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”!

Rocks Gone Wild! Excessive pictures of attractive geology

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

I didn’t realize this was what I was doing when I planned our route to get to the resort, but we’re on a fascinating tour through the funky things that rocks can do. In the last week, we’ve gone from Northwestern New Mexico to Southeastern Utah, and we stopped at some amazing places where the earth has gone through about a million permutations. But, those same gorgeous rocks also cause us lots of problems when we try to get internet service, and we generally don’t have much service out in the boonies. We have an awesome booster on a flagpole mounted on the RV, and when we stick it all the way up in a lot of these places, we often get at least a little something, like the ability to text. However, we don’t generally get enough service to do things like load blog posts, which is my official explanation for the amount of time since my last post!

Last week, we spent Tuesday in Las Cruces, NM, getting the ordered parts installed for the RV leveling system. As soon as the appointment was over, we headed north to finally start our trek towards California. We had planned a different route, but the parts took so long to arrive that we had to change our plans and condense our travels. (So, you do not get to read my account of a trip to yes-it’s-a-real-name Pie Town, NM, for multiple pieces of delicious homemade pie. Tragic.) Our first stop was the lunar landscape of Bisti Badlands, south of Farmington, NM.

Bisti is a crazy spot where the wind and water has weathered the rocks into alien shapes, but many of the features are hidden from the casual explorer. I found a detailed hiking guide online, written by a regular guy who just loves the area. With his handy guide, we were able to pick our way through 6 miles of rough country with no trails, and we did not die or get lost!

Little petrified wood:

Big petrified wood:

This is called the Alien Eggs, or the Nursery:

Many of the formations have a stronger layer up top that’s resisting erosion, and form shelves or wings:

Fashion goes out the window in a sandstorm:

On Friday morning, I heard what I thought was light rain when we woke up in the trailhead parking lot, but as it got light, we realized it was snow. The clay-filled mud was like a swamp of sadness for shoes and tires, and we knew we needed to move along to a more solid surface. We drove northwest, entering a little corner of Arizona before we crossed the border into Utah.

Here’s the thing about Utah: it’s just not fair that it has so many gorgeous colors and landscapes! Right across the border, we were into a riot of oranges and pinks and soaring cliffs and deep canyons. The side of the road would qualify as a national park if it were in Ohio! We went just west of Bluff, Utah, to the boondocking mecca of Valley of the Gods. This stop is one that’s both touted as the best, and kind of whispered about; see, it’s such a fantastic place to camp that everyone kind of wants to keep it a secret. It’s basically a slighter smaller version of Monument Valley, but without the crowds, and it’s BLM, so you can camp there for free!

We think the formation at our site looks like Hogwart’s sorting hat:

Adventure cat went bouldering:

We had both a busy and restful 6 days there. We took a daytrip to Moab to visit two people we knew who were both there on the same day!

Becky of Interstellar Orchard:

Anne Richards and her family.  I worked with Anne at the Grandview Library, and her daugher, Allie (right next to me) is traveling with her husband in this converted ambulance:

The country around Valley of the Gods is chock full of adventures. We hiked the steep Honaker Trail through a mini Grand Canyon to the San Juan River, and went to Goosenecks State Park to see the the entrenched river meander, where the waterway folds back and forth on itself.

We did the scenic drive through Valley of the Gods, and drove up the hair-raising Moki Dugway, which is 3 miles of 11% grades of gravel road. At the top, we stood on the edge of Muley Point and saw everything we had visited in the previous days.

Moki Dugway, not for the faint of stomach:

We were sad to leave such an awesome area, but more adventure awaits!  Next, we will thread our way through the middle of Utah and visit a National Monument and a National Park on our way. I will probably have way too many pictures for next time, too!

Organ Mountains National Monument

Where: a few weeks of vacation before we start our summer job. Current stop: New Mexico

We always feel fortunate when a repair stop coincides with a lovely place to be for a spell. We’ve spent the past week at Aguirre Spring Campground, in the Organ Mountains, just east of Las Cruces, NM. This state continues to enthrall us, and we’ve been busy enjoying the scenes of one of the newest National Monuments (only declared in 2014). There’s two hiking trails that leave right from the campground, and tons more on the western slope of the mountains. I felt a bit like I did when I got to the Sierras, and I just couldn’t stop taking pictures. The low humidity produces ultra-blue skies, and the mountains are steep and stark contrasts against the azure.

Claret Cup cactus:

Apache Plume bush:

Gorgeous views from the campground:

Now, we can’t just hike all the time without some serious sustenance. So, we took a day trip to Hatch, NM to visit Sparky’s, a restaurant that we discovered last spring. It’s known for killer green chile cheeseburgers, which are a super big deal in these parts. The recipe is bun, burger, american cheese, and chopped, roasted green chiles–anything else is overkill. We had delicious burgers, and rounded off our meal with shakes–mine was a Sassy Strawberry, made with red chile powder!

On the topic of food, we really enjoyed our visit to the Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market. It was multiple blocks long, and filled with not only local produce, but also well done jewelry, pottery, and gluten free baked goods! I also experienced a first since we’ve been on the road and found rhubarb in the grocery. My folks grow it, and I’ve really missed that taste of spring since we left Ohio. It was fresh and perfect, and just like home.

This area is steeped in history, too. We walked through Mesilla, which was a really big deal in the 1800s, as the crossroads of the Butterfield Stage Line and the Santa Fe Trail, and also the Capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona for a year during the Civil War. I mostly just enjoyed the pretty buildings.

Today we checked out the western side of the mountains and hiked to ruins from the early 1900s. The high canyons were home to a TB sanatorium and a hotel that afforded visitors a respite from the heat down below.

Pray for no rockfalls!:

Great views from the trail:

I also talked with the resort this week, and got some great news about our summer job.  Although the Sierras were hammered with snow this winter, the road up to the resort is going to be plowed soon, and friends of the owners are going to come up with heavy equipment to help dig out the parking lot.  So, at a minimum, we will be able to drive the car up to work for a few weeks, even if we can’t get the RV there.  I found an Instagram picture of someone who was just outside the resort recently, and their photo of the pay phone shows how much snow is still up there…I’d say about 5-6 feet!

The plan is to have our final repair visit tomorrow, and then start heading north.  We have a lot of miles to cover (and trails to hike and pictures to take) before we land in Bishop, CA around Mother’s Day!

The New Mexico Conspiracy: exposing the lies

Where: a few weeks of vacation before we start our summer job. Current stop: New Mexico

New Mexico has been on my radar for years as a place I really wanted to explore in depth, because I just kept seeing awesome places to go all over the state.  But, over and over, folks who were actually from the state seem to try to discourage visitors.  First, I worked with a guy at Amazon in Texas who warned me away from the area where he had grown up– Las Cruces, NM– because it was such an armpit.  And when we were getting our repair work done recently, (in Las Cruces, by the way) the owner asked where we were headed to wait for our parts to arrive.  When we mentioned the critically acclaimed Oliver Lee State Park, only 50 miles east, he said, “Hmmm….never been there.”  And we talked with a guy today at another wonderful campground where we are staying, with only 3 of the 55 sites filled, who was warned away from the area this time of year because “it’s just too busy.”  Here’s my take on the whole mess: Like some kind of state-level Da Vinci Code, New Mexico is so dang great that everyone wants to keep it their personal secret!

Our week at Oliver Lee State Park was amazing.  It was always quiet and never filled up, even over the Easter weekend, which is practically a Christmas miracle in this part of the world.  The best part is its central location to about a million fun things to do; so many things that we didn’t even do half of what we were interested in seeing!

There is a wonderful hiking trail that leaves from the campground, and leads through scenic Dog Canyon.  We did it part way once and about 3/4 through another day.  Didn’t quite have the stamina to do the full 10.5 miles!

We loved our daytrip into the Sacramento mountains, the range that’s right behind the campground.  Cloudcroft, NM, at 8700 feet, was a cool vacation from the heat of the high desert.  Plus, we ate some of the best BBQ we’ve ever had, and enjoyed a hike in the pines along a former railroad that led to a wooden train trestle.

The otherworldly White Sands National Monument was a really unique Parks experience, especially because we got there early enough to beat the crowds, and took the backcountry hike that snakes through brilliant white sand dunes.  We felt like we were on another planet, and had a blast playing in the fluffy sand.

The wind carves beautiful shapes:

The wind also eats vegetation that can’t move along with the dunes:

The hike was just a little bit too long.  With no reference points to follow, we didn’t know how much longer we had to go, and I got very very tired of going up dunes! :

We even went on a farm tour at a Pistachio farm…and ate our body weight in the free samples.

In order to be closer to the repair place in Las Cruces (whenever our parts come in) we relocated to a lovely campground in the shadow of the gorgeous Organ Mountains, I mean a terrible, horrible no-good campground near Las Cruces.  Now that I’m in on the secret of yicky New Mexico, I guess I’m honor-bound to guard it, too.  I mean, look at what a god-forsaken place we’re in now:

From the Sonoran to the Chihuahuan (Desert hopping)

Where: enjoying a month or so of travels between our spring job and our summer job. Current stop = New Mexico

For those of you keeping track, the intrepid travelers haven’t exactly done a whole heck of a lot of traveling lately.  We rolled into Arizona in the beginning of November, and have been bopping around the state since then, doing some sightseeing between a winter and spring job.  We pored over our maps as we decided how we could best spend a couple weeks before we head for California, and decided to try out some areas we have never been, hence, New Mexico!  So, this week is the round up and photo extravaganza of the end of our time in Arizona, and the start of a New Mexico jaunt.

We had a great weekend in Tucson, running all over with Ann and Nathan.  We went to the Miniatures Museum, which was awesome.  It ran the gamut from historical pieces to current art pieces, to mass produced scenes like those Hallmark Christmas villages.  For a ode to small things, it was a very big place, and we had to give up after a couple hours when our eyes got tired of looking!

Ann, Nathan and JJ play Godzilla over the unassuming holiday village:

These mini-dolls had heads made out of a grain of wheat:

Portrait of me and JJ:

Should we ever overhaul the RV bathroom, I’m thinking rococo:

With our most excellent weekend concierges, we also feasted at a gluten-free restaurant, ate gobs of ice cream, went swimming, and saw a comedy play at the local theater.  It was a lot to fit into a couple days, but it was great to spend time with friends.

As a backdrop, our campground, Gilbert Ray, was perfect as always.  The light dances on the mountains there, and the saguaro were just beginning to bud.

On Monday, we headed east, to Las Cruces, NM, to see a repair shop about our leveling system. While our RV was in the shop, we took Soupy to a sleepy picnic area at the base of the Organ Mountains outside of town, where we could let her run around with no one else around. The appointment did not give a conclusive answer to our problem, so the tech sent us out with some tweaks, and asked us to observe the outcome. We will head back in next week after some parts are in, and get the final fix.

Las Cruces hometown favorite: Caliche’s Custard.  I tried a green chile sundae.  Yum!

To stay close to the repair shop, we only traveled about 70 miles away, to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, near Alamogordo, NM. It’s a lovely small state park at the base of the Sacramento Mountains, and a smart stop for the Easter holiday, as most of the sites are first some, first serve. We plunked down in a site with great mountain views, and have been busy doing touristy things nearby. There’s about a million activities within an hour’s drive, and the hardest part is choosing which we want to do with just a week here. It’s so nice to have these kinds of conundrums!

Next week I will have stories of mountaintop BBQ, pistachio farms, white sand dunes, and mountain hikes.  Yippee!