Vermillion Valley Resort: Shangri-La of the Sierra

Our first impression of (what we now lovingly call The Shangri-La of the Sierra) Vermillion Valley Resort was not a pleasant one. We were exhausted, filthy, cold, wet and hungry.  Hiking the John Muir Trail had proved to be (almost) more than we could handle.  We were about half way through our  250 mile hike.  The miserable challenges we faced included snow, ice storms, high winds, lightning and nasty, oozing, debilitating blisters.  We were behind schedule. Food was low.  More importantly, so were our spirits (literally and figuratively).


At this point we don’t even remember what day it was or how many days we had actually been on the trail. It felt like forever since we had had beer, showers and non-freeze dried food. Our trip had been rough. The night before, the JMT had blessed us with another special challenge: a broken tent pole. We were fifty miles of tough backpacking away from a store or tools. Now, considering this was Laura’s sister’s first backpacking trip,  (way to go big CC, kudos!) she had done admirably well.  Yet, the look on her face told us that this was too much. We hoped for the best as we rigged her tent haphazardly to a tree.  Par for the course, the rain started again. It held through the night.


The next day, fate smiled upon us.  We oddly found a set of tent poles, in perfect condition, just sitting on a stump next to the trail. What are the odds?  It was like somebody had left them for us. Remember we are in the middle of nowhere at this point.  While the tent poles were not from the same exact tent (too much to hope for?), they were the same diameter. Now, all we needed were some tools to make the repairs and the tent would be good as new. Fortunately, we soon arrived at our next resupply point, Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) or, as we affectionately call it: The Shangri-La of the Sierra.

PLIGHT ACROSS THE DESERT TO LAKE EDISON (that’s what we’re calling it!)

Plight?  Yep.  That’s what we’re calling it.  Lake Edison wasn’t what we expected.  California was in an extreme drought the year we hiked the JMT and the water level was disturbingly low.  This added several miles of hiking in sand at the bottom of the lake in order to get to the water. Our plan was to catch a ferry to the resort.  It looked apocalyptic. There were wooden posts with upside down orange Home Depot buckets leading the way to the water.  The writing on the buckets had worn out and was illegible.  We passed tree stumps and items that had rusted years before under the water.  All were now visible in this odd environment.

It looked like it had been deserted for years. Seldom did we see other footprints in the sand.  We made jokes about none of us knowing that the world had ended. I’m not sure any of us thought they were funny.  We hadn’t had news for many days.  It seemed like eternity in some ways.  I realize how crazy that sounds, yet there is an odd disconnect from the outside world when you’re on a long backpacking trip.


We expected a pontoon boat with blue stripes (just like the cute one in the picture on their website, right?) to pick us up at the water and take us across the lake.  In the distance instead, we were able to make out a shirtless man, waving to us, from a very small motorboat.  Well, really it was a dingy.  We waved back, then had a discussion about how to proceed.  It simply wasn’t what we expected.  The scene felt off, but our food supply box was across the lake.  It was pretty simple.  He hadn’t done anything for us to question our safety, in fact he was nicely waving. Not taking his boat would add an extra 7 miles each way to our hike.


As we came closer, we realized the man was much older than we originally thought.  His skin was leathered and dark from the sun.  Hair was bleached, teeth yellow and several were missing.  The boat was by far, in worse shape than him. He must have seen our hesitation because he turned into a salesman of sorts.  Trying to convince us to hop in the old boat.  He explained that the water was too low to bring out the other boat.  We acquiesced, feeling a bit like horror story victims.  Hoping that he wouldn’t kill us, nor would the boat sink.  At some point we all started to calculate how we would survive the boat going under.  The patches were leaking badly. We made quiet conversation.  Each in our own world, just happy to be sitting down and accepting our new situation.  As it turned out he was a really nice person and we were just tired and paranoid.

Overdramatic?  Possibly.  Looking back the situation seems harmless.  However at the time, we were exhausted.  That’s my only explanation.  Don’t judge.  For the sake of pure honesty and a good story, that’s really how it went down.


We were thrilled when we made it across the lake and headed into a channel.  The ease didn’t last long when we saw the old Land Rover with velvet orange and green striped interiors and no seat belts that was to take us to the resort.  We’re not sure if the windows were down or missing.  We drove through sand and dirt.  Not that it made us any dirtier.  It really didn’t even matter at that point and we all knew it. The apocalyptic feeling continued. In a frenzied state of constant risk management, I forgot to take pictures.  However, I did get them on the return trip which are equally glorious.  If this van had picked us up (we sat on milk crates and were locked in the back) I never would have jumped in!  The entire trip I could hear my parents tell my seven year old self to never get in the back of a van.


When we arrived, the man drove us around the back of the resort.  So we saw run down cars, old motor homes, rusted machines and equipment.  It wasn’t what we expected at all.  Our hearts sank a little.  Remember we’ve been living in Orange County, California for the past few decades!  It’s possible that our idea of a “resort”  might be a little off.  Then, we walked to the front.


Wait a second…there was an adorable little store.   And a restaurant.  We walked in and the nicest woman welcomed us and told us to grab a beer… for free!  Such a small gesture, a free beer.  Nonetheless, it made us proud and thankful for the acknowledgment of accomplishing the part we’d already done on the John Muir Trail.


Vermillion Valley Resort is located among the pine trees on the shores of Lake Edison in the John Muir Wilderness. The resort features a full service restaurant, grocery store, motel, tent cabins and a marina. In addition, Vermillion Valley Resort caters to John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail hikers offering resupply, Wi-Fi, laundry, showers, free campsite for the first two nights and a free beer upon arrival.


At this point, I will pause to dispense some advice to hikers: Stop at Vermillion Valley Resort, plan a resupply, pay for the water taxi ride (no matter how it looks) and take a zero day.  Trust us!  You’ll save about 5 miles of hiking (two more if the water in the lake is low).  Other hikers walked around the lake in order to get there, lost half the day, had no water access and truly regretted it.


We arrived, found an impressive variety of frosty beers and friendly staff who, upon hearing about our broken tent, took us to their workshop. The workshop was a giant A framed building filled with every tool we could imagine. We were surprised that the guy just smiled and said we could use whatever we needed and left. Best part, it was free!  We completed the repairs and returned her tent to like new condition. After that, it was time to explore the rest of the camp.


Vermillion Valley Resort was an enchanting place. When you arrive you set up a tab for your purchases. After that, anytime you need anything the clerk, who remembered everyone by name, would simply add the beer to your tab.  It was like walking into your own kitchen. The food at the restaurant was delicious. We feasted on wine, thick, juicy, steak and plump, fresh vegetables.    Everyone who worked at Vermillion Valley Resort was incredibly nice.  Most had hiked through and decided to stay or came back some seasons.  They offered free food to hikers in exchange for work!  The 8 minutes for $6.50 showers were great!  In our wildest dreams we never thought a public shower could possibly be magical.  We were wrong.  They are at the Shangri-La of the Sierra.


We ran into a lot of the people that we had met along the trail.  A reunion of sorts, we became friends.  It felt like home.  Considering what a strange arrival we had, none of us want to leave.  Ever.   After daydreaming about it, Paul even looked into buying the place after returning home!  There is a simplicity about life that only exists in the Shangri-La of the Sierra’s.  Another great example friends, Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  It might just surprise you.  We’ve been to a lot of “resorts” and none have taken a piece of our heart like this place

By | 2017-09-23T16:42:42+00:00 May 25th, 2017|Hiking, John Muir Trail, Uncategorized|3 Comments

Amazing Weekend California Road Trip on Highway 395 (Part 2 The Drive Home)


From here we drove back to Bridgeport and down the 395 to Lundy Lake.  Mainly Lundy is known for three things. First, its fall foliage.  Secondly, there is an abundance of wildlife.  You can easily see beaver damns in the river, bird everywhere and luckily, we saw a big white Bighorn sheep.  One group we spoke with even reported seeing a Bald Eagle!  Last, it has incredible fishing.

Our number one priority this morning: coffee! We headed to the town of Lee Vining.  Can’t say enough great things about Mono Cup Coffee’s Cold Brew!  On a road trip whim we decided to check out the Upside Down House and Old School House Museum.  Regrettably, both were both closed.  The Upside Down House has a great story worth checking out.


Mono Lake Tufa State National Reserve was our next stop.  We were lucky enough to jump into a talk by Nora Livingston from the Mono Lake Committee.  This was hands down our favorite part of the entire trip.  If you head in this direction please take an hour and don’t miss their work on the history, education, restoration, and protection of Mono Lake.  It’s fascinating!


We turned off of 395 onto Highway 158 at the North June Lake junction.  This is a 14.6 mile scenic tour of a glacier formed canyon with lakes at the bottom.  You’ll see Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake and June Lake. Reverse Creek (named after the fact that it is the only river that flows west toward its source in the Sierra) flows throughout the canyon.  We stopped at June Lake Brewing and Ohana’s 395 food truck.  Lots of dogs, outdoor seating, wonderful people, good food and amazing beer!


Regrettably, it was a quick stop in Benton.  We did, however, manage one great picture of their old store.



Our next stop was the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.  First of all, the trees are over 4000 years old!  It’s a fun drive up with steep turns, rolling hills and many curves.  California had a heavy snow year and the temperature mid May was 27 degrees.  We camped in Grandview, a first come/first serve site for only $5.00!

Woke up early to an amazing sunrise panorama and headed to Schulman Groves.  Snow was on the road and to our left on the Sierra mountains overlooking Owen Valley.   The isolation created a strange feeling of quiet in the midst of the ancient trees.    There were no visitors or rangers.  We wandered outside the closed visitor center.    The trunks are twisted and gnarled with beautifully colored wood that grows in tiny amounts each year.  Their wood is resistant to insects, disease and decay.  Interestingly, there is a direct correlation between the harshness of their environment and the ability to live longer.  I’d like to think there is  a life lesson there.

Isn’t it beautiful?!


Next, we drove back down to Bishop for coffee.  We love the Black Sheep Coffee Roasters and visit whenever we’re in town.  They have espresso, burritos and unworldly banana bread that is totally worth the extra time to our drive.  They also have outside seating and are totally dog friendly.  Mule Days Celebration was the following weekend and a sweet woman who was dressed as a unicorn pet  our dog Tucker throughout breakfast!  One just doesn’t experience that every day!



Finally, our last stop on the weekend road trip on California 395 was on the way home,  Manzanar National Historic site.  In 1942 the United States Government detained over 110,000 men, women and children to relocation centers.  Manzanar is one of these sites that became home to over 10,000 Japanese people.  Visiting this site emphasizes the stark reality of their cold isolated location and everyday realities.

And…our favorite Tucker picture of the trip at Twin Lakes!