A fire nearby and a visit from Down South

Where: our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

In past years at the Resort, we definitely felt like we were total Ohioans. We have a Midwest accent, we can eat church potluck foods unironically, and we refuse to say “the” in front of a freeway name. This year, our third season, I’m starting to notice a slight shift to the left, and a couple points really drove it home: Forest fires have become a normal part of the summer season, and when I say “down south”, it means Southern California rather than the Deep South of Alabama and Mississippi. I guess it was bound to happen after so many years of exposure!

Before I worry you too much, I’ll tell you about the fire. The Butte Fire started about 10 miles west of Mammoth Lakes on August 7, from a lightening strike. As the crow flies, it’s about 30 miles northwest of us, which doesn’t put us in any danger, but it does mean that we get a lot a hazy days as the smoke blows over the ridges and into our canyon. It’s also been filling up the Owens Valley with a thick film, so we can barely see the White Mountains, just 30 miles away.

Before we started working out here, I was terrified of forest fires, because the national news always made them look so bad. Now, I’m not saying that these fires are never dangerous; many communities around us have had a devastating fire come through and destroy property. But, the reality is that they’re mostly seen as an annoyance, ruining air quality and closing down the few highways that run through the mountains. I think a major difference is the length of the event. See, a tornado comes and goes in a a matter of minutes, but some of these fires can go on for a month or more. The Forest Service only puts them out immediately if people are in danger; if the fire is in a really remote location, the FS prefers to let it burn, as nature intended. It’s hard to stay hyper about something with such a long life span. Plus, it seems that whenever one fire is finally put out, another starts up from the lightening that accompanied the rain that doused the first one.

So, because it’s been a little bit hazy for quite some time, we decided to hike in the Mammoth area last week, and take our chances with the smoke. We took a short but charming trail that quickly gains elevation over the Mammoth Lakes Basin and leads to a nice lake in less than 2 miles. Crystal Lake, as advertised, was a gorgeous clear blue, and we watched tons of trout swimming around and coming up for a bug breakfast. Then, I though that my sunglasses were smudged, because everything looked blurry. I took them off to clean them, and saw thick smoke starting to pour over the ridge. The wind had shifted, and the clear morning was quickly wearing off. We headed back down the trail briskly, astounded by how the basin had changed from just a hour previous. We could barely make out the lakes below, and the air was almost too thick to breathe. Time to head inside!

Crystal Crag:

Nice and clear:

Still big snowfields:

Big change in the span of 30 minutes:

Where’s the lakes?!:

The other interesting part of our week was a visit from our friends from Down South, Buddy and Judy. They brought their trailer up for a few days of camping along 395, and managed to snag a night in a prime spot at Rock Creek Lake Campground. (Get this—most of California is already back to school, which makes this an awesome time to do some traveling!) Yesterday, we joined them in the June Lake area for a hike to Parker Lake. (Which was closed a few weeks ago due to yet another fire in the area.)

It was a perfect day for a hike with warm sun but cool breezes, and with that hint of cooler air, I saw my first yellow leaf of the season. It seems like just a couple weeks ago that I was taking pictures of aspen buds, and they are already starting to think about fall. It’s always fun to see Buddy and Judy, who call themselves our “road parents”. They cooked up a delicious feast from the grill, and even had gluten free cookies for dessert! It’s always great to catch up with them.

JJ with Buddy and Judy and their friend, Debbie:

Still plenty of snow up here, too:

Parker Lake:

Harbinger:

Til next week!

A well-deserved vacation

Where: at our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

Now that we have a couple years under our belts at our regular summer job, we can see a distinct pattern to the season. The year starts out slowly, as we only work partial days, and the resort is open shorter hours. Next, after Memorial Day, things start to pick up, and the workload gets heavier. For a while, we’re like Milo of Croton who picked up the bull calf day after day; things get progressively more hectic, but we get used to the program and get accustomed to everything. But then, all of a sudden, it’s July, and we realize one day that we’re just so dang tired that work is all we can handle. That big crash happened to us last week, after a couple very busy weeks in a row, and we knew it was time for a break!

While some of our co-workers head out to camp most weekends, we generally keep our RV at the resort and just take day trips around the area. Because we were so ready for some time away from our job, we decided to pull up our jacks and get away for some relaxation. The nice thing about the Eastern Sierra is that we have a million camping options within a fairly close range, so we can get somewhere completely different without driving all that far. Last week, we drove south to Bishop, and then west into the high mountains outside of town, to a lesser used campground named Four Jeffrey.

The campground has two distinct kinds of campsites: those in the open sagebrush, and a handful that back up to the rushing South Fork of Bishop Creek, tucked into dense stands of aspen. We were lucky, and snagged a primo spot that had a huge, private backyard. The creek provided loud white noise, and we could sit outside without hearing or seeing our neighbors. Luka joined us that evening after she got off work, and found a spot in the same loop.

Luka’s van, Esther:

The Bishop Creek area is full of hiking adventures that lead to high Sierra lakes, and plenty of little resorts nearby to refuel after a long day. We started at mosquito-infested North Lake and passed through the lakeside campground, which was filled with wildflowers. The trail was steep, and although we were first in thick trees, we soon popped out into an open alpine trail, with views to the White Mountains across the Owens Valley. We weren’t quite sure how far we were going, but when we got to Lower Lamarck Lake, we knew we were there. It was a perfect day with unbelievably clear blue skies, warm sun and cool breezes, and the big flat rocks on the lake were an inviting place to sit and enjoy the scenery.

That little blue speck is the lake where we started:

JJ inspects the tadpoles frolicking in an ephemeral pond:

Lower Lamarck Lake and Luka on a rock:

After our hike, we were ready for some junk food, so we visited Cardinal Village Resort, just down the canyon in the little community of Aspendell. Our burgers and fries were just the thing we needed! And a little known fact: Cardinal Village played a part in us getting a job at Rock Creek. See, my former boss, Anne, knew of Cardinal because it’s where her daughter got married. When Anne was in town for that shindig, she also visited Rock Creek to try the pie, and she told us we had to stop by as well when we were first in this area. Four slices of pie and one long conversation later, and we had a job offer! So, thanks, Cardinal, for the roundabout hookup!

That evening, we (and by we I mean Luka) built a fire for roasting hotdogs, cooking shishito peppers in a cast iron skillet, and attempting Jiffy Pop corn. The dogs and peppers were a big success, but the popcorn sprung a butter leak and then just wouldn’t pop. This was the first fire we’ve had in a long time, and it was fun to sit and watch the colors change on the mountains around us as the stars came out.

On Friday morning, our first day of the workweek, we got up early and headed back to the Resort to make our 11am shift. It was a bit of a harried start to our week, but the benefits outweighed the stress of driving back on our Monday. It’s not something we want to do every week, but it would be nice to have a few more getaway weekends before the end of the season. We love our jobs, but it’s also great to get away now and then when where you work is also where you live.

Til next week!

Interlude

Where: our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

Friends, it’s time for a vacation. This weekend, we are taking our RV to a lovely campground outside of Bishop, where Luka will join us for a few days of hiking, star gazing, campfire sitting, and Jiffy Pop eating. Even though we live in our RV full time, when we take it to new, pretty places, it makes us feel like we’re in relaxation mode. And relaxation mode is just what we need right now. So, in the meantime, please enjoy some views of the lovely Sierra Tiger Lilies blooming in our canyon, and we will be back next week with lots of photos and good stories.

Dog Days of Summer

Where: at our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

I hope you’ve seen the wonderful cult classic Harold and Maude, in which septuagenarian Maude and 18-year-old Harold fall in love.  Along those lines, there’s a love story at the Resort even more unusual: Luke and Patty.  In this story, the lovebirds are separated by more than 65 years, a couple feet of height, and a tail. See, Patty is our recently retired co-worker who spent the last 10 years working at the Resort, and Luke is the King’s dog.  Disregarding familial associations, Luke is completely devoted to Patty, and never gets so excited as when she’s around. Yesterday, Patty came up to Rock Creek from her home in sweltering Big Pine to hike with us in the relative cool, and it was a given that we would take along both Luke, and Amy and Steve’s dog, Birch.

Good dogs sitting for a treat:

Tamarack trailhead starts from the side of Rock Creek Lake, a short walk from the Resort. It’s a lesser used trail system, mainly leading to a couple really long trails that most dayhikers don’t want to tackle. There’s also a few shorter hikes to little lakes that are often dry in drought years, but with all the runoff this year, we guessed that everything would be full.

Still plenty of snow in the mountains above and behind us:

Kenneth Lake is the most ephemeral, generally just a dry, concave field. Now, it’s a lush oasis, full of frogs and tadpoles, and wildflowers in the marshy edges.

Our final destination was Francis Lake, which JJ and I have never seen. There were all kinds of small streams running alongside and next to the trail, and at first I tried to keep my feet dry. One stretch of trail was bound in by dense willows, and there was no way to avoid the sucking mud the water had made of the trail. JJ and Patty were fine in their over the ankle boots, but I almost lost a shoe to the muck. The dogs looked like Pigpens, tearing around until they were covered in brown.

Birch prefers snow to mud:

The lake was a real treat. The water was perfectly clear and cool, and the dogs had a great time fetching sticks and getting drinks as they paddled around. There were wildflowers all over the lower slopes, and the banks above were still snow covered. The behemoth of the canyon, Mount Morgan, loomed above, and I thought about co-workers who had made the long difficult trek to the top at 13,748 feet. We were happy to watch the dogs play and soak our feet while having a snack.

The dogs were still crazy men until the final half mile of the hike. They spent most of their time tearing back and forth, covering about 3 times as much ground as we were. Because we were reentering civilization (and cars) we leashed them back up at the top of the last hill that leads back to the lake. That little stop was just too much for the tuckered puppies, who both took the opportunity to lie down, and then didn’t want to get back up. We had to keep pulling them to get them to finish up the hike, and they both passed out in their doghouse the moment we got back to the Resort.

…………………………………………….

Besides that, whoo-boy, it’s getting to the busy time of year. Our cabins are full the whole month of July, and most of them turn over on Fridays and Saturdays, which make for heavy days. On Friday, I exercised and took a walk before work. Then I cleaned 4 cabins, closed down the cafe kitchen and then closed down the store. It may have been my best ever day for steps, at 38,000!  The main thing I want to do in the midst of all this is just walk around the lake and enjoy the views.

Til next week!

Summers in the Sierra, sublime

Where: our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

When we first started full-timing, we had the idea that we would choose a different location for every summer job. Neither JJ or I had spent much time out west before living on the road, and there was so much we wanted to see. We stuck with the plan for the first 2 summers, working the first in Big Bear, CA, and the second at Rock Creek in Bishop, CA. We’re now on our third summer in the Eastern Sierra, and will probably keep coming back for a few more years. Why are we returning to the same place over and over? By far, the best part of spending our summers here is the huge amount of things to do and places to go—practically limitless! We tried out a few totally new trails this week and lucked out with solitude and beautiful views.

While there are a limited number of trailheads on the east side, each one is the start of several trails leading off into different directions. We have hiked from South Lake, west of Bishop, but way back before our first summer here. Last week, we were craving a short, quiet hike, so we met up with Luka to trek to Marie Louise Lake. There were tons of people on the main trail, but once we turned off onto the tiny trail to the alpine lake, we were the only ones around. Those sorts of areas are just the antidote to the bustle of a busy week, and you can feel your body slowing down and relaxing as you sit and enjoy the beauty.

South Lake:

JJ and Luka look like little people among the Shooting Stars:

Trying out our new mosquito head nets.  They work like a dream!

We also continue to discover hikes that are absolutely fabulous, but barely have any coverage online. Yesterday, we met up with our co-worker Michelle, and her two friends who were in town. We tried out Reversed Peak, with only one vague blog post to guide us, and no real idea of what to expect. The prominence is the tallest point in the middle of the June Lake Loop, affording a 360 degree view of the whole area from the top. It was a really tough hike, all steep uphills on loose, sandy soil. But when we finally popped out at the top and scrambled to the rock outcropping that comprises the highest point, the views were definitely worth struggling to see. The pictures I have just don’t do it justice, so you’ll just have to come out and see the splendor for yourself sometime!

Grant Lake, which was dry the last 2 years, is now full:

We climbed up from down there!

Panorama with Michelle photobombing:

And when I want to stay close to home, I have plenty of options that I can reach right from the Resort—no car needed. In a secret and undisclosed location near the Resort are a set of little ponds that are just the right distance for a before or after work stroll. This was the first time I’ve been to them this season, and even with knowing the route, they were hard to find because of all the water and snow on the way. Part of the trail was underwater, now an ephemeral pond that has not been in prior years, and lots of the trail was still covered in deep snow. The heavy snowpack also tore down many of the pine trees or bent them all out of whack as it slid downhill, which made the trail hard to find. The south-facing slopes near the ponds were snow free and covered with wildflowers.

This is normally the trail, now a haven for frogs:

Plenty of snow at elevations just above the Resort:

Mule Ears flowers are blooming:

Pretty, but I don’t know the name of this one:

Even just a walk around the lake can be fascinating. This week, out for an evening stroll, we saw a bald eagle and an osprey. The osprey circled about a hundred feet above the water, before diving underneath and reappearing with a big trout in its talons.

Up this week, JJ and I celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary, and we’re making buckeye candies for a crew dinner.  As he said “subjecting Californians to Midwest culture since 2015”.  Til next week!

4th of (whew!) July

Where: our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

Wow! What a weekend!  All those customers that were missing in action over the last couple weeks seemed to show up at the same time in the days leading up to the 4th.  July 3 was one of the craziest days I’ve seen at the Resort, with loads and loads of customers from the moment we opened until the door finally shut.  When lunch service ended at 3, the restaurant crew let out a big sigh and just shook our heads at the messy state of the kitchen.  I feel like I still haven’t recovered from that day, so this will be a short one!

We had some extra reinforcements in the house this week, with Casey, a veteran crew member, back at the grill for the holiday weekend. She’s a founding member of the Polar Bear Cub Club, so of course, a lake jump was inevitable. I just couldn’t muster the oomph to jump in myself, but in a land with no internet, I’m always up for the entertainment of watching.  I’ve decided that the time to take pictures is not when folks are actually flinging themselves in the drink; that makes for a dull series of pictures of tiny figures against a vast watery backdrop. The fun shots are the before and after, especially when the wind is cold enough to require all kinds of strange combinations of jackets, hats and towels.

I did enjoy the contrast between Casey and her husband, Kris. This might be the first time his shirt has been off all summer!

Casey looks like some sort of nun in this one:


………………………………………………..

Although there’s a whole lot of area to explore in the Eastern Sierra, we’ve found ourselves in June Lake the last couple weeks. It’s such a charming part of the mountains that feels like a little slice of Switzerland. It’s a nice vacation spot, but never feels overrun with tourists. So, even though we had recently spent time there, when Luka proposed an outing to the Hawaiian food truck and the beach, we happily agreed. We walked around Gull Lake, past classic summer cottages and through a wonderland of geology from the time of glaciers. After too much food, we lounged in the sun at June Lake Beach and watched families play in the uber-blue water. It was a perfectly relaxing summer day!

Luka took a picture of the picture-taking:

Hot enough to swim, and snow covered mountains in the background:

After the bustle of the past weekend, this will be a short blog post.  Instead of words, please enjoy a lovely collection of photos from around the resort, and I’ll be back next week with tales of excitement!