Market

Looking back in hindsight the realtor consensus pegged 2012 as the bottom of the market.

Sierra Sotheby’s International Realty Listings
Depressed home pricing motivated buyers due to historically low-interest rates which averaged 3.657% for 30 year fully amortized conforming loans. 

 

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.

And now back to your regularly scheduled program, Lake Tahoe

The 2015 – 2016 season may turn out to be the perfect winter.

Everyone relishes the thriving economic conditions after suffering through a series of abnormally dry winters.

Most realtors in the Lake Tahoe region point to a home and second home market that has been on an upswing for several years.  

In fact, Tahoe Mountain Realty said …

“Sales in the Lake Tahoe region surpassed $1 billion for the third consecutive year.” 

Tahoe Mountain Realty Property Alert

The absorption rate — the supply of how many homes are for sale compared to the supply of properties that were in demand and could be sold at the current sales pace —  revealed a more balanced market.

Tahoe Mountain Reality wrote that 

“the region is now balanced with a 6-months supply available.”

In the luxury real estate market Lake Tahoe experienced the most significant surge in new home construction in over a decade especially in 

  • Martis Camp, 
  • Gray’s Crossing, 
  • Lahontan, 
  • Schaffer’s Mill 
  • and Old Greenwood.

5-Year Time Frames from 2009 — 2014

Not that long ago, during the winter of 2011 – 2012, the absorption rate for South Lake Tahoe was driven by the trend of short and bank-owned (REO) sales. 

That market was out of balance which realtors say is roughly 2 to 4-months supply of inventory.  

You’re in a “buyers market” if it takes longer than a 4 months absorption rate.  

Buyers simply have a greater selection of properties to choose from. 

 If the sales pace picks up and only takes an estimated 2 months or less to clear the inventory of homes, then you’re in a “sellers market.” 

Sellers face less competition from fewer available choices for motivated buyers.

South Lake Tahoe, realtors claimed in 2012, hadn’t seen a balanced market for quite some time. 

Looking back in hindsight the realtor consensus pegged 2012 as the bottom of the market.

Luke Curran wrote in 2014 how the Lake Tahoe real estate market at the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007 was stronger than ever.  

But, within a span of a year home values dropped like a stone.  

To the bottom of the lake.

If you had wanted to sell, you missed your top dollar opportunity.  

If you had the cash and a little foresight you could have taken advantage of the decline in prices.

Kelly Smith in the fall of 2010 speculated about Truckee homes, condos and lots sales between 2008 to 2010 picking up due to the declining values in both Truckee and Northstar.

Writing about West Lake Tahoe over the previous 3 years Kelly said the decrease in value on average amounted to a historic trend 

North Lake Tahoe from Incline Stateline to Tahoe City didn’t fair any better. 

David Westfall pointed to the impact of California’s long-term drought on the local ski and snowboarding resorts.

“Perhaps no other community was as impacted by successive dry winters as Northstar.” 

But the timing was ripe for substantial investment in Northstar from … 

  • Vail Resorts, 
  • Mountainside Partners and 
  • Kennedy-Wilson. 

Luke Curran described how real estate market differs among subdivisions of the Lake Tahoe area.

For instance, condos on the west shore are pricier, while in 2014 the market for condos at Squaw and Alpine hadn’t grown as rapidly as other areas.

During the winter of 2012 -2013 in February the Yee Hedley Group compared year-end 2012 to 2011.  

The Yee Hedley Group Featured Listings

They found positive signs in the MLS listing inventory.  “

It was at an all time low, just like the good old days back in 2004 and 2005.

That’s not all.  

They documented signs of 

… dramatic improvement upon comparing overall home sale statistics from 2012 to 2011.”

David Westfall, a month earlier, in January 2013, assessed the North Lake Tahoe and Truckee markets.  

He found a silver lining for single family homes.

“Depressed home pricing motivated buyers due to historically low-interest rates which averaged 3.657% for 30 year fully amortized conforming loans.” 

Sotheby’s International Realty published year-end reviews of Lake Tahoe sales from 2012 to 2015. 

Sierra Sotheby’s International Realty Listings

In addition to the numbers they framed the real estate market.

“It spans 72 miles of Lake Tahoe shoreline, two state lines and a handful of California and Nevada counties and four multiple listing services – North & West Shore, East Shore, Incline Village and Truckee.”

Sotheby’s agreed with Luke Curran who wrote in the spring of 2014, 

“Buyers want a low price on a home and after the value of the home has gone up, and they sell it, they want a profit”.  

Before you make the big financial decision to purchase or sell a home in the Truckee /Lake Tahoe you need to drill down into the micro market data. 

Sotheby’s farms the 

  • North & West Shore, 
  • East Shore, 
  • Incline Village, 
  • Truckee, and 
  • South Lake Tahoe markets.

Luke Curran broke the Lake Tahoe down into five areas he covered: 

  • North Shore, 
  • West Shore, 
  • Squaw / Alpine, 
  • Truckee and 
  • Northstar.

David Westfall breaks Tahoe and Truckee into 10 micro market neighborhoods, 5 apiece.

Tahoe:

  • Alpine Meadows
  • North Shore
  • Squaw Valley
  • Tahoe City Area
  • West Shore

Truckee:

  • Donner Lake
  • Glenshire Area
  • Golf Course Communities
  • Northstar
  • Tahoe Donner

Part Two: Is Tahoe’s Real Estate Market About to Repeat Itself? Will You Miss Out?

Steps:

22) Selectively evaluate the best quality-of-life communities to live in and weigh the tradeoffs of risk and rewards for accruing real estate appreciation along a progression of rural and small towns that meet what your pocket books can afford.

25) Compare what “life” was like in those communities before the Great Recession, how resilient each was during the economic downturn, and to what degree did each bounce back after with any “economic hangover.” 

30) Review headlines and relevant news as far back as you can find online to surface each community’s unique pulse and identify information necessary to make your decision. Is there a “ticking time bomb” issue you may uncover that eliminates the resort from your bucket list? Search on Topix.com.

34) On your visits look for any newer developments that may trigger changes in neighborhood patterns. New construction in or around the neighborhood? Major regional economic adjustments? Transition from households with children to ones that are empty nests? Rezoning, and dramatically rising/falling land values?

 

Time to Circle the Lake and Discover Your Next Adventure

Packed in SUVs like sardines, they imagine sliding and skiing and all the fun they bring chasing runs when the lifts open.

 

Yup, Gold Hill. And, then finally Virginia City, brief home of Samuel Clemens where he became Mark Twain.

Part One: Tahoe

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 if your designer spouse, roommate or mother felt the Washoe clock was so valuable that it proudly sat on your contemporary living room wall, but in a square designer frame?

If you took your marker and drew a line from the center of the lake to the upper left-hand corner at the top of the frame through the clock – lake’s “9” and “10” you’d find Tahoe City on the lake’s border.

And, Olympic Valley (Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows resorts) Northstar Resort and Truckee.

Most of the tourists originating in Silicon Valley and Sacramento take I-80 northeast to Truckee for quick access.

Packed in SUVs like sardines, they imagine sliding and skiing and all the fun they bring chasing runs when the lifts open.

They connect to Northstar and the lake by taking SR 267 from Truckee and on to Olympic Valley over CA 89.

Actually, if they craved fresh powder at Kirkwood, or at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort they’d opt for the southern route choosing US 50 leaving Sacramento.

Many choose that route to take them into South Lake Tahoe at the “6” on our Washoe clock.

You can too.

Check first with Siri.

No law against it.

But, after a stop at Sierra-at-Tahoe, and continuing on, you eventually connect with the 89.

The road.

Not on your loved one’s square-bordered contemporary clock face.

Following Lake Tahoe’s western border travel south, between the “9” and the “6,” you’ll come to the intersection where the US 50 and CA 89 meet.

Which is a good thing, trust me.

The 50 north takes you to the southern corner of the lake where Stateline (Nevada) and South Lake Tahoe (California) border each other again at “5” on the clock.

There you’ll find the gondola taking you to Heavenly Mountain Resort just on the California side of the border.

Slowly glide up the mountain top to where you can snowboard and ski all the runs that crisscross back and forth across the state lines.

Then 50 connects the south lake with the north lake following  the eastern Nevada shore until “3” on the ticking clock face, near Glenbrook.

It picks up Route 28 to complete the circle once you pass Lake Tahoe State Park and pull into Incline Village.

But, forget all that.

The part about traveling north.

When US 50 connects to the Luther Pass Road (CA 89) (formerly known as Emerald Bay Road and West Lake Boulevard) somewhere between Echo Lake and Meyers, you travel south for a while until near Sorensen you exit onto Carson Pass Highway (88).

From there it’s a long hop and a skip past Caples Lake until you find Kirkwood Meadows Dr. and Kirkwood Mountain Resort, duh.

Oh, and while we’ve mentioned Glenbrook, the 50 these days takes you east where you can connect with US 395.

You go north on the merged US 50 and US 395 until just south of Carson City, NV.

Then the 50 continues east, now called Lincoln Highway, until just beyond Mound House.

Drive to Route 341 and take it north from the 50 intersection.

Continue until the Route 341 forks and take Route 342 just south of Silver City.

Guess what’s up next?

Yup, Gold Hill.

And, then finally Virginia City, brief home of Samuel Clemens where he became Mark Twain.

And, if you are still playing along with us, Virginia City sits almost directly east of Truckee.

In the upper right hand corner of your spouse’s, roommate’s or mother’s framed Washoe-manufactured leaf-shaped tick tock clock.

Enough about that for now.

During the summer of 2015, you’ll recall we noticed an emerging trend first in Durango and then in the Summit County, Colorado, ski and snowboard resort towns.

The local real estate markets began heating up.

Before we continue our story about Lake Tahoe (and later Mammoth Lakes, California) let’s visit the pros and cons of investing in real estate.

Especially in light of the equity locked up in Baby Boomer households given some of the reverse mortgage scenarios and calculated risks.

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.

Tahoe

Somebody estimated the sheer volume of water could cover the an area as large as the entire state of California more than 12 inches deep.

 

Nevada owns the water, the shoreline and the gambling on the right, eastern side — roughly a third of Lake Tahoe itself.

 

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.

In the Sierra Nevada mountains Lake Tahoe closely resembles Summit County’s proximity to pristine beauty and ski resorts. 

  • Is now the time to invest your equity in a home or rental bordering both California and Nevada?
  • What do you need to know before taking the plunge into the Lake Tahoe market?

Recall both lifestyle bucket lists — of seven zip codes — on the California itinerary for former Whitefish, Montana “birds of a feather” (BOF) flocking to new nests. 

Four of them you’ll remember border Lake Tahoe.

California Itinerary: Sierra Nevada –

  • Truckee, 96161, 96162;
  • Squaw Valley, 96146; and
  • Tahoe City, 96145

But, first the stats.

Lake Tahoe itself.

  • Elevation – 6,229 feet above sea level
  • Length 22 miles 
  • Width – varies from 10 to 12 miles 
  • Depth – 1,685 feet at its deepest
  • On the list of deepest lakes in North America, Lake Tahoe ranks #3.  
Heading for the Beach

Somebody estimated the sheer volume of water could cover the an area as large as the entire state of California more than 12 inches deep.  

The Washoe Tribe of Native Americans named it “Big Water.” 

A tug of war between the Great and Evil Spirit threw off falling leaves and created Lake Tahoe and a few others nearby including our favorite, Fallen Leaf Lake.

Proud locals, realtors and visitor bureau-types claimed Lake Tahoe is (or was) 97% pure, at least as of the 2003 timeframe when we first checked it out.

Adventures in the Eastern Sierras

The Lake attracted tourists dating as far back as the 1860s, when Mark Twain wrote a few admiring words now etched on a North Tahoe Beach boulder

 “… the fairest picture the whole Earth affords” 

Historically it’s unclear if his inscription occurred before or after he accidentally set a big chunk of the north shore on fire. 

At least, that’s what he confesses to in “Roughing It.”

If you understand the local traffic patterns – when to start and when to finish –  you can drive around the lake in about three hours. 

Or you can hike all or portions of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail.  

You’d need 15 days to circle the lake, especially if you stopped to enjoy the fairest picture.

Imagine an old-fashioned tick tock clock hanging on your parents or grandparents wall.  

You know the kind with a short hand (why did they call them hands?) for hours and a longer second-hand (not for seconds) but, for minutes.

Now imagine that those poor pioneer families who survived the infamous Donner Party cannibalism led their wagon train into the promised land, to what is now Lake Tahoe.  

And imagine further that their precious clock endured the grueling trek with them from Independence, Missouri.  

But, the harrowing ordeal stretched it lengthwise (ok, like in a classic “Mickey Mouse” cartoon) and ended with an uneven elongated face.

And, if the Washoes manufactured it you might say the clock resembled a leaf, right?

Straighter edged on the right side (eastern) and a half circle on the opposite western side.

Got it?

Good.  

Here’s the artistic part.

Now, if you took a marker (not a permanent marker) and you slowly start to draw a straight line on the clock face you could connect where the elongated “12” should be found straight down towards where the “6” could be found.

Kids. (Or grandkids).

Don’t try this at home.

But, if you stopped drawing the line to a point almost even with “4” and continued to draw it to the right at a slight downward angle you would complete the line at the clock’s edge between the “4” and “5”.

Taking the Scenic Route

Guess what?

You would have drawn the Nevada – California border on a map of the lake. 

It’s that western border you notice on maps of Nevada.  

Where Nevada is wider and boxier at the top, but slices back eastward near the bottom.

Or on the eastern edge of California. 

Where it curves and slides in a laid-back fashion frolicking in the Pacific Ocean and spooning and cuddling Nevada’s vertical, then angled edge.

Except for the part of their bed that is rocky, full of spikier mountain peaks and ancient volcanic cliffs.

The imagined line in reality separates ownership of Lake Tahoe.  

Nevada owns the water, the shoreline and the gambling on the right, eastern side — roughly a third of Lake Tahoe itself.

The north shore boundary between California to the left (ha ha) and Nevada to the right  (ha ha) neatly bisects the top of the clock between the “1” and the “2” in “12.”   

On the Nevada side you find Crystal Bay at the split and Incline Village as you move clockwise on Route 28.

Wanna play some more?

Part Two: Time to Circle the Lake and Discover Your Next Adventure

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.

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.

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.

Senses

First, there’s the San Juan Mountains in which Durango stands 6,520 feet above sea level.  Then, there’s the Animas River meandering in and around the downtown streets.”

 

San Juan Mountains
Purgatory, River of Lost Souls, Silverton – Wild West Mining Heritage

 

Life. Happiness. Passion. Meaning.

See. Hear. Smell

Okay.  Here’s your check list.

You better hop to it, because time is running out and your vacation will end before you see and do everything on your checklist.

Mountain.

Animas River

Check.

Forest, River, Mother Nature.

Check.

Check.

Check.

Hmm.

Life feels good!

First, there’s the San Juan Mountains in which Durango stands 6,520 feet above sea level.

Then, there’s the Animas River meandering in and around the downtown streets.

Cycling

And, of course there is a buzz of activity.

If it’s summer …

Then it’s a gaggle of runners, cyclists, rock climbers, kayakers and fly-fishers.

Fly Fishing
Rock Climbing

If it’s winter

Then it’s skiers and snowboarders in lift lines on Durango Mountain against a backdrop of heavy snowy laden trees and mountains peaks.

Durango Mountain Resort

Sometime in 2002 or 2003 we initiated coverage of Durango.

Because Harry Dent wrote if you’re still freaked out after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City – or for that matter any metropolitan area — consider Durango.

Trade in an Urban Upscale, high density lifestyle, for a more pristine, sparsely populated community.

Could you find work?  Interested in financial planning he asked?

There’s an Edward Jones office already there.

Durango, he wrote, is an example of where Baby Boomers had been discovering “Big Bucks in the Boondocks”.

Not necessarily a welcoming passage for our self-reliant High Country Eagle, David Petersen, who no doubt was sending his manuscript “On the Wild Edge: In Search of a Natural Life” off to his publisher around the time.

From Grand Canyon to Mesa Verde

When we first visited Durango – over a summer a few years before Petersen published his book – we had already driven a long distance  in the dry heat from Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

Trading Posts

We drove out of Montezuma County in the Southwest corner of Colorado and headed for the general vicinities of La Plata, San Juan and Archueleta counties along the southern Colorado border.

Stopping briefly at the Colorado Welcome Center in the Cortez City Park, we realized that you’re at another major crossroad – 555 takes you past the Crow Canyon Archeological Center to Dove Creek and the Dolores River Overlook.

West is the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation.

South is where we’ve been on 160.

Northeast on 145 takes us to Telluride through the San Juan National Forest.

East takes us past Mesa Verde National Park, on 160 towards Durango.

We decide to stick to U.S. 160 headed east.

Long Road Ahead

To be honest, I didn’t even consider a time change for Mesa Verde and Durango.

This has been one trip with a lot of driving.

All I had thought about behind the wheel is the next stop at Mesa.

And then a 45 minute drive to Durango, our “Basecamp,” for three nights and two days before pressing on to Denver.

When we drove up the the entrance of the state park, the park ranger told us the park was closing in 25 minutes for the day due to the hour time change between Arizona and Colorado.

What?!

Nooooo!

We pressed on, though.

What else could we do?

Driving a long and winding road we squeezed in a whirlwind tour of the Anasazi Cliff Dwellings.

The ranger said to visit the museum and the Spruce House since we didn’t need tickets or a guide.

Not until we hiked down to the Spruce House, did I begin to appreciate the severely shortened stopover.

We climbed down into a Kiva.

Mesa Verde National Park

And then I forgot about our time constraint.

It was like I was transported into a different world, a different time.

I could begin to use my imagination while driving around the scenic loop.

There we saw rock evidence of earlier communities out in the open on the top of the mesa.

They once flourished.

But, it wasn’t anything that I had expected.

It’s as if as warring tribes or other threats challenged their existence.

Spruce Tree House

Instead of choosing another mountain top, they moved to the cliffs for protection.

At least we had enough time to take in cliff dwellings that appeared in the shadows across the canyons from a turnout.

We stopped and photographed like so many other tourists before and after us — until the rain moved in.

The centuries of inhabiting this area begins to sink in.

Especially when you stand here next to our SUV with digital cameras in hand and gaze out across the canyon to the complex of early Anasazi cliff homes.

It takes an unhurried appreciation for what you’re seeing to hit you.

They were built, what, some 1400 years before the first European explorers laid eyes on the territory.

Anasazi Cliff Dwellings

Or even stepped on North American shores!

Anasazi people — Ancestral Pueblo-ans — lived for roughly 700 years in Mesa Verde, having migrated from the Four Corners region.

Half expecting we’d be kicked out, we spent about an hour exploring, even as exhibits and tours barred any admissions.

Parched.

Bone tired.

How much of this can anyone take?

Suffering from fanny fatigue, we climbed back in our SUV for the last 45 minute drive  –arriving in downtown Durango at dusk.

From my journal –

Durango sits on the edge of a great desert mesa and enjoys warm breezes and cool lush mountain forests.

With a population that grew from 12,500 to almost 14,000 people before 2008 Durango grew at significant rate.

The United States Census Bureau reported a population of 16,887 in the 2010 census.

There’s no missing the San Juan Mountains in Durango.

Durango sits in their shadows.

Durango, Colorado

Wikipedia says the mountains are …

geographically younger than other Colorado mountain ranges – they haven’t weathered as much, so they appear more jagged and captivating, at an elevation of 6,500 feet above sea level. 

As we drive through these mountain roads you can’t help but notice the brown, red, yellow tracings from mine shafts long ago abandoned.

But, I was done with driving by the time we found our hotel.

And finding the Best Western Rio Grand took awhile, especially when the address listed looked to be at the wrong end of a one-way street, a problem we eventually solved.

While eating an early dinner at Farquarhts it’s easy to see how the downtown gets most of its charm from the classic 19th century hotels and its Victorian architecture, saloons and hitching posts.

Victorian Architecture

So much of the West owes its expansion to the railroad, and I guess Durango is no exception.

I love the story our waiter told about Durango being founded when another community across the Animus River turned down the offer to bring the railroad that would link the mines to Denver.

I know.

It’s kind of an accidental incident that turns into a major opportunity – or blunder depending upon your point of view.

Either way, while Durango was founded by the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad in 1879, it wasn’t until August 5, 1881 that the railroad came to the mining and smelting center

Denver and Rio Grand Railroad

Those were heady day in this area — the heydays of the gold and silver booms.

I love the names.

“Purgatory”,

“River of Lost Souls”,

“Silverton.”

They all conjure up images of a gold rush town, you know?

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

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.

Trailhead 

“The TMTA Huts are preserved by people who seek the peace and solitude of the back country.  Please respect this privacy.”

 

Colorado Vistas
We were determined to scale the last part of our hike so we could look down on the brownish-red rock pile of, well, rocks perched on the very next ridge.

Such a cliche, you know?

Amazing vistas

Ragged peaks in the distance.

Wildflower-filled meadows.

Just off the trail

Step-by-step we hiked a dirt trail taking us in and out of shaded mini-forested clumps of pine trees.

Later on we found out the names of the wildflower photos —

Indian Paintbrush,

Columbine (Colorado’s state flower) and

Lupine.

In the span of just a the few days since we left the San Juan Mountain Range outside of Durango, the quality of wildflowers started to decline in color and vitality.

The season, prolonged by a week or more of showers, was coming to an end.

Hidden in the shadows

Hey, look this was the end of July after all.

At the base of the hike we crossed a weathered brown-gray wood sign with the following description.

“The TMTA Huts are preserved by people who seek the peace and solitude of the back country.  

Please respect this privacy.”

Tacked on below the etched-in description, on a wooden arrow pointing to the left, we read “Shrine Mtn Inn”.

Which in turn pointed us to a washed out-colored meadow with clumps of dark green pine trees.

And to another sign, “Shrine Ridge Trail” anchored in an old decaying stump of a log along the path.

In and out of dark shadows and open meadows we hiked.

Tucked away in the shadows

Small creek beds with white water mini waterfalls splashed out of the darkness onto dark brown rocks surrounded by light and dark green vegetation.

Flowers grew out of grey, burned out tree trunks in the meadow alongside the trail to Shrine Ridge.

Colorado Trail

Tucked away off the trail under more green foliage brownish, reddish outcroppings pointing up at 45 degrees with over a dozen rock layers grabbed our attention.

Oh, ok, my photo-tourist attention.

The trail elevated at a steeper slope, enough to cause us to pause in the shadows under a grove of trees.

We sat on fallen logs to snack on sandwiches, string cheese and water.

Only momentarily.

We became bait for swarms of mosquitoes.

Lingering Snow Pack

Waiting for us near the summit a dirty patch of unmelted snow demonstrated why the rock and dirt valley was so well-worn.

Mounting our final push to the crest revealed more red rock and dirt.

But, looking out in every direction we saw those iconic high elevation meadows and distant peaks spread out before us.

And except for aching muscles and joints and the high elevation which slowed us down, we weren’t going to give up.

Which way?

We were determined to scale the last part of our hike so we could look down on the brownish-red rock pile of, well, rocks perched on the very next ridge.

At the crest of the meadow the direction couldn’t have been more clear.

A gray weathered wood signpost bolted into a wood column simply said, “Trail” with a arrow pointing the way.

Which, of course, must have been to the Cathedral Rock photo op.

Mission accomplished.

Cathedral Rock Vista

We caught our breath, posed for selfies and group shots and realized the hike took longer than planned.

But wait, the lighting in the late afternoon provided more dramatic photo subjects.

So I lingered behind while the rest of the party kept pace with the dogs galloping downhill far ahead.

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 Four in “The Knowledge Path Series” dedicated to helping you find the place of your dreams in the Rocky Mountain State.