About Rayn Case

Searching for a mindful, self directed life, good health, and happiness.

Holiday elves, 2017 version

Where: working a holiday gig in Tucson, AZ

I knew from our experience last year that Tucson has no shortage of holiday work, even in the weeks just before Christmas.  JJ and I planned to apply for the Target Distribution warehouse right when I go back from Ohio, but while I was home, I decided to check in with the job I worked last year, at the production facility for the Tucson Tamale Company.  I guess they were happy with me last year, because I got an on-the-spot offer for both me and JJ, and could we start tomorrow?  “Er, just one issue.  See, I’m in Ohio right now!” So, we compromised on a start date of this past Monday.

We’re kind of jacks of all trades for the hectic holiday season, doing different tasks depending on the day and the needs of the company. We’ll be doing production, packing, shipping, and office work, and anything else that comes up.  The first week was a bit of a struggle, as our bodies rebelled from the heavy physical labor we were doing.  We find that daily yoga and early bedtimes are essential right now.

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Weather-wise, Tucson is really crazy.  We’re still getting highs in the upper 80s every day, but thankfully, with the early sunset, the temperatures drop rapidly in the evening and we get get cooled off.  Thanksgiving is predicted to be 89, for goodness sake!  As always, it was very strange to go through fall and then snow at our summer job, and follow it up with the hottest temperatures of our year at the start of winter.

The other curious fact is the terrible Verizon service here.  Apparently, the whole of Tucson jumped on Verizon service when the company started to offer unlimited data back in April.  Problem is, the towers here are now overloaded and unless you get online at very off hours, the whole system is too slow to use.  We’ve been unable to load Google Maps when we’re cruising the city, and sometimes can’t even make voice calls.  It’s crazy to be in a city and still have awful service!

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No matter where we go, I have to get my regular mountain fix, so on our weekend, we headed south to Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains. This is one of the many “sky islands” in Southern Arizona, mountains of rich biodiversities, filled with unique plants and animals, and hosting completely different life than the desert floor below.  We enjoyed the temperate, cooler temperatures, and some much needed quiet after a week in the city.

Fall colors are just starting here:

In a sea of green, there’d be one flaming yellow tree. Can you see it? :

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Home to Ohio photo essay

Where: a final week of vacation before we start a holiday job, in Tucson, AZ

It’s a good thing that my sister, Joan, went to travel agent school all those years ago, because I needed her to be a tour guide and put together an itinerary for my whirlwind visit home to Ohio.  JJ and I have been busy since we left our summer job at the Resort, doing a lot of repairs and driving, and I really didn’t get around to planning out my trip.  When I arrived at her house, she had an agenda all laid out for me, and I just had to keep to the schedule to fit everything in!  I had a couple outings with Joan, spent time with my folks, saw friends in Columbus, and ate plenty of ice cream.  Here’s the photographic evidence. 🙂

The Ariel Foundation Park is a new development in a small town close to Joan’s house. The grounds were converted from the abandoned remains of a glass making factory, and many of the structures were repurposed for new functions. There’s a pavilion for events and concerts, sculptures made from reclaimed concrete, and the piece de resistance, an observation tower accessed by a staircase that winds up the old smokestack. It was all fabulous except for the vertigo inducing stairs, through which you could see all the way to the ground, which is hell for acrophobists like myself.

The towers are the old elevator shafts from the buildings:

Trying not to pass out:

I did not die:

The first part of the week was abnormally warm, and perfect for a walk. We went with my folks to Black Hand Gorge, to enjoy the end of the fall foliage.

Ohio trees make some serious leaves:

The photo in which I convince my folks to be goobers with me:

I wanted to make a pilgrimage to eat the particularly scrumptious ice cream in Wooster, OH, at Harzler’s Dairy.  Joan and I made a day of it and traipsed all over the counties that are collectively called Amish Country, in Northeast Ohio. We ate at a fabulous small town drive in, visited Amish shops, and stopped at a state park where we had camped as kids.

For the record, I conquered 2 very scary towers in one trip:

The famous bridge in Mohican State Park:

I had a great stop in Columbus to visit with Lou and Mary Jane, and Heidi.

The best al pastor tacos–Los Guachos, which expanded from a food truck to also a physical location:

Graeter’s, which is still the best in the whole country:

It was a busy week, and I also did plenty of things that didn’t get photographed, like yardwork, and walks, and yoga, and more ice cream.  But it had to be a short visit, because it’s time to start our holiday jobs.  Spoiler alert: we’re both hired on where I worked last year, at the Tucson Tamale Company.  So, it’s back to work tomorrow!

Til next week!

Seashore picture post

Where: on a couple weeks vacation between our summer and holiday jobs. Current stop: Tucson, AZ

We first met Mary 3 years ago when we worked for Amazon in Fernley, NV, and she and her dad were living in a Lazy Daze in the same park as us. We hit it off that year, with a mutual love of yoga and ice cream. She worked with us at the Resort in 2016, but it had been a whole year since we had seen her. Mary lives in Santa Cruz, CA, and we were going to be coming from L.A. after our service appointments. What better time to meet in the middle–it was time to enact Operation Ocean!

We met up in Montana De Oro State Park, on the coast between Pismo Beach and Morro Bay, with the campground just a short walk to the dramatic bluffs and crashing waters of the Pacific. We only had 3 days together, but we really crammed lots of adventures into our time, gallivanting along the coast to see a world that was all new to me and JJ.

There was a heavy “marine inversion” while we were there, so I can’t say with certainty that there was actually an ocean behind these two:

Beach combing for shells and sea glass:

My favorite find–like a little British style fascinator for Barbies:

JJ’s picks:

Mary’s haul:

Lots of the rocks had perfect little holes rounded out of them:

The property was originally the Spooner Ranch, and the original house is now a museum.  We we allowed to touch everything, and even listen to the Victrola and peep into the stereopticon:

Up the coast, we walked through the charming town of Cambria, who was hosting a scarecrow festival.  This trio of biking marine mammals was our favorite:

It’s not a visit with Mary without ice cream:

The most fascinating thing was our visit to the Elephant Seal Rookery, close to Hearst Castle.  Docents are on hand to explain the details about these fascinating creatures, and the boardwalk along the beach means you’re only about 20 feet away:

A lighter version of the marine inversion:

Fall colors on the coast:

Finally! We can see the ocean:

A thousand miles of coves to explore:

Our next stop was the Escapees park in Southern California to visit our friends, Dave and Max.  (And I must be improving–I only cried once going through L.A.)  We always have a blast when we hang out with them, laughing the whole time.  This stop, though, ended up being more about work, as Dave spent hours diagnosing an electrical problem between our RV and car.   It was a doozy, and he had to call in his friend, Rick, a gifted electrician, to figure out a solution.  It took 2 days altogether, but they solved the problem, and we’re rolling again!  Because of all the work, I neglected to take pictures, but I did snap a shot of Max’s nifty new mask that allows her to swim face down as she does laps in the pool–I think it makes her look like a unicorn!

Yesterday, we made the long drive from Southern California to Tucson, AZ, and set up in an RV park in the south end of town.  I’ll be flying back to Ohio tomorrow for a quick visit, and when I return, we’ll start our holiday jobs, whatever those might be.  Til next time!

Where: on a short vacation before our holiday jobs.  Current stop: Montana de Oro State Park, Morro Bay, CA

The life of a seasonal employee is a world of sharp changes.  Just a week ago, and we were working, enmeshed in routines and schedules.  And with the end of the season and a quick move to the Alabama Hills, it was time to relax, and we were free to spend our days in any way we pleased.  Good thing that we’re experienced at this point, because we only had a few days to enjoy the quiet of the pleasure of nothing to do.  In the past, it would take me a week or more to calm down and switch to a new mode, but it’s getting easier as we practice more.  And there’s no better place to savor a slow down than the Alabama Hills.

The Alabama Hills are BLM land, open to public use for camping, hiking, and climbing.  There’s a main road that winds through the middle, named Movie Road in homage of all the Westerns that were filmed here.  Off this road are many narrow dirt paths, some wide and flat enough to let our RV through, and some just narrow two tracks better suited to Jeeps.  And finally, there’s a million little foot trails, some which just go out and back, and others which lead to gorgeous vistas, and others that take you through a maze of rocks.  The myriad trails here are my favorite part of the Alabama Hills; there’s nothing better that choosing a promising trail and finding out where it might lead.  No matter what dips and twists you take, you can’t really get lost, with Mount Whitney standing guard to the west, and the Inyo mountains to the east. The whole crew loves this area, and I think we’d all be content to stay for a couple weeks just to enjoy the dramatic sunrises and sunsets, the dark night sky, the quiet, and all the exploration.

Adventure cat approves of the bouldering:

Sunrise on Mount Whitney:

Autumn in the desert:

We took up drive up to Cottonwood Meadows, on a road that leads from the valley floor up to 10,000 feet.  We hiked a short trail to Cottonwood Pass that wasn’t terribly remarkable, but did include a beautiful view over the meadows, and intersected with the PCT at the pass.

On the dizzying way back down, we had overlooks of mostly dry Owens Lake and the whole Alabama Hills area.

On Sunday, we headed south again, into the L,A. megalopolis and some of the highest heat that area has seen all year.  We had a couple RV appointments to take care of, like installing a new kitchen sink, and replacing a cracked window pane.  I found what seems to be the best RV parking option at Prado Regional Park, with low rates, and a dark, quiet environment at night.  We were glad for full hookups when the Santa Ana winds came through, holding the overnight temperature at 88.  I can’t believe that we needed AC after we just left an area where we’ve been running the heat for a month.  Poor little Soupy had to come out of the rig for each appointment, so we packed her food, water, and litter box into the car and headed for shady parks.  She’s comfortable enough with her leash that we could take her out for walks to stretch her legs.

Tamed adventure cat:

We all lived through the indignities of hanging out together in the car for two days, and then were free to get out of the city.  We spent two quick nights in artistic, hippy, and also very ritzy Ojai, but we were doing some of our own repairs and had other chores to get done, so we didn’t see much besides the rolling hills around the campground.  On Thursday, we had a fitful start, with a problem in connecting the RV to the car, and we had to make an unexpected repair stop. We finally got on the way to the main event late on Thursday afternoon, and made it to right-on-the-coast Montana de Oro State Park.  Frivolities with Mary will ensue!

 

Windy Joaquin and Colorful Convict

Where: On a month vacation between summer and holiday jobs; current stop: Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA

The end of our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort always comes around before we’ve had a chance to do all the hikes on our list. So, last week, we headed out two days in a row to get to places we wanted to see. Depending on the elevation where you go right now, you’ll either find golden fall colors and temperate temperatures, or cold, wind, and the start of winter. We managed to find both options in our two days out.

Joaquin Ridge is a hike that we never would have found without pouring through hiking guides for the area. It starts from Minaret Vista, between Mammoth Lakes and Devil’s Postpile, and joins up with a jeep road that climbs a spine with amazing views. The final summit affords a view over distant Mono Lake, but we only went about halfway up, because of hellacious winds. It was the kind of wind that can actually knock you over, and was really hard to fight. It was a short hike, but awesome for the unique perspective over Crowley Lake and the mountain ranges to the east and west.

The Mammoth skyline:

Views over the Owens Valley:

Mammoth Mountain:

The next day was a totally different experience. Thanks to the trusty California Fall Color Guide, we knew that Convict Lake was at peak, and that it was the right time to go to see a ring of yellow aspen against the uber-blue water. With multicolor mountains around it, the combo of lake and trees was just perfect. It was like color therapy to walk through tunnels of bright leaves in sunshine.

We were at the resort a little longer than previous years, because a few cabins were rented in the week after we closed on Columbus Day. The last customers checked out the following Sunday, and then we were able to finish shutting down all 11 cabins. The shutdown process is just a lot of hard labor, with everything in need of a good scrubbing after a summer of constant use, but the place sure does shine up with all that attention!

The highlight of our last week was the traditional crew dinner, hosted by the Kings. We went to the very fancy Convict Lake Resort, just a few canyons north of Rock Creek, the same lake we visited a few days before. The meal was absolutely scrumptious–honestly one of the best I’ve ever had–topped off by homemade Bailey’s ice cream and flaming Bananas Foster, and filled with laughter. It was a wonderful sendoff from a very sweet family.

2017 Crew:

The Resort shuttered for winter:

Colorful Rock Creek Canyon goodbye:

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We are now spending a few days just relaxing in the Alabama Hills just west of Lone Pine, CA, before we do some epic driving starting on Sunday. We have some RV appointments in LA, we’ll visit with Mary on the California coast, see Dave and Max in Temecula, and then head for Tucson.

Follow the rusty brown pipe!

Where: at our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

Living in the Sierra has made a lot of geology much less of an abstraction, especially when the terms you read directly relate to the terrain of the hike you’re about to take. This area is full of “hanging valleys”, which sound pretty neutral as a phrase, but make you think twice as a hiker when that feature is a part of your route. Hanging valleys occur where two glaciated canyons meet, except one was carved down much lower than the other. It means that if there were a river flowing down the less eroded canyon, at a certain point, it would become a waterfall where it meets the deeper channel of the other canyon. And when you’re hiking, it means you’re going to have a damn steep section that challenges your lungs and leg muscles. Sometimes you’re up for the challenge, and sometimes you’re just looking for an easy hike. Last week, we managed to find a hike that had both a hanging valley, but also an escalator of sorts!

We’ve been following a great online resource, California Fall Color Map, which is a crowd-sourced amalgamation of the hot spots for color in this state. The canyons to the west of Bishop were popping with yellows and oranges, so we headed for South Lake, to try an unusual hike that begins there. First, we stopped for lunch at Bishop Creek Lodge, which was a super-quirky place with animal heads all over the walls, a bar covered in dollar bills, and a fireplace big enough to roast a whole cow. The drive up Bishop Creek Canyon to the trailhead was pure color therapy, with big aspen lining the road, creating a yellow tunnel.

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We were headed to Green Lake, but rather than take the version of the trail that first tackles that hanging valley, we looked for an unmarked gate, and the small trail behind it. Just a couple hundred feet later, we found the rusty, now unused pipeline that we’d use as a shortcut and freeway. The pipe is just wide enough for about one and a half of your feet; in other words, you can’t quite walk normally, but you don’t have to take it like a tightrope, either. At first, we found it very difficult to balance, but it got a lot easier as we went along. The real benefit to the pipeline was the fact that it cut off several hundred feet of elevation gain, and made for a way less steep hike.

We quickly rose above the trees and had lovely views of aspen and the sparking waters of South Lake, and also of the fall colors in the canyon below. It was short hike, and we were soon at Brown Lake, skirting around it to reach our end destination, Green Lake. The hike itself was stunning, with expansive views of distant mountain ranges, and little creeklets still weaving through the alpine meadows. However, we both laughed when we got to Green Lake because it was so, well…. ugly.  In fairness, I have to admit that we’re a bit spoiled when it comes to mountain grandeur, and I know that even the most “meh” view in the Sierra is enough to make an Ohio native say “holy cow!” But, in comparison to the lakes that are end points for other hikes, this was definitely the least attractive one we’ve seen. Overall, the hike was a big winner, with fall colors, a unique trail substrate, and because we only saw one other couple in the 4 hours we were out.

Brown Lake:

Green Lake:


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The Resort closed for the season on Monday, October 9, and we’re now working on shutting everything down and buttoning up for the snowy season. There’s cabins to deep clean, inventory to count, floors to scrub, boats to store, and a million other little items that work best when the crew is still here to tackle them as a team. Thankfully, the weather is holding, and we’re in a string of nice sunny fall days, with highs in the 50s and lows in the 20s, and no snow in the forecast. We’ll be finished by next week, and headed off to our next adventure. Spoiler alert: we’re seeing Mary!

Twenty Lakes Basin, round 2

Where: at our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

Last year, on a glorious day near the end of September, we drove way north and did a hike with Mary just outside of Yosemite National Park. Twenty Lakes Basin, as advertised, is a rare loop hike, where you don’t have to backtrack a single inch, and you also see a beautiful string of clear lakes, a glacier, and not too many other people. When JJ and I were trying to decide where to hike last week, I realized that we could repeat that hike, exactly one year to the day later. What a difference a year makes, especially when one year was extremely low snowfall, and the next was really high!

Mary, in Twenty Lakes last year:

Saddlebag Lake Resort, where the trail begins, never even opened for the season. That area of the Sierra got particularly hammered last winter, and nearby Tioga Pass didn’t open for the season until early July. The resorts in that area are generally only open from June to early September, and with such heavy snowfall, it probably didn’t make sense to try to open for only 8 weeks. In past years, the resort has run a hiker’s ferry, which takes you from the trailhead to the far end of Saddlebag Lake, cutting off 3 miles of hiking. The only option this year is to hike the whole 8.5 miles, which was fine for us, but probably explains why we saw less hikers this year.

Saddlebag Lake scenes:

The mountains in the basin were glittering with a fresh coat of snow, courtesy of the same storm that we saw two weeks ago. As we started around the lake, we were hot in the sun, hiking in tshirts, but there was about 6 inches of snow in the shady areas under dense stands of trees. As we left Saddlebag Lake and started into Twenty Lakes Basin, we immediately started to see more white stuff. It was all fresh, just a couple inches from the previous week, until we headed down a small canyon towards Lake Helen. Right there, there was so much snow that we couldn’t make out the trail. The snowdrifts were 10 feet high in some places, and we realized that this was still snow left over from the past winter! I knew that some areas of the very high Sierra still had snow, but we were only at about 10,000 feet, which I had assumed was low enough to be snow free by the end of summer! We picked our way down carefully, and peaked inside a huge tunnel where a little stream had carved out the snow.

After that first snow crossing, there were many more areas that clearly had never melted out. Some of the snowfields were at a rackish angle, sloping down steeply and ending into a lake. On the worst one, I crawled across on my hands, and sometimes my knees, to ensure I wouldn’t accidentally glissade down into the water where the snow ended. The terrain made for slow going, but it was really cool to be playing in the snow while sweating in the sun!

The lakes were all so pretty, each one surrounded by granite spires coated in white. We dawdled at the first few, and as the sun dipped lower, we started to hustle, so that we would be finished before dark. Late in the afternoon, we reached the other bank of Saddlebag Lake, now completed shaded by the mountain right beside it. We quickly put on our jackets, shivering in the drop of 20 degrees. I loved the hike, but I was ready to get in the car and blast the heat by the time we finally finished.

I took almost the identical picture last year–compare the differences:

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Ever since the big snow storm two weeks ago, Rock Creek has been at below normal temperatures. With lows in the teens or twenties at night, we have to drain all the outside water features at the Resort, and even empty the public toilet since it’s in an unheated room. I am so grateful for the best present ever, the electric blanket that Amy gifted me last year. I slip it inside my sleeping bag in early evening so that I can snuggle into a warm bed when it’s time to sleep. We run our electric heater at night, which keeps the rig at about 50 degrees–fine for us, but miserable for little Soupy, so she spends her nights tucked inside JJ’s sleeping bag with him.

The last day for the Resort is this coming Monday, Columbus Day. So far, it seems that the weather will be ok while we’re here, colder than normal, but not excessively so, and no snow is predicted in the foreseeable future. Starting Tuesday, we will shut down the cabins and do a through cleaning of the kitchen, cafe, and store. We’ll put up shutters, bring the boats and docks off the lake, and tuck everything away in sheds and barns. With bright yellows and oranges everywhere and such cold temperatures, it’s definitely almost time to leave the mountains for the season!