded one that got really comical before she figured out what was going on, in which she was explaining to a very incredulous man that no, it wasn’t open yet, due to the 3 feet of snow still on the ground. “Snow?!!”, he snorted, “What do you mean snow?!” This is the time of year that you can safely assume a lack of the white stuff in certain parts of the county, but the high Sierra is still a white blanket. Yes, Virginia, there really is such thing as the Pineapple Express, and it was a constant force in this area of California from the beginning of January til just about 2 weeks ago, and it’s going to be a long time until it all melts out. There is approximately one bazillion metric tons of snow here.

We started work last Wednesday, and had quite the culture shock coming up to the cold. Daytime highs were running about mid-40s, and in the 20s at night. The snow around the property is definitely better than in the height of the storms, when about 20 feet was on the ground, but it’s still way more than I ever saw from even the biggest blizzards in Ohio. The owner’s friend came up with a front loader last week and cleared most of the parking lot, and the road to the rental cabins. There is a ring of 15 foot high snow mounds around the cleared areas, and it makes getting around a little interesting. There’s a maze of shoveled paths to get around the outside areas, and every day is an adventure, when you test out the snow to see what’s melted. We’ll be shuffling along atop a couple feet of snow, and suddenly fall knee deep in a weak area.

JJ demos the enormous pile of snow that slid onto the sidewalk behind the resort.  This falls into the category of something we’re not going to work on right now:

Snow mazes:

This is where we usually park the RV.  It’s going to be a while until we can get in:

The recreation options are pretty much limited to winter activities for now, much to consternation of folks who are ready for some summer fun. The lake is still frozen, with just a few hundred feet of open shoreline, and you have to park a ways away and walk the unplowed road to get to those areas. The pack station (for trail rides) above us is still all shuttered, and the one lane road that leads to the main trailheads for the canyon is under about 6 feet of snow. It’s not plowed, so it’s going to be a long time before it melts out enough for cars to get through.

This wall of snow is the turn off to the boat launch area:

Not much open shoreline:

Not that you can take the trailhead anyway, but I hope you don’t need the potty right next to it:

The road to the trailheads:

All this snow is also complicating the opening process for the resort. Several of the trailers used for employee housing were damaged beyond repair, and new ones are on order. Many of the rental cabins had enormous snowpiles on their porches that prevented us from getting in until we shoveled, which was about an hour long process for two people. The resort roof had to shoveled off before we could remove the braces from inside the building. A friend came out with a jackhammer to clear one particularly stubborn icy area to make a walkway. Nothing is easy right now.

Such a contradiction between this view….

…and what we were tackling at ground level:

Another one in the category of a project for later:

The last couple days have really changed, and this area is seeing unseasonably high temperatures. I was able to lay out and tan yesterday on a high and dry flat rock, and I got really hot! With this sudden increase, the ground is just saturated with snowmelt, and everywhere you walk is a sea of mud. And with how much snow is still sitting around, it’s going to be a long time before anything can dry out. The real danger in the next month is for the communities downstream….there’s going to be a lot of flooding in California until the majority of the snowpack is gone.

This weekend will be a partial opening, with just the store and a few cabins open. The other employees will arrive in the first week of June, and then we’ll get the cafe going. I’m guessing that the beginning of July will be the real start of summer, when everything is finally open, and the snow will be gone from the upper campgrounds and the trails.

Last week road post cha-cha

Where: Our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort, Bishop CA

My people, if you are looking for a carefully written missive on the glorious splendors of the American west, please refer to another of my prior posts. But, if you just want the quick and dirty version of our past week, read on. In a nutshell, we spent a couple nights in Eastern Nevada and hiked at a state park with my brother, drove into California, took care of dentist visits and car repairs, and had our first day of work at our summer job. Whew!

Here’s the photo version of events:

Cathedral Gorge State Park was full of crazy formations with deep chasms running through them. We had a great time with my brother, Steve, who was able to drive up from his home in Las Vegas to join us.

We also loved the quirky little town of Pioche, NV where we stayed in a free city RV park. The town was half ghost town and just barely populated, but full of cool sites, and rich with mining history.

On our way to California, we took the Extraterrestrial Highway, the one that runs past Area 51. We did not see any real aliens, but we did enjoy eating at Little A’le’inn and dodging cows on the 100 miles of open range highway.

For the past few days, we stayed at one of our favorite campgrounds just over the crest of the mountains from our resort. The weather was lousy, raining down in the valley, and snowing a couple inches at the resort, but it made for a great show from our living room window.

Yesterday, we went up the mountains to the resort to scope out our RV living options in the small area of the parking lot that was cleared. The amount of snow at 10,000 feet is unbelievable. There are piles 20 feet high from the plowing, and about 5-10 feet in areas that haven’t been cleared. We are the only employees for now, and it’s going to be a slow start to the summer season until some of the white death melts out. Most summer visitors are not looking to come up for skiing and snowshoeing!

We have a lot of shoveling in our future.  We’ll talk next week, providing we don’t eat it in a roof-related avalanche!

The joys of unexpected adventures

Where: enjoying a last couple weeks of vacation before we start our summer job. Current Stop: Southwest Utah

With a perpetually overplanning wife, JJ posed what seemed to be a very simple question to me once we landed in the shadows of Bear’s Ears, America’s newest National Monument: “So, what are we doing this week?” For once, I didn’t really have an answer. Every now and then, I just don’t get around to planning certain parts of our travels, and then we find ourselves in no internet land. So, we presented ourselves at the nearby Ranger Station, proclaimed ourselves Trail of the Ancient virgins, and asked for guidance.

We were in San Juan County, a part of Utah with a particularly dense archeological record. While all of Southern Utah has tons of ruins dating from 12,000 years ago and onward, San Juan figures there are about 32,000 unique sites in its borders. The landscape is a maze of canyons through mesatops, and most have some form of human history. The problem isn’t so much finding something to do, but deciding what, out of the million options, would be the best. The ranger didn’t even have to think before she had an answer for us: “Moonhouse!”

Moonhouse is an extremely well preserved Anasazi structure that was built in the mid-1200s, and abandoned before 1300. The most striking feature is the panels of stark white moons in all their phases, running around the tops of many rooms. Unlike other ruins I’ve been to, we were allowed to enter the structure, and walk along a corridor that opened into more rooms. The outside wall had little holes through it that seem to have served a defensive function, as they allow you to both remain concealed and also see every part of the canyon.

This treasure is closely regulated, and only 20 permits are given out for each day. I feel really lucky that we had the chance to see something so amazing!

A bit tricky going, with no real trail:

Up and down the canyon, as far as we could see, were more:

Another highlight of the areas was Natural Bridges National Monument, which, coincidentally, was Utah’s first National Monument. Here, the water has danced with sandstone to create enormous bridges of rock. While you can park at each of the three bridges for a short walk, we decided to take the loop trail which follows the canyon floor between the giants. We loved the solitude of the loop trail, and the chance to “discover” a complex of ruins and a giant panel of handprints. This small park was wonderful!

Some parts were a bit steep:

Cave Tower Ruins were a beautiful enigma perched on the edge of a spring and deep, twisty canyon. These seven structures could have been ceremonial, or for food storage, or defense.

We could spend a year in Southern Utah alone, but it was time to start heading west. Our next stop was Capitol Reef National Park, which I’m sorry to say, just didn’t do much for me. The scenery was gorgeous, of course, but something didn’t click, and I was ready to leave after one day there. I’m guessing that most of this sentiment has to do with the fact that it was the very busiest season, and we were in the most heavily trafficked areas. It’s the kind of park that is best suited to a backcounty trip, on foot or by Jeep, to access the wild, quiet areas. I will always take a fairly attractive area, devoid of people, over the most stunning view with a string of harried tourists just trying to get the damn picture and then get back to the car. I appreciate a range of beauty, but the anxious bustle of too many people only detracts from the scenery and makes me feel unsettled, too.

We’re now in travel mode, and starting to head west more quickly, with only a few stops.  Our spring break is coming to an end!

PS: And an update on our summer jobs at Rock Creek Lake Resort in Bishop, CA…which we’ll start on Wednesday! The owner’s friend came up with some heavy machinery and cleared out large areas of the resort parking lot, and the long driveway to the rental cabins. Barring another big snow, we’ll move our RV to the resort on Tuesday, and get right to work cleaning cabins, setting up the store, and trying to remember how to breathe at 10,000 feet.

PPS: May 1 marks our 3 year “nomadiversary”!