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.

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