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Day 7: Trip 2 Town

July 20, 2008

Whereas fishing with a stick on Sotcher Lake and the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River hasn’t worked out too well (for us–the fish are doing fine!), and

whereas we like it here at Reds Meadow Campground so much we’ve decided to stay longer requiring a resupply,

we’re on the shuttle heading for the Town of Mammoth on the eastern side of the sierra crest. We paid for the shuttle priviledge when we drove in: $7 per adult and $4 per child, all you care to ride. The driver /tour guide points out the sights and answers questions. There’s plenty of room on the shuttle during the week but on the weekend, he warns, it fills up and sometimes they have to send in extras to accommodate the crowds.

The Reds Meadow shuttle takes us up over the crest of the sierra at Minarets Pass then lets us out at the Mammoth Mountain ski area parking lot where the Big Monkey grabs his bike from storage underneath the bus. He’ll ride down while we’ll take the bus that brings the bicyclists and their rides back up. In the summer, the ski area becomes a mountain bike heaven with rides like “Kamikazi” where riders attain speeds of up to 60 mph and wear full on protective garb including motorcycle helmets, shin guards, and chest plates. Cyclists pay$40 or so for the priviledge of riding down and shuttling up, but its a free service for pedestrians. Back in the day (that would be the day before becoming a dad), the Big Monkey used to mountain bike race and spent some idyllic days on this mountain in the summer. We look forward to skiing and boarding here this winter.

The Mammoth Mountain area is a recreation mecca: in addition to skiing and mountain biking, nearby streams and lakes are full of fish, hiking trails start from town, peaceful views are endless, a thousand or more campsites lie within a 100 mile radius, including USFS campgrounds right in town. Weather is mild: warm and pleasant in the 70s and 80s during the day and mild 50-60s at night. Dramatic rainstorms visit on many July and August afternoons, providing stunning sunsets, splashes of lightening, and resonant thunder.

Recreation and tourism are primary sources of incomes; statewide the fishing industry pumps $2.3 billion in retail sales, $1.2 billion into wages and salaries, $224 million in state taxes into the economy, and produces 43,000 jobs, according to the Inyo Register (7/12/08). Much of this goes into eastern sierra communities.

Recent developments in Mammoth include the Village development where we get off the shuttle and watch for the Big Monkey. Walking through the Village is more like visiting a ghost town than what the developers envisioned I am sure. After three years, many of the shops have closed; tales of woe include high rents and no parking. The ones which are open have sale tables and racks of clearance clothes out front to tempt the few passersby. The Village provides a summer film and concert series but this doesn’t seem to be enough to keep businesses in the Village–they seem to be migrating down the hill to town.

We choose to wait at the Old New York Deli and Bagel Co. in the Village streetside along Highway 203 because of its proximity to the trail terminus, its free wifi (which I can’t get to work unfortunately), and the ability to excite the boy by a pizza bagel and milk (for only $3.99). After an exhilarating ride down the mountain, dropping over 1000′ in four miles, the Big Monkey and I split a disappointing corned beef sandwich, then we all board the free town shuttle. All the shuttles accommodate bikes, and when we get of to trudge almost a mile to the USFS Visitor Center, I wish I’d brought mine with the bike seat for the boy. Lots of families are riding around town and the boy keeps asking why we don’t have his and makes me promise we’ll ride next time.

The USFS Visitor Center is new, and gracious, with a fire place, comfy chairs, big windows, and lots of books. Plenty of volunteers and staff assist with first hand knowledge, guidance and recommendations. A large auditorium nearby showcases old mining and ranching implements, photographs and a old contoured map of the region. Several programs are offered daily. It’s on the main road into Mammoth near the campgrounds, well signed, and impossible to miss.

Next we appease the small boy by going to the sporting goods shop in search of a fishing pole. On the recommendation of our shuttle bus driver, we walk back up the hill from the Visitor Center and cross the street at the signal to go into “The Trout Fitter/The Trout Fly” in a strip mall by the gas station. With friendly knowledgeable help from Spencer, Tom and Gary, we choose a red one (his favorite color), and they give us directions on how to rig it. On their website, the shop offers a fish report, and other info.

Our final stop: Vons grocery store, which is packed. In addition to the regular weekend influx (mostly people from the LA area 5-6 hour drive south), this weekend is the 20th annual Jazz Jubilee and tents dot the town in circus fashion. Many people in Vons sport festival badges and t-shirts; a special shuttle delivers them from venue to venue.

As fun as it would be to check out some of the music, especially the free shows, the last shuttle leaves the Village at 5pm so we head back. The Big Monkey forgoes the $35 ticket to shuttle up with us and hits the trail up. Thirty minutes letter, we meet up in the parking lot just in time to catch the shuttle to Reds Meadow; during the day, the run every 20 minutes but in the alter afternoon and evening, only every 45 minutes, which would be a long wait when both boys can’t wait to try out the new fishing pole!

The shuttle back is a bit hairy–the one lane twisty mountain road can’t accommodate too much in the way of passing, and this tour bus is one wide body. A truck and trailer is directed to follow us down and two passenger cars complete our entourage. The driver radios out location so everyone on the channel knows our progress. Unfortunately, a milk truck driver hasn’t been paying attention, and at a particularly narrow spot, we meet up for a game of chicken. Two passenger vehicles are piled up behind him, but everyone recognizes that the truck and trailer behind us can’t do much in the way of maneuvering so they back down to a wider spot and we all breathe a sigh of relief.

Back in camp, the boys head out to Sotcher Lake with the new fishing pole to catch dinner while I stay in camp, enjoy the quiet with a glass of RBJ 2002 theologicum mataro, and write…

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