It’s the first week of June, but sizable patches of snow linger on the trail to Crystal Lake, 9,000 feet in the mountains near the town of Mammoth Lakes.We slip and slide across patches of the white stuff and sometimes have to go off-trail on the almost-4-mile round trip. The trek is worth it because we are rewarded with unreal panoramic views of Lake George and Lake Mary on the way up. And our destination is aptly named. Crystal Lake looks like a living postcard — varying shades of azure water set against the deep green of pines and glistening snow that still covers the south slopes.
Mammoth Mountain and Mammoth Lakes is synonymous with all things winter, but summer provides great fun and scenery without the crowds, queues and the clatter of skis. We are here for an all-too-brief three days and plan to make the best of the perfect temperatures, clear air and spectacular scenery.
So much to do; so little time. There is hiking, mountain biking, climbing walls and ziplines, kayaking, horseback riding, fishing and golf.
All of these are within steps or minutes of the Westin Monache Resort. Opened five years ago, it stands against the backdrop of Mammoth’s breathtaking peaks. Early risers stationed on their balconies can catch the glowing slopes as the sun begins its climb. The hotel’s complementary continental breakfast makes it easy to get up and out, and a swim in the heated pool or soak in the whirlpool make the perfect ending for the trail-weary.
Just across the street from the Monache is the Village at Mammoth, a collection of shops and restaurants where free games — ping-pong, ladder golf, horseshoes and corn hole — are available throughout the plaza.
Back on the trail, we are curious about the stand of ghostly-looking trees at Horseshoe Lake and the signs warning visitors about high concentrations of carbon dioxide. The phenomenon is a real-life science lesson and evidence of Mammoth’s ever-changing geology. “Those trees started dying about 20 years ago,” explains Chris Hernandez, supervisor of the hotel’s Whitebark Restaurant. “It’s caused by high concentrations of carbon dioxide that vent from the ground naturally. (Because Mammoth Mountain is a volcano), there is a lot of geothermal activity in the area.”
Like others who now make Mammoth their home, Hernandez fell in love with the area as a kid when he vacationed there with his family.
“I couldn’t wait to move here,” he says.
That he did 13 years ago, and is now the hotel’s resident expert on the natural history of the area.
“I like the small town and we are surrounded by nature and fun activities. People come here for the winters and stay for the summers when they realize how much more there is to do.”
Don’t discount autumn either. The uncrowded days are warm, the nights are cool, and the colors of the willow, aspen and cottonwood trees will have you taking photos at every turn. Call 888-GO-MAMMOTH for an autumn-colors guide, and an excellent map of the lakes, trails and town of Mammoth Lakes is available from the Monache concierge.
The Whitebark Restaurant offers a unique menu that includes a daily tagine special. Tagine is an ancient form of cooking meats (and even salmon) in clay pots. Do not miss the “Monache Torched” from the sushi bar — snow crab, avocado and cucumber topped with tender scallops, a delicate meringue-like sauce and truffled sprouts. It’s a meal.
All rooms at the Westin Monache feature a sofa bed and a fully stocked kitchen or kitchenette. The resort is pet-friendly and offers amenities like miniature Heavenly Bed duvets for your Fido. Many trails and restaurants welcome dogs, too. The hotel has a list. (Pet-free rooms are available for those with allergies.)
The resort offers many summer and autumn specials, including 50 percent off a night’s stay for every paid night. Visit westin.com/Mammoth, visitmammoth.com, or call (866) 716-8137.
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at firstname.lastname@example.org.