Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Convict Lake Trail and the Restaurant at Convict Lake - Mammoth Lakes, CA

The Convict Lake Trail is just down the road from Mammoth Lakes, and it offers the reward of a restaurant at the end of the trail!

The parking area sneaks up on you as you drive up Convict Lake Road.  There was plentiful parking at the trail head, and no sign of the restaurant or lake.  However, we did spot a family of deer - a buck, a doe, and two fawns - nibbling the grass near to the parking lot!  My wife managed to get the buck and two fawns in this picture after wrestling the camera away from our son, who was busy taking pictures of his shoes when the doe popped up out of the brush about eight feet away and proceeded to hop up the hill and out of sight.

The trail is narrow but easy with only about 250 feet in elevation gain/loss over 3 miles.

After a short walk up the hill, it quickly descends to the lakeside and circles the lake with almost no elevation change.

These pictures really don't even come close to reflecting the color of the water.  It is crystal clear and a bright blue-green in the shallows, and a sapphire blue where it gets deep.  I failed to bring the "good camera" on this walk, so we ended up using an old Canon PowerShot 870 (which still takes much better pictures than our newer Canon or either the iPhone or Droid), but it is no match for the Olympus E-300 that I received as a going-away present just prior to this trip.
There are a ton of activities to be had in this beautiful bowl surrounding one of the deepest lakes in the High Sierra.  You can fish from the banks or from rented canoes, kayaks, or motor boats.  You can hike or jog on the trails.  There are cabins, a general store, and a campground, and horses available for hire.  It would be easy to spend an entire vacation here with Mammoth Lakes and all the Eastern Sierra has to offer just up the road.  There is even a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier!


 After the three-mile walk around the lake, you can reward yourself with a meal or a cocktail from the Restaurant at Convict Lake.  The setting is beautiful for outside seating, and the decor inside is also fantastic while in keeping with the resort.
The service was friendly, fast, and fantastic.  The food quality ranged from good to a bit over-cooked, but we wouldn't hesitate to come back again.  We started with the curried carrot soup, which was delicious...as usual, it was so good that I couldn't keep the natives out of it before taking the picture.
I thoroughly enjoyed the fish tacos, which were good (but, alas, Roberto's in Mammoth still retains the crown for having a taco that has more fresh vegetables inside than creamy sauce, and at a crazy bargain price at happy hour).
My wife went with the special, a chicken sandwich topped with cheddar, avocado, and bacon.  It was tasty, but slightly charred.  Yes, there is some bacon missing, as our son grabbed a slice like a starving Rottweiler before I could take the picture.

Our son, as usual, went for the cheeseburger.  Again, not bad, but also a bit on the over-cooked side.  We've got to get him back on a healthy diet!

Finally, we indulged in the grasshopper pie for dessert, and it was fantastic!

The Global Debt Trap

I try and keep this blog focused on the fun side of life, but every now and again, I read something that sets me off.  Tonight is one of those nights.

A recent study shows that the global economy - the output of every country in total - produces about US$10,500 per person.  Unfortunately, the total debt burden of the globe totals US$22,733 per person.  In the USA, that number is US$46,884 for every person, or US$130,662 for every taxpayer.

More importantly, global debt is growing faster than global GDP.  Here's how the US looks, it should be pretty obvious that we are piling debt on far faster than creating the ability to pay it back:

There's only one way this can work - if we all decide to screw our children (and our retirees who must live with low interest rates for years to make the debt affordable).  Our children must buy the McMansions, the stocks and bonds, and the various other assets we've purchased with borrowed money to keep the Ponzi scheme going (not counting the garbage we purchase and consume, flushing down the toilet or throwing in the trash).

Here's yet another reason our family is doing what we're doing now.  It is fantastic to have no debt.  We have complete freedom on where we go and what we do next.  More importantly, we refuse to hand our child a life burdened with debt, and we refuse to join in this mass rip-off of the next generation.  Let the people who are benefiting from the insane deficit spending enjoy the consequences - whether that person works for a big bank or is unemployed and on food stamps, both are receiving the fruits of the US government's debt creation, not my family.  Debt has a purpose - it is to fund entrepreneurs and businesses to increase production.  It should not be used to fund consumption, but unfortunately, the global Ponzi scheme can only continue to function as long as consumers agree to be debt slaves and governments continue to borrow more money and pull future consumption forward.

If you're young and debt-free today, I would sincerely recommend a buyer's strike.  Until the debt bomb that Wall Street and the baby boomer generation has created explodes in their faces, just boycott purchases that are so expensive that you have to take on debt.  Whether it's a home loan or a student loan, in the immortal words of Nancy Reagan, just say no.  The bloated Ponzi scheme needs you to voluntarily become a debt slave so that it can survive.  It is close to collapse, and you're likely to be the one left holding the bag.  Just say no.

This rant caused by http://gulfnews.com/business/features/a-world-of-debt-global-liabilities-grow-faster-than-gdp-1.857167.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Beautiful Beaches at McLeod Lake - Mammoth Lakes, CA

At the top of Lake Mary Road, the Horseshoe Lake parking area provides access to the Mammoth Pass trail head.  McLeod Lake is a short 1/2-mile jaunt up the trail (one way), while you can continue on through Mammoth Pass to Red's Meadow if you walk about 3.5 miles.

We've seen a number of lakes that were beautiful but didn't exactly beckon you to jump in for a swim.  All of them had us swatting away mosquitoes constantly.  In contrast, McLeod Lake left us wishing we had come earlier in the day with a beach towel and a picnic!

After a walk around the lake, we found a sunny rock that was about the same shape as a lounge chair!

Here's my impression of how a couple of tourists look to a bear.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happy Hour at Slocum's, Mammoth Lakes, CA

Slocum's happy hour offers a 1/4 lb cheeseburger for only $4, along with a modest selection of beer and ale on tap as well as decent wines by the glass.  The service is good, and the atmosphere exactly what you'd expect from a local pub.  All in all, when compared to the Burgers burger and fries, it comes in a distant second, but at less than 1/2 the price at happy hour, it makes it worth the stop if you're looking for that bar atmosphere or a sporting event on TV, and a little less crowd than is found in Burgers at all hours of the day.

We also snagged a fish taco, and it again was OK but not nearly as nice as the fish taco available for happy hour upstairs at Roberto's - even though be aware that happy hour is only available upstairs at Roberto's.



Ancient Bristlecone Forest - Methuselah Walk, Shulman Grove - Inyo National Forest

Just up the White Mountain Road from Grandview Campground is the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and the Methuselah Walk.

The Methuselah Walk begins just behind the temporary visitor center, with the new center under construction and scheduled for opening in the summer of 2012.

Yes, that photo is a joke, the construction noise is not bad and disappears when you round the corner heading up the trail.

The Methuselah Walk is a bit over 4 miles.  It starts around 10,000 feet elevation, drops to around 9,600 feet, then climbs back up in a loop to rejoin the trailhead, making for about 800 feet in total elevation change.  The trail is well-maintained and has a few steep stretches but is, for the most part, an easy hike.

The walk is self-guided, and a full-color booklet is available at the trailhead.  The numbered trail markers correspond to entries in the booklet, and each stop provides educational insight into the life of a bristlecone pine.  In addition, each page also offers unique facts about the White Mountains and the flora and fauna of the forest.

As you begin to appreciate just how old the trees surrounding the trail are, a sense of wonder and amazement envelops you.  Our son is a huge history buff, and for him, it was a chance to imagine what the trees might have heard "through the grapevine", so to speak.  In the picture below, he is channeling Ramses II at the Battle of Kadesh.

Linking the trees to history, if only in our imagination, really made the hike come to life.

This was my personal favorite tree - dubbed the "angry ent".

A bit past the half-way point, you enter the grove where Shulman located a bristlecone pine whose age he estimated at almost 4,700 years!

Grandview Campground - Inyo National Forest

Grandview Campground offers some of the best star gazing outside of standing on top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii.  The campsites are fairly well-dispersed, so your neighbors aren't right on top of you in most spaces.  Most offer some shade, provided by numerous pine trees, but be aware that after a heavy winter like this year, the pines are so happy that it rains sap, and everything underneath them will be showered with tiny, fast-drying dots of sap and larger globs of the sticky stuff.  There is at least one picnic table and a fire ring in each of the developed sites.  The campsites at the east end of the grounds have plenty of room for RVs, and seem to be favored by the astronomers.  Show a little consideration, and if you see a campground with a telescope set up, don't light up that campfire at night in the spot next door!  You know there are a lot of stars when a guy with no special knowledge or equipment can stick his camera on a tripod, point it sort of in the direction of the Big Dipper (as I couldn't see squat through the viewfinder - the light coming from the menu on the view screen completely blinded me and I had no idea how to turn it off), and hold the shutter open for 30 seconds and actually get an image.

While there were more than a dozen campsites occupied there this week, Grandview was still extremely quiet at night - no loud music, no shouting drunks (just a couple of quiet ones, gazing in wonder at the stars), no late-night vehicle traffic, and no barking dogs.  More importantly, there were no mosquitoes, which made camping there a real pleasure after some of the heavy swarms we've encountered in the Eastern Sierras.  The absolute lack of water and dry, dusty environment of the White Mountains does have its advantages!

Speaking of water, there is none at Grandview.  Load up with as much as you can carry before you come, and then add another 5 - 10 gallons to put out your fire!  I was amazed at how fast, how hot, and how long the downed pine wood gathered here burns.  Near sea level in Florida, it would take a good-sized pile of kindling and a lot of huffing and puffing to boil a Kelly Kettle full of water to make coffee.  At Grandview, it took one handful of twigs and a single spark.  The pine exploded into flame, burned hotter than any pine I've ever used, and didn't turn immediately to ash but instead held the flame far longer than a typical Florida slash or longleaf pine.

Between the dry climate and the highly flammable trees and duff covering the ground, please be extremely careful with your fires at Grandview and bring that extra water mentioned to put them out.

There are a plethora of pit toilets, some of which give off a delightful citrusy smell and have newer plastic seats in a unisex design, and others which have separate men's and women's stalls, stainless steel toilets, and a smell that will knock you down when you open the door.  It seemed like there was a toilet for every two or three campsites, so you'll never want for a room full of flies at this campground! 

Lest I forget, Grandview has more than its share of black flies.  If you've ever lived next to a cow pasture, you'll feel right at home.  While they are an annoyance, I'll take flies over blood-thirsty, biting insects any day!  They also make for an interesting learning experience for our son, the "homework torture table".  This involved sitting at the picnic table at the height of the fly-hour in the afternoon, surrounded like King Kong by buzzing dive bombers, while concentrating on doing school work that was supposed to be done the day before.  The homework torture table makes boot camp look like a walk in the park, but the work was completed accurately, and I'm sure his concentration skills have been honed to a fine point.

The Marmot Tent performed well, and due to the sap showers, I left the rain fly on the entire time.

The biggest animal we saw was a jackrabbit.  There are no bear lockers, so you'll have to devise your own method of keeping your food from the wild animals, should any happen to wander through your campsite.

Dinner at Grandview was salmon poached with a blueberry compote...camp food ain't what it used to be!
Finally, if you're looking for blazing Internet or even a working cell phone, Grandview is not the place for you.  However, if you head down the road to the scenic overlook on White Mountain Road, and walk up the path and sit on the bench with a view of West Bishop, adequate 3G speed is available from Verizon to pull about 7Mb of e-mail in 3 minutes, and the AT&T iPhone also had 3G service, albeit a bit slower.  Here's a picture of my office.

Mahogany Smoked Meats - Meat-Lovers Paradise in Bishop, CA

Comparing jerky from Mahogany Smoked Meats to your typical mass-produced jerky is like comparing fresh wild salmon to fish sticks!  It is quite simply the best jerky you'll ever eat!  Check out http://www.smokedmeats.com/, or even better, stop in for a visit, stock your backpack for your next hike, and sit down to have a sandwich.

The jerkys range from traditional offerings, like Western Beef with it's delicious teriyaki flavor and Cowboy Style Dried Beef which is a thick-cut slab that requires a sharp knife to enjoy and share, to original creations with some real punch, like the Habanero Beef Jerky and the Sweet and Spicy Turkey Jerky.  I just like saying "Turkey Jerky", so I ended up ordering the most of this flavor, and as luck would have it, it turned out to be my favorite.

Before you blow all your money on the jerky, be sure and stop by the cold meats counter, because the smoked Canadian bacon is the yardstick by which other bacon should be measured.  The smoked turkey is also fantastic, and comparable to what I could produce on my decades-old Weber grill at home (which is a high compliment, in my opinion).  We also picked up some of the smoked cheese, as compared to other cheeses available locally, the price was right.  Alas, we have not opened it yet, so I can't comment on the flavor.  I've also been frustrated knowing that some of the best cheese I've ever had is produced just a few hundred miles away on the Marin-Sonoma Cheese Trail (http://www.marineconomicforum.org/images/Map_for_web_crx.pdf), so I was hoping this would be locally-produced.  Unfortunately, the counter help at Mahogany Smoked Meats had no idea where the cheese came from, but I bought it anyways.  Stay tuned for our trip reports from the Cheese Trail, as this is going to be one of the high points of our journey!

Finally, after sampling and loading up on jerky and smoked meats, you will be starving for more, so stop by the sandwich counter and have lunch!
I was lucky to get that picture, as once again a fight erupted over the meal the instant I set it down on the table.
In case you are wondering what a mountain mahogany tree looks like, here is one loaded with fuzzy seeds that we walked past the next day.  If you click on the picture to enlarge it, then lean in really close, you can smell my backpack full of jerky!

Of course, Mahogany Smoked Jerky is likely to be my downfall.  As I will greedily insist on carrying it on every hike, my wife has assured me that the bear will smell the jerky and go after me instead of her.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mammoth Lakes Geology Report

Since we're home schooling, I'm turning today's post over to our son to post his Geology Report.

My Mammoth Lakes
Geology Report

August 21, 2011

This is my geology report. I’m going to take you on an adventure in history that goes through the Devils Postpile, earthquake fault, Hot Creek, and last but not least the Horseshoe Lake tree kill.

Devils Postpile

One day we went to a place called Devils Postpile. At first I thought “oh, this is just another walk in the woods”, but when I saw the basalt rocks I thought otherwise.

It was hard to climb up to the top, but it was worth the effort!

The rocks looked like hexagons, pentagons, and octagons – geometric shapes.  It looked like math class, or a tiled floor.  The sign in the park explained how these rocks were formed.  First, glaciers carved the valley we were standing in out.  Then the basalt flowed out of a volcano and cooled into these awesome shapes less than 100,000 years ago.  Next, more glaciers and rain eroded the basalt and polished it until it looks like the tile floor we see today.

We saw more wildlife on the Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls hike than anywhere else.  My Dad told me about the killer minibears, a name we made up for the Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels which are everywhere!  To heckle my Mum, we nicknamed them “killer minibears”, as she is paranoid about bears injuring us while we are hiking and camping.  Every time we saw one, we would shout, “look out, another killer minibear!”   By the end of the day, Mum was seeing killer minibears everywhere!

Mercy!  It’s the curse of the killer minibears! 

Hot Creek
The next day, I was playing my video games obviously, but then my dad told us that we were going to go hike.  I protested, but my dad ushered us into the truck anyways.  We drove to a road near the airport, by a fish hatchery, and parked.  There was a sign there that said something like “Warning!  Scalding hot water will boil you alive!” 
The sign didn’t frighten me, and I ran down the hill.

After a short hike by Hot Creek, we saw a very, very hot pool of water steaming and bubbling.  It smelled like sulfur.  The water in the pools was bubbling because it was heated by magma.  The magma is only five miles below our feet around Hot Creek, and that’s close enough to boil the water.  The magma heats gas which floats up through gas vents, and boils the water…kind of like my Dad, who vents gas almost all the time.
When I was doing my research, I found this cool map thing that shows how the trees at Horseshoe Lake were killed.  It helped me understand how the water is boiled at Hot Creek.

Horseshoe Lake Tree Kill
When we were first driving around Mammoth Lakes, we came to a place called Horseshoe Lake, and all of the trees were dead.  We read the sign, and it said that all of the carbon dioxide had killed the trees.  We decided it would be funny to pose as if we were venting gas ourselves, and pretend that we had killed the trees.  Mum didn’t find it so funny.

This reminded me of the signs that we had seen while snowboarding.  I realized if trees are completely enveloped in carbon dioxide, they die.  If I ever get completely enveloped in carbon dioxide and stay there, I die.  Now I get what the Closed Area sign was trying to tell me.  If I’m ever snowboarding and I notice all of the trees around me are dead, I’m going to get away from there!

Earthquake Fault

One day, I was supposed to be doing this Geology report, and I needed “facts”.  So, my Mum and I went to the earthquake fault.  I saw a big, big, deep crack in the ground.  I’m glad I didn’t fall in, because there was still snow in the bottom.  I learned how earthquake faults are made, and that you should never bring snacks to the earthquake fault.  I didn’t learn why snacks aren’t allowed.  I guess it’s either to prevent litter, or prevent attack by killer minibears, or maybe even a real black bear!  Who knows? 

The nice thing about Mum is that she understands how hard it is to do these reports, so I got to rock climb and zip line after that at Mammoth Mountain!
In summary, this was really, really boring.  However, I did learn that most of the mountains around me in Mammoth Lakes were formed by volcanic activity.  I learned that Mammoth Mountain could still erupt, and that the magma under the Earth’s crust is only five miles below my feet in some places here.  I learned that just like my Dad, the Earth passes gas, and this gas can be deadly.  I think Geology is deadly too!