Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Slightly Fraught Vacation - with Wildflowers

Red Penstemon

Whorled Penstemon

Purple and Red Wildflowers

To start with, I ate a bad chicken. Consequently I got so sick (it was of course late on a Friday night) I persuaded friend Andy to drive me to the Emergency Room, where they put me on an IV. I went home in a few hours, feeling better, but our plans to drive to Mammoth Saturday were necessarily scratched.

It was a seemingly inoffensive Trader Joe organic chicken, but the gravy associated with it was far too rich and I ate far too much of it. With apologies for beginning a travel tale in this manner, I will merely say that I shall never eat this dish again. No more Grease, Ever! Somebody truly said it's the disease where you're scared you're going to die and afraid you won't.

So we drove to Mammoth on Monday (July 14). Even then we couldn't leave until Paul finished his overnight rush script, so we departed at midnight. It was a beautiful drive, 300 miles north on empty highway, nothing but us and the desert and the setting half-moon. We only stopped at a truck stop for a hamburger, and as we drove through the mountains, dawn broke. I tried singing Morning Has Broken, but they made me stop (no respect for Eleanor Farjeon). It was glorious, seeing the mountains assume shape and then more and more color; there were magnificent clouds lighting up and a sprinkle of rain and then we reached our condo at 6 AM and crashed to bed. Slept till 3 PM, and then moseyed out for bagels and salmon spread. Went for a short drive to some nearby lakes, slate-grey and everything smelling intensely of pine; some thundershivers in the afternoon. But we couldn't stay: Paul's work called him and said they were sending him an overnight rush novel. We searched around for the library in town, hoping to print out the manuscript, but they were just closing. (We really should have bought a Sony Digital Reader, for exactly this purpose.) So we had dinner with our old friends from Palo Alto, Mike and Leelee, at an Irish pub with excellent food (potato and leek soup and Irish stew buxtie). Tomorrow I'll go with them to a wildflower meadow at last - that's what I'm here for!


Wednesday. Paul had to read his novel on his laptop screen, which produced no joy. He didn't finish till 4 AM, and none of us slept very well. So today we slept in, while our friends went on a day hike by themselves. Finally we hauled ourselves up late in the afternoon and Paul and I drove to the Rock Creek Lakes trail, about 20 miles south of Mammoth. Gorgeous drive, first the highway with sagebrush and mountains, then we turned into winding little Rock Creek road, a narrow country road that was thickly fringed with the wildflowers I'd been longing to see. Nine miles in, we got to the trailhead, along a crystalline stream, ablaze with more wildflowers - many more kinds than I could name. The afternoon thunderstorm period was looming, with dramatic clouds over the mountains and distant booms, but it never actually rained, only a drop or two. We hiked about a mile and a half uphill to the first lake; doesn't sound like much, but the elevation at this trail starts at over 10,000 feet and you have to stop and gasp and collect your breath often! Spectacularly beautiful, walking along the stream, and the lake is a dream. The sparkling stream runs into it, the grasses are soft and green like in Scotland, and the meadows are spangled with flowers purple and gold and impossible fireman red, like an explosion.

Me at Rock Creek Lake

Thunder on Rock Creek trail

We drove back to the condo, and found that Peter, Mike and Leelee agreed this was the night for a beautiful dinner. So we went to our favorite Tamarack Lodge which is on its own beautiful lake, and had a fine, luxurious, and mellow-inducing dinner. Really my late Incident with the Chicken ought to have produced some dampening of my interest in the Table, but it does not seem so at all. I had wonderful homemade French onion soup full of wine for appetizer (Paul had wild mushrooms, Peter escargot), then I had a beautiful fresh piece of sea trout, crisp-skinned but inside meltingly soft, very like a more delicate salmon. With it, sweet potato puree, beets, polenta and more veggies. Paul and Peter had a wild game platter. Leelee had the trout, Mike an interesting dish of grilled scallops and pork filet. For dessert I had a very light chocolate mousse, and the others had Grand Marnier sherbet with rich deep chocolate sauce. We came out to the lake under a near-full moon, the air smelling so wild and mountainous and sweet, and are now back at the condo, to dream of mountains...

Paul at Greenstone Lake

Thursday. Slept in again, and Peter didn't want to go out but to stay with his books, so Paul and I drove to Saddlebag Lake, took the water taxi across the lake, and had a really beautiful hike to the end of Greenstone Lake, about a mile there and a mile back. Short but brisk walk, and supernally beautiful beside the sparkling lake, though there were not many flowers. Back at the boat dock we had the best homemade blueberry pie and sun-brewed iced tea. Then we drove back to the condo, and we all gathered at the Irish pub again. Mike and Leelee had climbed Mt. Dana.

Peter and Mike on Saddlebag Lake

Friday we finally all went out together as a group, and returned to Saddlebag. The object was to take Peter up to the Conness Lakes, but as it happened, no one got there at all. Peter seemed quite overcome by altitude, and had to lie down on the trail, but then he mentioned that he'd run out of his short-acting insulin and taken long-acting to compensate. This made him sick and faint, so we borrowed a trail bar from a passing boy hiker, and Peter was restored quite quickly. However, we thought it best to turn back with him. Mike and Leelee went on, but were ultimately stymied by a wide stream, too rapid to cross, as it is still early summer. All was well that ended well, however, and Peter was so restored by apple pie and sun-brewed iced tea he wanted to drive on to Lundy Canyon where the flowers were said to be good. They were: it's a wild place, very rough road through the woods, but it was almost like hiking, so Peter particularly enjoyed it, and we saw two deer jumping. We joined up with Mike and Leelee for dinner at a place highly recommended by several sources, called Petra, supposedly a tapas place. I didn't see any tapas, but had a very good crab chowder soup, and a nice halibut. Much too expensive though.

Paul at Tamarack Lodge

Leelee, Mike, Peter and Paul at Tamarack Lodge

Before going out to dinner, we saw the largest raccoon I've ever seen in my life, in the condo's parking lot. He was standing up and looked the size of a smallish man. After dinner we returned to our unit to find the garbage torn apart, and Something had eaten all the snacks on the counter - peanuts, etc. The screen doors were closed, but we found one small window open in the upstairs loft, and raccoon footprints everywhere. After cleaning up we didn't much care to stay - we'd planned to drive home Saturday, but Paul and I were anxious to get to our work books and it seemed a good idea to drive home earlier. So we did the nighttime drive thing again - left at 11:30, drove under a full moon with no traffic, stopping only in Mojave for eggs, and reached home at 5 AM. Not the least fraught trip, what with one thing and another, but we had a particularly happy family time together, as well as dearly enjoying seeing Mike and Leelee - and yes, the wildflowers!

Roadside Mystery Flowers - anybody know what these are?