Adios, Almont!

Where: last week of our spring gig at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

Our final week in Colorado was a bit of a blur, as we convinced ourselves that we had plenty of time to fit in the ends and odds we wanted to accomplish before we left.  I always forget just how long it can take us to wash and wax the RV when she’s sitting outside in the sun, and you can only apply wax to the shady parts.  And then there were the items like final library stops, parties with work peeps, cooking for our travel days, and all the other tidbits that pop up when your mind is whirling.

The last week was meteorologically chaotic, with a couple days of snow and freezing temperatures, and then a couple days where we could lay out in the sun.

May 1:

Three days later-Mommy/daughter D session:

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JJ likes to say that he’s been subjecting Westerners to MidWest culture since 2014, introducing our hometown treats (and explaining the provenance thereof) to the woefully unenlightened.  This week’s offering requires a long explanation, starting with a biology lesson, followed by collegiate sports info, and culminating in the dessert perfection that is the buckeye.  Even if our co-workers didn’t follow the logic, they loved the treats!

(And a note on a fortuitous accident: JJ dropped one of the buckeyes all the way in the chocolate, and then realized that it sounded pretty good.  He did a few more the same way, topped them with Reese’s Pieces, and that’s the origin story of Buckeyes 2.0, which is probably the way we’ll make them from now on!)

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Just across the street from Three Rivers is the Almont Resort, providing cabins, a restaurant and bar, and a fly shop since the late 1800s.  Last year, the dining room was closed for a lengthy kitchen remodeling.  Just after it finally opened, there was an incredibly freaky accident where a truck lost its parking brake, rolled into the wall of the kitchen, started a grease fire, and badly injured an employee.  The business only recently opened again.

Some of the housekeeping crew tried out the Almont for dinner, and as advertised, the portions were most generous.  Here’s Cheryl, gamely facing more nachos than she ever wanted, and with the world’s hottest japalenos, to boot:

And the rest of the table, L-R: Alysha, Jamie-the housekeeping manager, Ally-the assistant manager, Mark and Mary Jo–the owners of the resort, and you should know the last guy.  We’re really going to miss this crew of awesome people:

The end of the story is that we got through that big to-do list, and were ready to head off to our summer gig.  The weather gave us one last hurrah as a send-off.  I would talk some smack about this, but the fact of the matter is that where we’re headed is so much worse.  Like, Donner Party worse.  Like, the pictures below are a nice summer day in comparison to our next destination.

And the big reveal about our next gig: Mammoth Lakes, California!  (Where they just had an epic snow season, and one that’s not over yet!)

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Arkansas Valley outing

Where: working a short spring gig at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

It’s been raining and snowing a lot here lately, but in the midst of all the precipitation, the sun came out for just a moment.  And behold, the rainbow ended right at our RV!  What’s in the pot, you ask: Gold?

Not Gold, but pretty close: JJ’s brownies!  He loves to bake for people, but I don’t let him make anything when it’s just the two of us around.  In the short time we’ve been at Three Rivers, he’s made puppy chow, his world famous “knock-you-naked” brownies, and he’s going to make a batch of buckeyes for our final week here.

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Last weekend, we went back to a tried-and-true hot spring experience, the private tubs at the Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center.  The main atrium of the facility is a very modern glass and steel structure, but in the back of the complex are private baths which looks like they might date from the original structure, built during the Great Depression.  It’s not a fancy experience, but we like the fact that you get to fill the tub to the temperature of your choice and blob around in the 1930s.

Lunch was the Crossroads Cafe Burger Truck, parked right next to the Aquatic Center.  Eric, the owner and chef, is a gregarious guy who passes out crispy fries for nibbling while you decide on your order.  We went with some delicious monstrosities he calls “Better than Bacon Burgers”–local beef patties topped with his own smoked brisket pastrami, and smoked Gouda.  He deftly wrapped the sandwiches in lettuce, and then in aluminum foil as a kind of surrogate bun.  Delicious!

We drove along the Collegiate Peaks Byway, north to Buena Vista. (That’s “b-you-na” vista around here!) It was opening day for Louie’s Ice Cream, which is a teeny tiny storefront with a huge courtyard. There was even a playground set and shed-sized playhouse for kids–a great way to burn off all that sugar!

Buena Vista is just an adorable town, so walkable, and filled with local shops and small houses.  We strolled along the Whitewater Park and watched kayakers play in the man made rapids.

Just in from the waterfront was a small community of new builds.  I usually dislike new developments, but this felt more like a European town, with storefronts interspersed with houses that opened right onto the street.

It was mostly spring along the Arkansas Valley, but the mountains we passed through on the way back home were still solidly in the winter camp.

At the top of Monarch Pass, there was about 8 feet of snow on the ground, and the wind was whipping around ferociously, quickly chasing the t-shirt clad tourists into the gift shop and away from the views. We made the day into a double feature by sampling the Colorado Springs-based ice cream from the snack shop.

This upcoming week is our final one at Three Rivers Resort in Colorado, before we head out to our summer job in the Eastern Sierra.  We can’t catch a break around here, and there’s snow in the forecast for the day we plan to leave, so it should be an interesting trip!

Orvis and Ouray

Where: working a short spring gig at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

Scrubbing ovens full-time can bring you to your knees, literally.  Some ovens have a door that comes off, so that you can just sit cross legged in front of it and comfortably work on the whole thing, and have a minimum of bumps and ridgelines that collect soot.  But, others have a fixed door, forcing you into the most miserable crouch, and have parts that only seem to exist to get dirty. After 3 weeks of cursing the creators of products that seem specifically designed to be impossible to clean, we were in the mood for some relaxation.

(A quick rant and a PSA: product developers should be required to clean the item they create before they unleash it for sale, to minimize stupid dirt-collecting parts, and when you find yourself renting a place with a full kitchen, please tip your maid a little extra!)

Orvis Hot Springs is a gorgeous place to soak in Ridgway, CO, with views of 14,150 foot Mount Sneffels.  Even the pools without a sight line to the mountains are lovely, because the grounds are just so lush with grass and flowers.  Thanks to mud season and the fact that we got up really early to arrive right after it opened, there were only a few other soakers, and we mostly had pools to ourselves.  This was my favorite hot springs experience so far, because it felt like we were a million miles away, on vacation in some other land.  It’s a clothing optional facility, so no cameras or phones are permitted in the pool area, and I can’t show you any of the scenes myself.  But, you might like to check out the website here, and enjoy the photos of the grounds.  We tried out almost every pool, even the indoor private tubs when the sun got too strong outside. (Mountain paradox: it’s barely spring, but already the season where you can burn the bejeezus out of yourself!)  If you’re ever in Colorado, this is a must stop!

Next we headed south to Ouray, the “Switzerland of America”, a terribly picturesque town ringed with mountains, and so well preserved the whole of Main Street is a National Historic District.  It felt very sleepy, with very few tourists, and many of the storefronts under construction, readying themselves for the future hordes that summer will bring.

Our first stop was Maggie’s Kitchen, for some damn fine burgers.  JJ pointed out that he’s always hungry after being in the water; I noted that we’re just always hungry, period!  Many tourist-driven towns feature some pretty insipid food, but this was just one of several options with really high ratings.  We loved our meal, and the views as well.

After lunch, we took a spin around the very walkable town, reading the signboards about the provenance of the buildings, many of which date to the 1880s.  This is the kind of town that makes you fantasize about moving here to start a bed and breakfast in an elegant old Victorian.

Just outside the city, there’s a short trail to a little ribbon of a waterfall, Cascade Falls.

From the viewpoint above town:

In local news, the weather has been fairly warm and sunny, and the snow is melting like crazy.  We can actually walk around the resort in our shoes, and I might be able to put away the muck boots for now, or at least until we get more rain and snow next week. We’re about 2/3 finished with the spring cleaning, and the first big group of the season will check in this weekend. We’re starting to prepare for our next adventure, to be announced soon!

Three Rivers, round 2

Where: working a short spring gig at Three Rivers Resort in Almont, CO

I was going to start off this blog post with a plea that someone send out a St. Bernard with a cask of brandy, to rescue us from all the snow here in Colorado.  But, when I looked it up, I learned that the whole scenario is just a creation from a 19th Century painting with a not-so-catchy title — “Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler”.  Even if the whole dog/booze thing is just a myth, we are pretty much drowning in the white stuff, and a friend with some fortifying elixir would be a welcome sight!

When we arrived at the same time last year, there wasn’t a drop of snow around and the ground was completely dry.  On our first day this time around, I stepped out of the RV in my sandals, sunk to my ankles in mud, and immediately changed into muck boots, which I’ve been living in every since.  April and May are traditionally an off season around here, aptly called “Mud Season”, when the skiing is over, but the hiking and biking trails are still just troughs of slop.

But, it’s alright, because we’re doing spring cleaning on the 50-odd cabins at the resort, which is always good for a solid butt-kicking, no matter how in shape you feel before you start.  These are top to bottom, scrub everything, move everything, and remove every speck of dirt assignments. Some of the cabins have been nightly rentals over the winter, and therefore, were cleaned regularly, between each reservation.  Others were 6 month rentals, popular with the employees of the ski town just north, and pretty much look like you might imagine after groups of young folk move out.  So, besides working, we’ve really only been going to the library and then taking easy saunters around the neighborhood.  Here’s some views….

Thank goodness the resort owns a frontloader, because it would have been hell to shovel out our site by hand:

The path to work:

Perhaps because of all the snow, the road next to us is much quieter than last year, and it’s a very pleasant stroll to follow it between the Taylor River and the granite spires across the street:

The sky here can be a funny thing.  In one direction, the resort looked like the frozen tundra…..

…..while a 180 degree turn showed a decent spring sky and slightly melting snow:

I do love a pine tree in early morning light:

Up on the hill above Almont:

The truly incomprehensible part is the strength of the sun.  On clear, calm days, it’s completely comfortable to be out in shorts and a t shirt, and we even managed to get in a Vitamin D session on a day with particularly robust solar energy.  This photo is not just  staged; I was able to lay out for a half hour and feel warm!

While we did have a couple wickedly cold days with highs barely above freezing, the general trend is in the right direction, and the snow is melting quickly.  Below is the difference from one week to the next.  Progress! :

The hills above the river are just loaded with herds of Mule Deer and Bighorn Sheep; they are down at lower elevations because their usual stomping grounds are still under snow.  Every day we see at least 20-30 of them browsing just a couple hundred feet away, right across the river:

Up next: the passes clear, the sun comes out, and we head to a hot springs outing!

Spring break

Where: on vacation until our summer job begins. Current stop: en route to that job! Read on for details!

We first met our friend Mary when we all worked for Amazon over the 2014 Holidays and we got really tight after a season together at Rock Creek Resort a few summers ago. Because she lives on the California coast, we just don’t see her as often as we’d like and the last joint venture was a camping trip way back in October of 2017.  We’re very different people, but we have a blast together.  I think our variant personalities are best highlighted by the way we approached this upcoming vacation: I was making reservations and plans from nine months in advance, whereas she shot me a text a few weeks before and said “So, where are we meeting? And what dates?”

We met at a more-or-less halfway spot, down in the southern point of the Sierras.  Kernville, CA is in the foothills, but at just 2,700 feet of elevation, it was solidly in the spring category, rather than still in the grips of winter like the rest of the mountain chain.  The local claim to fame and tourist draw is Lake Isabella, which is often empty due to years of drought, but was still looking pretty good after the banner snow season of 2016-2017.  And all the rains from this past winter made perfect conditions for wildflowers!

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Remington Hot Springs is a riverside series of concrete tubs, built by free spirits in the 60s, and now maintained by “Friends of Remington”.  It’s usually a very busy place, but we managed to stop during a magic lull, when only a couple other people were there.

Since wildflowers were absolutely everywhere, we headed out the next day with only the roughest of plans: “let’s drive up this road, and yell when you see someplace you want to stop!” We barely made it out of town before the first amazing field of colors.

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When Mary takes pictures, she always sneaks in some extras, like when she makes you bust a gut and lose your composure.

Pilfered from Mary’s Instagram, here is a rare photo of my rear end, which is only fair since I’m always taking pictures of JJ’s derriere:

Kern River hike:

South Creek Falls:

We had such a great time with Mary! We played games, we did yoga, we ate lots of good food without going out to eat once.  I always request that she cook this eggplant dish that seems very simple, but that I just can’t make the same.  On our final morning, she was even cheerful about the fact that we had to boot her out of bed at an ungodly hour in order to make an RV appointment.  In this week’s episode of Freaky Furnace, we saw a great mechanic in the dusty little town of California City.  He was able to diagnose the fact that we needed a new burner, but the replacement would take 5 days to arrive.  We decided to order the part from Amazon, and have it delivered to our new job.  (Yes, all will be revealed before the end!)

The next couple days were a blur of movement.  We drove a whole lot, boondocked outside of Las Vegas, and stopped in town to visit Costco and Trader Joes. We planned a two-night, one day stopover at the Virgin River Gorge Campground in the very northwest corner of Arizona, but when the weather on our trajectory was turning stormy, we stayed a couple more night to let it pass.  Instead of slogging through snow, we enjoyed 70s every day and worked on our tans.

Front yard, back yard:

There was a trail through the canyon, but the first part required fording the Virgin River.  We decided against that one:

20 miles up the road (and in a different time zone) was St. George, UT, which turned out to be a really cool town.

Red Hills Desert Garden is a free botanical garden with lots of water features, collections of native plants of the area, and plenty of benches and swings to sit and enjoy it all:

Pioneer Park is a natural jungle gym, with all the red rocks and fun formations that Utah is known for:

We went out for lunch to a hole-in-the-wall Hawaiian joint that serves poke and Kahlua pork bowls.  We had one of each, and wished that we could eat there everyday. Neilson’s Frozen Custard reminded JJ of Ted Drewes from his college days in St. Louis.

The campground was a great place to relax before we headed out for the last leg of our journey to our spring job.

 

Our final destination was Almont, CO, at Three Rivers Resort, where we worked last summer.  We’ll be here for the next 6 weeks, working in housekeeping and spring cleaning all 50-something cabins.  Yes, that means that I have even more announcements to come about our summer job!  In the meantime, send warm thoughts our way as we enjoy the 2 feet of snow still on the ground!

The week where everything went wrong and then everything went right

Where: on vacation until our summer job begins.  Current stop: California

Boy, those sexy Instagram #vanlifers sure do make full-timing look glamorous, with endless photos of back doors opening onto pristine beaches, and tanned, lithe ladies in bikinis.  This past week, we definitely had our share of victories on the road, but we also experienced a ton of little defeats that don’t often get mentioned by folks who are promoting the mobile lifestyle.  So, this week’s blog post might be described as “truth in advertising”, as it paints a more accurate view of what it’s like to travel for a living: there’s good and there’s bad!

On our last night in the Alabama Hills, Friday night, a giant crew rolled into the large space above us.  They came with several RVs, lots of ATVs, and about a million people.  The natural amphitheater of the canyon walls accentuated every sound they made, from just the sounds of their voices to the roar of their generators.  And when they started target practice at dark, that *really* reverberated.  The Alabama Hills is BLM land, and shooting is permitted, but people usually do it in secluded areas, and during the day.  I guess spring break brings out a whole different crowd, one that we’ve never encountered there before.  The next morning, was “suns out, guns out”, and we decided to hit the road early to find some quiet.

I had planned a few days at a dispersed camping area about 50 miles south, a dry lake bed near some cool volcanic formations.  But, with all the recent rains, the dry lake bed was a current lake bed, and we needed to find another spot.  We wanted to stay in that general area, because we realized last week that our furnace wasn’t actually fixed, and we had a appointment later in the week at an RV shop in Ridgecrest.  Most of the surrounding areas are open BLM land for ATV use, which is not the sort of place we like to boondock.  So, we chose the next best option and paid for several nights at Red Rock Canyon State Park, which turned out to be a great stop.

The State Park is a real stunner as you drive by on Highway 14, with beautiful pink cliffs.  The campground is first-come, first-serve, and we were able to snag a pull through with a fairly private backyard for Soupy explorations. Although we hadn’t traveled all that far south, the climate was completely different from Lone Pine, with a strong sun and temps in the 70s.  It felt great to sit out in the sun and let our bones thaw!

We knew our friends, Buddy and Judy, were headed past us to Death Valley, but they surprised us by leaving a day early and staying overnight with us in the State Park.  Even better, they showed up with ice cream…they sure do know us!

On Wednesday, we dropped off the RV to get the furnace fixed, and we packed up Soupy along with her food, water and litter box to spend the day at Trona Pinnacles.  The Pinnacles are tufa formations, just like what you see at Mono Lake, except on a now dry lake bed.  Camping is permitted, and we wanted to scope out the area and assess the 5 mile long access road, as well as have a safe place for adventure cat to pass the day.  We are soooo glad we had a look first, because the road had been mostly washed out from all the recent rain.  The Subaru had no issues, but there was no way we could get the RV in.

When we went to pick up the RV, we checked the furnace to be sure it was operating correctly, and saw that it was still showing the same problems.  The owner worked on it a little bit longer, and then did something we’ve never experienced before; he apologized for not knowing how to repair the problem and said that he wouldn’t charge us since the issue wasn’t fixed.

We made another appointment at a town not too far away, but the next appointment was a week later.  After much debating, we headed north again, back to Tuttle Creek Campground in Lone Pine, because it was the best, cheapest option for a couple days.  Just after we arrived, we heard from Buddy and Judy again–they wanted to spend a night in the Eastern Sierra before they headed back home, and they would camp with us again!  Judy taught us the card game Trash (also called Garbage), we enjoyed a beautiful night by the fire, and ate a scrumptious breakfast at Alabama Hills Cafe.

Showing Buddy and Judy our camping spots in the Alabama Hills:

Their travel set-up:

Even with the low snow level, I really wanted to get into the mountains for some hikes.  I recently bought a nifty book of topo maps for Inyo National Forest, and I discovered a promising canyon just to the south of Lone Pine.  Cottonwood Canyon was a real find, with lots of Southern California type vegetation like Joshua Trees, Manzanita, and Oak.  The trail was completely washed out in parts, and looked like it hadn’t been maintained in years, but we loved seeing a new place, and had the whole canyon to ourselves.

Cute little empty house, and the only one in the canyon:

Eastern Sierra trails rarely have shade.  These oaks provided it in spades!

Google Maps is notoriously inaccurate about traffic delay times concerning cows:

From the campground, we hiked Jeep roads up to the mouth of Tuttle Canyon, the start of a short hike to an old ashram.  The snow was too deep to visit the temple, but we still enjoyed the views.

If you like “Where’s Waldo?”, try to find the stone ashram in this picture!

Next week: a get together with Mary in Southern California, and round three of furnace repair!

Lone Pine Picture Post

Where: on vacation until our summer job begins. Current stop: Eastern Sierra

About 5 years ago, a delivery truck was just outside of Bishop, CA, and had a small mishap as they maneuvered in a tight space. The truck snagged a phone pole, and pulled out the, and I mean THE, wire that provided internet and cell and even 911 service to 100 miles of the Eastern Sierra. (What does a telephone pole line have to do with cell service, you ask? Hey, it’s the Wild West…who knows!) While I can’t yet report the unique circumstance that led to the outage we’ve had for the last 24 hours, I can only say that we had to drive 50 miles south to find data service along Highway 395. This is all just a long preamble to explain why today’s blog is mostly a photo essay–a quick entry from a rest stop, on our way to the next event.

Last week was a cold but beautiful visit to one of our favorite places: Lone Pine, CA. We’ve been through more times than we can remember, and we still find new nooks to explore every trip. Our first stop was to Tuttle Creek Campground to meet up with our friend, Patty.  There is simply no bad view from this campground!

Patty also loves to poke around in the rocks of the Alabama Hills, and we had a great ramble through the formations.

All the girls on Instagram are doing desert glamour shots, so here’s mine…maybe I’m supposed to be wearing less clothes?

Spring is sort-of-maybe-almost there in this part of the world:

Secret location from the expedition:

After our weekend with Patty, we moved over to boondock in the Alabama Hills.  We got our favorite spot, the one where we can stick up our booster between the rocks and get cell service at camp!

There’s a road in the back of the Scenic Area I’ve always wanted to explore…what views!

Across the Owens Valley is the Inyo Mountains, which are much drier and less vegetated than the Sierra.  We hiked part of the Pay Keyes Trail, but gave up well before we hit the crest 6,000 feet higher than we started.

The best part of any stay here is the pure joy we all get from deep blue skies, rocks to climb, and millions of trails to explore, all within a few square miles.

Until next time, Lone Pine!

p.s. Should you desire more reading material from past excursions to Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, please check our prior blog entries here and here.