Bloody Canyon

Where: working our summer job in Mammoth Lakes, CA, at Crystal Crag Lodge

While there’s plenty of places named for pleasant reasons, like to honor a first ascent or commemorate a historical figure, the Sierra also has a fair share of place names based on really gory events.  Bloody Canyon was apparently named by the miners who first tried to get horses up over Mono Pass into Yosemite; the sharp rock of the canyon cut up the legs of the livestock and left bloody marks along the path.  Sardine Lake along the way was named after a horse laden with tins of sardines tumbled down the cliff and into the water.

Although the backstory to this area is grim, our experience was phenomenal, because we enjoyed a long day hike through an amazing place, filled with waterfalls and flowers, but hardly any other hikers.

The main highways warn you of deer crossing; the backroads are the domain of the spunky Sage Grouse:

This hike is very unusual for the Sierra because you start up on top of a glacial moraine, and then drop down several hundred feet to Walker Lake before you start back up the canyon. This was all fun and games until the steep up was the last part of our 10-mile hike!

The wild iris were still blooming in the wet meadows:

Yes, the mosquitos and flies are bad.  How bad, you say?  When you have to take multiple photos just to get one without an insect in it.  Fail Example:

Lower Sardine Lake.

At one point, we could see three different waterfalls cascading down the walls around us:

Near the top, close to Mono Pass, were several small snow fields.  This one was watermelon snow, filled with a type of green algae that also has a red pigment in it in addition to chlorophyll:

At the top, we met many hikers coming from the west, where a trailhead starts inside Yosemite.  They may have had the better end of the deal by coming along a trail with very little elevation gain, but we had the better views!

Summit Lake:

This trail was a challenge, especially on the parts that were obscured by snow.  Here, the snow down the middle of the chute was just a bridge over a stream, so we had to scramble down the loose scree instead.  I hate scree, but I try to fake myself out everytime we’re on it by singing “Whee Whee Scree!  I Love Scree!”

Something I do unequivocally love is easy water crossings.  JJ demos:

Columbine, Walker Lake, and Mono Lake in the far distance:


Work update: we’re continuing to have a great time with the rest of the crew.  Last week, after a very busy and very difficult Saturday, we all got together for wine and games.  I only meant to stay an hour or two, but we were having so much fun we had to drag ourselves away at bed time!

CJ, Darlene, and Jeff:


While I was out for walk recently, I turned into the campground just down the road from the Lodge.  There was a little sign in the middle, pointing to Mammoth Consolidated Mine.

A short trail took me to a collection of about 20 wooden buildings that date from the 1920s.  Many were still standing strong….

but quite a few were doing their best pancake imitation:

The mineshafts were spooky holes in the hillside above the camp:

On the way back down, I watched yellow clouds of pine pollen billow in the gusts of wind.  It’s allergy season at 9000 feet!


Hacking the 4th of July

Where: working our summer job at Crystal Crag Lodge in Mammoth Lakes, CA

For the first time since we started RVing in 2014, we found ourselves still “out on the road” over the 4th of July.  Normally by mid-May we are living at our summer job, with no worries about finding a spot over the holiday, or dealing with the brouhaha that comes along with a holiday that combines incendiaries and alcohol consumption. But this year, between insanely heavy snow and then problems with a busted sewer line, we needed a sane place to be for the festivities. I’m really happy with the solution we came up with; we ended up having a quiet day in the middle of a mountain range absolutely full of tourists!

The week before the holiday, we moved to Crowley Lake BLM, one of our all-time favorite campgrounds with dreamy views over the Glass Mountains, red and white banded mountains right behind you, and blazing fast internet and cell service. This campground is not particularly close to any of the hot attractions, and it has no hookups for RVs, so it tends to be lightly used.

I knew better than to try to hike any popular trails over a holiday weekend, so the morning of the 4th, we headed just a mile away to the southern trailhead for Hilton Lakes. Once upon a time, this was the only place to start the trail to the group of lakes known for mosquitoes and fishing. But then a new trailhead was constructed at a much higher elevation to make for a shorter hike, and the old starting point became more of a relic. We hiked past gorgeous Mount Morgan and McGee Mountain, through fields of wildflowers, along dense stands of quaking aspen, and finally stopped when we reached a stream just a little too high to cross. In four hours out on our jaunt, we only saw two other people!

The Mariposa Lily is the Cedar Wax Wing of the flower world–almost too sleek to be true:

What’s better than spotting a blooming Prickly Pear?

….Discovering one with two different colors on the same plant!

The photographer at work, with views over Crowley Lake:

That evening, our co-workers came over for a cookout. Darlene and Jeff brought trout that we roasted over the fire for tacos, and a decadent gluten-free peach cobbler. CJ brought salsa three ways- mango, corn, and avocado-and we made a salad and puppy chow. The piece de resistance was our view for the fireworks over the lake. It was amazing to watch the pyrotechnic show, and then just toddle 30 feet back to our own beds.

The Friday after the 4th, we finally moved up to our full hook up RV spot at the Lodge. Many, many thanks to Jeff for all his hard work to get it ready for us after the sites were eaten up by the snowplow this spring! He smoothed the jagged dirt with a front loader, fixed a busted water line, and rerouted and repaired the sewage pipes. Our new home is nestled in a dense pine forest, with a small stream running around us, just right for our little Black Sierra Panther (our cat, Soupy) to explore. It’s such a time saver to be living at work, with just a 2 minute walk to get to the office. And now we can head out after dinner, to stroll around Lake Mary, or to hike to any of the million lakes up in the mountains around us.

Front yard:

Back yard, and the 8 foot high mound of snow that JJ is slowly attacking:

The stream right behind the snow, which we’ll be able to see once he’s successful:

Views from evening walks around the lake:

Til next time!

Spring comes to the Sierra!

Where: Working our summer job at Crystal Crag Lodge in Mammoth Lakes, CA

I didn’t even know I liked hiking until we found ourselves at our first workcamping job in the mountains east of L.A.  Big Bear, CA was filled with day hikes and backpacking routes that led up steep mountain trails to overlooks of snow capped mountains.  I fell in love with the solitude and quiet that we could find only a few miles out of town, and I knew I wanted more of all that in my life.  When we discovered the vast Eastern Sierra, it was the best feeling to know that there were hundreds of trails to explore, all within a day trip. In the last couple weeks, the weather here has warmed up dramatically, spring has arrived, and we’re finally getting out into that beauty!

Twin Lakes is an incredible basin outside of Bridgeport, CA, filled with great hiking and camping and views of lakes, mountain ranges, streams and waterfalls. Even the drive up towards the headwall is a stunner, beckoning exploration.

We parked at the west end of the lakes, at Annette’s Mono Village, and headed up Horse Creek Trail.

Horse Creek Falls was running strong and my favorite, Mule Ears, were out in spades!

For such a bustling area, the trail was lightly traveled, and we only saw a handful of other hikers. We’ll be back to try out the routes into other canyons!


Work update/interlude:

The best news is that the gate into the Lakes Basin opened last Monday, which means that we no longer have to escort customers back and forth along the road!  For the first week and a half that we were open, it was almost a full time job to get folks into the Lodge and then back out to town.  With all the extra time on our hands, we felt like we finally had time to start tackling projects.  And there is so much to do! Because of all the snow, many projects that normally would have been completed in May are still waiting to be done.

We’re starting to settle into a weekly routine for our 4-day workweek.  Saturday is when the majority of the cabins turnaround, checking out in the morning, and back in with new customers by late afternoon.  Sunday is laundry day, Monday is linen delivery day, and Tuesday is a grab bag!  Most of the snow right around the Lodge has melted, and I think I can switch to my street shoes soon, and get out of the rubber muck boots I’ve been in since we started!  Our RV space on the Lodge property has melted out nicely, and we should be able to move up soon, to a full hook up site, and the first electricity in a couple months! I’m thankful that we put on additional solar panels a couple years ago, because it means that dry camping has been easy, but we always look forward to the times when we don’t have to manage our batteries.

The main draw of the Lodge is the proximity to the lake!

The dock is a popular place for fishing and reading all day long:

The Lodge office:

A quick visit to the next lake over, Lake George, with a view of Crystal Crag above:

Mammoth Twin Lakes view:

Last week we moved from a boondock in the National Forest to a BLM campground near Crowley Lake.  Even the moving days around here are lovely!  Here’s the view on the way up to the dump station at the nearby Forest Service campground:

And then happily nested in one of our all-time favorite camp spots:


McGee Canyon is right smack in the middle of where we spent several summers, but for some reason we never made it up the canyon.  I had heard a report that the wildflowers were in full bloom, and the rumors were true! This trail leads back for many miles to McGee Pass, but at the moment, there’s a huge and dangerous water crossing where a bridge is out over a raging creek.  Good for us that the meadow views of all the flowers are on the first, dry part of the trail.


Passed the McGee Pack Station out for afternoon ride:

The deep blue of the Sierra sky:

Til next week!

Someplace old, someplace new, something cold and something cute!

Where: working our summer job at Crystal Crag Lodge in Mammoth Lakes, CA

I’m proud to announce that we made it through our first week of work with customers, and everyone seemed pretty happy to be in the mountains, despite a few hardships. The gate that leads to the Lakes Basin is still closed, and we don’t have a firm answer on when the Forest Service will open it. When customers arrive at the gate, we drive down to meet them, and do a conga line up to the Lodge. Hourly, we reverse the process, leading a parade of folks who want to go back into town. The snow is melting nicely, but there’s still about 3 feet on the ground, and we’ve been digging ditches to divert problematic water courses before they wash out our interior roads. But, the lake was stocked with big fat hungry fish, and with very little vehicle traffic, customers can bike and stroll right down the middle of the road to take in views of the mountains. It’s an old school paradise right now!

Dock assembly day:

As is so often the case for us in the Eastern Sierra, we have almost too many choices of things to do on our days off. My list of possible hikes numbers close to 50, and there’s all kinds of events to attend and quirky little places we need to visit. But, we absolutely could not miss the first Happy Hour at Rock Creek Lakes Resort, where we worked for several years–many of the employees there are our California family! Our “someplace old” was hanging out on the deck of the Resort, visiting with a group of mostly former employees, ranging from a little toddler up to the local matriarch, Grandma Robin. We also hiked up Little Lakes Trail just a little ways, to get to the world famous views of the headwall.

BBQ and sundaes, a perfect Happy Hour combo!

Rock Creek Lake looking like summer:

The creek was raging with snowmelt:

Spring snow is packed down and easy to walk in until it gets too melty:

Little Lakes Valley:


For “something new”, we headed to a new-to-us hike in June Lake, which is just a quick jaunt up the highway from our forest camping spot. The Fern Lake trail was wickedly hot at the lower elevations, with the creeks roaring down the mountainsides. About 3/4 of the way up, we hit snow, and we had to use our best navigational skills to follow the right path. It was a fairly short hike, but it completely wiped us out because it was the first time we’ve hiked in warmer temperatures in a long time. We’re used to the freezing arctic, but a 75 degree day almost did us in!

At the Happy Hour, we saw our friend Patty, who provided the “something cold”: she gifted us with two pristine condition pairs of snowshoes that her friends were going to donate to the thrift store! Emboldened by our successful outing several months ago, we chose a short but steep trail that leaves from right behind our work. Emerald Lake is small but beautiful, especially with the backbone of the Mammoth Crest running behind it.

The snow really started right at the trailhead:

This campground has a ton of sites, but most won’t be good for camping for a little while!

Before we lived in California, I’d seen pictures of people skiing in bathing suits, and thought they were nuts.  In the Midwest, snow always equals cold, but when it’s 70 degrees, it’s no problem to be out on the snow in a tshirt!

Emerald Lake and the mountains of the Mammoth Crest:


“Something cute” was the new addition to the family at Rock Creek–Amy and Steve got a new puppy! Little Daisy is the sweetest sort of dog, one who runs at you with ears flapping, looking to say hi and give you kisses. If she had been just a little bit smaller, I would have snuck her out in my purse! This was definitely the highlight of our week!

Miracle melting!

Where: working our summer job at Crystal Crag Lodge in Mammoth Lakes, CA

As we stood at the gate, looking at the miracle of moving snowplows, the five of us sounded like we’d just won the lottery: “Holy crap! I can’t believe it! Woohoo!”  Not all that much earlier in the week, a county worker had told us it would be a very long time before the road into the Lakes Basin would be plowed, and therefore, a long time until our work could open.  So, when we saw the massive machines forging a path through the snow a week early, we were ecstatic!

Happy Crystal Crag employees who are ready for summer!

Well, we were happy until we realized that because of the active plows, we couldn’t use the snowmobiles and we couldn’t drive yet, either.  So, we all walked the 2 miles to work through a tunnel of snow.

Rather than traditional snowplows with a blade on the front, these beasts use a giant rotating blade to whirl and chop up the snow, and then it shoots out in a huge plume from a chute on the top.

Most of the road had about 5-6 feet of snow, and a few sunny sections only had a foot or so.  This section was the deepest and most impressive we saw:

With the road to work passable, the owner, Derek was able to get private companies in to plow the interior roads of the Lodge, and then to clear paths from the parking areas to the porches of the cabins.

A path into a cabin:

The next day, we drove to work and it felt so luxurious to be able to just cruise right up!  Since we won’t be needing the snowmobiles anymore, Jeff and Darlene loaded them up to put into summer storage. Who knew that you can run snowmobiles on pavement if you have to?!

Clearing the Lodge:

I can’t describe the thrill we got from being able to walk on solid ground after a month of sliding around in the snow:

That said, you still want boots to get around, until more snow melts and things start to dry up!


A major reason we are back in the Eastern Sierra is that we love the hiking here.  Most of the mountain routes are still too snowy to tackle without snowshoes, so we tried out the trail through Convict Canyon that starts a bit lower in elevation.

It’s full-on spring here!

There were multiple spots still covered in snow, but enough feet had been across to create a nice, flat path:

This is a gorgeous canyon, but we probably won’t get all the way to Lake Dorothy this year: the creek that runs off the lake is normally only passable in late summer, and with all the runoff that’s coming this summer, it will have to wait for a dryer time!

Up next: Our “first day of school”. The Lodge is open for business today, and we finally get to welcome guests!

Memorial Day: the traditional start of…spring?

Where: working our summer job at Crystal Crag Lodge in Mammoth Lakes, CA

Over Memorial Weekend, I texted with a friend who’s in Florida, sweltering in humidity and temperatures 20 degrees above normal.  I know she was miserable with the heat, but part of me actually felt a pang of longing to be warm just for a little while, even if it meant possible heatstroke!  See, around Mammoth Lakes this year, not only was Memorial Day a little cold, it actually snowed every day over that weekend.  It was easy to pick out the tourists who were just up for a few days: they were taking videos and pictures of the snow with glee, while the rest of us trudged around in despair.  The exciting thing is, after that weekend, things around here really started to turn around, and we seem to be getting into spring!

To kick off the holiday weekend, we went to the Bishop Mule Days Parade. It’s billed as the biggest non-motorized parade in the country, with horses and mules attending from all around the country. It was 70 degrees and sunny–pure heaven.

My vote for sexiest horses:

An antique fire wagon, steam-powered and weighing in at almost 10,000 pounds:

The unicorn and tutu crew:

Twenty Mule Borax Team:

Miss California High School Rodeo:

The sun was out for just a brief interlude, and we woke up to a very different scene on Sunday morning:

So, more days where our commute looks like this:

On Memorial Day, we met up with our friend, Glenn, and his dog, Trout, for a walk around Gull Lake in June Lake Loop.

The aspen are trying here:

We may have stopped in Lee Vining for an ice cream from Mono Cone, where you can enjoy your dessert with a view of Mono Lake:

Meanwhile, up at work, we are continuing the deep snow cha-cha, which makes even the little things so much harder. Most of the cabins are normally accessed up a long flight of stairs, but at the moment, we have to climb *down* the snowdrifts to get in.

We got all excited when the county cleared away the snow from in front of the closure gate, but there hasn’t been any other activity on the plowing front since.

There’s all kinds of treasure to be found in the melting snow!

JJ’s birthday was Friday the 31st, and the whole crew went out for burgers and ice cream.

Happy Birthday, JJ!


Postscript: I penned this missive this morning, and when we got to the gate to go to work, all ready to climb on the snowmobiles, we saw an awesome sight:

The plows mean that the road will be driveable soon, so our work will be open for business within the next week!  It’s going to be a busy one!

Snow rant and cruisin’ with the crew photo essay

Where: working our summer job at Crystal Crag Lodge in Mammoth Lakes, CA

When it comes to freaky weather, JJ and I are some kind of magnet, attracting a series of superlatives as we move around the country. We saw 7 inches of rain and tornadoes over a Thanksgiving weekend in Dallas, escaped a wildfire that started right next to a boondock in Arizona, roasted in the hottest October in Los Angeles, and got snowed on in Tucson.  Continuing the tradition, I’m proud to announce a new stat for our books: the snowiest May in Mammoth Lakes history.

Over the last week, the area around the Lodge got about another 3 feet of snow, in addition to the 10-ish feet that were already on the ground. We were off a few days last week and we’re off work for 5 days in a row over this holiday weekend, because the road into the Lakes Basin has still not been plowed, and we’ve pretty much reached the end of things to do without any customers coming in. It’s hard to believe that summer is just beginning, because it sure does feel like just another winter month!

Work commute:

The one nice thing about all this time off is that we’ve been able to spend some time with our co-workers.  During the regular season, we’ll work opposite days from them, so we won’t be able to get out together during the day.  We’ve made the most of our free time by hanging out with these fun people and having some adventures around the Eastern Sierra.

Last weekend, we went to an open house for a new hostel in Bishop–Eastside Guesthouse and Bivy. We ate BBQ catered by Rock Creek Lakes Resort, and toured the grounds.  It’s a gorgeous facility, with rentals ranging from single beds in a shared bunkhouse to a whole apartment.  The common areas were so welcoming; it would be a great place to spend the night and meet new friends!

In between co-worker events, JJ and I enjoyed getting out for walks from Horton Creek Campground.  The wet spring has brought out more flowers than I’ve even seen in this area!

Clear, but brewing up the next batch of rain:

This weekend, the whole crew went out for a full day excursion to a bucket list item for me: the Champion Spark Plug Mine near Chalfant, CA.  This mine was in operation from 1919 til 1945, is now protected on US Forest Service land, and lovingly looked after by local volunteers.  Without a high clearance 4×4, it’s a very, very long hike up into the mountains.  With Jeff and Darlene’s Rover, we cruised right up to trailhead!

Painted lady butterflies were all over in the flowers along the road.  I tried to capture one in a picture, but they were too fast.  Here’s a slower animal sighting:

Even though we lopped off about 5 miles by driving to the trailhead, the rest of the trail was no joke.  The mine was so inaccessible that it never did have a road in; mule trains were used to pack everything up and bring mined materials back down.  The trail still follows that original route, which proves the sure-footedness of mules–in some places it was no more than about 6 inches wide on a mountainside!

The camp is full of folk art:

Welcome to “The Hilton”! These cabins all have a couple beds, desks, curtains, artwork, and even a wood-burning stove, and are available as first-come, first serve accommodations for hikers.

In case you don’t want the maid to come in 🙂

While this was the location of the main camp buildings, the actual mine is in the colorful rock 1500 feet above:

Almost every cabin is fixed up to sleep in, but one is now a museum, stuffed full with artifacts:

There’s a fully stocked mess hall, with a cast iron stove, cooking gear, and even shelves full of dry goods:

When the weather warms up, a spring feeds water lines throughout camp.  One line feeds a metal barrel with a firepan under it. When it’s hot, you turn on the spigot and presto, a shower!

Several functional outhouses, too, one with two seats for those time you don’t want to end the conversation:

Darlene’s favorite find: a glass jar of pickles, sitting out so long the tops had bleached white; she thought it was a jar of fingers when she first saw it.

Our one rain-free/snow-free day out of the last 9 days!

Jeff, Rayn, JJ, Darlene and Izzy, and Robert: