California Day 9 (8/14/18): Mammoth Lakes Unexpected Weather by Bill Pike


After a good night of sleep and an oatmeal breakfast, we gradually pushed ourselves out of the condo. We had some exploring to do, plus we needed to continue our altitude acclimation.

It is a short drive from the condo up into Mammoth Mountain. In winter, this area is known for skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing. Over the years, the Mammoth Mountain folks have done a nice job shifting the summer use of this terrain for assorted skill levels related to mountain biking.

On this Tuesday morning, the parking lots for Mammoth Mountain were packed. It took a while to find a parking spot.

 As we walked toward the visitor’s center to purchase our lift tickets, I was amazed at the license plates. Not everyone was from California. A lot of those vehicles were outfitted with bike racks and mountings for other recreational gear.

The grounds were a flurry of activity. All sorts of play stops designed  for children to burn energy.

We purchased our Senior Scenic Ride tickets, and worked our way through a short maze to the entry point for the gondola ride. The friendly and helpful staff were able to even get me loaded properly on the gondola.

Mammoth Mountain tops out a 11,053 feet. Without question, the gradual ride up the mountain provides many scenic views. 

As we are pulled up, we can see the construction site for a new zip line attraction. That zip line promises to barrel brave souls down the mountain side at speeds upward of 60 mph. I will not be one of those brave souls who tries out that zip line someday.

IMG_1626At the top, we find our way off the gondola, and start exploring a bit. The terrain up here is very sparse. Our footsteps plant down on rock, crushed stone. No matter where I look, I have the desire to take a million pictures. I note the well worn trail where mountain bikers have passed by us during our exploration.

A nice visitor’s center, complete with a restaurant is a part of this mountain top experience. The visitor’s center provides information about a number of topics related to this mountain. 

It is interesting on this mid-morning excursion that puffy cumulus clouds are present and building. In fact, when we reach the base of the mountain, we overhear an employee talking about a reported  lightning strike not far from us.

With Mammoth Mountain behind us, we start the walk back to the car. Horseshoe Lake is our next stop. No matter where I scan my vision the landscape continues to capture my approval. This terrain is such a contrast to our Blue Ridge Mountains back in Virginia. 

The ride over to Horseshoe Lake is short.  I guess in some ways, Horseshoe Lake has become one of the poster children for what  unseen carbon dioxide gas (CO2) can do to a lake basin and the forest of trees surrounding it. 

In the 1980s, scientist began to research why this landscape was drastically changing. Eventually, they concluded that CO2 was seeping through the complicated layers of substructure. 

A key piece of this research came from sampling tree roots and soil from dying trees—they contained significant levels of CO2.  The researchers at the United States Geological Survey have an excellent Fact Sheet (#172-96) about this discovery.

A little dubious about whether to start our hike because of the cloud cover. The hues of the gray sky had become darker, but we decided to head out.

We were not very far out on the trail when the first drops of rain started to fall. In our minds, we thought this was a light, short lived shower—we were wrong.

The rain started to come down harder. Luckily, a few yards ahead of us was an abandoned restroom building. We scampered for the front side that had a roof line. That pitched out roof gave us a bit of cover.

This was not a torrential rain, but its flow was enough to soak and chill a person. About the time Abby thought out loud, “I hope it doesn’t start to hail,” it started to hail. White frozen pellets started pinging down. We noted that the air temperature had also dropped.

As we continued to wait out this stubborn rain shower, we saw a couple of soaked lady hikers trying to make their way back to the parking lot. We called to them to join us under the roof line, and they did.

These two friends one from California and the other from Louisiana didn’t linger with us long. The chill of the rain and the drop in temperature had taken them by surprise. They waited for a perceived let up in the rain and started out for their car again.

We continued to hang around. Occasionally, pellets of hail would mix in with the rain. And at one point, thunder rumbled behind one of the distant ridges. That rumble broke the quietness from the falling rain.

Somehow, we determined that the rain had let up, so we decided to hustle out toward the parking lot. About the time we left our cover, some more hail pellets christened our departure.

Although we were wet, we made it to the car, and Abby started the drive back into town. I’m sure all things dry at Horseshoe Lake appreciate that steady shower of rain. Even a drop of rain would be embraced in this thirsty wilderness.

We were heading to the Mammoth Brewing Company for a midday beer. It was interesting to note that the further we inched toward town the gray, coolness of the rain was quickly replaced with sunshine and warmer air.

At a prime corner location on Lake Mary Road, Mammoth Brewing Company has carved out a nice niche with their quality beers, food, and hospitality. They are a local and region favorite. Unique among craft brewers, they also serve wine.

After quenching our thirst, we head back to the condo. 

Later in the afternoon, our plan is to take part of the town loop out to Sherwin’s Vista.

To take the hike out to Sherwin’s Vista, we don’t have to drive. We can pickup the planned asphalt trail just a few steps away from the condo.

It’s not long before we have entered the main part of the trail that includes a tunnel under Old Mammoth Road. At times parallel to the trail, a crystal clear brook babbles from time to time. There are plenty of cutouts where access is easy for fishing. 

This afternoon, we encounter some cross country runners who travel to Mammoth Lakes to train because of the altitude. Clearly, doughnuts and twinkies are not a part of the training menu for these lean runners.

The sky in places has some clouds building, but I don’t think we’re in for a second rain shower. Since our arrival, we have noticed a fairly steady trek of helicopters hugging the side of the mountains. We learn these choppers are ferrying supplies into firefighters in remote locations.

IMG_1640For me, the beauty of the Sherwin’s Vista trail is its openness. I can see for miles in any direction. Plus, even in the dryness of this parched landscape, some plants display very pretty blooms. 

IMG_1648Gradually, we make it to the end, and we circle around and start the walk back again. As we get closer to town, we make a quick stop at the recently renovated Mammoth Creek Park to checkout the children’s playground. This playground is a National Demonstration Site “for meeting best practices in design and program offerings.”

We’ve had a good day from Mammoth Mountain to Sherwin’s Vista. At some point tomorrow, Art arrives, and fishing for trout will become a focus.

Feel It In My Bones by Bill Pike

IMG_0129Every November as the world turns us closer to Thanksgiving Day, my bones feel a pull. That is a pull south to the northern sections of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

For years, our family spent Thanksgiving around the small town of Duck.  With the passing of my father-in-law in the spring of 2013, that annual excursion came to an end. But, the memories of those stays in Duck still pull at me.

Driving down US 460, the small farming communities fade into fall sunlight. But, large fields of bright cotton standout in that landscape. Peanut farmers and their wares  are abundant on either side of the highway, and cars still fill the parking lot at the always popular Virginia Dinner.

Once across the North Carolina state line, the land continues to flatten out. In many instances yards and some shrubs have faded to hues of khaki after being frost bitten. But, the sturdy green of collards growing in some small gardens are brushed in along the way.

That quiet pull to the Outer Banks is also tied to surf fishing. I always fished, from early in the morning to late in the afternoon. I fished a lot, didn’t catch much, but helped to keep the local bait shop in business for another year.

Even as I’m writing this, my mind is pulling me down to the beach to set up my fishing spot. I can smell the salt air, hear the smack of waves against the wet sand, and see the sun slowly rising up out of the Atlantic.

I cherished that quiet time. My daydreams might have been broken by the sound of shore birds scouring the ocean’s surface for a wayward fish. I marveled at the effortless glide of the pelicans. Secretly, I wondered what it would be like to drift away with them.

That Thanksgiving after 9/11, I wondered about those families who had lost a loved one in that senseless act of terrorism. I can only attempt to imagine the challenges they experienced.

This year, I wonder about those in our country who were impacted by two mean hurricanes, and now the tragedy of the massive wildfires in California. Recovery for some Americans in these extremely challenging circumstances might not even be possible.

Along with those natural disasters, I can’t forget the senseless acts of violence created with firearms. Again, more lives are altered throughout America.

I don’t know about you, but there are times that I want to scream out at God, “What are you doing up there? Aren’t you tired of all of this suffering? Help us!!”

Maybe God thinks we are beyond help. After all, God has a long history of helping people out. Then after a period of time these people become distracted. They lose their fear of God and move away from his teachings. Sadly, at times, I haven’t been immune from that path either.

In Gavin Edwards’ book The Tao of Bill Murray, he shares a story about Murray taking his sons out to Roosevelt Island. This tiny island is in New York City’s East River. Murray wants to get a sneak preview of a monument being constructed that focuses on Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms:  freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

It’s the last one—freedom of fear that consumes a lot of my thinking. I’m not free from freedom of fear. It too is in my bones. I worry that our country can’t or won’t figure things out, that our differences will consume us, and  then it will be too late.

On November 19, I heard a few minutes of an interview with author David Grann whose latest book is The White Darkness. This story is about Henry Worsley who in 2015 set out to walk across Antarctica alone. Worsley, a retired British Army officer served in the Special Air Service (SAS), an elite unit of commandos.

This unit of commandos had a quiet little motto from a James Elroy Flecker poem. The words were “always a little further.” For Worsley in his trek, those words were painted on his sled. David Grann states from his book that Worsley used those words like a mantra:  “Always a little further… a little further.”

Those words to Worsley meant keep pushing, pushing a bit further. Those words were in Worsley’s bones, and I think I need them in my bones too.

I can’t let my bones be discouraged by fear, and in truth nor can any of us.

Those people impacted by hurricanes, wildfires, and senseless shootings need some hope in their bones, not more fear.

The only way to make that happen is for all of us to remember:  

“Always a little further.”

This Thanksgiving, may I be thankful for all that I have been blessed with in my life. 

But may the good Lord give me the resolve to always push a “little further” for those whose bones are filled with fear and loss of hope

California Day 8: Agua Dulce to Mammoth Lakes by Bill Pike

IMG_1615Week one was behind us.

This morning, Abby, Betsy, and I were getting ready for our drive to Mammoth Lakes. Art was heading out to work. He was planning to drive up on Wednesday afternoon.

As the day progressed, the house was scheduled for a break. Parker, Brandi, and Tyrell would be flying back to Hawaii. Ashley was returning to San Francisco where she would regroup, and then drive to Bend, Oregon for some vacation fun with friends.

A bit after 9, we were organized. We started packing up the car. We said our goodbyes, and started the drive out to California 14 north. A quick stop was made to fill up with gas, and then we were back out on the 14 looking to eventually make the connections to US 395.

In this dry, oven baked, arid land, we quickly left behind Palmdale and Lancaster. On both sides of the highway parched land was the view. Wind turbines, solar panels, a new vineyard, mothballed jet planes were familiar sights along this route.

The highway  was two lanes, then four lanes, then back to two as we continued to work north. This would be our third trip to Mammoth Lakes. Today, Abby had some new stops worked into the plan.

The width of the valley is catching my attention more this time. It is flat and wide, and the valley rolls to the foundation of the hills and mountains to the left and right. We drive for miles without passing through small outposts, and once in a while a singular, speck of a residence will be out in the distance. Talk about being lonely and desolate.

And yet, the terrain changes in subtle and not so subtle ways. Take for example our first stop for the day— Fossil Falls.

As we approach Fossil Falls, the rock formations and the color of these rocks change. Most writers note immediately two unexpected features about Fossil Falls—there are no fossils and no rushing water.IMG_1612

Fossils Falls was created by a lava flow, thus the black, charcoal color of the preserved rocks that set it off. Of course, this all happened a long, long time ago, and over that time water and wind sculpted the rocks and chasm where the falls once flowed.

The Owens River and a lake once fed the parcel of land. Also, on this same plot, unless your eyes are so taken by the lava formations, you can’t miss staring at Red Hill. This is a cinder cone volcano.

Fossil Falls is worth the stop. Everywhere I look, I’m amazed at this creation. 

Back in the car, we rumble over the washboard dirt road surface out to the main service road.

It didn’t take long before we were back on 395. Abby pushed us north heading toward Lone Pine. 

Coming into Lone Pine, the speed limit drops, and traffic crawls like a tortoise out in the desert. We park at the Museum of Western Film History. Take a short walk to the McDonalds ( Sadly, no In-N-Out in Lone Pine ) for a bit of nourishment, and then back to the museum for a tour.

Abby and Art are members of the museum, so their guests are free. Admission fee appears to be a minimum of a $5.00 donation. 

If you were like me, when I was growing up, I enjoyed watching cowboy movies and television shows with a western theme.  Many of those productions were filmed just outside of Lone Pine in the Alabama Hills. Those hills proved to be a good home for all things related to filming cowboys in their encounters with bad guys, cattle, pretty girls, and depending upon the cowboy star singing about those experiences.

The Museum of Western Film History is packed with everything related to these productions. If you had a favorite actor or actress who appeared in these movies and shows, chances are you will find a reference to these people.

A car especially rigged for filming on location in that rugged terrain is one of the first pieces to catch my eyes as we entered the museum.  Outfits, saddles, movie posters, guns, and assorted video clips really capture the people who molded and shaped the film and television production.

It is amazing to see all of the marketing and product endorsements for the cowboy star, Hopalong Cassidy. Someone was really sharp in developing his celebrity power.

The museum curator even has a small film clip of Herb Jeffries, an African American, who created a cowboy character named the Bronze Buckaroo for African American children. Jeffries was also an acclaimed singer in Duke Ellington’s band.

The rich history of Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills contributions to this business is nicely portrayed in a short film documentary. The piece skillfully captures the key players and their stories, and it is very impressive what transpired here over many, many years.

I had a tough time departing the museum as the displays really held my attention while taking me back to my childhood too.

Back in the car, we drove toward Bishop, and a stop that I had always wanted to make at the Erick Schat’s Bakery. Since 1938, the bakery has been famous for its Sheepherder Bread. We made a mid-Monday afternoon stop, and the place was packed. People were eating fresh made sandwiches, and everywhere I looked baked goods were prevalent and being purchased in abundance.IMG_1617

We helped the local economy with the items we bought. And once we arrived in Mammoth Lakes we enjoyed these baked treats throughout the week.

With our purchases properly loaded into the car, we kept pushing toward Mammoth Lakes. Pretty soon the familiar turn off appeared, and within a few minutes, Abby had us at the condo.

Once we were unloaded, we opted to shake off being in the car most of the day by taking a long walk through parts of Mammoth Lakes. IMG_1620 2

Moving these old bones around felt good, and like always the scenery was good too. When we made it back to the condo, Abby and Betsy started tossing out ideas for Tuesday. From what I heard, I sensed Tuesday was going to be busy.

California Day 7 Agua Dulce Departures 8/12/18 by Bill Pike


Sunday was to be a transition day. A couple of departures were to take place.

Around mid-morning, Rachel and her family were being picked up by Garth’s sister to spend a few days in the San Diego area before flying back to Texas. Later in the afternoon, Elizabeth would be heading to LAX to catch her redeye back to Raleigh.

Early mornings in Agua Dulce are tranquil and cool even in August. Occasionally, I hear a rooster crow, a turkey gobbling, crows cawing, birds chirping, crickets, and a horse or cow greeting the day. But, the sounds of Los Angeles are miles away.

After breakfast, Betsy, Elizabeth, and I took a walk to the entrance of Vasquez Rocks. A Los Angeles County Park made famous by its spectacular rock formations. Those formations also caught the eyes of film and commercial production companies as the park has been a set and backdrop for countless films and commercials.

As we were walking down the partially shaded long service road from Abby and Art’s house, we kept hearing an unrecognizable sound. At one point, I stopped and looked up at the canopy of the eucalyptus trees we were under. As I scanned the foliage, I noted that the trees were in bloom, and that sound was coming from bees swarming the blooms.

By the time we made it back to the house, Garth’s sister had arrived, so it was time for goodbyes. We have always enjoyed Rachel and Garth and their children. They are a really special young family who have put down good community roots back home in McKinney, Texas. 

Somehow, it appeared they were able to get packed up and on their way without a bit of forgetfulness.  Goodbyes are tough on grandparents, especially grandmothers. Even though Abby shed a few of those traditional Cloud family tears—she handled the departure well. 

The morning pushed by pretty quick, and then we had a nice surprise. Ashley came around taking orders for lunch from the California famous In-N-Out Burger. 

Started in California in 1948, this chain has an established following in its home state, up and down the Pacific Coast, and parts of the Southwest. 

Packaging of their food has also been noted with Bible verses being printed on wrappers. On our wrappers today was printed the following from Revelation Chapter 3, verse 20:

 “Look! I’m standing at the door and knocking. If any hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to be with them, and will have dinner with them, and they will have dinner with me.”

Bible verse or not, one thing is very clear—the food is good, and the chain continues to be successful.

Later in the afternoon, time arrived for Elizabeth to head to LAX.  I rode along as Art drove her to the Flyaway in Van Nuys. The Flyaway is a bus service that transports passengers to the always busy airport. Clearly, the advantage for Flyaway customers is leaving the driving to LAX to someone else.

It was good to have Elizabeth with us for a few days. She and Ashley are close in age, and they have a good bond as cousins. I know they enjoyed catching up with each other.

After Elizabeth purchased the bus ticket, we said goodbye, and she settled in for a short wait.

On the drive back to Agua Dulce, I noted the tanned, brown landscape. The drought, relentless summer heat, and lack of rain fall just zaps the life out of anything green. I marvel at the plants that because of deep roots or location near almost dry stream beds somehow manage to hang on and survive. The chance of late fall and winter rains are months away. Hopefully, this rugged parched terrain can make it without the wrong incendiary spark.

Once back at the house, the shade and pleasant breeze was a good setting for playing bocce. Art, Abby, Tyrell, Betsy, and I played a few games of this simple yard game.

 A bit later, Art grilled salmon and some fresh summer corn, and we had a delicious meal sitting  around the pool.

As the sunlight faded away, we started looking for stars to appear. Slowly, the blue sky transitioned to darker shades, and in this high desert landscape with limited light pollution, the stars started to clearly pop out of the sky with a few planets leading the way.

Just happened that Sunday, August 12 was the night for the Perseids’ meteor shower. But none of us were willing to stay up for this viewing, although one  stray shooting star did streak through the sky.

Slowly, we cleaned up outside and headed in the house.

As I have found on each day of our California trip, I’m ready for bedtime when it arrives.

At 76 Brian Wilson Still Out On The Road by Bill Pike

Let’s get the confessions out early. 

I have been a fan of the music Brian Wilson created with and without the Beach Boys for a long, long, long time.

My first record purchase was a Beach Boys’ single, a Christmas time song, “The Little Saint Nick.”

After all Brian has lived through, I still find it amazing that he outlived his younger brothers, Dennis and Carl.

And perhaps even more puzzling to me is why Brian, at 76, is still out on the concert trail.

I can’t imagine he needs the income. Maybe touring is an escape for him as there is a wife and five adopted children at home.

But the more I think about my questions, I’m driven back to one constant in his life. No matter how good or bad living was for Brian Wilson, there was always his best friend the music—it never deserted him.

On Friday, November 2, when he shuffles out on stage at the Dominion Arts Center, (maybe with assistance back problems), Brian will be surrounded by a band of musicians who love him and his music. He’ll also have in tow his long time friend, one of the original Beach Boys, Al Jardine, and another former Beach Boy from a couple of years in the 70s, Blondie Chaplin.

Brian and the band will run through a set list of well-known songs. Maybe if the audience is lucky, one or two less known nuggets will be performed.  There might be a break before they launch into the landmark album Pet Sounds, and somehow, the band will find the energy for a few more songs during the required encore.


Remarkably, Al Jardine’s voice still sounds as young as he did in 1965 singing “Help Me Rhonda”. Al’s son, Matt Jardine is in the band, and Matt hits all of the high notes in the background and on some leads that Brian’s voice can no longer handle. (Although on this tour, it appears that Rob Bonfiglio is pinch hitting for Matt. Rob is Brian’s son-in-law.)

Blondie Chaplin an accomplished guitarist, and sometime back up player for the Rolling Stones is part of Brian’s show for his playful energy. You can count on Blondie singing the lead vocal just like he did back in 1972 on “Sail On Sailor” one of Brian’s chestnuts from the Holland album. And when the focus of the show does shift to Blondie, he’ll charge up the hall with his stinging guitar licks.

By 1965, Brian had given up touring to stay at home to write and produce songs for the Beach Boys to record when they came off the road. Once Brian fully jumped the Beach Boys’s ship, he worked to establish himself as a solo artist.

 Ironically, in 2000, his release of Live at the Roxy Theatre was the pivot point for restarting his career. Some members of the Los Angeles based band The Wondermints became permanent members of Brian’s touring band. 

Fans who attended Brian’s concerts were in for a treat with these gifted musicians. They could perform live note for note even the most challenging of Brian’s arrangements. Here we are 18 years later, and the core of Brian’s band is still anchored by founding members of the Wondermints.

Over the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of seeing Brian in concert three times. And while I wasn’t disappointed by those performances,  I’m wondering how much longer can he continue to tour? Some of the dates on this current tour were rescheduled as Brian needed immediate back surgery late this past spring.

Toward the end of July and into August, Brian returned to the road, and performed a handful of shows in the states and overseas. At the Victorious Festival in Portsmouth, England on August 25, someone backstage shot video during the playing of “God Only Knows”. This performance captures the audience affectionately singing the entire song along with Brian and the band. 

The Chicago based horn player, Paul Von Mertens, who serves as the musical director for Brian’s band, reports that: “God Only Knows” always gets a big reaction. Once in Glasgow, the audience kept singing after the band finished the song. That was very moving.”

Maybe that video clip explains why Brian Wilson still tours. People continue to love him and the music he created.

Without question Brian has endured a lot of emotional turmoil. 

Perhaps in trying to figure it all out, his stability is linked to a line of lyric from the Beach Boys’ song “Add Some Music To Your Day”:

“Music when your alone is like a companion for your lonely soul.”

Clearly, music has been the companion that has sustained Brian Wilson’s soul for a long, long, long time.

If you never attended a Brian Wilson concert— go. 

I’d wager your soul needs it.