“When you turned us perpendicular to the steep drop and the loose gravel spun the tires so we lost traction, we tilted over so far I thought we might slide and flip the SUV with us in it.”
Dave McCoy and McGee Mountain: The 1930’s Origin Story of Sierra Nevada Alpine Skiing.
The next day most of the family herd split off to rent a boat and try their luck at fishing and trolling around the lake.
That was plan B for some of them.
Plan A was horseback riding.
Plan A required planning ahead and came with a hefty price tag according to Rock Creek Lodge website.
ROCK CREEK PACK STATION
Bishop, CA 93515
TWO HOUR RIDE – Spectacular mountain trail overlooking Little Lakes Valley. $45.00
HALF DAY RIDE – 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. departures. Scenic trail rides in Rock Creek. $60.00
DAY IN THE SIERRA – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. A leisurely day. Includes sack lunch. $75.00
ALL DAY RIDE – 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Bring your fishing pole! Includes lunch $90.00
My son whispered in my ear the night before.
“Dad, want to go off-roading?”
He wanted to get a feel of what it would be like to live up here revisiting the questions he asked at the canyon’s entrance on Tom’s Place porch.
So, we piled into the SUV, scrambled down Rock Creek Road and crossed over US 395 and took Owens Gorge Road.
Which it turns out ran out of asphalt and became a rustic dirt road.
We followed it slightly downhill since it bordered Owens River for as far as it still carved a dirt path through vehicle-high bushes on both sides.
You could tell this was still high desert country with very little but scrub bushes and rocks populating the opposite side of the river.
We found a wooden bridge.
Directly below the river – about the size of Rock Creek in width – cascaded a few feet into a dark pool.
In bright sun, green grassy bushes, individual reeds and other vegetation seemed to take over the river as bushes had Owens Gorge Road.
We clicked off several shots of the deep dark blue pools reflecting a drifting cloud formation.
We had to turn around and drive slightly uphill and deeper into dirt road desert scrub.
We stopped captivated by the yellows bobbing in the breeze.
Up close the cotton ball tops showed a dark brown shading on one side and a fuzzy white – almost dandelion edge on the other.
Yellow pre-fluffy buds vied for attention here and there.
Taking the long view the high desert filled in slight erosion valleys with the blanket of yellow cotton balls, gave way to a mix of black, gray and lightly orange brush before ending with another line of lodge pole pine trees.
Off in the very distant a mountain range framed the photo.
Out of the dusty windshield a deep cloudless sky dominated the upper half of a landscape with a hazy light purple range.
Three rounded peaks moved your eyes straight ahead to where the dirt road seem to disappear before we reached a sliver of blue water.
We reluctantly found asphalt again.
Owens Dam came into view at the bottom of an S-curve.
Lake Crowley curved around one of those bends away from us as we dropped in elevation.
Return to the cabin?
We wanted to find the next dirt road with a different landscape.
There it was.
Off into the evergreens.
Following a narrow trail with two ruts to guide us with brush in the median between.
We found shade.
We stopped when the stiff brush threatened to leave deep scratches on the SUV doors.
We backtracked to Tom’s Place for refreshment before following our noses and meandering along the country road towards Crowley Lake and McGee Mountain running parallel to US 395 on Crowley Lake Drive.
We craved elevation.
We climbed a foothill on a trail that took us higher than we had been on the opposite side of US 395 off of Owens Gorge Road.
Lodge pole pines gave way to clusters of white-barked birch trees.
Instead of shimmering yellow and gold leaves at Marsh Lake and Mosquito Flats, the birch leaves shimmered as the wind blew through dark green leaves.
Climbing higher until we reached the end of the dirt road and turned around, we snapped a few vista shots of Crowley Lake framed by evergreens.
And one of McGee Mountain
On the blacktop road again we traveled for about a mile to what turned out to be the most dangerous part of our off-roading adventure.
On the driver’s side a pile stones and some rusty wheels next to them caught our eye.
Inspecting it we discovered something we had only heard about, but didn’t really know too much about.
The pile of rocks resembled what you might expect was a stone barbecue made of Rock Creek rounded rocks cemented together.
But the grill was missing.
Instead, a dark bronze – brown historical plaque with a gold lettered inscription revealed the origin story of Sierra Nevada Alpine Skiing in the 1930’s.
Like a giant antique spinning wheel, the rusting wheels on the ground — two outer with gear teeth and two inner grooved to guide rope — made the story authentically real.
McGee Mountain Rope Tow #34
The first permanent rope tow in the eastern Sierra was built west of this site on the east slope of McGee Mountain.
This predecessor of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area was constructed in 1938 because of its dependable snow and nearness to a highway.
Prior to this facility most down hill skiing was done by use of a portable rope tow system (a working gasoline engine, rope, and pullies. (sic))
Dave McCoy – World Class Skier, Entrepreneur, and Visionary was instrumental in organizing and promoting skiing here.
The success of this rope tow motivated McCoy to move in 1941 to Mammoth Mountain.
Subsequently, within a few years, the popularity of skiing here declined and the rope tow was abandoned.
Some remnants of that first rope tow can still be seen today along the slopes of McGee Mountain.
We looked at each other.
We looked at the slope of McGee Mountain.
We tried to imagine what it was like to ski there in the early 40’s.
We looked back at each other with slight smirks on our faces.
How dangerous could it be?
Not very we figured.
There’s a rocky dirt path leading up the incline with fading green scrub brush cascading down from the top.
Driving up the well grooved incline only became sketchy near the top of what we calculated must have been McCoy’s run.
It wasn’t until we looked back down when that severely, steep drop scared us.
But the real danger came when we ran out of room to turn around safely.
At that deceptively steep angle we had to, because backing down felt too terrifying.
We had others to think about, too.
They depended on us for the six hours return home drive from this vacation.
That’s what I focused on to push the danger fright out of my mind.
None of those thoughts were shared until we made it back down safely.
“Were you scared?”
“When you turned us perpendicular to the steep drop and the loose gravel spun the tires, so we lost traction.”
“We tilted over so far I thought we might slide and flip the SUV with us in it.”
(32) Plan extended seasonal vacations during summer and winter months. Group destination locations together in regional trips to explore what several bucket list towns have to offer in the general vicinity – with only a week or two vacation time to spend, we recommend organizing your itinerary by travel regions.
An excerpt from Book Five in “The Knowledge Path Series” dedicated to helping you find the place of your dreams in the Sierra Mountain resorts.