Mono Lake: Totally Worth a 45-Minute Visit

If I’d stayed longer, maybe I would have spotted a brine shrimp! Although 45 minutes was plenty to spot one coyote (not pictured below). He wasn’t as friendly as my coyote spirit guide I met in La Mesa though.

I took pictures, then.

The trail runs clockwise.

The trail runs clockwise.

Mono Lake.

Mono Lake.

A trail leading away from the lake.

A trail leading away from the lake.

Some tufas. They're made of sodium carbonate.

Some tufas. They’re made of sodium carbonate.

Kind of part of the same trail, only this one leads *toward* the lake.

Kind of part of the same trail, only this one leads *toward* the lake.

  • It cost $3 to park there.
  • There were two other parties there at the same time as me.
  • Only two of the 12 porta-johns were unlocked. The unlocked ones have a sign that says “this one open”, while the locked ones communicate nothing, except through their obstinance.
  • Not far from Mammoth.
  • The water is very still.
  • Considers itself similar to the Great Salt Lake, just the opposite side of the basin.

That’s about all I got, I guess. Tufas. Mono Lake. Salt. Near Mammoth. 45 minutes, 50 for brine shrimp or slow-walkers.


Alpine, Mammoth & Squaw: The Year of Skiing Marginally Continues

Switzerland: Fog and ice patches.
PNW: Depending on the day, but fog and ice patches also.

Tahoe: Drought!

Was at Alpine for the first time ever on Wednesday. It looked like this:

The terrain looks awesome; shame not to be able to ski it — it’s amazing that they’ve kept the place skiable at all I guess. The groomers were nice and satiny until 9:45 or so. Unfortunately there was really only one skiable run from the top (Alpine Bowl). By 11, Werners (the second photo) had gone from too-firm to pleasantly chalky, which was nice. And by 12:30 most of the snow was way too soft.

Visibility was absolutely fantastic, though, so that was a plus.

Then this was Mammoth:

 It started snowing on the 395 on the way back up to Reno — at least a trace fell on the road (!). Those playful tricksters at the CHiP decided to put out their Chains Required sign about 20 miles (I think?) north of Lee Vining. I actually saw someone turning around and going back. Haha, punk’d!, etc.

Finally, then, to close out my Tahoe-area skiing for the year, here are three photos from Squaw from 1/25:

  • Beautiful light today. Should have brought my DSLR.
  • Trees smelled great. Reminded me of that one part of Soarin’ Over California at Disney’s California Adventure (the part with the trees).
  • I’ve ridden the Red Dog lift twice in my life now and both times it’s stopped with me dangling over the deepest part of the ravine. I don’t much care for that lift.

And now my Marginal Conditions Tour goes on hiatus until March when I’ll bring some combination of drought and fog with me to Utah and Jackson Hole. Maybe get some locust swarms and fiery rain too.


Thursday — Squaw Valley

Paid: $60 (bought someone’s voucher off Craig’s List a month in advance)

Quality of Random Lift Strangers: 6/10

Weather: OVERCAST with light snowfall throughout.

Would Return?: Maybe

This was the big powder day of the week with it having snowed all day Wednesday. I heard from one random lift stranger that she’d had an even better time of it on Wednesday, in spite of the high winds and closure of the upper mountain, since there was plenty of untracked available and not many hardy souls there with whom to share it. On Thursday: plenty of souls. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper from I-80 to the parking lot. The gondola line (funitel line, whatever) was long in the morning and Shirley Lake and Granite Chief queues were no-doubt aggravating to the non-single. Visibility was very difficult and I ended up spending a lot of time on Shirley Lake where at least I could see while trying to figure out how to ski powder (only partially successful in both endeavors).

Top of the Siberia Express lift looking (I imagine) not entirely unlike Siberia.

Top of the Siberia Express lift looking (I imagine) not entirely unlike Siberia.

I like that the ski patrol is going after the guy before he's even fallen (or started downhill or gotten to the top).

I like that the ski patrol is going after the guy before he’s even fallen (or started downhill or gotten to the top).

Rocks, trees.

Rocks, trees.

  • Siberia Express had no line. Also no visibility on the top section. It’s worse than it looks here:IMG_4535
  • The shear number of chairlifts at this place is incredible. They seemed to start and end everywhere; around every corner was another chairlift (or two). For instance there are five lifts in the photo below (can you find them all??):
  • The rock outcroppings were cool. With those and the relative absence of trees on the upper mountain, I figured this must be what skiing in Europe is like.
  • Had lunch at Fireside Pizza down in the village on the hunch that ski resort food follows the same pricing principles as does dining at Disneyland. At least in this case it did – paid $18 (incl. tip) for a very good pizza and 32-oz. (!) soda in a glass (!!) rather than spending $15 for faster, price gougey-er, and inferior cafeteria-style fare. Would recommend. (Next time you’re at Disneyland, try the same strategy – you’ll see.)
  • As a service to fellow acrophobes, I’ll note that the Red Dog lift is the most fear-inducing lift I’ve ever ridden. There are a couple of long, *very high* gaps on that one and the relatively slow speed of the lift means that the shear terror wasn’t just fleeting.
  • Had been worried about needing chains for the drive up. Didn’t need them, despite Nevada DOT’s website stating that there was a chain check station on the 80 east of Truckee (the agriculture inspection station apparently had confused them).

Especially in the morning, the whole place had a sort of hyper-focused, manic air to it. I’m assuming it was all the expert-skiing locals who were super-determined to find the remaining stashes. No one was rude or anything, just – it wasn’t much of a kick back-and-enjoy vibe going on.

I talked to a lot of more-experienced skiers the following day at Diamond Peak and had a couple of them offer up criticisms of Squaw based on weather issues and lay-out.  I can see why expert skiers would love the place, especially on a powder day, but I sympathized with the criticisms. For me, I wanted there to be more trees to ski around and to help with visibility. I also wanted there to be something groomed somewhere so I could take a few relaxed runs once I got tired of feeling like half an idiot on the by-midday chopped-up powder on the blue squares. It’s not like I didn’t have fun – I had a great time at Squaw. I think I just expected it to be some sort of transcendent mega-experience and instead it felt somewhat compromised. Maybe I did it wrong. Maybe it was the cloud-induced seasonal affective.

Here’s another photo:

The way back home.

The way back home.


Monday – Heavenly

Paid: $93 (bought at Sports Authority in Reno the night before)

Quality of Random Lift Strangers: 5/10

Weather: Absolute Bluebird (my bro’s thermometer read 42 degrees on our way up Sky Express the one time)

Would Return?: Definitely

Given the advice I’d read on EpicSki, we chose a side and ended up spending almost the entire day skiing Dipper Express (we took a couple of runs on the California side since it seemed obligatory). No complaints about traverses. I think they’d had some snow the day before, so things weren’t too scraped and, in the trees at least, conditions could be described as soft. Our favorite run was in the trees alongside Big Dipper and Meteor – left us with a long, blue run-out, but I like hard-packed bombing runs, so all was good by me.


View of the lake from the California side.

View of the lake from the California side.


This is what the snow looked like in the trees (on the Nevada side).

This is what the snow looked like in the trees (on the Nevada side).

Other observations:

  • The pulled pork sandwich at East Peak Lodge was huge, but otherwise merely okay. Barbecue baked beans were generous, but I would have preferred a sweeter sauce with a little more vinegar and somewhat less chili powder. #yelp
  • To me, the oddest thing about the layout was that we were kind of “trapped” on the upper mountain. If any of us had left anything down at the car (we parked at Stagecoach), it would have been a blue square-and-slush hassle trying to retrieve it.
  • Stopped at the Red Hut (Kingsbury Grade) on the way up the hill. The bacon there is something to write home about.
  • Plenty of people there, but the Nevada side was pretty roomy and lift lines were close to non-existent (things were decidedly more crowded California-side).
  • People here had a somewhat disturbing penchant for making high-speed, lane-shifting entries into the lift lines. I imagine they learned that on the 880 somewhere around Hayward.
  • The ski patrol dude who rode up the lift with us should probably be friendlier toward people who paid $93 just to be there for the day.

In the net, I loved Heavenly. The price is silly, but the views were awesome, the tree-skiing was fun, and there were plenty of places to roam even without entering California. Just for the price, I can’t imagine going there more than once a year, but next time I’m in Tahoe to ski, it will be on the itinerary.

Trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park(s?)

They refer to each separately, but only give you one map, thus obfuscating the truth, which is their way.

Went to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park or Parks over the weekend — left Thursday, came back Saturday. Camped for a couple nights. Hiked a little bit, took pictures of trees (see previous post), drove in concentric, ever-widening circles, wore rain pants in anger, used the new generator, and failed to strike up a conversation with a deaf girl from New Hampshire (based on her license plate).

Some photos, not so much of trees this time:

 Marble Falls Trail through Deep Canyon

Note rain gear — the pants were more effective than the jacket. The Marble Fork is the riverlet down below — the falls up above there were cool and flowed over marble, but they were hard to photograph in a way that makes them look appropriately cool. This hike is at lower elevation, so: no snow, no trees.

 My truck in the Grant Grove parking lot, getting snowed on.

Higher elevation, thus: snow, trees. I’m happy for my truck when it gets to do real truck things, like drive in the snow.

 Dinner at Rainy Potwisha Campground

Sure it was too wet to sit down and sure I was eating off of a frying pan with a pocket knife and a spatula, but you have to admit that’s a pretty properly fried medium-rare sirloin.

Potwisha Bear Box

 A bear box at the campsite — sadly, no bears were inside.

 Sequoia National Park Entrance Sign

An Indian head on a sign for a national park named for a Native American of the Iroquois tribe who lived 3,000 miles away from the park, around which is gathered an Indian family, from India, one of whom has just cracked his head open on the black metal arch holding up the sign and is bleeding profusely. 


  • The last mile of the trail to Marble Falls hike was pretty nice.
  • And I was impressed with myself for taking rain gear in my pack up to the falls since it was really sunny the whole way up. I like impressing myself, although it’s easier to do than it probably should be.
  • I was not responsible for the parks service having to kill any bears (I don’t think).
  • The rural area just to the west of the park (Hwy 180 and Hwy 245) was really pretty with steep green hills and wildflowers — didn’t look anything like California.
  • Slipping around on snow-covered trails to see really big trees is more fun than it probably sounds.
  • Successfully tested my power inverter and generator.
  • The steak was good.
  • I found chocolate Charleston Chews and Full Throttle Fury at the Christian camp general store at Hume Lake.


  • The first 2.5 miles of the trail to Marble Falls was full of the same scrubby chaparral that we have in Orange County and that makes me never want to hike here.
  • The Potwisha Campground that I stayed at lacked charm. And the neighbors’ kids lacked boundaries.
  • What with the snow and all, most of the A-grade hiking trails were inaccessible.
  • $18 a night for camping just seems steep to me, especially when you have to spend all your time there worrying about whether or not you’ve hidden all your food from the bears.

The bear boxes are kind of a downer. So long as you’re obeying the rules, you can’t really do stuff like take food with you into the back of your truck that you may or may not eat before falling asleep, for instance. It really had me ticked off that I was having to go so far out of my way to keep the bears from raiding the campsite until I saw what the bears were doing to keep us out of theirs. Boy, do we owe them bears a big ol’ Thank-You.

Good trip, though. Should go again some time when the snow melts and I can hike up to the lakes and waterfalls.


General Sherman and General Grant Are Also Names of Large Trees

To wit:

 General Sherman Monarch Sequoia at Sequoia National Park

General Sherman, the “largest living thing on earth”. There are people at the foot of the tree, for comparison, some of whom were relatively large — I assumed they were from the midwest.

 General Grant Sequoia at Kings Canyon National Park

As clearly demonstrated above, General Grant is barely three inches wide.

Beyond just the generals, a lot of snow, a lot of trees, a lot of snow with trees. As evidenced by:

 Grant Grove at Kings Canyon National Park

Snow on trees.

Snow falling through fallen sequoia in Grant Grove

Snow in tree.

All in all, though, the trees were noteworthy and there was snow.


Hiking and Stuff at Big Bear Lake (with Photos)

It’s not so much a “poor man’s Lake Tahoe” as it is the Lake Tahoe of a man who doesn’t want to drive all the way to, well, Lake Tahoe. For being within 2.5 hours of Orange County, the Big Bear/Lake Arrowhead area is pretty nice. If I get ambitious and bored — happens often enough — I’ll do some sort of comparison between Tahoe and Big Bear (Tahoe has more and better variety of hiking, for instance, while Big Bear is, as stated, *much closer*).

Meanwhile, photos:

 Cougar Crest Trail above Big Bear Lake

I hiked the Cougar Crest trail there. Not exactly challenging, but it delivers pretty well on what seemingly every hike at the lake delivers on: nice views of the lake. From the campsite to the spot on the Pacific Crest Trail (that the Cougar Crest Trail fades into eventually) it was maybe 7 miles round-trip.

bkdunn Hiking on the Cougar Crest Trail

 Evidence that I may have been there.

Big Bear Lake with Ski Resort and Hills

That has to be one of the trickiest golf courses in the country.

Baker Lake, Big Bear Lake’s Neighbor

 Across a causeway from Big Bear Lake, this is actually Baker Lake. Not sure they needed to give it its own name.

Westward View from Baker Lake at Big Bear — the “Marsh”

Another view of “Baker Lake”, including the walkway that goes across the marshes there.

Anyway. Again, for being so close — really pretty. Would never have suspected that an area as nice as this would’ve been up there given the dry brown death atmosphere of the Saddleback Mountains here closer to home. Definitely worth the drive up and anyone living the area should definitely go there once.



PS, I should probably stop with the search engine-bait post titles. I think Google’s punishing me for something I thought about last week.

Camping at Big Bear Lake, Serrano Campground, Last Weekend

Went camping at Big Bear Lake over the weekend, at the Serrano Campground to be more precise.

Campfire at Serrano Campground on the North Shore of Big Bear Lake

 The Bad:

  • The people at the site next to mine had come from the ghetto and brought their booze with them. They were loud and went way out of their way to reinforce negative stereotypes. It’s amazing how many sentences you can form with a two-word vocabulary (f*** and n*****, in case you were wondering). That said, mad props out to them for (a) not fronting and (b) keeping it real.
  • At $26 a night for a campsite, I kind of expected it to include turn-down service.
  • The campsite wasn’t very flat.
  • It got down to 16° F overnight. 16°!
  • Some traffic noise from the highway.
  • Forgot to bring a hatchet or a mallet.
  • Only 2 of 6 roasted marshmallows truly hit the spot.

The Good (it was mostly good):

  • Became much better informed about both sides of the debate around whether or not it’s appropriate for a half-black, half-Mexican guy to call someone else a n—–. (Unfortunately the sheriff came before any conclusions were reached — *now* do you understand why I don’t like cops?!)
  • Hearing one of the neighbors machine-gun dry-heaving at 3 AM. It sounded like justice. Worth getting woken up for.
  • Plenty of tinder and kindling near the site and the campground guys went around in a truck selling firewood at dusk — convenient!
  • Didn’t need a hatchet and a piece of wood worked out great as a mallet.
  • Good ground for driving stakes into.
  • Located on the less-populated north shore of the lake, so you don’t even *suspect* that there’s a McDonalds 10 minutes away.
  • Much better cell phone reception than I get in Irvine.
  • Clean bathrooms.
  • Best fire I ever built.
  • Cold weather meant it was a great opportunity to test out my 0-degree sleeping bag. Grade: C. I slept through good parts of the night and never woke up chattering. OTOH, I slept wearing a stocking cap, underwear, t-shirt, camp-shirt, technical sweatshirt, fleece vest, parka, and wool socks. Oh, *and* pants. But still — a good test.
  • I like wearing headlamps and appreciated the opportunity to do so within a reasonable context.
  • Even with a 3/4 moon out, there were a lot of stars.
  • No bears.