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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mammoth, McGee & Convict Lake, CA - Oct. 9-12, 2014

More photos here!

Many experiences are worth repeating on this trip (luckily!) and the Westin in Mammoth was certainly one of them.  As we were celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary, we treated ourselves to two nights in a Heavenly Bed and dinner out at The Tamarack Lodge.  Both proved to be as exceptional as our first experience of them. 

These two nights involved a lot of sitting in a Jacuzzi, gorging on NY style bagels from The Old New York Deli & Bagel Company and dogs sleeping on their own Heavenly Dog Beds.  But we did do one hike:  Up from Horseshoe Lake (half dry) to Mammoth Pass (not as scenic as you might imagine) and over to Lake McCleod (gorgeous.)  A short hike day, but enough exercise to completely enjoy an entire bottle of wine during dinner! 

Having eaten fresh-caught trout every night since we arrived in the valley, we ignored all the fish options on the Tamarack Lodge menu and opted for Venison Osso Buco and Angus Ribeye.  Delicious.  And prepared by someone else.  And cleaned up by someone else.  (And, let’s face it, killed by someone else.)  A perfect treat.
But soon enough we were ready to hit the open road; we hitched up Salt (the Westin graciously allowed us to park her in front of their hotel in the Valet Only area) and drove a whopping 20 miles back south on 395 to McGee Creek.

The USFS McGee Creek Campground is lovely, each pitch with a built in shade shelter and asphalt pitches!!  Yahoo!  I forgot the thrill (and cleanliness) of having Salt perched on asphalt rather than dirt.  The creek behind the campground is a lovely fishing area (even better than Rock Creek in my opinion) with a lot of pools and, now, a few less fish (Alan, of course, caught dinner each night.)

We hiked up McGee Creek Trail which was enjoyable for its incredibly colorful mountains (rivaling those found in the Artists Palette in Death Valley) as well as the fall leaves.  Sadly, the trail did not follow along the creek as we had hoped and it was terribly hot.  So we kept it a short two miles in and out.

The next day we upped the ante heading up Convict Lake Trail and attempted to make it to Mildred Lake.  After about four miles of a gentle but constant climb and a half mile of scrambling straight up over rocks, we threw in the towel.  No Mildred Lake for us.  The best views on this hike are about one mile passed the trailhead at the back of Convict Lake.  So stop there if you are after a scenic hike and not a strenuous one.  We figured our total hiking mileage to be over eight miles that day.  Rosco did about half of that (which is great for him.)

Next stop is the June Lake area; despite having been up and down Highway 395 numerous times in our past, we have never even driven the June Lake Loop.  Here goes!


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Return to Rock Creek (Owen's Valley, CA)

I was going to label this, “Return to Paradise” but realized I have to leave that title open in case we ever get back to the French Alps.  Back in 2011, Owen’s Valley in California and specifically the Rock Creek area was our definition of paradise. Revisiting a dreamland is not always the best idea so it was with some trepidation that we aimed The Shaker (replaced Pepper in 2013) west, three years (and, as some of you who have been reading along know, a lot of experience) later. 

There are plenty of differences between this trip and the last, the largest being that now we are on vacation and in 2011 we were beginning a life on the road.  What remains the same is the beauty of the Eastern Sierras, near empty campgrounds and lots of off leash hiking—or riding in a backpack as is Rosco’s version (he is now 13 and can’t keep up all the time.)

This year, the weather is warm (started in the upper 80’s but has dropped to a comfortable upper 70’s now) with no rain or snow in sight; a big difference from three years ago when a snow storm in October chased many people out of the valley and closed most campgrounds.  Unfortunately, due to the almost chronic draught of California, many streams are barely flowing and, much to our dismay, some alpine lakes have dried up.  (Not what you want to see after hiking uphill for two miles—more on that later.)

We were anxious to get to our first hike; up Onion Valley, a spot missed back in 2011.  We opted to stay two nights at Upper Gray’s Meadow campground, in the same pitch as three years ago.  We arrived nice and early at the trailhead and started the relentless uphill climb toward Lake Gilbert.   While you hike the well maintained trail, the sun shines almost continuously on you and the scenery is not great:   The trail winds up the hill, your only view being back down to your increasingly smaller car in the parking area.   But make yourself continue past the small backwater known as Pothole Lake and you will reach Lake Gilbert, a gorgeous alpine lake full of trout.  We fished, and Alan caught his usual two fish. 

That hike not being as wonderful as we remembered for the area, we opted to leave after two nights and head to French Camp at Rock Creek.  We have fond memories of staying in a rare full hook-up site there and drove in hoping against hope that it would be available (this particular pitch is not reserve-able.)   Indeed, there is one full hook-up site (not the same one as years ago, this time number 62 ½) but it was taken.  We opted for the lovely pitch #65, dropped Salt, then hustled over to the creek where Alan caught two Rainbows before we lit a campfire and settled in for two nights.

In 2011, one of our greatest joys was hiking to the Little Lakes region of Rock Creek.  Hoping that was still as gorgeous as ever, we opted to leave that location for a day and try a new hike up the valley to Kenneth- and Dorothy Lake.  It was at Kenneth Lake, after hiking uphill in the hot sun for two miles that we discovered the depth of the California draught; Kenneth was bone dry.  Sharing our water with The Noses, we continued on to Dorothy Lake where we happily discovered the lake half full.  We enjoyed a lovely lunch but did not fish as we figured any fish left in that lake should be left for the few water fowl diving around.  Rosco was having a hard time on the way back (after three miles) so we put all Alan’s gear into my backpack and Rosco into Alan’s and set off back down.  (Rosco was quite content to bob around behind Alan; his eyes halfway closed the entire time.)

And so the day came:  To relive the Little Lakes hike.  On October 7, we set off and were not disappointed.  As gorgeous as ever, although much drier than our last visit, the lakes and hiking up that valley are amazing.  The hiking is quite easy (hiking at elevation has become even easier now that we live at 7,800 feet back home in Colorado) and the views phenomenal.   This remains a hike not to be missed if you are in the area. 

Also not to be missed, but we keep doing so, is the homemade pie at the Rock Creek Lakes Resort across the road from Rock Creek Lake.  Three years ago it had closed by the time we discovered the area (they close mid-October) and this time we stopped in twice to no avail:  The first time they were sold out and the next day we came too early (10:30.)  Pies aren’t available until 10:45 or 11:00, one never knows exactly when.  Personally, I have found these pies to be a little high maintenance (with their highfalutin names like “Cheddar Pear”) but since one still has not crossed my lips, I cannot fairly judge.

Upon arriving home to pitch 65 (I was so desperate for a shower!!) we were over-joyed to find that the people in the full hook-up site were leaving the next day; we immediately hunted down the host and asked to move over for two nights.  As if a shower the next day wasn’t enough to make me sing out loud, the fact that we were moving over in the morning meant we had plenty of space in our grey water tank to shower that night.  With a razor.  Ahhhh.

Now the part for which you all have been waiting; the major difference between 2014's vacation and 2011's life.  For one, our current life in Colorado looks an awful lot like camping:  Wide open space around us, a gorgeous valley with views of mountains, small cabin, wood fires on demand, only seeing people when we want to, dogs running free.  Compare that to what we left in 2011:  A 4,000 square foot house in Laguna Beach which, despite its size, offered zero privacy from your neighbors (a mere 10’ away) and constant noise and traffic from the busy PCH below.  Not to mention our stressful software jobs . . .

And so it looks like we discovered our true selves back in 2011 and, after a year and a half on the road, returned to build that paradise in Colorado.  For now, it is two more weeks of vacation; more fishing, more hiking and enjoying the 70 degree weather.  By the time we get back to Colorado, it will likely be snowing.

Heading north . . .


Monday, February 10, 2014

Chickens: Pirate Moves Out. Then Back In. (And in between makes a personal declaration.)

Yes, it is true, I finally got the courage to move Pirate out to the coop.  I moved him out, then back into the garage, then back out to the coop, then back into the garage.  While I was moving him around, he took a few minutes to declare his sex.

The turning point in moving past my paranoia happened when I purchased a rabbit cage.  It is a perfect size for one chicken living part time and has wire all around so Pirate can dodge the pesky beaks of The Ladies.  (Yes, they still take any opportunity to beat up on him.)

For the first week I put the rabbit cage into the chicken run and kept the cage door closed.  Pirate had lots of free ranging time in the yard (during which he kept a close eye out for approaching hens and bolted when necessary) so when it was time to rest, he was quite happy in the cage.  The Ladies tried to peck him but the wire did its job; he was allowed to eat and drink in peace.  During this time, I would come out at night and place him inside the coop, behind a screen of chicken wire so he could get used to sleeping with The Ladies without getting hurt.

The second week I left the cage door open and Pirate would venture out on occasion only to be chased back into the cage.  After a few days, JJ and Goldie Hen decided the rabbit cage would be a great nesting spot; they chased Pirate out and set about laying their eggs.  Out in the open, poor Pirate was losing feathers daily, often to the digestive tract of Dom.

Then a deep freeze blew into Colorado and rescued Pirate from these hellish days.  The temperature was so cold (zero to 10 degrees during the day and well below zero at night) I decided to lock The Ladies into the heated coop (otherwise the crazy ladies would walk around the pen tucking one foot up into their down then the other in an attempt to keep their feet from freezing.)  But I knew they wouldn’t let Pirate eat or drink if I put him inside the coop with them so I moved Pirate and his rabbit cage into the garage.

Upon waking the next morning, we flipped the garage light on and within a few minutes, Pirate began a teenage-boy-sounding creaky, “Cock-a-errrr-doodle---ack.”  Pirate declared himself a rooster; you can watch him chime his morning routine here:

After the cold days, I moved Pirate and the rabbit cage back into the run. 

One morning, feeling a bit nauseous at what beatings might be occurring down in the pen, I went out to see how things were going.  Pirate was out of the cage and, as soon as I walked into the run, he flew up to the top of my head.  I brought him down into my arms and discovered the raw, bloody wounds that The (Not So Much) Ladies had left on his back. 

Pecking order I understand, but when Pirate hides his head in a corner, not fighting back, and they continue to peck and tear at him, I just can’t take it.

So Pirate is now sharing his days free-ranging in the yard or safely away from dogs and hens in the Tractor; he spends his nights in the rabbit cage in the garage.  And yes, I walk him to and fro each morning and each evening. 

We are hoping that, given his newly identifiable sex, he will become more aggressive quickly and at least be willing to fight back.  I have long talks with The Ladies telling them they might want to consider the future a bit before they beat up Pirate too much; he will want something from them someday and I think he has a good memory.