A few miles north of Bishop the landscape along Highway 395 starts to make a dramatic change. Sage brush gives way to pine trees as the elevation rises almost 4,000 feet above the Owens Valley. This section of the Sierra Nevadas is home to year-round outdoor recreation. Skiing and snowboarding reign supreme at Mammoth and June Mountains during the winter months. The last Saturday of April ushers in the Sierra Trout Season Opener. Anglers from around the country flock to nearby lakes and streams. As the snow melts dozens of campgrounds fill up with vacationers wanting to get away from it all.
Mono Lake and the ghost town of Bodie are top tourist draws in the region. Both afford a glimpse into the Eastern Sierras' natural and human history. Thousands of miles of trails criss cross the countryside. Some of the best lakes to catch California's state fish, the golden trout, can only be reached by foot.
The diversity of restaurants in the Sierras offers dishes to please every appetite. Mammoth Lake dining options range from Asian cuisine to American BBQ, fast-food to 5-star restaurants. Perhaps the finest menu can be found at the Restaurant at Convict Lake. Certainly their wine list is second to none. On a hot summer day a rite of passage for us is choosing between the almost 2 dozen flavors of frosty milk shakes at Walker Burgers in the little town of Walker.
Pie in the Sky Cafe
Do you want a piece of pie? Then get here early because when the pies are gone, they're gone! Sue King has been baking the best pies this side of the Sierras for over 30 years; ever since she and her husband Jim bought the Rock Creek Resort. The Pie in the Sky Café is the only place you can buy one of her tempting creations.
The term café is a misnomer. Pie in the Sky is actually a lunch counter (with a kitchen "the size of a walk-in closet", according to Sue) in a corner of the resort's general store. The number of pies she bakes every morning is limited. Sue usually starts serving her pies at 10:00 am and sells out by early afternoon. The list of pies is posted on an eraser board each morning. When the last piece of each variety is sold the selection is crossed off the board.
Pie in the Sky Café bakes traditional pies like pecan and coconut cream as well as seasonal fruit pies. Sue searches for choice fruit from a number of suppliers, locally when available, and bakes everything from scratch. Popular choices include Dutch apple, peach, fresh strawberry and pear with cheddar streusel. For some reason Sue's rhubarb pie is the first to sell out.
Pie in the Sky is also known for tasty hamburgers (beef, salmon or veggie) and home-cooked chili. On weekends breakfast is added to the menu. Seating is available either at the counter or on the patio overlooking Rock Creek Canyon. Getting to the diner takes a bit of time. It is located across the road from Rock Creek Lake, about 10 miles west of Hwy 395. Turn off 395 at Tom's Place and enjoy the astounding scenery along the 20 minute drive.
TRIP TIP! Order your lunch and pie at the same time. The kitchen staff will hold your piece of pie until you are ready for it; assuring you that the greedy pie rustler next in line won't grab the last piece of rhubarb before you can lay claim to it.
Rock Creek Resort. Rock Creek Lake, CA 93546 (760) 935-4311
Hot Creek Thermal Pools
Hot Creek Thermal Pools is a neat little out of the way stop to snap a few pictures or enjoy an unhurried picnic. To get there head north just past Mammoth Airport and turn right on Hot Creek Hatchery Road. Drive east about 3 ½ miles (only the first mile or so is paved). On the left is a parking lot with a picnic area, restrooms and a path leading down to the pools.
In the olden days this area was quite the party place. Outdoor types would find their way here to enjoy soaking in the hot springs. Relaxing in the creek usually involved adult beverages but not necessarily swim suits. Unfortunately Mother Nature is not predictable and alcohol doesn’t heighten one's sense of awareness. Several deaths and injuries have been attributed to Hot Creek’s scalding waters. Due to increased geothermal activity the US Forest Service has prohibited contact with the water since 2006.
Notice the fence running through the upper pool. This is proof of the ever changing geological formation of the area. Not too long ago the barrier kept visitors away from blistering thermal pools; now the fence straddles one. To learn more about Hot Creek’s turbulent volcanic history, check out the storyboard located in the parking lot.
Don't forget your fishing gear. Hot Creek is a popular fly fishing destination. Fish counts of up to 8,000 per mile have been reported here! Strict catch and release regulations insure a thriving trout population along the stream. Hot Creek is one of a few waterways in the Eastern Sierras open year round to anglers.
The banks of Hot Creek have been the setting for more than one western. In the original True Grit (1969) John Wayne smoked out the bad guys in their hideout just upstream of the hot pools. Steve McQueen used this area as one of the backdrops for Nevada Smith (1966). Mount Morrison and Laurel Mountain are clearly visible in scenes filmed here.
Hot Creek Hatchery Rd. 3 1/2 miles east of Hwy 395
TRAVEL TRIVIA ANSWER Understandably, Sierra Nevada has a Spanish heritage. Loosely explained Sierra: mountains and Nevada: snow capped; Snow Capped Mountains. Though sierra applies to any mountain range its literal translation is a chain of mountains with jagged crests. Sierra comes from the Latin base "serra" meaning saw toothed. By the way, this is where the English word serrated comes from.