For a moment it seemed Mammoth would not close at all this year. But the global warming reasserted itself and, with the snow melting faster than expected, the closure date was set to August 6th marking it the second longest season in the entire history of the mountain. The 2016/2017 was a truly exceptional winter (and spring, and summer): the level of snowfall surpassed only once since 1970 and we skied and snowboarded not only on Memorial Day but also on the Fourth of July. With the bike park opening on June 23, Mammoth may be the only American resort where you can bike and ski at the same time on the same mountain.
It all started one windy and snowy morning. Nature was being its ambiguous self: snow was promising fresh powder tracks but wind was going to hold up access to the slopes. I was glued to my computer trying to decide if it’s OK to leave now, or if I should wait some more and let Alpine Meadows crew spin more lifts in addition to the always exciting Magic Carpet. The r key on my keyboard (as in Refresh) was getting a lot of action and I was spending my time watching my browser download completely unnecessary and uninteresting stuff instead of the updated lift status. I thought it should be simpler. And then it hit me: I am actually more or less qualified to make it simpler. And this is how liftie.info was born.
Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth where the lowest temperature ever recorded in July stands at 69°F (21°C). The record highest temperature is almost twice that: 134°F (57°C). Only mad and Europeans visit outside the high season (November to March). 8am in October is the latest when you want to stay outdoors, and during hot autumn nights swimming pool may seem more inviting than your not-so-cheaply rented hotel bed.
Spending every afternoon in a swimming pool gives one a poor vantage point to criticize use of water, but Palm Springs’ 540 gallons per person per day is truly impressive. Despite its desert location this is a green place. Not green because of its environmental credentials. While over 3000 turbines of San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm are an inspiring and a bit scary sight, Palm Springs is green in the original meaning of the word: green as trees, grass, golf courses and - obviously - palms. Which are no longer confined to occasional oases fed by natural springs.
We take a turn and here it is. A dam. Not particularly huge, not a very handsome one, but a dam nonetheless. Complete with a power station and a reservoir. Also, amazingly out of place. There is, or there was, quite a picturesque valley with several waterfalls around it. The dam actually makes for a great viewpoint. If you venture on the other side you can even hike through the wet tunnel and reach thoughtfully placed bridges under Wapama waterfalls. Very impressive even now, they must have been quite a sight before a raising lake level met them.
Conversation on the lift #3055. Participating: yours truly and a lovely lady in her prime. It starts after we’ve already exchanged the views on trails, weather and disappointing snow conditions. So, where are you from? she asks. Where do you think I am from? I do get this question a lot and I have a list of rotating answers. She gets to play name this country game - mostly because I am a bit bored. And a bit evil.
According to their website skiing and snowboarding at Heavenly presents you with a number of different choices. At the moment this number is limited to bare rocks and man made snow, falling a tad short of Experience of a Lifetime trademarked by Vail Resorts that owns Heavenly since 2002. No amount of grooming and reverse tiling can hide wind-polished sheets of ice covering ski runs. Americans are never beginners at anything. They put themselves in an intermediate group 5 seconds after stepping into their ski bindings for the first time. But even those who clearly would be lost should nature blessed us with white powder over carefully prepared corduroy are not above complaining about the quality and quantity of snow.
Have you ever wondered what happens to the Colorado river? If you look at a map it’s pretty clear where it begins, but not so obvious where it ends. There is a good reason for that: Colorado is pumped out dry and disappears long before it has a chance to reach its delta in the Sea of Cortez. If US did not have any other moniker it could be the country that kills its rivers. In an amazing display of newspeak, building dams and reservoirs is called water conservation. It’s as if water goes to waste if the river is allowed to continue to the ocean.
Internment. I suspect I know this word longer than people my age born here. One winter morning almost 30 years ago my family TV set flatly refused to play the usual portion of Sunday cartoons and was showing somber people inexplicably wearing uniforms. The night before more than a thousand people all over Poland were detained and placed in isolation sites. Phones were disconnected. Curfew was imposed. Tanks appeared on streets. And I found out what internment meant. So when I walk around the place which had been an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II it’s not some kind of abstract history lesson for me. Still, I have a strong and strange feeling of disconnect. I know to which self-serving purpose the communist government introduced martial law. But it’s the United States, a democratic country, a self-professed defender of freedom. How could it so easily excuse itself and start behaving as an authoritarian regime?
You don a full body wetsuit, the thickest you can find. A hood, thick neoprene gloves, booties. You go in, shiver for half an hour and come back up to pour hot water into your suit to warm yourself up. If you see more then two body-lengths you consider the visibility outstanding. The unwieldy wetsuit constraints your movements, cold water suddenly and inexplicably finds its way into your booties, air bubbles slowly build up under your hood and then escape with sudden swish triggering your panic response. The Caribbean bliss of the calm underwater world inevitably becomes just a remote dream with preciously few tangible links to frigid reality.
We spent last spring and a good chunk of summer wandering through the deserts in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Almost each trail welcomed us with a familiar snake warning, but we saw just one rattlesnake. It was quite well hidden and tolerated us soundlessly while we were having our lunch admiring the Hovenweep ruins. It only got agitated when we suddenly stood up. Its angry rattle was more surprising than scary, but for a couple of days we took our time choosing a place to picnic. And then we started to hike in California where it seems we come acress a snake or two every day.
We arrive at the Bunny Flat trailhead at the bottom of Mount Shasta. There is a flurry of activity as a small group of 40-something women are trying to make sense of self-issued permits to climb the summit. At $20 dollars per person it may seem expensive but it comes with a large plastic zip-lock bag containing a brown bag, a scoop of kitty litter and a page long instruction. Yes, it is a poop bag - the latest invention in the portable human waste removal technology. The replacement of an outdated small shovel required to dig 6 inch hole to burry your feces (with or without toilet papper depending on a government agency in charge). I always suspected that there are too many people on the planet, but knowing that the forest service removes more than 2 tons of human waste from Mount Shasta trailheads every year drives the message home.
The guy opens his backpack and rather promptly starts removing its content and placing it in the pockets of his cargo pants. What are you doing, I ask. I am taking out all the valuables, so that I can feed my backpack to the bear, he continues his pocket stuffing unfazed. And I am pretty sure that he did actually say: feed. Does he think bears eat backpacks? I wonder. The state of the primary schooling in US is allegedly atrocious nowadays, but he looks like his days of no child left behind were over before 60’s kicked in for good.
Our Lonely Planet California Trips (Regional Travel Guide) has a serious case of coastal bias: out of 68 itineraries, less then a quarter venture inland. And needless to say it doesn’t contain a trip focused on avoiding crowds in California national parks without spending a fortune. Once again we are left to create our own trip: national parks, cheap motels and fresh fruit pit stops. Time: 7 - 10 days. Distance: 1000 miles. Best time to go: April - October. Start: Palm Springs. End: Folsom.
The world is full of beautiful valleys. Innumerable interesting rock formations are waiting to be discovered. There are many more grand panoramas and breathtaking waterfalls that you will ever have a chance to visit. Rarely though they are all put together in one place in a perfect harmony and a spacing of an almost kitschy painting. Yosemite is an impossible place. Unfortunately it’s also very accessible: few hours drive from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and everything in between. If you don’t take a shuttle bus, which is not very well advertised, you spend a lot of time trying to circle the parking lot, looking for people who might leave soon vacating a parking space.
A group of French tourists were trying to find out what chipotle is. You see - French are not like us (as in the rest of the world); they actually care what they eat. Although, if I were French, I would try to find out first why there is sand in my mashed potatoes. The result of the inquiry was awkward bordering on hilarious. There was not enough chipotle in the soup to serve as a useful hint. The waitress in surprisingly passable (for central California) French was trying to explain that it’s a type of ‘poivre’. Oh là là the French exclaimed in an unintended self-parody. The English language, for all its pride in the size of its vocabulary, is one of the few that do not have separate words for pepper corn (poivre, pieprz) and peppers (piment, papryka): the French had every right to be comically surprised. I was on the verge of testing limits of my French and of my Android wikipedia app to point out that chipotle est un type de piment. But before I could humiliate myself the French tourists switched their attentions to dessert and were trying to order le sheescake. The hilarity continued.