Interlude

Where: our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

Friends, it’s time for a vacation. This weekend, we are taking our RV to a lovely campground outside of Bishop, where Luka will join us for a few days of hiking, star gazing, campfire sitting, and Jiffy Pop eating. Even though we live in our RV full time, when we take it to new, pretty places, it makes us feel like we’re in relaxation mode. And relaxation mode is just what we need right now. So, in the meantime, please enjoy some views of the lovely Sierra Tiger Lilies blooming in our canyon, and we will be back next week with lots of photos and good stories.

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Dog Days of Summer

Where: at our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

I hope you’ve seen the wonderful cult classic Harold and Maude, in which septuagenarian Maude and 18-year-old Harold fall in love.  Along those lines, there’s a love story at the Resort even more unusual: Luke and Patty.  In this story, the lovebirds are separated by more than 65 years, a couple feet of height, and a tail. See, Patty is our recently retired co-worker who spent the last 10 years working at the Resort, and Luke is the King’s dog.  Disregarding familial associations, Luke is completely devoted to Patty, and never gets so excited as when she’s around. Yesterday, Patty came up to Rock Creek from her home in sweltering Big Pine to hike with us in the relative cool, and it was a given that we would take along both Luke, and Amy and Steve’s dog, Birch.

Good dogs sitting for a treat:

Tamarack trailhead starts from the side of Rock Creek Lake, a short walk from the Resort. It’s a lesser used trail system, mainly leading to a couple really long trails that most dayhikers don’t want to tackle. There’s also a few shorter hikes to little lakes that are often dry in drought years, but with all the runoff this year, we guessed that everything would be full.

Still plenty of snow in the mountains above and behind us:

Kenneth Lake is the most ephemeral, generally just a dry, concave field. Now, it’s a lush oasis, full of frogs and tadpoles, and wildflowers in the marshy edges.

Our final destination was Francis Lake, which JJ and I have never seen. There were all kinds of small streams running alongside and next to the trail, and at first I tried to keep my feet dry. One stretch of trail was bound in by dense willows, and there was no way to avoid the sucking mud the water had made of the trail. JJ and Patty were fine in their over the ankle boots, but I almost lost a shoe to the muck. The dogs looked like Pigpens, tearing around until they were covered in brown.

Birch prefers snow to mud:

The lake was a real treat. The water was perfectly clear and cool, and the dogs had a great time fetching sticks and getting drinks as they paddled around. There were wildflowers all over the lower slopes, and the banks above were still snow covered. The behemoth of the canyon, Mount Morgan, loomed above, and I thought about co-workers who had made the long difficult trek to the top at 13,748 feet. We were happy to watch the dogs play and soak our feet while having a snack.

The dogs were still crazy men until the final half mile of the hike. They spent most of their time tearing back and forth, covering about 3 times as much ground as we were. Because we were reentering civilization (and cars) we leashed them back up at the top of the last hill that leads back to the lake. That little stop was just too much for the tuckered puppies, who both took the opportunity to lie down, and then didn’t want to get back up. We had to keep pulling them to get them to finish up the hike, and they both passed out in their doghouse the moment we got back to the Resort.

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Besides that, whoo-boy, it’s getting to the busy time of year. Our cabins are full the whole month of July, and most of them turn over on Fridays and Saturdays, which make for heavy days. On Friday, I exercised and took a walk before work. Then I cleaned 4 cabins, closed down the cafe kitchen and then closed down the store. It may have been my best ever day for steps, at 38,000!  The main thing I want to do in the midst of all this is just walk around the lake and enjoy the views.

Til next week!

Summers in the Sierra, sublime

Where: our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

When we first started full-timing, we had the idea that we would choose a different location for every summer job. Neither JJ or I had spent much time out west before living on the road, and there was so much we wanted to see. We stuck with the plan for the first 2 summers, working the first in Big Bear, CA, and the second at Rock Creek in Bishop, CA. We’re now on our third summer in the Eastern Sierra, and will probably keep coming back for a few more years. Why are we returning to the same place over and over? By far, the best part of spending our summers here is the huge amount of things to do and places to go—practically limitless! We tried out a few totally new trails this week and lucked out with solitude and beautiful views.

While there are a limited number of trailheads on the east side, each one is the start of several trails leading off into different directions. We have hiked from South Lake, west of Bishop, but way back before our first summer here. Last week, we were craving a short, quiet hike, so we met up with Luka to trek to Marie Louise Lake. There were tons of people on the main trail, but once we turned off onto the tiny trail to the alpine lake, we were the only ones around. Those sorts of areas are just the antidote to the bustle of a busy week, and you can feel your body slowing down and relaxing as you sit and enjoy the beauty.

South Lake:

JJ and Luka look like little people among the Shooting Stars:

Trying out our new mosquito head nets.  They work like a dream!

We also continue to discover hikes that are absolutely fabulous, but barely have any coverage online. Yesterday, we met up with our co-worker Michelle, and her two friends who were in town. We tried out Reversed Peak, with only one vague blog post to guide us, and no real idea of what to expect. The prominence is the tallest point in the middle of the June Lake Loop, affording a 360 degree view of the whole area from the top. It was a really tough hike, all steep uphills on loose, sandy soil. But when we finally popped out at the top and scrambled to the rock outcropping that comprises the highest point, the views were definitely worth struggling to see. The pictures I have just don’t do it justice, so you’ll just have to come out and see the splendor for yourself sometime!

Grant Lake, which was dry the last 2 years, is now full:

We climbed up from down there!

Panorama with Michelle photobombing:

And when I want to stay close to home, I have plenty of options that I can reach right from the Resort—no car needed. In a secret and undisclosed location near the Resort are a set of little ponds that are just the right distance for a before or after work stroll. This was the first time I’ve been to them this season, and even with knowing the route, they were hard to find because of all the water and snow on the way. Part of the trail was underwater, now an ephemeral pond that has not been in prior years, and lots of the trail was still covered in deep snow. The heavy snowpack also tore down many of the pine trees or bent them all out of whack as it slid downhill, which made the trail hard to find. The south-facing slopes near the ponds were snow free and covered with wildflowers.

This is normally the trail, now a haven for frogs:

Plenty of snow at elevations just above the Resort:

Mule Ears flowers are blooming:

Pretty, but I don’t know the name of this one:

Even just a walk around the lake can be fascinating. This week, out for an evening stroll, we saw a bald eagle and an osprey. The osprey circled about a hundred feet above the water, before diving underneath and reappearing with a big trout in its talons.

Up this week, JJ and I celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary, and we’re making buckeye candies for a crew dinner.  As he said “subjecting Californians to Midwest culture since 2015”.  Til next week!

4th of (whew!) July

Where: our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

Wow! What a weekend!  All those customers that were missing in action over the last couple weeks seemed to show up at the same time in the days leading up to the 4th.  July 3 was one of the craziest days I’ve seen at the Resort, with loads and loads of customers from the moment we opened until the door finally shut.  When lunch service ended at 3, the restaurant crew let out a big sigh and just shook our heads at the messy state of the kitchen.  I feel like I still haven’t recovered from that day, so this will be a short one!

We had some extra reinforcements in the house this week, with Casey, a veteran crew member, back at the grill for the holiday weekend. She’s a founding member of the Polar Bear Cub Club, so of course, a lake jump was inevitable. I just couldn’t muster the oomph to jump in myself, but in a land with no internet, I’m always up for the entertainment of watching.  I’ve decided that the time to take pictures is not when folks are actually flinging themselves in the drink; that makes for a dull series of pictures of tiny figures against a vast watery backdrop. The fun shots are the before and after, especially when the wind is cold enough to require all kinds of strange combinations of jackets, hats and towels.

I did enjoy the contrast between Casey and her husband, Kris. This might be the first time his shirt has been off all summer!

Casey looks like some sort of nun in this one:


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Although there’s a whole lot of area to explore in the Eastern Sierra, we’ve found ourselves in June Lake the last couple weeks. It’s such a charming part of the mountains that feels like a little slice of Switzerland. It’s a nice vacation spot, but never feels overrun with tourists. So, even though we had recently spent time there, when Luka proposed an outing to the Hawaiian food truck and the beach, we happily agreed. We walked around Gull Lake, past classic summer cottages and through a wonderland of geology from the time of glaciers. After too much food, we lounged in the sun at June Lake Beach and watched families play in the uber-blue water. It was a perfectly relaxing summer day!

Luka took a picture of the picture-taking:

Hot enough to swim, and snow covered mountains in the background:

After the bustle of the past weekend, this will be a short blog post.  Instead of words, please enjoy a lovely collection of photos from around the resort, and I’ll be back next week with tales of excitement!

Serendipity and the season begins

Where: finally experiencing a summer atmosphere at our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

A couple weeks ago, I received a very intriguing email. Luka wrote that she had been following my blog for years, and was in the Bishop area for a few days. She was in the market for a summer job, and by chance, would the Resort need another set of hands? As luck would have it, we did need exactly one more person, and Luka is the newest crew member.

Luka originally hails from Vermont (that’s a total of two people from that state working here right now) but she’s made her home in Portland for the past 20 years. She’s a part-time van dweller, and has driven cross-country for many summers to work at a produce market in Massachusetts. A change in ownership at the market meant that she was on the lookout for another summer gig, and she liked my descriptions of life at a small family business. She’s closer to our age than the rest of the crew, and we have a lot in common that makes for interesting conversation, so we’re really enjoying having her here. We share one of our days off with her, and we’re looking forward to some hiking and eating adventures with someone else!

With all the runoff coming from the melting snow, there are some particularly stunning waterfalls running right now. When we were in the June Lake Loop a few weeks ago, we noticed that the regularly placid Horsetail Falls was practically a Niagara Falls. Last week, we took the hike that leads past the falls for a better look. We managed to get about halfway up the trail when we encountered a stream crossing that would normally be super easy, with a metal beam in place to walk across and keep your feet dry. Now, though, the creek is battering the beam, washing over it furiously, and just 10 feet downstream is a 100 foot drop off to go over if you slip. I cried uncle, and we instead sat by the creek, watching scampering salamanders and enjoying the big falls across the valley.

Rock Creek Lake continues to be high as well, and our gangplank to the docks is still underwater. The other morning, the canyon was completely still, and gorgeous for some photography. From a distance, the lake didn’t look too high, but when you get up close, the pathway to the docks just looks like a ghost figure.

In past years, this has just been a dry field:

Summer is definitely here for the Resort, with all the campgrounds open, and the trailhead finally accessible. Last weekend, we featured our first happy hour of the season, on Friday from 3-5, and had big crowds for the event. It was the first day that was really long and busy, and Brock and I were totally bushed when we finished the day at 7:30. It’s a short season up here, but it’s intense!

Even in the midst of lots of work, the crew got together for an evening game of wiffleball this week. Amy, the owner, is a huge devotee of the game, and tries to organize a couple games every year. We use pieces of firewood for bases, and most of the plays are interrupted by the dogs interfering with the ball. But, I never laugh so hard as I do at the shenanigans that come up from this simple entertainment!

A pretty good looking bunch of goobers:

Provided we make it through the weekend (the 4th already, can you believe it!), we’ll see you next week!

Summer Solstice Photo Extravaganza

Where: our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

In a stunning reversal of weeks past, this last week was suddenly, unmistakably, and completely SUMMER. After the dusting of snow we got last week, we immediately shot up in the 60s and 70s, and flirted with 80 a couple days. Meanwhile, Bishop has been in the 105 range, and just a little further south has been seeing 110. (And Death Valley hit 124 this week!) The aspens are fully leafed out, the pine trees are pumping out pollen, and the bugs are acting out Cole Porter lyrics. Summer was taking a long siesta, but she’s awake and ready for action!

Even though it’s super warm at elevations below 8000 feet, there’s still too much snow in the alpine zones where we’d like to be hiking. I’ve been studying day hikes and drives options in the lower areas, trying to find something that would meet in the temperate middle. Thanks to a great little publication put out by the Mono County Tourism Board, we have a long list of possible destinations nearby. Our inaugural outing was to Bald Mountain Lookout, in the dense Jeffery and Lodgepole forests between Mammoth Lakes and June Lake. We parked about a mile and a half down from the top and hiked up the rest of the way.  I had no idea that it would be such a premiere viewpoint. We could see 75 miles of the spine of the Sierra, all the way from Crowley Lake up north to Mono Lake.

The log cabin up top is now used as a warming hut for skiers in winter, but was originally built for the Civilian Public Service, which was an option for conscientious objectors during WWII.

A bit rustic, but just fine for winter camping:

We rounded out the day with a trip around the June Lake Loop, stopping for a meal and a cider at a match made in heaven: June Lake Brewery and Ohana’s Food Truck in their parking lot.

Warmer temperatures also mean the start of the Polar Bear Cub Club “meetings”. In years past, there was a group of guys working at the resort who always jumped into the lake at 5:30am on Wednesday mornings, and they called themselves the Polar Bear Club. For those who prefer their freezing cold water at a more civilized time, there’s the Polar Bear Cub Club, which meets on Wednesday evenings for a plunge. Since the lake was finally free of ice, it seemed like the right time to get things going. Four of us were veteran jumpers, and we enticed 3 of the newcomers to try it out. I remember the first time I jumped in, and how debilitating the cold water was to my whole system. Apparently, you build up some kind of tolerance to the situation, because this time was not too bad. I didn’t want to swim across the lake, but I also didn’t fear that I was going to stop breathing!

As a five year veteran of the Resort, Casey was first in.  The rocks I’m standing on are usually a couple feet above the water line:

Proof that JJ and I got in:

Cheering on Annie, for her first time plunge:

Time for a hot shower:

You’d never know it was only about 40 degrees!:

According to a state avalanche scientist that the owner talked to, we are currently experiencing peak runoff.  They said we could continue to see the same level of water for quite some time, but that it shouldn’t get any worse.  Customers who want to rent a boat get a stern warning, because they have to wade through waist deep water to walk on the gangplank to the floating docks.  The lake is way above both the outlet tube and also the overflow tubes, and we really hope the prediction is accurate–we don’t want it to get any higher!

Early in the week, the water was a lot lower and the gangplank was accessible:

It’s a cold swim to our boats:

The day use area right by the lake is not quite ready for business:

And the road to the trailhead is probably also a way from opening:

The trailhead itself is still really covered in snow:

Up for next week: we hike to a huge waterfall and we get a new, vandwelling co-worker who learned about the Resort from my blog!

Fire and Ice

Where: At our summer job at Rock Creek Lakes Resort

It’s a blessing and a curse to live at very high altitude, just above a desert valley. This juxtaposition means that we sometimes have the opportunity to experience one hell of a temperature spread, and often in a pretty short span of time. The past week was one of those instances, where we went down to the valley and sweltered in 97 degrees, and then we woke up to 18 and snow at the resort yesterday. It’s like living in several seasons at once!

Last weekend, we drove south to Big Pine, the next town below Bishop, to spend the day with a lady we used to work with at the Resort. For the last decade, Patty was in charge of cleaning cabins, and only decided to give it up this year as a septuagenarian. She’s a spunky, independent woman who still heads out on long alpine hikes and practices yoga. She was a lot of fun to work with and we were missing her!

To the west of Big Pine is a gradual canyon that’s already snow-free, and has some great hiking along a normally gentle creek that’s now a ranging torrent. With the huge amount of runoff right now, it was like walking next to Niagara Falls, with waterfalls cascading in whitewater that made us a little nervous to cross the bridges over them! We hiked until we hit snow about 3.5 miles in, and then enjoyed a stream-side picnic at the trailhead.

Patty was known for her love of all kinds of boardgames, so a day with her would not be complete without a little competition. She had us over to her house, a charming vintage trailer on land she shares with a friend, and we sat out in the shade of huge trees to tussle over a few rounds of Monopoly Deal. (Which is our new obsession, BTW, and a game you should really check out!) Her land is a verdant oasis with tons of plants, flowers and trees, and a couple creeks running nearby, but she’s barely above the valley floor, and hence, the 97 degrees. We had a lot of fun, but we were completely wiped out by the heat by the time we headed home!

Yesterday was a complete contrast, and we woke up to a blanket of snow and frozen puddles everywhere. All the concrete walkways were like a skating rink, with a thin layer of ice covered in fluffy snow, and it was dangerous going. The low of 18 meant that the mosquito-harboring areas froze pretty solid, but it also made us worry for the fresh buds on the aspen trees. By afternoon, the sun was back out and everything was melted, even though it only got into the 40s. This weekend is supposed to be a real heat wave, and there’s talk that we’ll get up to the low 70s!

More crew members arrived this week, and we almost have our full contingent. I recruited Annie last year, when she came in to the Resort for her family’s annual jaunt to the Sierra. She had a great personality and big smile, so I asked what her plans were for Summer 2017! Brock, Nathan and Daniel are a trio of friends from Illinois, and I’ve been kidding that their arrival really tips the balance of the Resort towards the East Coast. It’s good that everyone is arriving, because the workload should really pick up in the next week, as most of our cabins are rented, and the nice weather should lure families up for some temperate climate recreation.

Here’s some scenes from the not-too-cold and not-too-hot middle of the week:

Finally spring right beside us!:

The last little iceberg on the lake:

A harbinger of allergies to come:

All along Rock Creek Road are new waterfalls:

Your teaser for next week is the fact that I promised I would jump into the lake on Thursday.  Provided I don’t die of hypothermia, I’ll have some good picture from that poorly thought out decision!