Rock Creek Canyon

Wednesday, June 8

The day is already heating up as I exit 395 at Toms Place, CA onto Rock Creek Road. A sign looms ahead on the right: Rock Creek Recreation Area, Inyo National Forest.

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There are several NF campgrounds along this road, but I don’t stop at any of them. Local Knowledge says they’re all $20+ a night for dry camping and only the one closest to 395 (French Camp Campground) has a phone signal.

The newly resurfaced road makes for smooth sailing up Rock Creek Canyon. The creek flows swiftly from snow-melt and the Aspen trees are leafing out, both courtesy of the abnormally warm weather.

Near the end of the road lies Rock Creek Lakes Resort, where my friends Rayn and JJ of HoldingIntentionalSpace are work-camping for their second summer.

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It’s a cute little place located in an incredible setting: high in the Sierra at 10,000 feet and surrounded by several mountains that top 13,000 feet. The gift shop sells souvenirs and local goods as well as fishing gear – fishing being one of the prime recreational activities in the area. There are cabins for rent tucked into the pines away from the road and the cafe serves breakfast and lunch… more about that later.

I contemplated working here myself actually, and am still entertaining the idea of trying it some future year. It’s different from the typical work-camping gig in that employees are trained to work every aspect of the resort instead of being stuck in one position for the entire summer, and California has a higher minimum wage than most states so the pay is better than usual.

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The adorable cafe counter

The cost-of-living would also be quite cheap. Campsites are not full-hookup but rent is free and propane is also provided for free to run a heater (at this elevation there’s no need to run an A/C). The resort also provides food for its employees at no cost (and there’s a kitchen area to prepare it in), as well as a bathroom and shower.

The only downside is the lack of WiFi and phone signal, and that’s what kept me from doing it this year. A person would need to drive eight miles down the mountain to get online or make a call, and last year the road was under construction which made getting down the mountain a challenge. With the resurfacing now complete though that wouldn’t be as much of an ordeal…

But today I’m here to hike, and let me tell you, this is an fantastic location for hiking.

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Even the parking lot is scenic…

Rayn, JJ and I pile into their Subaru with our gear and drive to Mosquito Flat trailhead, where the road ends. Today’s conquest is the Little Lakes Valley hike, which is relatively level and anywhere from 1.5 to 8 miles round-trip depending on how many of the lakes you want to see.

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They’re all mind-blowing. Crystal clear water framed by pine (and the first wildflowers this time of year), set in the untouched beauty of high mountains with snow-capped peaks all around. Now that famous John Muir quote really rings true: “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”

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Mack Lake

Last year, snow-pack was only 19% of normal in Rock Creek Canyon, and water levels in the lakes and streams were down. This winter snow-pack was at 85% which is a significant improvement. Rayn tells me that when she hiked this trail last Thursday it was still snowbound, but the heat wave is melting things in a hurry and water levels are high right now.

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Rayn and JJ contemplate the extra marshy Marsh Lake

At high elevations, the difference between being in the sun and being in the shade is amazing. It’s warm in direct sunlight and a person can get sunburned quickly up here. But step under a tree, and it feels like the temperature drops by twenty degrees.

Although “warm” is relative. The hottest day on record last year at the resort was 76 degrees. JJ is amazed at how warm the past week has been, well above average for this time of year. Today at Lake Crowley it’s suppose to get up to 88 degrees which is absurd, I’d much rather be up here.

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A little purple flower is in bloom, growing in small patches low to the ground. Rayn and take turns lying on our bellies to try to get good photos of it with the mountains as a backdrop. Of several patches taken from several angles, this is the best of mine. The things we do for art.

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Rayn, if you’re reading this, tell me what kind of flower we decided this was again – I forgot.

Two kinds of pine grow in the canyon, and up here above 10,000 feet I meet a tree I remember from hiking Mount Washburn in Yellowstone last summer: the Whitebark pine. It’s not a very stunning tree, but it’s hardy. The needles grow in clusters of five, it’s relatively easy to identify.

Heart Lake

Heart Lake, Whitebark pine in foreground

“This is where I turned back last Thursday.” Rayn remarks. Ahead of us lies a stream. A series of rocks make a footpath across, but the water is high and there’s no way to get across without getting wet. My shoes are soaked through by the end, but I have fancy wool socks on that stay warm even when wet so I don’t feel uncomfortable.

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We walk over a few piles of compacted snow to Long Lake, the fifth one out. The last four have been completely melted, but Long Lake still has a tiny bit of ice on it as we’ve been slowly climbing. The trail on from here is covered with snow, and we opt not to go farther. Five gorgeous mountain lakes with four miles of hiking total (out and back), what a deal!

Long Lake

Long Lake

Back at the resort, we sit down to a well-deserved lunch at the cafe. I order the pulled BBQ pork sandwich, with BBQ sauce made right here at the resort by a father/son team, doesn’t get much more local than that!

It’s delicious, but the portions are so big that I have to take half home to leave room for desert: a crumble made from scratch. Of the three varieties available today I opt for Boysenberry, and get a scoop of cinnamon brown sugar ice cream along with. Nirvana.

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After lunch, Rayn, JJ, and I walk to Rock Creek Lake… in our swimsuits. Are we really going to…? Oh yes, we are. Going to the beach and wading in would be absolute torture, the experienced employees of the resort have a much better method.

There’s a pile of rocks at one edge of the lake where daring individuals can jump off into about ten feet of water and get it over with quickly. The only problem is the high level of the lake means that pile of rocks is under about four inches of water right now. We line up at the edge, my feet already freezing. Rayn relates the tale of how the last time she came out to do this, her buddy chickened out and when they got to the count of 3, she screeched and didn’t jump. I’m worried that if I have to wait for a count of 3, I likewise will find myself rooted in place. “One!…” I jump.

GRAAAH! But they were right, it’s better to go in all at once. I swim right back to shore, aching with cold. Luckily it’s such a warm day that as soon as I’m out of the water it’s alright. JJ is brave enough to jump a second time. I get a rare selfie, and even go sit back down on the jumping rock in the water to get a more proper picture taken. Jump into a mountain lake, check and done!

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* * *

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Click for larger image

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  1. Jose on June 14, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Hello Becky,
    what a great article/blog about Rock Creek Lake. i will be going there September 21st 2016. i will be camping one night on my own, and the next day the 22nd i will be with a group. Do you recommend “French Camp Campground” i would like to book the one night soon. BTW, i forward your article to my friends and they really liked it. thank you
    Jose recently posted..Mammoth Lakes CampgroundsMy Profile

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      Hell Jose,

      As I said in the article I didn’t tour any of the campgrounds along that road so I can’t give you a personal opinion, but I did hear from friends that French Camp is the only one you can get a phone signal in so if you need connectivity that would be the way to go.

      Glad you (and your friends) enjoyed this article and I hope you all have a great time there in September!

  2. BoxinTheCompass on June 12, 2016 at 11:46 pm

    Hi Becky,
    Those flowers remind me of ice plants
    Beautiflul post!

    • Becky on June 13, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      Not sure what kind they are Boxin, but they sure are pretty. Glad you liked this.

  3. Johanna on June 12, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    Hey Becky. Amazing place! Thanks a lot for sharing!

    • Becky on June 13, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      You’re welcome Johanna, definitely worth a visit!

  4. joe on June 12, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    keep up the good working becky

    • Becky on June 13, 2016 at 2:05 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Joe.

  5. Mike M on June 12, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    Hey Becky, could you let me know how to get in touch with the resort. This is exactly the work camping experience I’ll be looking for when I retire next month. Perfectly awesome.
    As always, thank you for sharing,

  6. Capt.Ron on June 12, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Thank You Becky for sharing your wonderful experiences, places, and photo’s too. Just bought a 24 ft “Fun Finder” Travel Trailer and hope to live a similar lifestyle now that I am retired

    • Becky on June 12, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      A good friend of mine full-timed in a Fun Finder X for a while Ron, should work just fine. Best of luck to you and you’re welcome.

  7. Ron on June 11, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    Awesome location and photos, My favorite is the one of you standing on 1 leg preparing for flight.

    • Becky on June 12, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      That is a fun one Ron, glad you enjoyed this.

  8. Jodee Gravel on June 11, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Really spectacular photos of such a pretty area. Can’t believe it’s that hot up there this year 🙁 Wonderful to see pics of you – and having soooo much fun!! Love the header shot too.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Along the Arkansas RiverMy Profile

    • Becky on June 12, 2016 at 4:18 pm

      The thermometer at the resort said 80 degrees and it was in the shade, if it’s accurate that’s record-breaking heat. Made jumping into 45 degree water not quite so bad. 😉

      Yeah it’s not often I go hiking with people and get pictures of me to put up on the blog, I took full advantage of it. More about that header photo coming up in the next post…

  9. pamelab on June 11, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Becky – I forgot to mention the absolutely gorgeous header photo of the sunset! Wow.

    • Becky on June 12, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      Yeah that was at Crowley Lake Campground the night after I did this hike, that picture will be showing up in the next blog post. Might be the best sunset I’ve seen yet on the road.

  10. Cindy on June 11, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Absolutely gorgeous photography. The last photo almost had me in tears after I super-sized it! Through your photos, you have magnified the longing in my soul to travel and discover our amazing country. Thank you!

    • Becky on June 12, 2016 at 4:15 pm

      You’re welcome Cindy, I’m glad you’re enjoying my travelogues and I hope you get the chance to travel soon yourself and get to see these beautiful places first hand. 🙂

  11. Geronemo on June 11, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    West Texas Night Skies

  12. Tom on June 11, 2016 at 10:04 am

    Like traveling in Ca. for clear streams and cold water/we dont have too many clear streams in Texas. Good friends/good food/good scenery/ just doesnt get much better.

    • Becky on June 11, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      Yeah Tom, Wisconsin doesn’t have clear streams either – all the tannin from the trees.

      Yep, doesn’t get much better than this.

  13. Tina on June 11, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Wow what a wonderful place, those views!!! Glad you were all able to hang out. Having no internet and that long of a drive would be a deterrent for me as well. Yikes that is some cold water.

    So much to explore in that area.

    Enjoy the weekend!


    • Becky on June 11, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      The water was in the mid 40’s, not a temperature conducive to long soaks or swimming, for sure. 😉 There is a lot to see along 395, I understand why it’s such a popular drive for RVers now. Thanks, and you have a good weekend too Tina.

  14. Alan Belisle on June 11, 2016 at 9:08 am

    What a beautiful place! Great photos. Even the one through the windshield. I always seem to get reflections or bug splats when I try those photos. Good for you, jumping into the cold water. Really lets you know you are alive! The little resort in the mountains would be nice to stay at, but not having phone and internet would be tough.
    Alan Belisle recently posted..Boise, Idaho – Marylu’s ViewsMy Profile

    • Becky on June 11, 2016 at 12:36 pm

      I always use my wipers before taking photos through the windshield, I learned, haha. Sometimes it’s so bad that it doesn’t help much though.

      Glad you enjoyed this Alan, take care.

  15. Jeff on June 11, 2016 at 8:30 am

    I’d be leary of a hike starting from a place called ‘Mosquito Flat’, but not only does it look like you had great views, but a great time along the trail. The Boysenberry looks great, got to try that next time we’re in the area maybe next week!

    As always great pics and descriptions of your adventures.

    • Becky on June 11, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      We did notice a lack of mosquitoes…. which I was just fine with! Still a little early for them up there I think but now that it’s warmed up it won’t be long.

      Yes, if you do get up to the resort you have to try the crumble, it’s amazing! Glad you enjoyed this.

  16. Scott on June 11, 2016 at 7:53 am

    Great pictures. Another place added to our list to visit.
    Scott recently posted..Orygone!My Profile

    • Becky on June 11, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Scott and yes, Rock Creek is worth a visit.

  17. Fireman Steve on June 11, 2016 at 7:42 am

    Wow. Looks like an awesome place. Thanks for posting your wonderful pics.

    • Becky on June 11, 2016 at 12:32 pm

      You’re welcome Steve, it is one of the more scenic places I’ve hiked, for sure!

  18. RGupnorth on June 11, 2016 at 5:02 am

    Looks like a stop much worth the drive. Beautiful scenery.

    • Marilyn Dennison on June 11, 2016 at 7:04 am


      What a terrific place. It might be worth doing without wifi to experience the area for a longer time period.

      I remember sliding down Pisgah NF in NCwaterfalls as a teenager. When I hit the water I immediately bolted straight up out of it as it was such a cold shock. You brought back memories of 60 years ago. Telling my age.

      • Becky on June 11, 2016 at 12:32 pm

        Yeah, the mountains of NC are beautiful too Marilyn, I bet that was a lot of fun! One dip into icy water is enough for me for a while, haha.

    • Becky on June 11, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      It is RG! What a beautiful place.

  19. Frank Miller on June 11, 2016 at 2:42 am

    Great photos! I always wanted to get that part of the country. One more to add to my bucket list.

    • Becky on June 11, 2016 at 12:27 pm

      It was on my list for quite a while too Frank. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it when you get out here. 🙂

  20. pamelab on June 10, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    And your dessert came in a color coordinated bowl. How about that! Great photos, Becky. So good to see you having fun – and with friends. What a gorgeous area! Just so picturesque. I bet you were cooled down after that dip in the water. Thanks for sharing.
    Happy Trails.
    Pamelab in Houston…for now

    • Becky on June 10, 2016 at 10:39 pm

      I’d say “Congrats, you’re first!” but no, that’s RVSue, haha.

      Glad you enjoyed this Pamela, the crumble was so tasty I didn’t pay attention to the bowl but you’re right it does match. I was definitely cooled down after that dip in the lake… a little too cool really. 😉 Good thing the sun was so warm!

      • Pamelab on June 11, 2016 at 8:11 am

        I will probably never be first with rvsue! Have a lovely weekend, Becky.

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