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.

Moose

“ATTENTION! Moose In This Area.”

Watch Out For Moose in the Hood
Pop Quiz: Which of the following signs signal that when a moose sees you and walks slowly towards you something bad is going to happen — to you?

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.

Moose on the Fridge

All that sight seeing, first in a warm sun-drenched day, and later in a cool, clear mountain evening made us appreciate chilling out in the massively wood-beamed home.

You learn a lot about people based on what’s attached to their refrigerator.

On our annual ski and snowboarding trips to Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierras of California, you find instructions about how long it takes to boil water in the high altitude.

Much longer, especially if you need to feed a dozen starving stomachs.

Kitchen Full of Cookie Monsters

On our hosts’ refrigerator the notice hand dated as 4-17-15 in bold red letters warned us —

ATTENTION! Moose In This Area.  

I expected the Cookie Monster, since this was the kitchen after all.

Rockies and Bullwinkle

Moose, the Colorado Parks Wildlife said, regularly use this area.

It is important that you take precautions to avoid conflicts with moose.

So, I’m guessing you have to pay attention, unless it’s Bullwinkle and Rocky the Flying Squirrel.

Continuing.

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

Do Wap, Do Wap, What?

They sport “dewlaps.”

Say what?

You know, a loose flap of skin hanging below the neck.

Probably not that many hanging out in Beverly Hills, or that unsightly sagging can be taken care of — just ask one of the “Housewives.”

Blinging Beverly Hills Housewives

Should you approach them?

No.

How about letting pets play with them?

No.

How about feeding them like the bears in national parks?

Yes.

I mean no.

Which of the following signs signal that when a moose sees you and walks slowly towards you something bad is going to happen — to you?

Ears laid back?

Long hairs on hump raised?

May lick snout?

Yup, any and all of them.

Don’t Forget to Tip Generously

If a moose in Beverly Hills charges you it is customary to leave a 20% tip.

In Colorado, not so much.

Run like hell.

Look for something to put between you and the moose.

In addition to finding a slower runner, you should consider the following.

Keep a Boulder Between You and Bullwinkle

Tree.

Car.

Large rock.

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.

Rustic

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

Silverton’s Extreme Winter Sports

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

Back to our summer vacation.

Reading between the highlights and headlines.

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

Southwestern Colorado Travel Region

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

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

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

But there were plenty more throughout the state.

So many towns to visit.

So little time.

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

Over a two week vacation.

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

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

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

Durango to Silverton

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

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

“Stand-by?” For a bus!?

Not what we wanted to hear.

Luckily, a friend tipped us off before the trip.

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

Fast forward years later.

He bought and renovated another home.

We visited him during the summer of 2015.

But, enough about that.

Now.

His recommendation?

Durango Train Station

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

Try a bus, or maybe a jeep tour.

Because, the train is so sllllooooooowwwww.

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

Well, we were still shocked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just ask away — any questions.”

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown Silverton

We endured the Colorado afternoon rain.

Feeding Bus Loads of Tourists Lunch

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

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

We window-shopped.

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

Snowboarder Performing Jump Silverton, Colorado, USA

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

I loved his line …

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

“Look up on the hill,” he said.

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

Christ of the Mines Shrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s another coincidence for you.

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

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

That’s right.

A long lost ancestor?

Turns out he was quite an entrepreneur.

Here’s how the story is told:

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

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

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

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

In Howardsville.

According to Dee Brown:

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

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

Don’t know.

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

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

Turning from facts to fun.

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

Telluride

“QuentinTarantino spent the past winter in Telluride filming his latest project, “The Hateful Eight.” He was joined by a crew of about 150 and actors …

 

I still liked the feel of the town surrounded by the green slopes, mountain peaks and red-rock canyon walls – in Summer. But, what about …?

 

So here was our plan.

Get picked up by Enterprise at 8 am, hit the road shortly thereafter on the scenic route to Telluride.

But.

Our hosts live on a country road.

The Enterprise shuttle driver couldn’t find the house.

No one in their office knew what was up.

Finally, our host dropped us off at the rental office, as he had offered the night before, instead of waiting for some rookie who …

  • doesn’t know the Durango roads or
  • can’t read a map or
  • can’t make the GPS work correctly.

There I said it.

Part two of our plan worked out fine.

Drop off the rental at our Summit County destination in Silverthorne – but for an additional fee.

No problem.

On the backend of our vacation, my brother-in-law volunteered to drive us two hours to the Denver airport, so he could pick up some bulk items at a Costco and see a friend.

2 Hour Commute to Denver Airport

That’s the problem for flying in for a visit to Frisco, Dillon, Breckenridge, Silverthorne, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and even Vail.

Arranging for that two hour drive from the Denver Airport.

The third local agreed.

Scenic Route to Telluride

The baggage-handler-cyclist, the enterprise cowboy-guy sitting in their lobby, and the Durango Chamber women who had to put up with amateur philosopher, life coach in search of a local flock.

The best route follows 160 west, then you take the 184 shortcut at Mancos and pick up the 145 at Dolores.

So we did.

And, the fluffy white clouds floating in the deep sky-blue wilderness canvas mesmerized us.

Even though we almost touched the border of Utah off in the distance, it was the frequent signs to “National Forests” with green meadows and tree groves that caught our attention.

We passed on side trips to the San Juan National Forest, Anasazi Heritage Center and Rico.

It proved hard to skip places with names like Lizard Head Pass and Ophir.

But we snapped a lot of pictures hoping the windshield glare and passenger-side window wouldn’t throw an unwanted reflection in our moving masterpieces.

We passed lakes reflecting mesmerizing-clouds, small granite peaks, idyllic meadows and dark, dark green fir trees.

Too Many Scenic Opportunities

If you’re like me your mind wanders as you drive between destinations on long trips.

I was day dreaming about our  last vacation trip to this region

We simply ran out of time and skipped Telluride.

This year we skipped a stop in Silverton, because as empty nesters both of us felt the community was just too small and remote for us.

We passed ranches and old mines dotted with buildings in various states of disrepair.

And then a strange incident popped into my head.

One that just seemed odd at the time and remained just that until much later after Donald Trump’s election victory.

Only then did it connect two things political.

Our Durango friends reintroduced us to their life long friends.

And, took us to visit their friends divorced son.

Dennis greeted us at his home which was undergoing a major remodel.

Two things.

We hadn’t seen such gigantic log beams supporting his new roof.

And, we hadn’t seen someone proudly displaying a huge Confederate flag on the top of the roof.

This in contrast to the flowing American flag at the entrance of our friends best friends.

We just hadn’t encountered that before.

On our short vacation it just seemed odd.

We didn’t attach any importance to it

We were totally clueless.

Naively we asked our friends about it.

They glossed it over with a back story that Gen-X Dennis had always been rebellious growing up and in school.

Now, I wonder if they guessed we knew the significance of it.

But at the time we didn’t.

It just seemed odd flowing so magnificently there clearly thousands and thousands of miles from the deep South.

We might have figured it out.

Especially when Dennis’ mother told him to take it down, in that scolding tone all young boys feel in their bones.

But didn’t, although now it reminds me of the headline about the previous election.

Swastika On Campaign Sign Sparks Outrage

On Tuesday, Jeff Widen, a volunteer with the La Plata County Democrats, looks at a Barack Obama campaign sign he put up the previous day near U.S. Highway 160 and County Road 222 east of Durango.

Back then as a memory fragment it just floated disconnected from anything at all.

It disappeared from my dream-memory state as my attention snapped back to the task at hand.

Winding Country Roads

Back to the, well, navigating back country roads.

We drove winding high country mountain roads.

Sometimes meandering.

Sometimes death-defying like those twisting sharp turns along Pacific Coast Highway leading to Big Sur in California.

We climbed and climbed.

Must be getting close to Telluride we agreed.

Then we dropped and dropped.

Must have missed the Telluride turnout we agreed.

On the Big Sur-like twisty downward slope nearing the valley floor we flew past the turn-off to Mountain Village.

Oh well, we shrugged.

Meandering Country Roads

We weren’t here to spend three hours eyeballing golfers nearby.

Where’s Telluride we asked ourselves nearing the wide meadow just like most of the other ones we passed on the way.

Up there?

The sign to the airport pointed the way up on the opposite side of the red rock canyon wall.

On the mountain top?

Like at Catalina Island lying off of California’s Pacific Coast?

Maybe that’s were we’ll find planes and the Telluride Ski Resort?

We found ourselves at the mouth of the canyon.

Maybe the town and resort was at the, well, throat?

We negotiated the roundabout noting signs to Placerville on the 145 for later in the afternoon.

We followed the flow of traffic slightly uphill towards more deep blue skies, fluffy white clouds, low mountain peaks in cloud-shadows and dark green vegetation.

Repairs closed the road to downtown Telluride.

So we parked and walked.

In the middle of the street stood giant flower boxes with brightly colored blooms.

Flowers to Clouds

Reds, pinks, purples, yellows, you name it and it grew there.

Wildflowers?

We photographed similar looking specimens in Durango at Coal Bank.

Wait, what’s that leaf?

Did somebody slip in a marijuana plant?

Up the boutique-lined street off in the distance we felt we spied a ski run with a sliver of snow shining from the lower level, part way down from the peak.

Nope.

Turns out it was a water fall.

Slowly the clues built up to a surprising revelation.

Red Rock Construction

A sign to the gondola off a side street.

Crossing the street and looking back above the rust-colored stone buildings revealed wide trails among the darker green trees.

So, yup.

We missed the base of Telluride Resort when we skipped turning into the Mountain Village entrance.

If our relatives weren’t expecting us hours away, sure, we would have taken the Gondola  over and back, but we chose instead to shop and continue on our own photo tour.

Oh, and find some locally recommended place to grab a bite to eat.

We needed to avoid the long lunch waits.

Side Street Gondola

We butted up against a short deadline to hit the road again.

So, we asked the clerk who rang my hat and t-shirt up at the Paradise Resortwear.

With lunch out of the way we had windows to shop and more iPhone photos to snap.

Telluride spoke to me in much the same way that Balboa Island had those many years ago.

When I first viewed it from the crest of MacArthur Blvd in Newport Beach near Fashion Island.

Sure, Telluride showed off the same Victorian architecture we enjoyed earlier in the morning, but in Durango.

But, the New Sheridan Hotel (the old faded “Sheridan” sign looked down on the newer building next to it) wasn’t as ornate in red brick as Durango’s Strater Hotel.

New Sheridan

It just felt less touristy to me.

More authentic, I guess.

Maybe in the same way that San Francisco’s footprint always felt more manageable compared to New York City or even Los Angeles.

I know what you’re thinking, how can that be?

When in the summer the whole town is geared up for the onslaught of high profile festival visitors.

Over 40 festivals listed in “The Official Guide of Telluride” at last count between May (Telluride Library Arts Festival and Mountainfilm) and October (Telluride Photography Festival).

Telluride Festivals

World famous music festivals — Telluride Jazz Festival, Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

And, of course, the Telluride Film Festival in September.

We missed it.

The celebrities.

Even the lead story in one of the Telluride magazines described how

QuentinTarantino spent the past winter in Telluride filming his latest project, “The Hateful Eight.” He was joined by a crew of about 150 and actors including Channing Tatum, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walter Goggins and Tim Roth …

You can’t get more touristy than that, right?

Up, Up and Away Above the Canyon Floor

Flaunt it if you’ve got it, right?

I still liked the feel of the town surrounded by the green slopes, mountain peaks and red-rock canyon walls.

But, three hours only left a taste of Telluride.

We need three days, or three weeks.

Next time we’d hook up with local guides to explore the region —

Mountain Biking

maybe not for mountaineering,

but for rafting,

jeep tours,

horseback riding,

glider piloting, and

a spot of fly fishing.

We’d probably spend some time at a spa in Mountain Village.

Even relaxing on a Wednesday evening for The Sunset Concert Series.

Bluegrass Music Festival

And of course we’d enjoy picking the …

Perfect spot to sit, relax and taste the best of our fabulous restaurants have to offer… Whether it’s on main street or a side street, there are restaurants offering a tempting array of cuisines, ambiance and affordability.  It may be the mountain air, the sunshine or epic views, but whatever it is, having a meal in Telluride and Mountain Village is an experience in itself.

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.

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.

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.