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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Front yard:

Back yard:

Til next week!


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

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

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

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

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

Snow mazes:

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

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

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

Not much open shoreline:

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

The road to the trailheads:

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

Such a contradiction between this view….

…and what we were tackling at ground level:

Another one in the category of a project for later:

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

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

Last week road post cha-cha

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

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

Here’s the photo version of events:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The joys of unexpected adventures

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

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

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

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

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

A bit tricky going, with no real trail:

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

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

Some parts were a bit steep:

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

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

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

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

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

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!