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?
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 wakeup call from my knee to my brain.
Now, I notice my Oakley sunglasses have fogged around the outer edges.
My sunscreen drips into my right eye.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“A fed bear is a dead bear.”
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.
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?
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.
Plenty of open parking spaces remained at the lodge.
And then the brick wall turned deep and white and behind a barrier.
It literally turned into an unsolved cold case.
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.
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.
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.
(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.