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 . . .