Where: at our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort
We made plans with Patty, our former and now retired co-worker, a couple weeks ago to get out for a hike. We planned to get together on the 21st, the last day of summer, and enjoy the start of the fall colors that are spreading across all the high-elevation canyons. A few days before, we started to get an inkling of the fact that we might need to change our plans, when sustained high winds started coming through, and the dreaded “s” word was predicted for hike day. We decided on Lower Rock Creek Canyon, which is the same stream that flows out of Rock Creek Lake, just next to the resort, but at a point where it’s at about 5000 feet lower than us.
The snow started on Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning, we had a decent covering on the ground. Visibility was pretty bad, and there was no sign of the mountains that surround us. We were happy to get in the car and head down into the valley, into another world where it was still summer, and where the cloudy, stormy Sierras were just distant, dreamy vision.
Lower Rock Creek is a hiking and mountain bike trail that runs in a deep gorge through the Owens Valley. The rock walls are largely barren, made of tuff from ancient volcanic explosions, with very little vegetation except for the very hardy and drought resistant. In contrast, the bottom is an oasis for dense trees and shrubs that only exist thanks to the constant moisture from the stream. In extreme contrast to the near blizzard in the mountains, we had gorgeous blue skies and enough sun to hike in shirtsleeves.
Literally 30 minutes later and 5000 feet lower:
Patty is always a good biology teacher, and she introduced us to rosehips, which filled the bushes along the sun-dappled edges of the waterway. We learned that the brand new fruit tends to be very tart and bitter, but loses its edge as it dries out. Halfway between just born, and dry and withered, is the perfect version, a little bite of fruit leather surrounding a dense clump of seeds. We kept our eyes opened for specimens in the right condition, and munched our way through the hike, enjoying a yummy snack, and supplementing our Vitamin C intake, to boot!
Too new to enjoy:
The middle of the hike is filled with geology with the same chemical background as Devils Postpile; Volcanic basalt flows cooled in just the right way to form columns that line the canyon. Some of the columns are laying down flat, some stand straight up, and others somehow managed to cool into a rainbow or wave formation. These volcanic flows also produced large amounts of pumice, which is the result of lava with air bubbles trapped inside. We had a lot of fun finding giant specimens which we could pick up and look like a superhero, thanks to the porosity of the substrate.
This middle part also hosts some very, very large pine trees, which made a nice, shady place to have a snack.
When we turned around, we saw that the mountains were still being pummeled. We we happy we made a great choice for a more temperate hiking location!
We loved this fanciful mutation in a rabbitbrush bush:
Since that storm, the weather steadily got warmer and nicer. We only have a few weeks more at the resort, and we’re hoping that things hold until we leave!