The Mountain Houghtons

Summer 2006


Pinecrest Lake



August 28, Monday



It is 8:20 am. We are packed and ready for an adventure, this time to visit Mark’s old stomping ground, where he was cooking his own hotdogs at the age of 6.


We are now passing through San Bernardino and Mark is calling Mom to find out if she would like to have a visit and some lunch with us. She already made plans to trim her grapes, so the answer is no.


The day is warming up nicely. It is already 99º F. At the Pearsonville gas station, we relocated Buck and Spitz from the back of the camper to the cab of the truck so they can enjoy the air-conditioning on this hot summer day. The Owen’s Valley is still beautiful. Lone Pine is where the incredible scenery starts.


It is lunchtime and we are in Bishop. Naturally, we must stop at Schat’s Bakery for a roast beef on sourdough, with all the other goodies, sandwich. Apple strudels, cheese danishes, slices of Napoleon cake and a loaf of sourdough bread with sesame seeds jumped into my backpack. No need to starve just because we are traveling.


We have to agree that if we would live up this direction, we would choose Big Pine for our little home town. It is close enough to Schat’s and it has the most spectacular mountain views.


Mono Lake looks surprisingly high and blue for a change.

In Bridgeport, we make a quick stop to visit a grocery store. Not for food, there is no shortage of that now. We are without local maps, as always, and the doggies need to stretch.

The moment the truck door opened, Spitz jumped and ran. He made his daddy go on a sprint which resulted in a spanking of the little pup.

 Levitts Meadow, East of Sonora Pass


We are driving up to Sonora Pass talking about how the road was back in the old days. Mark recalled how the family traveled in the camper, slowly, up on the steep slope, when Mom decided that she would rather walk for awhile.


On the way up to the pass, we are passing a campground with lots of people and a group of Marines on training.

Four miles from the pass, we turned off for a short break. It is 6:00 pm; time to look for a place to camp. This narrow and short road is ending at a creek which flows from a spring. This is the perfect place to spend the night.


After sprinting to catch Spitz, we are now relaxing in the cool evening air.

This is the first night in our new camper. It is nice not having to setup the tent and going through all those procedures needed to make a comfortable bedroom in there.





August 29, Tuesday



Stepping out of the camper in the middle of the night, we wanted to see the stars. There were too many of them to identify the constellations.

I slept very well, so did Spitz. He was inside with us, right by Mark’s feet, motionless, all night. Buck was outside guarding the camp and the family and he did a very fine job.

Mark’s thermo rest deflated during the night, so after I vacated the camper, he rolled onto my bedside and stayed a few hours to catch up on his sleep.


Buck and Spitz are watching me washing my face and brushing my teeth in the cold creek. We are out on our morning walk and exploring the pretty rocks.


Mark is awake, so we are having orange juice and cheese danishes for breakfast before packing up and continue the drive. Along the way, we are making several stops to walk around and looking at the view of the meadows, the waterfalls and the wilderness.

 Emigrant Wilderness


West of Sonora Pass, we are in an area called Kennedy Meadows. We drove by the numerous campgrounds and saw some campers.


We need to go for a little walk, so we are heading down to Dead Man Creek. The shore is very rocky with few sandy spots. The creek is rushing and filled with boulders.

We keep the dogs on the leash. Buck does not like this. He would prefer to go swimming. Who knows what kind of trouble he would get himself into among those boulders.

We let him go in as far as his rope reaches so he can get wet and cool off.

 Buck in Dead Man Creek


 Spitz is very cautiously approaching the water to take a few sips to drink. Getting wet and swimming are not his ideas of fun.


According to family traditions, we are driving to Dardanelle, further up the road, to stop at the store and to pick up some chocolate bars. We are looking for glue to fix the thermo rest.


Loaded up with sweets, no glue, we are now pressing onto Columns of the Giants. I would love to step back in time to hear the lecture of Grandpa Warren about this fabulous geological site.

Those who were there to listen to him are very lucky. For everyone else, here is a quick summary.


The basalt plug eroded away and formed awesome columns. As the columns are eroding away, a huge basalt rockslide is covering up a field of glacier. It is cold between the rocks and I am certain, the sandwich down bellow between the rocks that Mark stuck in some 30 years ago is still well preserved, however, we cannot find it!

 Columns of the Giants


I am silly enough to walk up on the rockslide to have a closer look at the columns. No-one else feels like going with me. The uphill is really fun, coming down is another story. As long as I keep my center of gravity on the ground, I shall not start rolling.


We spotted a nice big boulder to sit on. Buck is leading the way to it.

He is taking a shortcut, through the field of manzanita. We are getting cuts and scratches all over on our bodies but making it to the top. The view is great but the lunch is left behind in the truck.

 Sitting on the Boulder


Instead of having a pick-nick on the rock, we eat our cheese, bread, beef jerky and cookies in the parking lot, like all classy tourists would.


Next stop is surely Pinecrest. The Ranger Station is the first place to visit, where we are purchasing maps of the area and questioning the man on duty about shower facilities. He says: the store is where they sell the showers. So off we go to the store. They have glue, and the showers are $3.75 per 12 minutes. That is 0.3125 dollars per minute, or, for a quarter we can shower for 48 seconds.

I don’t like these figures. How did they come up with numbers like these? We are not buying their showers, but now we have glue.


At last, we are on the beach of the famous lake. Buck is disappointed for not being able to have a dip. Dogs have their own trail around here marked with paws so they can find it. They are not to wonder off this path to roam the day use area. So I walk around with Buck and Spitz, while Mark is dunking the thermo rest into the lake hoping to find the hole.

At the site of any water, all we think about is bathing. We need to look for a secluded place where we can jump in. We are contemplating of renting a boat to find this spot. The boat costs $40 for two hours. That’s more than they charge for the showers and Mark says I cannot use soap and shampoo in the lake. What is the point of getting wet then?

We find a secluded rock by the lake where at least Buck can have a bath and Spitz can keep his paws dry.

 On the Shore of Pinecrest Lake


We are settled on this rock for awhile. Buck is swimming. He is hoping that we can find a stick to throw so he can play swim and catch game, but there is not a single stick around. Someone must clean this shore.


We are walking around the lake and loving the fresh, moist, cool air. We reached the dam and ready to cross the bridge but the dogs are freaking out. Spitz is not too happy about walking on the steps and the bridge, both made from metal grating, and Buck refuses to get on it. He is too big and heavy to carry so we pull him to come along. He walks like a crippled puppy. His paws are spread out; his toes are as far apart as he can manage to stretch them. In this comical position he walks extremely carefully. It is hysterical and we are dying from laughter. We finally passed the bridge and came to the steps coming down. Buck is whimpering and crying now, not wanting to move at all. We bring him to solid ground and let him recover nearby under some gorgeous climbing granite. We do not have enough time to go around the lake today, so Buck and Spitz have to do the scary metal walk again.

 Buck's Swimming Beach


Looks like Buck had enough swimming for the day, so we are walking back to the Amphitheatre.

The stage and the audience are vacant at the moment. I am listening to Mark’s vivid description and I can just see the family performing and little Mark and Val singing the Smokey the Bear song.


They do not have “Great Performances” like that any longer. We were told that they show movies instead. What an uninteresting way to occupy this theatre!


The doggies would like to show off their talent, but the puppy walkway, they must stay on, does not lead up to the stage.


Our walk stops at the end of Beach 3, where Mark is telling me about the logs that used to be here for log rolling. Each log is about 50 feet long and there are 5 or 6 of them attached together lengthwise. They make an unstable walkway into the lake.

These logs are now by the marina, probably because there is a greater audience there to entertain with the spectacle of a bunch of silly people (mostly kids) trying to walk on the logs.


We are not going to attempt to do this activity, but on our way back to the truck, we are watching the people and children spending more time falling into the lake than walking on the logs. We laughed so much in the last few hours it is making our face hurt.


It is dinner time and the place to dine is in Strawberry. This is a multi story, nicely built, elegant, clean guest house/restaurant. Strawberry Creek is incorporated into the garden area.

The facility is quite gorgeous. Not too many people around today. It is only the two of us. The dinner was produced in the matter of seconds and it tasted accordingly. The fajitas I am having would make most Mexicans giggle. Mark’s burger is served with canned mushrooms and with fried bacon, leftover from when the pioneers crossed the Sonora Pass.


Tonight’s lodging is in Clark Fork Campground, a few miles from Strawberry, back towards the pass.

 Buck & Spitz in Clark Fork Campground





We settled on Loop B in site # 40. We have many tall pines around. They keep the few neighbors hidden and they protect us from the ice cold breeze. We cannot see the sky too well, but we would not know what to do with that many stars in any case. We proved that last night. It is very quiet here and the evening is nice and chilly.

Under a group of pine trees, Mark setup a perfect little showering spot.

The thought of our hot solar shower out in the cold, open air does not feel too inviting right now.

We must be brave and get cleaned anyway.


Buck and Spitz are tired from their adventures and quietly sleeping. They have to be tied up, according to the campground rules, but they do not care at this point.




August 30, Wednesday



We all slept like babies and decided to stay on this campground for two more nights.

Apple strudels and orange juice are for breakfast today before we pack up to hike around Pinecrest Lake.


The plan is changing as we are halfway around the lake. Mark is recognizing a trail that leads to the big pools. The trail sign calls them “Cleo’s Bath” but we like to call it from the old days the “Abazaba Pools”.

 Trail to Abazaba Pools


The forest around us is as thick as a jungle. The tall grassland is full of colorful flowers and the pine trees are towering above it all. We got lost somehow, but we found our way back to the trail quickly.


Not too far from the pools, we have a very steep section filled with boulders. Buck is wondering why do we have to torment him every day with something. He cries and cries because the boulders are too big for him to get up on. Spitz is not very happy on this terrain either. I end up carrying Spitz up on the big rock and Mark has the job of lifting Buck. Now they are both whining and crying.


These boulders are getting bigger and it is harder and harder to gain elevation with dogs in our arms.

Mark says: the worst part is still ahead. That’s comforting to know. I am considering quitting.


There is a huge group of people approaching from above, about six families. Approximately 15 children of all ages, five dogs and people of all ages, many of them are in poor condition compare to us. One of the dogs is whining just like Buck. They have a young Husky and he is flying down on these boulders, just loving it.


They all say, the pools are spectacular and we are almost there. We think, if they all could make it up, we should also be able to. A few minutes later, passed the painful part, Mark suggests that we find the trail we missed, since we are now above the pools.

 The Largest of the Abazaba Pools


Buck and Spitz are the happiest to see water again. Buck disappeared in the large pool as soon as we got here. He drank more water than he displaced and whatever is left, he went to swim in.

Spitz is carefully sipping it not wanting his feet to get wet.


The pools are a bit too cold for us to swim. Mark walks in up to his waist and he quickly turns around.


He says; the pools are usually much higher and there are big waterfalls. Bellow the large pool there are many smaller ones and there are some dripping waterfalls. It is a dry year unfortunately. We are walking around barefoot on the polished, hot granite which would all be filled with water if we had a wet year.

 Exposed, Polished Granite Capturing Small Pools


From the highest point above the pool, we have a great view of Pinecrest Lake.


The polished beach of the large pool is a great lunch location and the dogs already cleaned up the crumbs and other leftovers from the previous party. They are ready for new snacks from our beef jerky, Swiss cheese, sausage and bread.


Now we have to walk off all that food. We came across a drawing, which we do not think is a petroglyph, but it is pretty, nevertheless. It looks like part of a rug design from the Caucasus.

 Caucasian Rug Pattern on Exfoliated Granite


We are visiting the camping spot from some decades ago. Mark is pointing out the trees where Bruce usually hung his hammock and the ones where Shawn hung her hammock to sleep in and poor little boy, Mark, had to sleep on the ground.


Descending from the boulders is easier for Buck. Spitz thinks, why walk when he can be carried.

He is turning out to be a good little hiker though. Both he and Buck can walk and walk until we stop and then they pretend to be dead tired. The minute we are ready to go, they are fresh again.


The temperature is really perfect today. It is in the low 70’s, beautiful and sunny but breezy. We both got a little sunburn. 


Near the trailhead, we have to take a break to see this old, rusty steam engine left here from the 1800’s. Loggers may have used it to operate cables and pull heavy logs around.

 Buck and the Steam Engine


At the end of the Abazaba Trail, we are continuing our walking around the lake. We reach the dam and Buck thinks the metal steps and the bridge are not so bad now; he has been through worse today.

He walks right through them.


There is a nice rocky shore here and a few sticks scattered around, so we allow Buck to go for a swim again and he plays fetch the stick.


Our hike was no more than 8 miles round trip, but by the time we came back to the truck it feels like 20 miles. We are pretty tired and looking forward to get back to our camp.


The hot solar shower feels wonderful. Mark is in charge of dinner tonight. Tamales from the can and kosher pickles are on the menu. The doggies are too tired to move to have a bite of our food tonight

The campground patrol man came by to tell us that this year, we have two bears around. I guess if they come around, Buck will have a midnight snack.




August 31, Thursday



Dani’s birthday and we have no reception on the cell phones. We are up and about earlier than normally. Strawberry and cream flavored oatmeal is for breakfast. So good! It is 10:20 am and we are departing for the west side, Sonora and Columbia.


Touring Sonora for awhile, but the chocolate shop in Columbia, I heard so much about, makes me anxious to get there. Sonora can wait!


Columbia is where we are spending the day. The little town is so charming. The theatre is showing “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. Pretty sophisticated for a little town like this. Too bad we cannot attend because they do not allow our babies.

The lobby is full of antiques and it also has a Mahal rug.


The pharmacy is set up just the way it was 150 years ago. If the pharmacy did not have it, people did not need it. Soaps, perfumes, medications, face powders…you name it, they have it.


We are standing, looking into the courtroom and I feel like being in a scene from a Mark Twain novel. The courtroom has 13 chairs for the audience. One chair for the criminal is right next to the cute little fireplace. There is a big desk and a chair for the judge and the benches for the judiciary.


The butcher shop is just like I remember in my childhood’s butchers in Hungary. Except they have meat hanging from the hooks. In Columbia.


The two antique fire engines in the fire station are in perfect, working condition. The engines were either horse or hand pulled. Each one took 28 people to operate. The water was in big cisterns under the streets and the fire trucks were parked above these to pump the water out onto the fire.


The jailhouse is very small, has only two cells. Did they only have two criminals back in the old days?

They probably hung them not to crowd the jail. We should practice that these days.


Our ultimate favorite is the dentist office. The fireplace and the furniture are the nicest of them all. Like the lobby of the theatre, the dentist office also has a Persian rug, a Tabriz. I wonder what these rugs cost back then or were they a later touch?


The Jack Douglass Saloon, established in 1857, still serves the best sandwiches in town. They also have locally made Sarsaparilla. I never drank that before and I like it so much we have to take a bottle of extract with us. That will make 5 gallons of brew.


In the clothing store, a lady is reproducing the skirt, shirts and pants people used to wear but she is mostly quilting and giving lessons.


The museum displays some gold mining activity photographs, old tools, clothing, jewelry and other tchotckies from 100 plus years ago.


Mark says I have to take a ride on the stage coach while he is doggie sitting.

 Bea is Touring in Columbia


Naturally, I have to sit by the driver. Inside, we have four women from Spain. They do not speak English, so they would not be too entertaining for the ride. I hear enough Spanish!


We rode into the forest, where we are stopped by a man with a gun. He wants money, gold, silver or other valuables we have. The driver is giving him a bag of coins. I tell him I have none of the items he requested. I thanked him for not shooting me and told him to talk with the women inside if he can. He quickly found out that the Spanish crew inside has no clue what he wants, so he let us all go.


Buck and Spitz did not get much education about the old culture in Gold Country today, but they are very popular among the tourist.

Everybody wants to pet them and they all tell them how beautiful they are. The business owners have bowls of water for dogs to drink. Buck and Spitz are appreciative of that. They are terribly overheated. It is in the 90’s down here. The highlight of the day is still ahead and they will not regret the long, hot walk for that.


Last stop is the candy store. In the back room of the store, two ladies, dressed in 1800’s clothing, have their hands permanently dipped in chocolate. They are producing all kinds of goodies.

I would love to have that job! The store would not make much profit with me working in there.


A bag of English toffee, macadamia nuts dipped in chocolate and rum balls with chocolate cover are the purchase of the day. We are sampling each as we are walking to the truck. Spitz likes the macadamia nuts too. Buck likes them all. They only get tiny little tastes because it is very bad for them. Everything that’s so tasty is bad for us!


We are driving back to Sonora. The tasks are to find a pair of Victorian boots and some gas for the camping stove. Downtown Sonora is also very charming, but not recommended to drive through. One must walk it instead.

The boots I found is not what I wanted. We got our stove fuel and we are ready to go back to the mountains to cool down.


We drove back to the lake to have a last look at it before coming back to camp. The weekenders are starting to take over the campground. It is no longer as quiet as it was last night.

Mark is fixing the dinner we bought at the Sonora Albertson’s. Chilly, cheese and chips. My job is the dishwashing. I like camping, because I don’t have to do the cooking all the time. At home I get to do both: cooking and dishwashing.

For dessert, we have plenty of chocolates.


I have to hand feed the little pup because he is not eating his food since we left home. I think he is either confused or he just wants special food when we are away. Buck did that many times also. 




September 1, Friday



Despite the now crowded campground, we had a peaceful night. We are spending the morning packing up our lodging, walking through the campground with Buck and Spitz before starting the big drive to the east side. That is towards home.

The divider between the west side and the east side is not Central Park but the Sierras.


We must make a stop outside of the campground and walk by the Stanislaus River and its’ waterfalls.

The view of the national forest is spectacular from here. The river carved a pretty nice canyon under the bridge we are crossing. The water is low, thus the polished and carved granite is exposed everywhere. 

   Canyon on the Stanislaus River


  Waterfalls on the Stanislaus River



  Stanislaus National Forest


  Carved and Polished Granite in the Stanislaus River


Leaving the Stanislaus National Forest back to Sonora Pass, the mountains are so beautiful we just want to hike into them and never to come back out.


We are at the Leavitt Flat outlook, across the highway from our camping a few days ago. It is time for lunch. Foccacia bread, roast beef, swiss cheese, red peppers, tomatoes and avocado are the best choice.


The marines are out playing soldiers again. It must be a lot of fun to climb, swim and hike all day. They sure picked the nicest practice land. So long as they do not have to go to the Middle East, they must be the happiest campers.


Passed the marine base, we are now strolling along the West Walker River. Buck has a chance to cool down, swim and play; Spitz is watching him and staying dry.

 Buck Swimming in the West Walker River





 Spitz on the Shore of the West Walker River


We are walking around on the river bank. Spitz spent the trip on the leash so far but now we are giving him a try and let him go free. He starts running in the meadow like a little rabbit. We are a bit worried and wonder if he will come back. There is no way to catch him, he runs way too fast.

After he is done with sprinting, he turns around and comes back to us and follows us walking around.


We are now searching for rag wool socks in a sporting goods store in Bridgeport. They do not have any. There is a store with lots of fur and wood carvings we must visit to buy a sheep skin and a new pair of slippers.


It would be nice to soak off the dust from our bodies in Buckeye Hot Springs, which is right outside of Bridgeport. We are following a beat-up dirt road for 8 miles and arriving at the spring. To our disappointment, many other people had the same idea. There are campers all over the area and many people are sitting around in the water.


Driving on, looking for the Travertine Hot Springs but the location has a no trespassing sign. Well, there is no shortage of hot spring in Long Valley, so we may still get clean.


Turning onto the Whitmore Public Pool road, this pool no longer exists; we follow the dirt road for 2 miles to the hot tub, where Mark used to hangout in his days of working in Mammoth.

This tiny tub was built by the local people to capture the flowing hot water. The place is not too busy. We set camp and soak for the rest of the evening.


Buck drank out of the tub and did not like it, Spitz took a few sips also and they both went to run around and play. A nearby camping couple has a dog name Rudy and another woman came by with two dogs, so our babies have companions now. The tub is filling up with people as the night is approaching and the dogs love their new playmates.

View from the Hot Tub


There are some pretty strange people around here. Their minds are leftover from the 60’s, and there is not much left for most of them. One guy is a split image of our neighbor that thinks he is 10% Cherokee and a Vietnam Vet. A huge woman, barely fits into the tub and pushing all the water out, believes that by common sense the earth is flat, there are no black holes and all the scientists are crazy.

I wonder where Mark put the revolver.


Later in the evening, a lawyer came in. He is very full of himself and thinks that everyone needs to know all the little details of his daily life. He lives in the Village, on the corner of Bleecker and McDougal and he is very prod of it. I quiz him on the area and he is clueless about the existence of Café Reggio (that is right on the corner of the streets he just mentioned). He also does not know about the Monster which is a very popular hangout in the village for people like him, who are confused about their gender.


It is late and we are tired of listening to all these goofy people, so we retire into the camper with Spitz and let Buck watch over the family for the night.




September 2, Saturday



We are up early, not by choice. The flat earth people have 5 tiny dogs and they came to say hello to Buck. Mark wants to soak and he has the tub for himself this time. I feel like having soup for breakfast, before the journey home.

 Long Valley


Lone pine is the first stop, where lunch is waiting for us in the Pizza Factory. It is getting very hot in the valley, already over 100 ºF.


Our detour takes us to Red Rock Canyon which is bereft of people on a hot summer day like this. Buck finds a shaded spot on the side of the outhouse and that is how far he goes. Spitz is too hot also.

Red Rock Canyon


The family is back in the air-conditioned truck. We are finally able to reach Dani to wish her Happy Birthday.


The only other stop we make is the Sport Chalet, in San Bernardino, for rag wool socks.


We are back in our little home before sundown. Buck and Spitz are particularly happy to come back into their territory. Mark and I are glad to be back but already are talking about when could we get back to the lake again.





Composed and Performed by Béla Fleck