Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I{HEART}ART: Inspiration: Mammoth!

"Winter" by Tina C. Wells, Acrylic on canvas
This icy cold scene was created in anticipation of SKIING! My annual Mammoth ski trip with my Dad, sister, and uncle is coming up. Can't wait! I am a big fan of the Eastern Sierra mountains. And Mammoth is the quintessential high Sierra town.

JOURNEY: Eastern Sierra, Mammoth
Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort
The Eastern Sierra mountains stole my heart long ago.  I'm not sure exactly when it happened, as I have been journeying there since early childhood. Every winter, our family would make the 7 hr. trek from San Diego to Mammoth Mountain to hit the slopes; and several months later, in the summer, we would make it again for a quick overnight on our way to Lake Tahoe.

The rugged Owens Valley; along hwy 395 
After the first 2 hours of smoggy So Cal traffic, it starts to get interesting.  The Mojave Desert is sparse and bland, except for the Joshua trees that are so strange and cool.  In the summer, it can be 110 in the desert, or more, but this past July was a treat, 85 and showers.  Have you ever smelled the desert in the rain?  It will awaken your soul...rich, full of sage and wildness. As you wind your way up to Red Mountain, you wonder where in the world you are.  Strange shacks and abandoned cars, and void of people.  Honestly, I've never seen a living soul there.  As you continue along highway 395, there's the first glimpse of the Eastern Sierra mountains, dry and brown, the valley below heaped with huge piles of black volcanic rock.  The colors are earthy, umbers, ochres, sienna and grey-green sage.  Lone Pine is next; the tiny town at the base of Mount Whitney, tallest mountain in the continental U.S.  This town, as well as the other bumps in the road along Highway 395 has a vibe of days gone past, old fashioned, western, rugged, yet charming.  As you look up to the west, you see the craggy peaks of "the 3 Sisters" and Mt. Whitney. Amazing.  Traveling along, the road is dotted with old western ranches, cattle of all colors and beautiful horses.  There are so many old abandoned cottages, country stores, old mines, gas stations, made of stone and wood, boarded up and dilapidated, much like the imaginary "Radiator Springs" from the movie "Cars."  They are the fingerprints left behind of a time gone by.  The road is also full of historical markers and sites to visit.  Someday I want to go slow and stop along the way, have lunch at the Ranch House Cafe (that always seems to be busy), stop at the historical sites, walk the streets of the little town of Big Pine, and visit the Ancient Bristlecone Forest.  Someday I will. But not this trip; I have some serious skiing to get to.

Along Hwy 395 in the Eastern Sierra 

As I journey further into the Sierra, the scenery is rich, purple glacier formed mountains, deep, rich green trees, large rocks and caves, streams and meadows.  When I finally reach Mammoth and step out of the car, the scent of the pines and the cold mountain air is overwhelming.  Suddenly, I am 8 years old.  This is all so deeply ingrained in me.  I am awed. 

Have I mentioned that I absolutely love Mammoth?  It is some kind of weird California mix of rustic and glam with its old mountain town feel, juxtaposed to the new up scale Village with its boutiques and restaurants.  We are old school, though, and we have a tradition- dinner at Tamarack.  One word: FANTASTIC!  The old lodge from the 20's sits on the glacier Twin Lakes.  It is amazingly beautiful with ancient pines, caves, a waterfall.  If that weren't enough, the lodge has a tiny dining room overlooking the lake with about 10 tables, and incredible cuisine.  Last night I had white sea bass with saffron, coconut milk and cherries, wonderful wine, and finished with a trio sampling of homemade gelatos.  A delicious meal shared with people I adore makes for a memorable evening.

Skiing with "Wooly"

View from the Top at Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Mountain is such a large resort that you can ski all day without going down the same run twice, if you like. There is something there for every level of skier.  My Dad has been skiing Mammoth since the 60's.  He and his brother CLIMBED to the top of the cornice, before there was a chair lift, to sign a book encased in a metal box, and then ski down! While I am not a snow boarder, those guys seemed to be lovin' it too. My new favorite is the lodge and visitor center at the TOP. The gondola will take you all the way from the Village up to the top at over 12,000 feet in elevation. There you can experience an amazing view of those rugged, craggy, snow covered peaks, all nice and warm inside with your lunch. For those who are not willing to ski down the black diamond runs at the top, you can take the gondola back down. But I am with the hard-core viking skiers and we ski down! It's a rush!
Top of Mammoth, over 12,000 feet in elevation
After an amazing, sunny day of skiing, we are ready for apres ski! A little wine and cheese back at the condo, and then we have reservations at the restaurant at Convict Lake. Leave Mammoth and head south on 395 for 5 minutes follow the signs to Convict Lake, yet another glacier formed beauty. The restaurant serves an upscale intercontinental cuisine that is not to be missed. Love it.

Convict Lake, Summer
 A few more restaurant favorites:

Tamarack Lodge (description above)
The Restaurant at Convict Lake (description above)
Giovanni's Pizza: a locals favorite with great pizza and pasta
Nevado's: excellent food, upscale yet casual
Skadi: good, interesting food, upscale yet casual 

Mammoth in the summer is a great "base camp" for exploring the whole area. 

Twin Lakes in the Summer, Mammoth

                 Life-like sculpture in the new Village          Tamarack Lodge, Mammoth, CA
An ancient beauty

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