Monday, August 24, 2009

Rock Creek in the Gilroy Dispatch

Just ran across this article on the Gilroy Dispatch Web site...

Getting out: The eastern Sierra Nevada

Aug 20, 2009
By Ron Erskine

There are countless places to take in breathtaking views when visiting the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range. Photo by: Ron Erskine

If you travel the world in search of grand mountain scenery - the Alps, the Andes, the Himalayas - you will see nothing more spectacular than the views available from your car window in the eastern Sierra Nevada.

This is not chamber of commerce hyperbole. Between Bridgeport in the north and Lone Pine in the south, U.S. Highway 395 traces the eastern escarpment of the Sierra. The mountain range has risen abruptly along faults in the east resulting in a profile that tilts gently to the west and drops dramatically to the east. So, as you drive Highway 395, peaks rising 10,000 feet above you appear nearly within reach.

The first time I drove this road, it was a revelation. Until that time, my adventures in the Sierra had been on the gentle western slope. When I finally saw such monumental topography in the mountain range I thought I knew, I was astounded. How could I have lived nearly my entire life in this state and not know this was here?

There is a catch however - it's a bit of a drive. Tioga Pass through Yosemite and the next pass north, Sonora Pass, are beautiful roads, but twisting and slow, and they are closed in winter. So, as you face the six-hour drive to the Lee Vining and Mono Lake, remember what's in store, then go to your "happy place" knowing that several RV's will be modulating your pace along the way.

There are many guidebooks and natural history books about the east side, but the one essential item you need is AAA's "Guide to the Eastern Sierra." In its folds are four large maps detailing sections of Highway 395 and the various spur roads that turn off the highway to Sierra trailheads. It also lists campgrounds, fishing information, and points of information. There are countless places to visit and a lifetime of exploring to do, so let's get started.

After five hours, you will finally reach Tioga Pass and the 9,941-foot Sierra crest. Here will be your introduction to the steep eastern escarpment. In the next 10 minutes and six miles, you will descend very steeply to the town of Lee Vining, losing much of the elevation it has taken so long to gain.

In Lee Vining, visit the Mono Lake Committee bookstore and information center, and a couple miles north of town, the Mono Lake Visitor Center. The Mono Lake Committee led the fight to save Mono Lake, and from its great selection of books, you can find the right one to guide your explorations. The Mono Lake Visitor Center commands a wonderful view of the lake and also has a great selection of local guidebooks.

Each spur road off of Highway 395 into the mountains is a doorway to true wonders, but one stands above all for easy access to stunning scenery. Fifteen miles south of Mammoth Lakes is Tom's Place. Leave Highway 395 here and drive 11 miles up lovely Rock Creek to the 10,255-foot Mosquito Flat trailhead at the end of the road. This is the entrance to Little Lakes Valley and one of the most spectacularly scenic areas anywhere. After walking up a short rise, breathtaking views appear up the valley to Bear Creek Spire and Mount Abbot (both are roughly 13,700 -feet tall).

Take the easy walk along this chain of lakes as far as your stamina permits. Looking up at the magnificent peaks or down at the changing lakes and the cascades that link them, every step is truly magical.

Your exploration of the east side has begun. There's a lot left to do, and that's good news.

Ron Erskine writes an outdoors column every Friday for the Dispatch. He can be reached at

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Robys in Mammoth/Rock Creek

As mentioned in my last post, my parents and I went to Mammoth for a brief visit at the beginning of August. Our first morning we canoed around Lake Mary in the old blue and white canoe from the lodge. Yes, it still gets occasional use, but it's getting heavier and heavier the older we get, so I'm not sure we'll be using it much longer. This is Rusty, keeping a close watch on the paddles; he was determined to catch one of those darn things.

A few years ago my parents switched to kayaking. So much lighter and easier to transport! I got to test-drive my dad's at Twin Lakes while he stayed on shore. As you can see, Mom is an old pro in hers.

Saturday night the Von Rohr family (3 generations) joined us for dinner at Slocums. Naturally, there was nonstop reminiscing about "the good old days." And it sounds as if Eric and Mark are doing a great job introducing Eric's kids to all the things we used to do together, even rebuilding our forts.

We finally got our dose of Rock Creek on Sunday. With two aging and unpredictable dogs in tow, we decided that a quick jaunt to Serene would be enough (I have carried 30-lb. Rusty down the McGee Creek trail—not fun). Serene is still one of the most vivid places in my memories, but none of us had been there in ages. As expected, nothing has changed; it still lives up to its name...

We circled the lake and then simply enjoyed the tranquility for a while.

Afterward we did a brief cruise of Mosquito Flats and around the lake, then headed to the Lake Store for pie. YUM. We also drove through the lodge grounds and stopped briefly to say hello again to the Von Rohrs. We checked out the changes in Cabin 11. Different, but nice. I was pleased to see a painting by Joe Mancuso on the wall.

Every time I go back it does get easier, but it still wrenches emotions. Every square inch of the grounds and beyond holds so many memories and they all suddenly come rushing back. It's amazing how minute details from 30+ years ago can remain burned so clearly in one's mind.

As we were driving out, I remarked how much the meadow has returned to forest. Remember when it was just open grass, filled with shooting stars?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Long time no see...

Any of you who spent a good deal of time at the lodge over the years likely remembers Leonard Hunsicker. He was officially an employee in 1972, 1975, and 1978, but he spent much more time than that helping us out through the years. When he met his bride-to-be, Ginny Bruce, she also worked at the lodge in 1985. Seems to me the wedding occurred (in Mammoth) around 1988.

They lived in Mammoth for many years, but also spent some time in Colorado. Now they're back in the Eastern Sierra, in Independence. My parents discovered that they were working at a restaurant there called Hooligans, so on our caravan to Mammoth last week, we stopped for lunch to say hello. None of us can even remember the last time I'd seen them. Let's just say it's been way too long. Of course, none of us has changed a bit!

So... if you are headed through Independence any time soon, you now know where to stop for an excellent meal. Hooligans is across the street from the court house. With Leonard as chef and Ginny as server, you can't go wrong. Our lunch on the shaded patio was delicious and a nice respite from the road. And it's always fun to see familiar faces from the past...