“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.”
McGee Mountain Turnaround
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.

Watch Your Step

Plan A required planning ahead and came with a hefty price tag according to Rock Creek Lodge website.


P.O.Box 248

Bishop, CA 93515

(760) 872-8331


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?”

Tom’s Place to Mammoth Lakes

“Heck yeah,” 

I said.

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.

Classic Foot Bridge

We found a wooden bridge.

Rushing Below the 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.

Deep Blue Pools

We clicked off several shots of the deep dark blue pools reflecting a drifting cloud formation.

Clouds and Ripples

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.

Cotton Balls and Mountain Peak

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.

Now what?

Return to the cabin?


We wanted to find the next dirt road with a different landscape.

Dirt Path Adventuring

There it was.

Off into the evergreens.

Following a narrow trail with two ruts to guide us with brush in the median between.

We drove.

We admired.

We found shade.

We stopped when the stiff brush threatened to leave deep scratches on the SUV doors.

Finding Lake Crowley

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

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.

Rope Tow to The Top

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.  

Dave McCoy’s McGee Mountain

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.

How dangerous could it be?

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.

Oh, Oh. Now What?

“Were you scared?”


“When you turned us perpendicular to the steep drop and the loose gravel spun the tires, so we lost traction.”

“Me too.”

“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.


“Now in the summer there are about 1500 people living here with 2 grocery stores, two gas stations and 4 saloons. In the winter about 400 people, 1 grocery store, 1 gas station and 4 saloons.”

Silverton’s Extreme Winter Sports

Southwestern Colorado: Durango, Pagosa Springs, Telluride and Silverton.

Back to our summer vacation.

Reading between the highlights and headlines.

Checking out high quality-of-life mountain resorts on our bucket list.

Southwestern Colorado Travel Region

We planned our itinerary as efficiently as possible to visit as many up-and-coming resort locations on our vacation as we could.

In the Southwestern Colorado travel region we could check off three already:

Durango, Pagosa Springs and Telluride. And, another innovation growth stage candidate – Silverton.

But there were plenty more throughout the state.

So many towns to visit.

So little time.

And, it would be impossible to visit all the ones on our bucket list.

Over a two week vacation.

So we stuck to our regional plans to sample as many as we could.

The night before at our hotel we found ourselves right behind the Silverton Durango – the Durango train depot and roundhouse — and the hub of the city.

We jumped into the indoor pool before and briefly, and for the first time on our trip, unanimously agreed on the first adventure of the next day.

Durango to Silverton

We planned our first excursion from our “Durango Basecamp” to Silverton.

After missing the early morning train to Silverton, we opted for the bus tour later, instead.

“Stand-by?” For a bus!?

Not what we wanted to hear.

Luckily, a friend tipped us off before the trip.

He owned some property in Durango, had planned to build on his lot, but a divorce came between him and his dreams.

Fast forward years later.

He bought and renovated another home.

We visited him during the summer of 2015.

But, enough about that.


His recommendation?

Durango Train Station

Take the Silverton narrow gauge one-way, but not up and back.

Try a bus, or maybe a jeep tour.

Because, the train is so sllllooooooowwwww.

And, it’s not like we’ve got a precious vacation day to waste standing in line.

Well, we were still shocked.

We grumbled for a while trying to figure out how to kill about an hour and come back in time to stand by for the next bus.

But as it turns out, after schmoozing with the driver before we boarded we scored some seats after all.

We caught the 11:45, and still had plenty of discovery time.

And, we enjoyed the winding Durango to Silverton road with his local insights.

I guess we lucked out, when the 20-something bus driver announced:

“Unlike the other guides who came to Durango from Florida or Minnesota, I’m an original — born and raised in Durango.

I know every mountain, river, lake, tree, plant and all the local history — so sit back and sleep if you want, but I’ll make the hour trip as entertaining as I can.

Just ask away — any questions.”

Here’s what I picked up from the scenic Q & A.

  • Construction began on the narrow gauge railroad line in 1881 between Durango and Silverton.
  • Nearly a year later it was completed and began hauling mine ores – over $300 million — throughout the years.
  • For roughly eighty years.
  • Durango became cut off from the rest of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in the late 1960s, isolating the remaining narrow gauge track along the 45 mile route between the two towns.
Narrow Gauge Hugging Animas River Canyon Walls

So, today for us tourists, the locomotives operate 100% on coal-fired steam and were manufactured by the American Locomotive Works in 1923 or Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1925.

All the coaches are from the 1880s era — many originally build in the 1800s.

The trip hugs the walls of the Animas River Canyon, rises to 11,000 feet and takes you back to the Silverton frontier days through history, forests, and natural wonder.

Downtown Silverton

We endured the Colorado afternoon rain.

Feeding Bus Loads of Tourists Lunch

We lunched, walked the main street, and visited Blair Streets once booming bordello district.

I guess you could say we did what every other tourist did.

We window-shopped.

We snapped pictures of a street that looked like it could have been the backdrop for the “Gunfight-at-the-O.K.-Corral.”

Snowboarder Performing Jump Silverton, Colorado, USA

The bus driver told us Silverton had 300 inches of snow each year and because of avalanche danger nothing was built on the other side of the river.

I loved his line …

“But, kids, there aren’t any snow days, because everyone walks to the one room school which could fit in this bus.”

“Look up on the hill,” he said.

There protecting the mining town was a monstrous statue, Christ of the Mines Shrine, built in 1958 -1959 as a tribute to all those who worked the mines.

Christ of the Mines Shrine

“One Sunday, the only time the mines around here weren’t working, a nearby lake broke through the ground and flooded the mines.

No fatalities, but if it had been on any other day of the week, at least 150 god-fearing souls would have been lost.”

He also said only the hardy stick around in the winter.

“Now in the summer there are about 1500 people living here with 2 grocery stores, two gas stations and 4 saloons.

In the winter about 400 people, 1 grocery store, 1 gas station and 4 saloons.”

He also told us that Silverton sits in a small valley called Baker’s Park, named after Charles Baker who led a small expedition to the area around 1860.

After the Civil War miners began flooding into the area, when it was still Ute Indian Territory — originally their hunting grounds.

And here’s another coincidence for you.

It has something to do with the only way into the area at that time – Stony Pass Trail.

A member of Baker’s original party of prospectors – George Howard, founded a town named after himself.

That’s right.

A long lost ancestor?

Turns out he was quite an entrepreneur.

Here’s how the story is told:

“When George decided he needed to build a log cabin, he put the free enterprise system to work. George hauled in a large stack of logs and set a barrel of whiskey next to it.”

“As the thirsty miners came into the area over the Stony Pass Trail, George would offer them some refreshment.

When the miners began to feel the effects of the free refreshments, George would ask them for a little help on his cabin.”

Before long he was the owner of the first permanent settlement.

In Howardsville.

According to Dee Brown:

“The Ute’s were Rocky Mountain Indians, and for a generation they had watched the invading white men move into their Colorado country like endless swarms of grasshoppers.”

Did they realize what was to become of them right away?

Don’t know.

  • But we do know that the Brunot Treaty negotiated with the Utes ceded the area to U.S. and by 1873 more than 1500 mining claims had been registered.
  • And, as our bus driver told us, Silverton as a town was plotted in a year later 1874.
  • But, in the early days Silverton was hard to reach.
  • With the railroad coming in 1882, getting supplies to Silverton was less of a problem.
  • In less than three decades, as Brunot had pointed out to Chief Ouray, you couldn’t turn away the hoards of get-rich-quick miners if you wanted.

In fact, mining hit its peak between 1900 and 1912 when San Juan County’s population swelled to 5,000 people.

Turning from facts to fun.

An excerpt from Book Three in “The Knowledge Path Series” dedicated to helping you find the place of your dreams.