California Day 11: A Busy Day–Crowley Lake, June Lake, Sherwin Lakes Trail, and a Hot Tub by Bill Pike


Thursday, August 16, started with oatmeal. 

Art made a pot of Coach’s Oats. This brand of oats came from a California based family who in 1992 used a breakfast gathering with friends as a starting point for creating their oatmeal. On this cool Mammoth Lakes morning, the warm oatmeal and all of the extras we added really hit the spot.

As usual, Art had us organized with all of the items we would need for this trout fishing expedition. 

My first fishing memories with Art go back to Mashnee on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Our in-laws used to make an annual trip there. Abby and Betsy’s father always towed his boat, and weather permitting, just before the sun rose each morning, we were out on the boat in Buzzard’s Bay fishing for bluefish.

That was many years ago, and Art’s love of pursuing fish has grown. He has experienced fishing from Cuba to Christmas Island, and many domestic points in between. At some point in all of this fishing, Art mastered using a fly rod. Today, no matter salt or freshwater, the fly rod is his trusted friend.

The ride down to Crowley Lake was uneventful. According to Wikipedia, Crowley Lake was created in 1941. This reservoir is fed by the Owens River and features the Long Valley Dam. Crowley is known for the quality of the trout that anglers pursue whenever they have the opportunity.

Art has become a regular here. He knows the attendant at the gatehouse, a number of the fishing guides, and this morning a key person, the dock attendant. Once we had the boat loaded, Art maneuvered us over to the fueling dock. This attendant could have been a stand up comedian. His experiences managing this section of the complex had given him many opportunities to interact with fishermen. His subtle one-liners made us chuckle.

Loaded with fuel, we were now ready to leave the marina. We quietly cruised through the “no wake” zone. Art had a location in mind. It didn’t take long for our speed to increase as we clipped along toward that spot.

Crowley’s shoreline is like reading a book. Every portion is a different chapter. No matter where my eyes scan, I could quickly fill the disc on my camera with photographs.

Flat grazing land meets the water’s edge with narrow ribbons of sandy beaches with the Sierras cast as a backdrop. At some points, the shoreline pushes up out of the water forming craggy rock formations, and occasionally these cliffs are sprinkled with the green of singular trees who somehow caught a toe hold and sprung to life.  Along less craggy areas, some banks reveal the hues of their creation seasoned by the whims of the California climate. 

Gulls, American white pelicans, and a quirky water bird, the Western Grebe are easy to spot. The Western Grebe when startled out of the water seems to like racing the boats of the fishermen as they rush to their favorite fishing spots.

With the boat properly positioned to Art’s liking, he takes the time to rig up the fly rods. Art knows that I’m exceptionally rusty when it comes to re-introducing me to the details of fly rod casting. But, Art is also a  patient teacher. He gives me a crash course, complete with demonstrations, and then turns me loose in the bow of the boat.

Pretty soon, Art is getting some gentle bumps, and those bumps quickly become a trout on the line. Art lets the trout have its play time. Using barbless hooks, trout caught at Crowley are catch and release. With experience on his side, Art grabs the net and gently lands the trout. The sunlight highlights the colorful skin markings of both brown or rainbow trout. l

For a long span of time, Art is consistently catching fish, and I’m being shut out. My line indicator is dead in the water, not even a bump. So, I need to create some excitement for myself, and there is no better way than to land my hook in the anchor rope. If I can’t catch fish, I can catch an anchor. Art helps me work through this little mishap.

Another span of time passes, and I continue to elude trout. I keep working on my cast, and of course I manage to get my line tangled. For a long, long time, I work to get this line back to normal. By now, I’m certain fishermen in boats close by are feeling bad for Art. They must be thinking, Art Babcock is a saint. Clearly, he has the patience of Job to have that guy in the boat with him today. He has been a complete disaster.

My luck doesn’t change, but in a long lull, Art receives a text from Abby. She and Betsy are driving down to Crowley for a boat ride. So, after a few more casts with no luck, we pull up the anchors and head back to the marina.

Once we have picked up our passengers, Art takes us on a ride that allows us to appreciate the coves and expanse of the lake.

When the tour is over, we regroup at the marina. We agree to meet back at the condo and make plans to drive over to June Lake for a brewery stop and lunch.

California Day 11 June Lake

IMG_1690It didn’t take long for us to ready ourselves for the drive over to June Lake. Nestled off of 395, June Lake is pretty little town grounded in a beautiful lake that quickly catches your attention.

Today, we are making a stop at June Lake Brewing, and we will have lunch from a convenient food truck—Ohanas 395. The food truck sits in a space directly across from the brewery. It is only a few giant steps to the brewery, and here is the best part—order your lunch, walk over to the brewery grab a beer, and the staff from Ohanas 395 will bring your lunch to you.

June Lake Brewing is the real deal, it is an energetic, funky little brewery with inside and outside space. The names of their beers captures it all for example—Sasquatchito XPA. We found a table outside, and within a few minutes our food arrived. I woofed down every delicious bite a combination of pork, chicken, rice, and maybe the best macaroni salad I’ve ever eaten.

While we were eating, four fighters from Pennsylvania found a table and soon their lunch arrived too. Their presence only served as a reminder about the predominately dry, parched land that is all around us, and that firefighters from across the USA come to help in battling wildfires.  

Sherwin Lakes Trail

IMG_1702After lunch and a bit of quiet time in Mammoth Lakes, we decided to drive over to the entrance to the Sherwin Lakes Trail and to take this hike.

Hats, water, and sunscreen were a part of our prep. I’ve read different reports about the length of this hike from 3.0 to 4.3, but I can confirm that the trail is a really good workout. 

Art led the way, and he was kind to us. He found good stopping points along the trail. True to every trail I have ever been on out here, the views and the scenery from broad vistas to a small wildflower, my eyes have never been disappointed.

We keep pushing along. Occasionally, we get a good glimpse of a helicopter dragging a bucket of supplies to firefighters embedded in remote access areas. With their rotor blades slapping the air, the quietness of the landscape is briefly interrupted.

The higher we go, the better the views are as we look back over the ground we have covered. We are making good progress, and at some point we discover a teaser. A small lake comes into view nestled off the trail. This is a disappointment for our legs and feet, but Art keeps leading us forward.

Like a kid on a road trip, I’m silently wondering inside when are we going to get there? 

Finally,  a subtle change in the landscape begins to take shape, and out in front of us is this lake basin, and instantly my mind is glad we made this hike. The lake and all of its trimmings are really pretty. My eyes are intrigued no matter where they scan.

The lake water is clear and cool. The shoreline is a combination of sand and rocky crags. The Mammoth Lakes trail system guide notes there are still remnants from an August 2008 fire, and I see the graying frames of trees that are still standing from that intense encounter. But true, to its unwritten promise, Mother Nature is slowly restoring the scarred land.

After a good rest taking in the beauty, we started making the way back down the trail. I always enjoy the hike up as I think my footing is more stable. But, mentally, I dread the walk down as I am more sensitive to a misguided step that could lead to a slide and a fall. So, I take a  turtle’s pace as gravity pulls me down the mountain. Art and Abby are out ahead of Betsy and me, but we eventually make our way back to the parking lot.

I’ve never been disappointed with any walk or hike in Mammoth Lakes. The hike this afternoon was perfect for working off that June Lake lunch.

Pretty soon we were back at the condo. Again, we quickly regrouped and walked over to the pool where a couple of hot tubs were also located.

I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think a hot tub ever felt better.

 My old body enjoyed the frothy soak. 

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