Quick Getaway to Santa Barbara

We’ve always enjoyed spending weekends in Santa Barbara, especially at the Montecito Inn once owned by Charlie Chaplin.

Magic of The American Riviera
Emma gets the best deal at the Santa Barbara Hotel, evaluates many weighing price, location and reviews.

 

Road Trip!

A three-day getaway.

Kind of a staycation.

Santa Barbara. It just doesn’t get any better.

Another of Emma and Steve’s awesome empty-nest adventures searching for reunion destinations.

Why?

This time a celebration of three Scorpio birthdays.

Santa Barbara, California

Three empty-nest couples converge on the “American Riviera.”

  • One couple visits twice a month staying Thursday through Monday each time.
  • One couple lives in Santa Barbara year round.
  • And, we visit our son, post-breakup and move-out-of-Huntington Beach rental.
Orange County’s Beach Towns

In Santa Barbara he’s renting a room  while working remotely from an Orange County technology company headquartered in Irvine, California.

Who?

Three of us have “Scorpio” birthdays. And, only the good stuff applies.

“Beneath a controlled, cool exterior beats the heart of the deeply intense Scorpio.

Scorpios On the Loose in Santa Barbara

Passionate, penetrating, and determined, this sign will probe until they reach the truth.

The Scorpio may not speak volumes or show emotions readily, yet rest assured there’s an enormous amount of activity happening beneath the surface.

Excellent leaders, Scorpions are always aware. When it comes to resourcefulness, this sign comes out ahead.

Strengths – Passionate, stubborn, resourceful, brave, a true friend.

Likes – Truth, facts, being right, teasing, longtime friends, a grand passion, a worthy adversary. 

Dislikes – –Dishonesty, passive people, revealing secrets.”

Where?

Emma and not-a-Scorpio Carol plan the trip.

Santa Barbara Hotel

Emma gets the best deal at the Santa Barbara Hotel, evaluates many weighing price, location and reviews.

She quickly eliminated eight profiled on John Dickson’s Santa Barbara Hotel Lodging Guide.

  • Avania In – One block from the oceanfront, beaches and harbor.
  • Inn By The Harbor -Spanish Colonial Tradition near the beaches and yacht harbor.
  • Lavender Inn by the Sea – lavender gardens and two blocks Stearns Wharf and bike path
  • La Quinta Inn & Suites – Boutique hotel on historic State Street
  • Harbor View Inn – Boutique resort hotel across street from West Beach
  • Brisas del Mar, Inn at the Beach – Santa Barbara classic villa two blocks from harbor
  • Pepper Tree Inn – on 5 acres of tropical gardens
  • Hyatt Santa Barbara – Historic resort, built in 1931

Not-a-Scorpio Carol and her Newport Beach husband stay in Montecito, at a cottage they rent on an estate, twice a month to be near their married daughter and their grandchildren.

The only thing we Empty Nesters live for.

When?

They leave from Newport Beach traveling on the Interstate 405 and US Route 101 on Thursdays after 7 pm and don’t return to Orange County until Mondays after 10 am to miss the majority of traffic.

What?

Google shows us details about our 148 mile road trip which if all goes well lasts for 2 hours and 33 minutes.

Give or take, don’t you know?

On the road to the American Riviera.

Feeling Willie Nelson in our bones.

We can’t wait to hit the road.

Escape.

Freedom.

Top two highway driving songs on my playlist.

One of America’s hits, “Ventura Highway”

About a month earlier we weren’t able to attend an “America” concert at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano with our friends. And we missed a visit to the Newport Beach house they’re currently renting after building and selling a spec home in Shady Canyon.

“Ventura Highway” theme for the Road Trip (vs. “Horse With No Name” about which decades earlier my mother grilled me about the meaning of the lyrics.)

Dewey Bunnell from back in the day

Dewey Bunnell, according to Wikipedia, explains:

“I remember vividly having this mental picture of the stretch of the coastline traveling with my family when I was younger. Ventura Highway itself, there is no such beast, what I was really trying to depict was the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1, which goes up to the town of Ventura.”[

Next up?  Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty.”

Jackson Browne’s Open Road Anthem

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels —

Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields.

In ’65 I was seventeen and running up 101

I don’t know where I’m running now, I’m just running on …

 

Great.  Just great I need to crank back on Jackson’s song.

We’ve planning a trip to Italy in a year with another couple.

Emma updates Elle on what she learned from other friends about recommended tips and ideas

Typical South Coast Regional Traffic

Traffic defines the boundaries of every day bubbles- traffic to and from Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura and finally Santa Barbara counties

Expected traffic traveling north in Los Angeles on the 405.

Mulholland Drive
  • LAX airport congestion.
  • Up the incline past Westwood, the Getty Center, and Skirball Cultural Center to the crest at our old exit Mulholland Drive to Emma’s parents former home on Tobin Way,
  • The 10 to Santa Monica

    View from the Getty

Emma gets an update from her younger brother. We admired their refrigerator on our epic, awesome empty-nest adventure in Dillon, Colorado.  And trekked to Cathedral Rock while swatting mosquitoes away.

They recently returned from a trip to Australia having briefly met David for a quick lunch and stopover before moving on to New Zealand.

David had been in Australia and left the same day to Bali

Wait, what, not on this section of the freeway.

Smooth sailing turns into unexpected parking lot bumper-to-bumper as we turn into the Ventura Freeway (101) from the 405.

Exit signs we expect to miss in a blink of an eye

The irritating kind at exit signs for Moorpark around Thousand Oakes.

We normally expect traffic when the Ventura Freeway drops  into the valley at Camarillo and Oxnard on its way to Ventura.

The kind of traffic that encourages In-and-out slalom lane-switch drivers

The kind of traffic that encourages your driver to space out and lose track of just exactly where you are.

Isn’t this the two-lane just south of Santa Barbara?

“Wait, have we already driven through Ventura or are we still on the way to Ventura?”

And, wait what’s that up there ahead?

Lights flashing.

Traffic moving shrinking from two lanes down to one lane – actually half in the slow right hand lane and half on its shoulder.

OMG

  • Two fire trucks.
  • An ambulance.
  • Two California Highway Patrol cruisers and maybe a motorcycle cop.
  • One small car crunched like an accordion.

Another flipped up and balancing on its side with the bottom blackened where everyone can see the drive train and muffler and motor.

Wow.

Karma caught up to a slalom lane-switcher?

“How long, maybe 5 minutes or 15 minutes, will it take before drivers resort back to their bad old habits of trying to get ahead of everyone else?”

Earlier I had fantasized the two-lane portion of the 101 was actually that section leading into Carpinteria and maybe Summerland and maybe Montecito – near the Olive Mill Road exit – at the southern border of Santa Barbara.

Ventura, California

Rincon is tucked slightly off Highway 101 between La Conchita and Carpinteria.

The neighborhood of La Conchita has suffered from large landslides in the recent past that have wiped out homes and even killed local residents.

Rincon County Beach

The worse of these was the tragic slide on January 10th 2005 when a huge rain-caused side killed 10 residents.

Carpinteria’s home to ten beaches alone.

But, no.

Turns out we were just south of where the 101 grows multiple lanes – maybe 3 or 4 – but who’s counting.

More waves. More lanes. Less Traffic.

It’s that section where everyone can drive 70 miles per hour while spreading out and while looking out the drivers side window to absorb the surf pounding the beaches bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Wave Break at Rincon

Later, we discovered that’s exactly where our son drives to surf.

There and north of Santa Barbara is where he can more consistently find surf-able waves.

Surf’s Up?

So, over the years we’ve driven through Santa Barbara many times on our way up the Central Coast to Cambria and less frequently to Big Sur.

Historic Montecito Inn

We’ve always enjoyed spending weekends in Santa Barbara, especially at the Montecito Inn once owned by Charlie Chaplin.

Stearns Wharf

Usually we spend time at Stearns Wharf or the Funk Zone, but not a lot of time on State Street.

Which is what triggered an argument.

About directions.

As the driver usually, I’m involved.

Not this time.

Time to reconsider arguing with Siri.

Emma kept telling Siri, “No.”

That’s not the exit we should take.

I’d drive on to the next exit.

“No”

Next?

“No”

And, then this.

“Oops” the apology to Siri.

“Yes, ok you were right all along.”

We arrived at 2pm a little too late to stop on the way for lunch and a little too early to check in.

Santa Barbara Hotel

Santa Barbara Hotel

We’re cheap travelers.

So once Siri directed us on what seemed like a convoluted route involving a maze of one way streets we first drove past and then returned to Valet Parking on a side street.

The Valet attendant asked if we live in Telluride, Colorado.

Why?

Part Two:  Hotel Santa Barbara’s Grand Tradition

Part Three:  Night TRAPs – Walk. Drink. Eat. Groove.

 

 

Stranded in Mono Lake

At the end of an hour it approached a jutting cape, and Higby ran ahead and posted himself on the utmost verge and prepared for the assault. 

 

On Hwy. 395 between Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes
The agony that alkali water inflicts on bruises, chafes and blistered hands, is unspeakable, and nothing but greasing all over will modify it– but we ate, drank and slept well, that night, notwithstanding.

 

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.

Calvin Higby and Mark Twain decided to explore the area in and around  Mono Lake.

They surveyed all its wonders in a small boat to explore the lake, just as a storm brewed.

Things go from bad to worse.

Adventures in the Eastern Sierras

But we found nothing but solitude, ashes and a heart-breaking silence. 

Finally we noticed that the wind had risen, and we forgot our thirst in a solicitude of greater importance; for, the lake being quiet, we had not taken pains about securing the boat. 

We hurried back to a point overlooking our landing place, and then–but mere words cannot describe our dismay–the boat was gone! 

 

 

Surely, they felt.  There’s couldn’t be the only boat on the lake today.

The situation was not comfortable–in truth, to speak plainly, it was frightful. 

You Can Imagine Twain Hiking the Terrain

We were prisoners on a desolate island, in aggravating proximity to friends who were for the present helpless to aid us; and what was still more uncomfortable was the reflection that we had neither food nor water. 

But presently we sighted the boat. 

For over an hour Twain and Higby paced up and down the shoreline.

It drifted, and continued to drift, but at the same safe distance from land, and we walked along abreast it and waited for fortune to favor us. 

At the end of an hour it approached a jutting cape, and Higby ran ahead and posted himself on the utmost verge and prepared for the assault. 

If we failed there, there was no hope for us. 

The winds didn’t cooperate as hoped for.

But when he gave a great spring, the next instant, and lit fairly in the stern, I discharged a war-whoop that woke the solitudes!

But it dulled my enthusiasm, presently, when he told me he had not been caring whether the boat came within jumping distance or not, so that it passed within eight or ten yards of him, for he had made up his mind to shut his eyes and mouth and swim that trifling distance. 

Only a long swim would probably do them in, but safe in the boat they made little progress.

Boating on Mono Lake in “Roughing It”.

When we had pulled a mile, laboriously, we were evidently in serious peril, for the storm had greatly augmented; the billows ran very high and were capped with foaming crests, the heavens were hung with black, and the wind blew with great fury. 

We would have gone back, now, but we did not dare to turn the boat around, because as soon as she got in the trough of the sea she would upset, of course. 

Our only hope lay in keeping her head-on to the seas. 

It was hard work to do this, she plunged so, and so beat and belabored the billows with her rising and falling bows. 

Both drenched by the alkaline sprays they pushed on forward, against the storm winds.

But things cannot last always. 

Just as the darkness shut down we came booming into port, head on. 

Higby dropped his oars to hurrah–I dropped mine to help–the sea gave the boat a twist, and over she went!

The agony that alkali water inflicts on bruises, chafes and blistered hands, is unspeakable, and nothing but greasing all over will modify it– but we ate, drank and slept well, that night, notwithstanding.

But Twain surveys Mono Lake’s near unchanging landscape and asks an almost universal question on every visitor’s lips.

Mysterious Nature of Mono Lake

… picturesque turret-looking masses and clusters of a whitish, coarse-grained rock that resembles inferior mortar dried hard; and if one breaks off fragments of this rock he will find perfectly shaped and thoroughly petrified gulls’ eggs deeply imbedded in the mass

How did they get there? 

Well, of course, if he were alive in the winter of 2009, he’d have his answer.

Tufa is rock composed of calcium carbonate, or common limestone. 

It is formed when calcium-rich underwater springs in the lake combine with carbonates, known to cooks as baking soda, in the water. 

The result is calcium carbonate, which settles around the springs. 

Decades or even centuries later, these tufa formations slowly grow into towers that may climb to more than 30 feet tall. 

All this takes place underwater.” 

Steps:

(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.

Twain

“… picturesque turret-looking masses and clusters of a whitish, coarse-grained rock that resembles inferior mortar dried hard …”

Mark Twain
Shuttling as much as he did between Carson City and Virginia City, it was San Francisco that captured his imagination – but it was Mono Lake that almost killed him – and his curiosity.

 

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.

On Hwy. 395 between Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes

We had just visited Lake Tahoe, where Mark Twain set the forest on fire and now Mono Lake appeared before us – the scene of another of his misadventures –

According to the 2009 LA Times article, Twain once said

“There are no fish in Mono Lake – no frogs, no snakes, no pollywogs – nothing, in fact, that goes to make life desirable.” 

Adventures in the Eastern Sierras

He and Calvin Higby – his mining partner — in “Roughing It”-

“… made a walking trip to Yosemite, carrying their packs, camping and fishing in that far, tremendous isolation, which in those days few human beings had ever visited at all. 

Such trips furnished a delicious respite from the fevered struggle around tunnel and shaft. 

Amid mountain-peaks and giant forests and by tumbling falls the quest for gold hardly seemed worthwhile”. 

More than once that summer he went alone into the wilderness “to find his balance and to get away entirely from humankind.”

Get rich schemes and tall tales – both consumed and sustained Mark Twain.

Shuttling as much as he did between Carson City and Virginia City, it was San Francisco that captured his imagination – but it was Mono Lake that almost killed him – and his curiosity.

Mono Lake at Dawn

Higby and Twain decided to explore the area in and around  Mono Lake.

They surveyed all its wonders in a small boat to explore the lake, just as a storm brewed.

Things go from bad to worse.

Twain actually said “They go from worse to a near fatal accident.”

First there’s the matter of all those seagulls.

Twain Least Expected to Find Sea Gulls

Mono Lake is a hundred miles in a straight line from the ocean–and between it and the ocean are one or two ranges of mountains–yet thousands of sea-gulls go there every season to lay their eggs and rear their young. 

One would as soon expect to find sea-gulls in Kansas. 

Then there’s the alien landscape with both hot and cold water.

Hard Boiled and Fossilized Sea Gull Eggs

The islands in the lake being merely huge masses of lava, coated over with ashes and pumice-stone, and utterly innocent of vegetation or anything that would burn; and sea-gull’s eggs being entirely useless to anybody unless they be cooked. 

Nature has provided an unfailing spring of boiling water on the largest island, and you can put your eggs in there, and in four minutes you can boil them as hard as any statement I have made during the past fifteen years. 

Within ten feet of the boiling spring is a spring of pure cold water, sweet and wholesome.

And that’s not the only odd thing.

Half a dozen little mountain brooks flow into Mono Lake, but not a stream of any kind flows out of it. 

It neither rises nor falls, apparently, and what it does with its surplus water is a dark and bloody mystery.

Though they arrived in the July, Twain and Higby couldn’t resist rowing 12 miles to the “big island.”

Curious “Big Island”

About seven o’clock one blistering hot morning–for it was now dead summer time–Higby and I took the boat and started on a voyage of discovery to the two islands. 

We had often longed to do this, but had been deterred by the fear of storms; for they were frequent, and severe enough to capsize an ordinary row-boat like ours without great difficulty–and once capsized, death would ensue in spite of the bravest swimming, for that venomous water would eat a man’s eyes out like fire, and burn him out inside, too, if he shipped a sea. 

It was called twelve miles, straight out to the islands–a long pull and a warm one–but the morning was so quiet and sunny, and the lake so smooth and glassy and dead, that we could not resist the temptation. 

They filled their canteens, just in case as a precaution and pulled ashore at their destination.

You Can Imagine Twain Hiking the Terrain

The island was a long, moderately high hill of ashes–nothing but gray ashes and pumice-stone, in which we sunk to our knees at every step–and all around the top was a forbidding wall of scorched and blasted rocks. 

When we reached the top and got within the wall, we found simply a shallow, far-reaching basin, carpeted with ashes, and here and there a patch of fine sand. 

In places, picturesque jets of steam shot up out of crevices, giving evidence that although this ancient crater had gone out of active business, there was still some fire left in its furnaces. 

Twain found the island’s single brilliantly green pine tree amusing.

It contrasted strangely enough, did this vigorous and beautiful outcast, with its dead and dismal surroundings. 

It was like a cheerful spirit in a mourning household.

Across the two or three miles they explored in vain. And then …

Steps:

(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.

Saturday

See the bear?” she asks. The kids’ eyes widened like saucers. “Yeah,” she continued. “They wrecked our car carrier and coolers …

Don’t Mess with No Bears
No sense crying over spilled milk, right?

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.

We spent Saturday hiking down the trail into Emerald Bay to check out the Vikingsholm.

Vikingsholm in Emerald Bay

A 38-room reproduction of a ninth-century Norse fortress from the land of my wife’s ancestors that flows through half of my kids bloodline.

After the tour we talked our way into D.L. Bliss State Park — at first they wouldn’t let us in for day use.

We found out the park is named in honor of timber and railroad magnate Duane Leroy Bliss.

His heirs donated 744 acres of land to the state in 1929.

It has since grown to 2,149 acres.

We just wanted to go to the beach.

Rubicon Point Lighthouse

And, I wanted to see the light house built in 1916, Rubicon Point Light.

For that minor request they kindly gave us permission.

Wikipedia says …

Over the years it has deteriorated to the point that many people mistake it for an outhouse; today, however, efforts are being made to restore the tower.

The lighthouse at Rubicon Point has the highest elevation of any American lighthouse; it stands 6,300 feet above sea level, at a point where it could be seen from most places around the lake.

Spotting Eagle’s Nests

We spotted an eagle’s nest in an old diseased, leafless pine tree along the way.

Heading for the Beach

The beach turned out to be a local boaters cove with about a dozen boats anchored.

Their owners had set up their portable grills on the beach.

Our kids climbed the rocks they found around the southern edge of the beach and swam in the ice-fed lake.

One day back at the campsite a woman walks over while we were cooking some breakfast.

See the bear?” she asks.

The kids’ eyes widened like saucers.

Yeah,” she continued. “They wrecked our car carrier and coolers …

Love Dem Bears

She had left them out against better judgement and in spite of all the signs saying bears were on the prowl for food.

Everything.

Including suntan lotion.

Need to be locked in cars, not tents.

Not anymore.

Bear lockers are the ticket.

Just ask the owner of the car in Truckee years later when a black bear turned up locked inside of his car prowling for something to eat.

Truckee Home Invasion

Another night in the camp latrine I overheard a guy telling another camper that only  black bears frequent the campsites.

The one sighted was about 5 feet tall.

Scary enough, right?

So you can see why we kept the discussion about bears to a minimum.

Especially at night.

We didn’t want to spook the younger kids, girls and wives.

Oh, ok and me.

Don’t Tempt Bears

Needless to say, when tucked away in sleeping bags in our tents almost any sound heard in the dark is sleepily interpreted as a would be bear ready to break in looking for something we forgot to lock up.

We still talk about it.

Sadly, when our vacation ended.

I couldn’t bear or bare returning by the long and boring way home.

Instead we took the scenic back roads.

Taking the Scenic Route

We drove counter-clockwise on the 89 to the 50  past the “Y”, north up the Nevada side of the lake and east out to the US 395.

We normally take US 395, the southern section, on our yearly trip to Mammoth Lakes but, on the other side of the Sierra Nevada range.

Over one pass we encountered three cows meandering on the pavement.

As I came out of a blind hairpin curve.

Just living large and enjoying their almost shortened life.

Steaks anyone?

No sense crying over spilled milk, right?

Steps:

(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.

Vikingsholm

Somewhere past Sacramento and Placerville, but before reaching the Lake Tahoe valley we witnessed a blackened forest surrounding new homes during construction and post wildfire ash covered terrain.

Neither one of our 5-year or 8-year olds liked the hike very much – climbing the mile trail to get there.

 

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.

We had a schedule to meet.

Which led to the wrong choice.

Bad Decision

Forgoing the scenic route, more on that a little later.

No, instead we piled everyone and our outdoor gear into our SUV in Orange County and drove for 10 hours straight on the most boring route you can take – Interstate 5.

Vacation-Bound SUV

I cursed at traffic that never ended through Los Angeles.

It wasn’t so bad once we put that behind us, but this was August and it was hot.

Tourists on the freeway for the first time seemed clueless until we drove near the Angeles National Forest.

Fewer cars, trucks and SUVs, but then we entered the longest section of our trip — the Central Valley.

Central Valley Flat Lands

Flat.

Sparse.

Miles turned into hours.

The road signs told us how many miles separated us from hotspots like Modesto and Stockton and finally Sacramento.

The good folks at AAA routed us over I-80 just like the way most of the Bay Area vacationers prefer.

But being enough of a contrarian they didn’t convince me with their recommended route that took us north towards Truckee first.

All Routes Lead to Lake Tahoe

Then south on CA 89 to the western shore of the Lake.

We opted for the more direct US 50 east to South Lake Tahoe.

Somewhere past Sacramento and Placerville, but before reaching the Lake Tahoe valley we witnessed a blackened forest surrounding new homes during construction and post wildfire ash covered terrain.

We couldn’t help wonder after homeowners sink a ton of money into the homes and vacation homes how long it would take to return to a healthy, green wilderness that attracted the owners in the first place.

Months?

Vacation Home At Risk

Probably not?

More likely years, right?

We, however, needed to move on so we still had enough daylight left for pitching our tent and setting up our campsite.

We found the entrance to Sugar Pine Point State Park in the southwest corner of the Lake (by the 7 or 8 on the Washoe clock) between Meeks Bay and Tahoma.

Sometime after 2003 Sugar Pine name changed to Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park.

Nothing else changed.

It still occupies nearly two miles of the Lake Tahoe’s western shore and a total of 2,500 acres of forested mountains in El Dorado County.

The name change honored …

 Edwin L. Z’berg, a California state assemblyman who specialized in environmental legislation and worked to develop state parks and other natural areas.

Campsite for First Night

Luckily, our friends arrived just in time from Cambria to unload their tent and pitch it while it was still dusk.

That was the good news.

The bad news came when we checked in with the ranger station and inquired about extending our camping a few more days than what we had been able to reserve.

Friends had told us that our original campsites butted right up against the road.

For that reason we switched our reservation at the last-minute to Sugar Pine.

But we’d have to leave mid-week.

Change in Reservations

The ranger’s advice was to check back for last-minute cancellations.

We settled for one of the two overflow campsites vacant through Sunday.

What we wanted.

But, that meant we’d have to break camp and move the very next day.

Did we explore and do everything the park had to offer?

No.

But, we tried after we learned a little more about it.

We found out that General Creek runs from the Desolation Wilderness into Lake Tahoe.

Along the stream you see lakes, mountain meadows with wildflowers.

And two large moraines (debris leftover from Tahoe’s glacier period).

El Dorado National Forest

The trail leaves the park and enters Eldorado National Forest

The trapper William “General” Phipps was the first white settler on the land, having been seasonally inhabited by the Washoe before him.

The cabin he built in 1860 still stands.

Roughly 40 years later, ok, 43 years later the wealthy discovered and began building along Lake Tahoe’s shores.

Wikipedia fills in some of the details …

In 1903 the wealthy San Francisco banker Isaias W. Hellman obtained land and built the Pine Lodge, now also known as the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion. 

Hellman-Ehrman Mansion

The house was designed by Walter Danforth Bliss and featured electric lighting, indoor plumbing, and water directly from the lake. 

The estate included a tennis court, two boathouses, and cabins for the 27 resident staff. Hellman’s family spent summers on the estate for decades, and sold it to the state in 1965 when the park was established. The family still provides funds for the upkeep of the mansion and property.

Fun fact.

Again, thanks to Wikipedia …

This is the only California state park in the Sierra Nevada that operates recreational facilities during the winter.

1960 Winter Olympics

There are 11 miles of skiing and snowshoeing trails for public use, some of which were sites of the Olympic events in 1960. 

Some snow paths are machine groomed. Park rangers lead occasional snowshoeing tours of the park. Winter camping is available, with many more sites opening for the summer.

We were there for the summer recreation – swimming and other beach activities, fishing, and hiking.

With having to set up and take down and set up camp again, nobody felt settled until the following evening.

What Camping’s All About

But, we felt more like we were on vacation when on Wednesday.

We drove down to Meeks Bay to lay on the beach.

Biking Along the Truckee River

On Thursday we rode bikes along the 5-mile Truckee River trail.

Next up we toured the lake driving clockwise in one of our SUVs stopping at Incline Village on the Nevada side.

Gambling Side of the Lake

We marveled at the beautiful homes in the North Lake area.

And, noticed how the gambling casinos on both the north and south Nevada borders welcomed tourists, and more importantly for them, their money.

Instead, we kept our money and drove on to check out Camp Richardson’s Resort back on the South Lake side  near our campsite.

Exploring South Lake Tahoe

Each night after long days enjoying ourselves, we’d eat dinner in the dark, settle down in our lawn chairs and recall the highlights of the adventures around our campfire.

Hiking to Eagle Point Falls

On Friday we hiked into Eagle Point Falls and Lake.

The forest is not pristine.

Having been subjected to heavy logging in the late 1800s, as we already know.

Neither one of our 5-year or 8-year olds liked the hike very much – climbing the mile trail to get there.

But they loved the destination.

Because I took so many photos and video shots along the way and had the lunch we packed they had to wait for me to catch up.

Awesome View of Emerald Bay

A little food and they were good to go.

That was the last time they entrusted me to carry it.

Especially on Saturday.

Steps:

(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.

McGee

“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.

ROCK CREEK PACK STATION

P.O.Box 248

Bishop, CA 93515

(760) 872-8331

email: info@rockcreekpackstation.com

http://www.rockcreekpackstation.com/

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?

Nope.

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?”

“Yup”

“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.”

Steps:

(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.

Muir

“Attention, humans! You are entering black bear habitat!” Since when did the Sierra Nevada bears hire a PR firm?

 

Gateway to the Wilderness
Names: Mosquito Flats, Little Lakes Valley, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Morgan Pass, Mono Pass. And the lakes: Mack, Marsh, Heart, Box, Gem and Chickenfoot.

 

Mosquito Flats Trailhead and the hike into Little Lakes Valley.

At the trailhead I catch up on my reading.

Welcome to the Muir Wilderness

Four posts filled with warnings, maps, hiking etiquette and a plea from the California Department of Fish & Game.

“Know the risk … this place is wild.” 

Framed in light brown wood.

Directly behind the light blue poster you see the deep blue sky with white cotton clouds and a fir tree forest giving way to a dirt trail.

Are  you prepared?

Always carry a map and a compass and know how to use them.

Carry water, food and weather protection.

Know your health and physical limitations.

You may encounter wildlife – know how to protect your food and yourself.

I try to focus on the vertical dark purple side bar instructing me to “Practice Wildlands Ethics” by leaving no trace followed by six bullet reminders.

But I can’t.

Just like the time I concentrated on what to do when you encounter a moose in Summit County, Colorado, I’m riveted by the horizontal tan boxed in message.

Remember?

What to do if you see a moose — listed four bullet points followed by six more under the heading of Physical Appearance.

A bear was on the loose years ago on our camping trip to Sugar Pine.

Wilderness Means Wild

After we left Fallen Leaf Lake camping not that long ago a bear incident was reported there.

Oh, and more recently all those headlines about the Lake Tahoe bears.

Remember those?

They freaked me out just like they did newbie homeowners.

No One Told Her About The Bears, Had A Break In

Some callers are head-scratchingly clueless, such as the woman who reported she was “mad, angry about buying a house in Tahoe. No one told her about the bears. Had a break in. Not happy.”

Bear Leveled A Garage Door And Cleaned Out A Refrigerator

Others are clearly fed up, such as the man who reported that he tried to secure his home but it “didn’t work” — a bear leveled a garage door and cleaned out a refrigerator.

Gun For Next Time He Comes Back

“Has gun for next time he comes back,” the report reads.

Wilderness. Wildlife. Break Ins. Midnight Snacks.

Now a word from the opposing party.

“Attention, humans! You are entering black bear habitat!

This area is our home, where we have survived for many years by eating natural food sources.

Lately we’ve been tempted by human food sources.

Did you know that we can smell anything with an odor, including your food, garbage and toiletries?

When you don’t store these items properly, we are tempted to rip into your tent, packs and panniers and eat anything available.

Since when did the Sierra Nevada bears hire a PR firm?

Bears Represented by PR Firm

Soon, after the females learned how to grab spawning salmon out of thin air with their bare paws at Tahoe?

Only The Female Bears Are Successful At Catching

Interestingly, only the female bears are successful at catching the salmon, and they teach their cubs to fish. 

It is funny to watch a male bear in the creek splashing around trying to catch a fish, finally giving up in disgust.

Did females migrate through a mountain pass from the western to the eastern side of the Sierras?

Are these the same bears waiting to ambush unsuspecting suburbanites?

Or, could this be the next generation of cubs spreading the gospel?

Just above the drawing of an imposing female black bear guarding her cub trail-side the warnings continued.

This is a risk to our health and your safety.  

Once we’ve gotten into your food and garbage we are no longer wild bears; we become aggressive and seek your food sources, and may have to be killed.  

Please, do us both a favor — store your food properly. — A message from the bears.

With ambushing bears do I really want keep the area wild?

The next nearby sign tried to convince me.

And, We’re Not Talking Parties.

Practices that keep it WILD. 

Where the imprint of humans is substantially unnoticeable …

OK these messages tell us all about selecting campsites, especially away from water which had always been my inclination in years past and finally all about campfires.

Use of campfires for cooking and warmth was vital in the past.  

However, use of wood for campfires at popular destinations has denuded areas of dead and down wood.  

These areas are at risk of losing their natural conditions due to heavy wood-gathering activity.

Water?

Why stay away from water sources in the mountains?

Good Reasons to Camp Away from Water:

It’s warmer – cold air sinks into drainages.  Lake basins and meadows.

There are fewer mosquitoes!

We had our fill of mosquitoes in Colorado when we paused on our climb to Cathedral Rock.

We sat on fallen logs to snack on sandwiches, string cheese and water – but only momentarily, because we became bait for swarms of mosquitoes. 

The last two reasons?

You are less likely to disturb wildlife.

And more importantly, depending on your activities the night before –

The sun will be up earlier!

Now, how about those sheep?

Fish, Game and Bighorn Sheep

Don’t they have an an agency like the black bears?

Apparently, they’re missing in action.

At least they’ve got a poster, kinda purple-ish.

In their group shot showing four standing looking to the right, one almost out of the picture looking to the left and the head honcho looking stage right also, but posing all regal like on the boulder behind the others.

“Please report bighorn sheep sightings and their locations to: CA Dept of Fish & Game”

The poster gave two phone numbers and two website links.

I looked around.

Nope, none.

Wondered what they had done?

Breaking and entering like the Lake Tahoe bears?

A mere misdemeanor like a butt-and-run?

I also wondered after a few hours on the trail with physical exhaustion setting in if I would remember or even look up from my hiking boots, one foot in front of the other?

Wait, There’s One. Right?

But, while still fresh, and waiting for the last family member to finish their restroom business I scanned another wood framed sign titled “Little Lakes Valley Trailhead.”

It reminded me the trailhead took us into the John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest.

A small black and white thumbnail portrait of the bearded John Muir included a quote.

Frankly I didn’t catch its significance.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out I found was really going in.”

I had time to read the reminders to be responsible and leave no trace behind.

Next a bunch of wilderness use restrictions to keep it wild.

One of those three dimension geological maps showing the mountains in light green and mountains in light brown drew me in until everyone was ready.

Ready for a group photo, just about as scruffy as the bighorn sheep poster.

But, including nine of us and three dogs – two hyper dogs already entangled themselves in their leashes.

Ready to go, oh wait we have to rotate photographers to catch everybody with their backs to a hill of dark fir trees, a meadow across the creek, and the slow moving creek where fishermen cast but didn’t catch.

Photos with people in them for family slideshows that nobody but family members want to see after the first one hundred slide by?

I’m not that guy.

Landscape nature photos?

I’m that guy.

Like herding sheep in the same direction, the parade began.

One after another including three dogs took off in single file.

Morgan Pass

Finding a blonde wood sign showing Morgan Pass?

With an arrow pointing to the left and Mono Pass with a second arrow pointing to the right?

Right up my alley.

The trick?

Taking the time to frame the photo against the background – a gnarly wind-swept juvenile and bushy green pine tree — to shelter the subject matter in too sunny a time of day?

Exposure?

Goldilocks.

Not too much sun, not too little.

I’m that guy.

We trudged on skipping the climb up another 1600 feet in elevation over five miles to Morgan Pass.

As well as, the steeper 2000 feet up hill climb to Mono Pass, even though it was a mile closer.

Place One Foot in Front of the Other

In hindsight, they should have given me about a mile head start instead of looking back to see where I was.

My knee had recovered from surgery and I felt confident the hike wouldn’t hurt it.

My wife lagged behind for the first part.

And, then … I was on my own.

Back to the Rock Creek Lodge’s website:

Although the trailhead is just over 10,000 ft., the hiking is relatively easy, climbing 600 vertical feet in about 3 miles to long lake. 

The most strenuous section is the 1st hill about a 1/4 mile from the trailhead, and each lake is about 20 to 30 minutes of hiking apart. 

Hiking in Little Lakes Valley is awesome.

Into Little Lakes Valley

Stopping high up on a tan boulder turnout from the trail we – after they waited for me – take in the classic Sierra view.

Off in the distance dark gray foreboding clouds touch the 3,000 foot granite peaks that surround the glacially-carved canyon.

It’s easy to spot the edge of the trees.

The top border doesn’t fill more than 50% of the shadowed mountains with their jagged edges.

A little white light peeks through the clouds in a naturally random pattern.

Little patches of tan boulders peek through the dark green pine trees across the way.

Directly below you see Mack Lake.

Which if I’m being honest looks more like a wide dark green river from this vantage point.

Mack Lake

Except it isn’t flowing.

Is there a pattern or nemonic device that helps you remember the names and sequence of the little lakes in the Little Lakes Valley like the alphabet for the Owens Valley towns on US 395?

Let’s check back with the Rock Creek site:

Each lake is beautiful and unique, as suggested by their names: 

Mack Lake, 

Marsh Lake, 

Heart Lake, 

Box Lake, 

Long Lake, 

Gem Lake and 

Chickenfoot Lake.

If you figure it out, let me know.

So the narrow rock-strewn trail widens as it slopes down and turns towards the left.

It opens into lighter tan dirt and fewer piles of rocks.

Marsh Lake in the Distance?

Off in the distance ahead you notice a darker brown pattern with bushy clusters in the foreground and a beginning of greener vegetation in the background.

Right in front of a band of fir trees that connect the right with the left sides to the trail.

We hopped across a small, narrow creek with dark brown water flowing downhill into the marsh.

My nephew took the opportunity to strip off his hiking boots and socks to sit on a rock and soak his feet.

Hidden behind the bend and off to the left are more marsh-like wild plants.

It’s easy to imagine that this whole flat area had been under water in non-drought years.

And, it’s easy to imagine this must be Marsh Lake.

Number two on the random list of lake names.

Continuing on, a gigantic boulder, maybe 12 to 15 feet tall, snatches my attention.

Why?

Huge Boulder with Red Accents

Well, it seems to lean a little to the right.

While it is all in one tan and gray speckled piece you can see the grooves etched into it vertically.

From ancient glacial activity or incremental erosion?

At any rate it was the dark copper red coloring filling in two cracks that provoked me into taking yet another hike-delayed photo.

Was it at Heart Lake or Box Lake?

The trail forced me to reconsider continuing.

About a half a dozen rustic steps up a steep section pulled at my knee in a way that signaled I should pace myself more than I planned.

The rest of the flock continued on.

They’re not even sure which lake they finally stopped at and frolicked in — splashing and swimming and throwing rocks in.

Possibly Gem or even Chickenfoot Lake.

Steps:

(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.

Tom’s – Scandal or Good Advertising?

“That’s what I want to know.” “What?” I asked him. “How to live in one of those while doing what I want to do.”

 

Road to Rock Creek Lodge
From Hans and Tom with Hazel to Ted, and finally the three Laynes – Mark, Michelle and Charlie — Tom’s Place survived as a roadside family business.

 

Five hours and 319 miles later, the exit to both Tom’s Place Resort and to Rock Creek Canyon on Rock Creek Road is easy to spot.

East of U.S. 395 Rock Creek Road turns into Tuff Campgrounds Rd heading back towards Bishop, and to the north parallels 395 as Owens Gorge Rd.

One of our off road adventures started on Owens Gorge Rd.

This is where the idea for this book germinated.

When my son pointed to the houses, cabins and vacation homes perched on the winding terrace lots off of Owens Gorge on Wheeler View Dr. and Pinon Hill Rd.

Tom’s Front Porch

 

We had picked up some ice from the two door cooler located on the Tom’s Place shady porch just to the right of the American flag flapping in the cool Sierra breeze and directly behind a red motorcycle with black helmut attached to the handlebars.

He said, “That’s what I want to know.”

“What?” I asked him.

“How to live in one of those while doing what I want to do.”

Spread out among the giant boulders and tan dirt scrub bush sits a brown wood and green roof single story home.

How do I live here and follow my dreams?

As you climb the neighborhood road behind it, up into the dark green evergreens and white birch bark trees, you spy two or three other white painted homes with lighter green, even gray shingled roofs.

You can see a driveway on one level.

That’s the entrance to the main living area with a lower story behind taking advantage of the split level lots.

Not quite as upscale as the home we stayed in at Dillon, Colorado, but with the same accommodating-the-lot construction principle in mind.

Fit in to the geographical area.

Don’t overwhelm it.

Pickup trucks and satellite dishes show people actually live there, unlike in Red Mountain.

Tom’s Place to Mammoth Lakes

Later we discovered their zip code 93546 falls within the same geographical area as Mammoth Lakes about 40 miles away – but at its southern most boundary.

The whole climb up Sherwin Grade until you reach the much higher elevation summit fell within the Bishop zip code instead.

And, that’s the issue with zip codes.

They can give you a false impression, especially in more rural and rustic locations.

So double check the zip code map.

Taking the exit at Rock Creek Road to the west of US 395 and climbing directly up the canyon on narrow roads brought us to our destination, Rock Creek Lodge.

But, first if you take an immediate right hand turn at the first intersection you pull into Tom’s Place cafe, bar, market and rustic cabins.

Tom’s sandy colored painted exterior framed in pine-tree green reminds me of a couple of places you’ll find when you drive PCH (US Highway 1) along Big Sur’s Pacific Coast.

One long porch connects the bar with the cafe and the market.

Truth in Advertising?

Above the porch you see the main sign “ Tom’s Place Since 1917.”

Since 1917?

As soon as the wireless fan icon appeared at the top of my screen I investigated the back story.

Turns out Tom didn’t build it.

Hans did.

Hans Lof observed all that traffic — Model Ts? — huffing and puffing their way up Sherwin grade from Southern California and said to himself, probably in his native German, we can sell them petrol.

Model Ts at Tom’s Place

(I should probably look that up, no harm intended for my ignorance.)

So, first he built the gas station, then a cookhouse, then a store and a corral.

Eventually, word got out.

Why drive any farther (or is it further)?

We don’t need to drive for another 40 miles to enjoy the Eastern Sierra wilderness getaway over a long weekend.

As far, or fur, as I can tell the first Tom (and only) came on the scene in 1923 when the business changed Han(d)s.

So, shouldn’t the sign read, “Tom’s Place Since 1923”?

And, another thing while we’re at it.

I believe their website says:

“In 1923, Thomas Jeffrson Yerby and his wife, Hazel (stage actress, Jane Grey) purchased the business for $5,000 and Tom build the original Tom’s Place Lodge in 1924. “  

Now, check out Hazel on wikipedia.

Actress Jane Grey

She (Jane Grey) married twice to other gents, but you’d think the ‘pedia would identify Tom Yerby as her third, right?

You know something like the story of an actress giving it all up for love at long last, and because the pristine, high altitude pioneer life with her new husband in the Sierras felt more authentic.

Nope.

Nada.

Zip.

Maybe it wasn’t a marriage at all?

But, a scandal that drove them, both literally and figuratively, to Rock Creek Canyon?

Enough about that.

Tom and (not Jane Grey?) were on to something.

In the mid- to late- ‘20s demand grew for their “family” business.

Yosemite National Park drew a growing stream of tourists and travelers.

Yosemite National Park

Fishing caught on.

Camping drew even more vacationers, staying longer each time.

Tom’s Place website said:

People would come and camp for a month at a time at what is now called French Camp.  

By the late 1920’s many cabins had been added, first as tent structures, then permanent ones, many still in use today.

Hazel did a lot of cooking for the lodge, and then, after prohibition, they put a saloon in across the street.  

She wouldn’t let the saloon be on the same side of the street as the lodge and cafe.  

There were all kinds of things going on around this time.  

Finding Lake Crowley

Moving into the mid-30s Rock Creek Canyon activities drew more outdoor adventurers and provided a business base for the construction of Rock Creek Lodge and Rock Creek Lakes Resort.

The Crowley Dam was built in the mid-30’s.  

Tom’s Place survived two world wars and the Great Depression.

After Tom died in 1940, Hazel ran Tom’s Place until 1945, and then sold it for $80,000.  

By now, the highway was paved.  

The original lodge burned down in 1947, and was replaced by the building that you now see.

Lake Crowley Dam

Then, Hazel handed the baton to the Ted Berner’s family.

Ted, probably for practical reasons, reversed Hazel’s policy and moved the saloon into the interior of the building, where  it is still located.

Tomco investment group took Tom’s Place off Ted’s hands in 1985, and managed virtually for 15 years during the late ‘80s and ‘90s.

Their business goal was to keep vacancy rates low by limiting their off-season to a minimum.

The Layne’s, current owners, bought Tom’s from Tomco in January 2000.

Not Bob, Ted, Carol and Alice.

Not every Tom, Dick and Harry.

Probably not even Jane.

But, from Hans and Tom with Hazel to Ted, and finally the three Laynes – Mark, Michelle and Charlie — Tom’s Place survived as a roadside family business.

Tomco was the exception proving the rule.

Which is probably why we can forgive them their little white lie about the original date and name.

Call it advertising?

Wink. Wink.

But, more importantly, I can agree whole heartedly with this copy on their website:

Out Your Back Door

Mountains, creeks, lakes and hundreds of miles of groomed trails to hike, bike, horseback ride, or 4-wheel in the summer months, and snowshoe, cross-country ski or ice skate in the winter.

The many nearby lakes and creeks are stocked with trout and surrounded by breathtaking views of the numerous mountain peeks and canyons.  

You can even fish Rock Creek by just walking out your cabin door!  

Great bike trails down lower Rock Creek road.  

Steps:

(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.

Mary

And Bears. “A fed bear is a dead bear.” Say what?  I read the yellow sign. “Speeding kills bears, not feeding kills bears.”

 

In Search Of: Mill City, Mammoth Rock, Mammoth City, Mammoth Consolidated Mines, and of course Lake Mary.

 

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.

What is it about Mary?

An unrequited love?  Playing hard to get?

To?

On our 2014 winter family reunion, with less snow still and more mobility for my knee, but not enough to test it on the slopes, I took to trudging through the snow on the Town Loop in the wooded valley behind our Aspen Creek condo.

This way “0.4 MI to North Waterford Avenue.”

That way “1.7 MI to Mammoth Creek Park.”

A day to myself.

A photo safari.

A breakfast at one of my favorite place on Old Mammoth Road, The Stove.

And a renewed interest in Lake Mary.

First, the photo safari.

This year at least I had to wear boots, because snow-covered more of the cross-country trail than before.

Maybe not flip-flops, but at least regular cross-fit shoes were all  I needed on the previous trip.

I hobbled less noticeably across a brown metal bridge on a clearly marked trail through tall fir trees casting dark shadows and obscuring twists and turns hidden from immediate view.

Drawn to the sound of melting water beneath the bridge and looking through the leafless pale green trunks and red and yellow branches for a path, I found a few photo opportunities showing bright white snow and glimpses of deep blue, high altitude sky.

The creek remained hidden and dark.

A paw print here.

A footprint there.

I wasn’t the first visiting the creek’s bank.

Footprint-snow turned gray and began to melt slightly.

Is this temperature so warm that wild plants will peak through the mountain earth and snow a month earlier then like it seems down “south” closer to the coast?

Who knows when it first happened?

A pine cone fell.

During a Sierra blizzard?

And, now a seedling with six tannish, reddish branches and dark to sunlit-lighter-green needles pokes up and out of six inches of show.

It seemed to thrive out in the open away from the much taller parent trees.

On one side the snow gave way at its base providing a pocket, cup effect as if it had been rooted in a snow shrub container.

Slowly surface snow melted, dripping into the hole and freeing up one of the older, lower and stronger branches with its tip still stuck in the inner snow pocket wall.

But enough about that.

The hidden creek’s gurgle lures me to it’s opening.

Swirling ripples collide in a fluid push and shove crashing into snagged vegetation causing bubble eddies.

Here and there gangs of flat green-leafed water vegetation forms in shady corners.

Last season’s brown grass, wet and green-less hang matted down over the creek bank.

Over there in the middle of a birch tree grove an older pine tree sibling grows waist-high in a snow-covered clearing.

A walk through the clearing to the far side turns my head skyward and uphill.

I skirt around private property fences and signs.

Trudging through wet, sloppy snow up a small hill towards rock outcroppings, my knee support, well, supporting my climb mostly pain-free.

Overdressed, hot, sweaty.

I don’t notice, fascinated instead by the azure blue sky allowing white clouds layered in three dimensions to float by, each layer at its own pace.

Closest to the sharp peaks off in the distance those feathery cloud formations blew in quickly.

More snow on the way?

I just need to move to my right to snap a glistening black volcanic boulder shading a small crevice of snow against a foothill background falling away to my left leading back to the trail with unmelted snow and tan scrub brush.

A slip.

A tweak.

A wakeup call from my knee to my brain.

Ouch.

Now, I notice my Oakley sunglasses have fogged around the outer edges.

My sunscreen drips into my right eye.

Ouch.

Time to return and change from long to short underwear.

And, head into town on Old Mammoth Road for breakfast.

Number 39 of 73 restaurants in Mammoth Lakes with 4-star ratings by 106 reviewers.

After skiing and boarding our brains out, if we had enough time between honoring the Aspen Creek checkout deadline and heeding our hard-earned knowledge of when to hit the road to avoid three or more traffic delays, I’d get my way.

Didn’t happen often.

So traveling solo, I made it happen.

This year the Stove claimed to celebrate four decades, but with new owners.

Oh oh.

But, when you’re hungry and a little tired and achy – oh, ok cranky – the quickest time-to-stomach frequently takes precedence, right?

 

The Stove pleasantly surprised me for three reasons.

First no wait – which my family always expects.

Inside the enclosed porch area you see a reconditioned blue stove turned into a platform to purchase “merch” with stove logos.

Second, my Veggie Omelet with sautéed spinach, mushrooms, onions and swiss cheese filled my craving.

And, third I spied three more classic historic Mammoth black and white photos.

I took time to admire the old-time cowboy-mountain-pioneer decor after a trip to  the head triggered by the first three, never empty coffees.

Even though the thermometer in town nearly tipped 60 degrees on Valentines Day, the first photo sent a slight chill through me.

Seven sled dogs hunkered down shivering together in an epic snow storm next to a dark cabin with a sign across the entrance I couldn’t make out.

The blowing snow hid most of the trees on the hill behind the cabin and the dogs.

The only other living things were a reclining passenger with a hat covered in blankets and snow, and the sled musher.

Brought back memories.

I experienced that piercing cold high wind snow storm years ago at the top of the mountain, slowly approaching the end of the chair lift.

The second photo confused me.

Taken during the fall, summer or spring it looked like a long low-level building – only 5 or 6 siding logs high with some sort wood shingled roof.

The left side extended into the rocky mountain foothill and the right end appeared rounded and open as if it served some kind of shelter for animals, machinery or other equipment.

Or a mine entrance?

Off to the right the grassy field sloped downhill.

Was that a clue?

Is that a photo of Mineral Hill?

The third said something like “Mammoth …?” in poor penmanship and showed a much larger, more “modern house” – at least two stories tall with an attic facing us under a huge metallic looking a-frame roof.

You can count four, maybe five windows – the last one peeking out behind a tree on the left side of the first floor.

Three more windows opened above the front porch.

And, around the corner to the right looking through the side of the porch, it looks like a black Model-T is parked.

Seems too big for one family.

Maybe it was a boarding house or an early lodge?

I immediately decided to go all CSI on it and investigate where these clues would take me.

Retracing my path, back to where Old Mammoth Rd. met Main Street I took a left towards the main lodge ski area, Minaret Summit and Devils Postpile.

There it was.

A road to Lake Mary.

It brought me to a tunnel and bridge over the ski run we take from Eagle Lodge.

The lift shuttled boarders and skiers overhead.

I climbed higher and higher on dry pavement snapping photos along the way — including another one of those signs — that the PR firm representing the Mosquito Flats bears must have posted — on a tall wooden pole with a yellow background, a red bear profile and letters that read

“Speeding Kills Wildlife”

I’m inclined to agree, speeding kills everyone on these mountain roads under normal icy winter conditions.

But, the spring-like temperature and dry pavement killed the urgency to slow down.

But I did.

Mostly because I reached a turnout for a lake.

Lake Mary?

Not according to the outdoor displays showing a map describing the Mammoth Lakes Trail System in the Inyo National Forest.

A Portal to the Lakes Basin:

“Did You Know?  Most of the lakes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin were carved by massive glaciers that moved over the landscape during ice ages.”

Fourteen lakes made the final graphic display on the map ranging from small blue dots to three or four mid-size and one large blue anchor at the center of the static solar system – Lake Mary.

Twin Lakes, including Tamarack Lodge splitting them in two.

Lake Mamie

Lake Mary

Horseshoe Lake

McLeod Lake

Crystal Lake

and a few smaller ones.

I lingered to smarten up by reading more.

Three large international icons, looking like apps, with a white background and green images declared this was the place to find out about hiking, biking and dog-friendly places.

And Bears.

“A fed bear is a dead bear.”

Say what?

I read the yellow sign. Speeding kills bears, not feeding kills bears.

Maybe only Red Bears.

Not the “30 Black Bears active in the town limits.

Oh and what about a “Black Bear is a Black Bear is a … ?”

American Black Bears Live Here

Even though they are called black bears, their fur can be blonde, cinnamon, brown or black.

Blondes?

What’s this world coming to?

But enough about that.

Onward to Lake Mary.

Except, did you hear a loud roar of water near by?

Exactly.

What a squirrel is to a dog, right?!

The white icy surface on the first Twin Lake shrank, having melted under the bright sun.

And where it ran off over the lake’s edge a small water fall fell a few feet.

First into bubbly splashes and then channeled into a shallow brown creek.

And, then flowing beneath the bridge that connected the vista turnout with the turnoff to Tamarack Lodge.

Taking the high road, oh ok, continuing on Lake Mary Road, instead of dipping down to Tamarack’s parking lot on the on Twin Lake’s shore, dread began to creep up on me.

I sensed my adventure was about to hit a brick wall.

Some other vehicles wedged themselves far enough off the asphalt so not to get towed away.

But why?

Plenty of open parking spaces remained at the lodge.

And then the brick wall turned deep and white and behind a barrier.

Road closed.

What?

Nooooooooo!

It literally turned into an unsolved cold case.

Fine.

Just Fine.

Still with time on my hands, at this temperature gloveless hands, I backtracked to launch another adventure.

Taking the road to the Main Lodge, Minaret Summit and Devils Postpile.

Many more SUVs, motorhomes, vans and cowboy speeding cars lined the road.

I found the Main Lodge easily, but the rest of the road to Minaret Summit and Devils Postpile vanished in the Main Lodge’s parking lot.

WTF?

Turns out, according to a parking lot attendant, the Forest Service closes that route during the winter too.

Crestfallen, heartbroken, defeated, I reluctantly drove back to the condo cursing those damn black and white historic photos under my breath.

My high expectations for the day crashed and burned.

I absent mindedly flipped through real estate and tourist brochures randomly piled on the coffee table.

I kept my back to the display of historic photos on the wall by the dining room table.

But, they taunted me.

They celebrated my dashed hopes.

Trying to block them out of my mind, I reviewed my scenic photos synched to my MacBookPro.

My spirits rose.

I found a missing clue.

Actually three.

Like Twin Lake’s ice melting caused by the unseasonably warm temperature these new clues thawed my cold case a little.

By the way – full disclosure – yes, the two roads would have to be plowed.

But, this wasn’t a normally cold, abundant snow storm, deep snowpack winter.

Let it go.

Down there in the lower right hand corner in the photo I took, between two rivets fastening the topographical map to the kiosk at the Twin Lakes Vista, I now could see what I missed.

“Mammoth Consolidated Mines”

Down there a lot farther away from Lake Mary than I expected.

Southeast past a couple of campgrounds and near the Coldwater-George Trail it lies almost due south of the other two clues.

I didn’t feel so bad.

I was just out of season.

My Stove omelet on Old Mammoth Road brought me much closer than I realized to three  of the historical locations — to Mammoth City, Mammoth Rock and Mill City.

I had just naturally assumed each of the black and white photos had been taken all in one place.

On the map “The Sherwins” fill in the rest of territory between the clues.

And, who would have known?

It didn’t take a degree in rocket science to solve the cold case.

Just a PhD in the geological sciences, according to Jason Abplanalp’s blog on the Visit Mammoth Lakes website.

With photos and hiking trail descriptions to all three historic locations Dr. Jason convinces me to return in any other season but winter.

But enough about that.

Steps:

(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.