“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Above the porch you see the main sign “ Tom’s Place 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 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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
But, more importantly, I can agree whole heartedly with this copy on their website:
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.
(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.