MONO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: The day I arrived at Tamarack Lodge in Mammoth Lakes, I looked every bit the dishevelled rockstar. Visit California had taken myself and a group of journalists to the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles the night before and flew our champagne headaches – and the 1.6 kilos of hairspray in my teased do – to the sleepy lakeside resort.
The flight from LAX to Mono County was a bumpy one – it is a small plane after all and not made for hangovers – but I’m finding it hard to put into words the beautiful surprise that was waiting for us as we stepped out of the car at our destination. An arctic chill wreathed my entire body as I became fixated on the snowy mountains before me, my view hemmed in by hundreds of Alpine trees. I’m from Australia, I’d never seen anything like this.
To my right, a lone fisherman, bathed in a very orange afternoon sunlight, was standing at the edge of a small wharf in a scene resembling one from Dawson’s Creek had Wes Anderson directed it. My boots sunk deep into the pebbles and stones as I lugged my suitcase to my cabin, a reminder at how comfortable I was by comparison to my tottering YSLs along Hollywood Boulevard just 24 hours earlier. In these few minutes, I had an inkling that I may walk away with a new appreciation for the icy lakes and granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada’s eastern edge.
“There are a lot of active bears in this area,” advises the resort manager as she passes over the cabin’s keys. “If you see one, try and appear really big and make lots of noise. It’s also best to leave your car unlocked so the bears don’t destroy it trying to break in.”
OK, inkling dwindling.
The lovely manager also notes the need to acclimatise to the atmosphere. The centre of town is approximately 7,800 feet (2.37 kilometres) above sea level and this elevation means there is less oxygen in the air. People may experience muscle fatigue, mild headaches or find themselves out of breath from a short walk up a hill.
A quick Google search lands me at visitmammoth.com where they deal out some pretty good tips for managing the high altitude. One of them is to eat lightly which is exactly what I plan not to do as we head to the best restaurant in the area: Gomez Mexican. It’s fresh, traditional and a little Latin inspired and I actually can’t recommend it more for a fun group of friends, a date or hanging with family after a day of skiing. (It’s also “Home Of The Mammoth Margarita” which is exactly what tired, dusty, out of breath campers need.)
So in summary, if I you do get approached by a bear, lets say on the way home from dinner, I probably can’t run away from it given I will become short of breath. And if the bear won’t kill me, the mammoth margarita most certainly will.
My cabin at Tamarack Lodge and Resort was the type of spot Freddie Mercury or Elton John would escape to to write a rock album. A toasty stone fireplace, warm wooden walls, sporadic pine cones and tartan accents aplenty, my favourite little mood setter was the ‘nature sounds’ setting on the alarm clock. Take a listen.
I had a tonne of work to get through so getting up early in the mornings, taking a walk by the brisk lake outside my cabin (and feeling that cold, cold air on my face) while grabbing a coffee was my thing. I’d then sit down to write with the nature sounds in the background and the fireplace raging – it was so wonderful. The words just poured out and they were much more heartfelt than usual. I definitely could write an album here.
Next stop on our grand tour of this region was the very spectacular albeit shallow, saline soda lake known as Mono Lake. The body of water has no outlet so the only way for any water to leave the basin is via evaporation. This causes the lake to be 2.5 times more salty and 80 times as alkaline as the ocean. (A word of warning, however, no matter how cold it is in the morning, it could turn to blistering heat in the afternoon, like we discovered on a day in September.)
The sun was belting down as we walked to the lake’s edge and took many a photos of the tuga towers (intricate cathedral-like spires formed by fresh water springs percolating up from the bottom of the lake and interacting with the lake’s salt water).
Perhaps my favourite part of the day, however, was our visit to Black’s Pond, the tranquil lake featured in the 2013 science fiction film Oblivion starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. Lying in the tall grass reeds – and with the old glacial mountain capped in snow in the background – Cruise’s character pulls a baseball cap over his face and says “I wanted to spend the rest of my life here”. Sitting at the grassy base of the lake with a glass of wine and a cube of Gouda, I would have to agree with Jack Harper, it’s truly so beautiful. “How do I bottle some of this scene and this feeling?” I thought. “Like the rustic cabin, it too would be a delightful place to write.”
Interestingly, Katie Holmes had filed for divorce from Cruise just before the scenes at the lake were shot in 2012. Ralph Lockhart, the informative owner of the property, says paparazzi were scrambling up mountains left, right and centre to get a glimpse – any glimpse – of the movie star. Despite what was going on in his personal life, Cruise was “really lovely to everybody on the set”, remembers Lockhart. The lake today is known as Lake Oblivion.
Continuing the movie theme of the trip, we were taken to the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine, a quaint but rich little space housing original props and memorabilia from famous films – and surrounded by the largest Western backlot in the country: The Alabama Hills. Private and group tours of movie site locations are available upon appointment – and I highly recommend you book a tour of the mountainous, insta-famous hills. It was after all where Quentin Tarantino filmed his multi-award-winning movie Django Unchained.
It’s truly breath-taking and something the whole family will be talking about for years. I would also like to point out the owner of the museum is an excellent tour guide; so knowledgeable and insightful.
Whenever I thought of a retreat to repair a hardworking soul, California wasn’t my obvious go-to. But Mammoth Lakes is the idyllic temporary reprieve from the incessantly fast-paced Los Angeles.
And at the very least, it can cure a rockstar hangover.
Jessica travelled as a guest with Visit California. If you’re planning a holiday to THE golden state, head to visitcalifornia.com for more.