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Natural Perspectives: Feeling low in the mountains

August 24, 2011|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray

Vic has a saying that every good party ends with a trip to the emergency room. I haven't been able to embrace that philosophy. But if he's right, then we must have had a heck of a party at Mammoth Lakes. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Vic led yet another birding trip recently, this one to Mammoth Lakes for some mountain specialties such as the very hard-to-find white-tailed ptarmigan. Vic and I drove up Thursday, a day ahead of the rest of the group. Crossing the Mojave to get to Lone Pine can be a long, hot, tedious drive. I think Mojave is an old Spanish word meaning "I didn't know our planet could get that hot!"

Sometimes I'm really into the desert, but not on this trip. I just wanted to get across it and reach the mountains. In the past, we have visited Randsburg, a living ghost town that is a favorite with photographers. We've also stopped at Fossil Falls, where huge rivers that ran during the Pleistocene carved fantastic formations into black lava. Those wet millennia were more than 10,000 years ago, and the falls are now bone dry.

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We stayed in Lone Pine on Thursday night, continuing our drive north Friday. We've seen the museums at Manzanar and Independence, both very worthwhile stops. But we passed them by this time. The only stop I wanted to make on this trip was in Bishop at Erick Schat's Bakkery for some of the Russian raisin pecan bread.

We like to explore new areas where Vic might lead students or birding clients on future trips. This time, we took a side foray up Rock Creek, reached via the Tom's Place exit from Highway 395. We happily meandered west into the Sierras alongside the creek up to Little Lakes Valley and Rock Creek Lake. At the end of the road, we turned around and headed down to Rock Creek Lakes Resort and the Pie in the Sky Café for lunch.

The café was just a tiny lunch counter with seven stools. Burgers and hot dogs were grilling outdoors. We heard that the place is famous for its pies. But out of the dozen varieties listed on the blackboard, a third were gone already. And it wasn't even noon yet. I got the last piece of chocolate chip pecan, and Vic got the last piece of banana cream. They were heavenly.

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